Happy Thursday Wholehearted family! I’m so excited to finally bring you the final installment of the Catalina Series! Since our puppy has settled in and recovered from kennel cough, her energy has skyrocketed to that of a typical husky puppy. It’s much harder to get anything done around here, seeing as Zelda is so freakin’ cute. Life with a puppy is a little more of an adjustment than I expected.
That being said, through winter, expect to hear from us about once a week. Although we would love to create content more frequently, both Kathryn and I have a lot on our plates right now. Come spring, you’ll be seeing a lot more of us.
We woke up on our fourth day in Catalina as we always did, early as fuck. After a good night’s sleep we began our morning ritual: coffee, water and oatmeal followed by some light stretching before breaking down camp and rearranging our backpacks. First order of business was to pull our condensation covered rain fly off our tent and attempt to dry it in the sun. Except there was no sun that morning, it was overcast. We waited and hoped the sun would burn through the early morning cloud cover, but it just wasn’t in the cards. We decided to pack everything as it was, a little bit damp, and hit the trail.
The longest hike of the trip had finally arrived. Honestly, I couldn’t wait to get through it. We’d hike five miles to get to the village of Two Harbors and another eight to get to our destination – Parsons Landing Campground. As daunting as this was for us, I had a plan which would have saved us from walking those last eight miles. I remembered reading about the Safari Shuttle when I was in the research phase of this trip, and although I didn’t remember any specifics, I was determined to hop on and let it take us to our final campground from Two Harbors. If that didn’t work, Uber could take us, right?
With our backpacks fully loaded and strapped on, we said goodbye to our little slice of paradise and began walking. The TCT was easy to access from the campground and it immediately reminded us who was in charge. The trail rose steeply from the valley floor along the cliff side ridge in usual fashion. The views were phenomenal despite the challenging elevation gained. You would think by now we would be acclimated to the terrain on the island, but we weren’t. Each step on our five mile journey to Two Harbors was excruciating. We pushed through the pain, determined to reach our campground on the other side of the island before the sun set.
We arrived in Two Harbor early in the afternoon, sore and sweaty. The little village, which consisted of a handful of summer homes and small businesses, sat at the island’s isthmus. We made our way to the beach and found the General Store (where I was never more excited to see a box of tampons in my life). At the cash register, I asked the cashier if the shuttle, or anything, could take us to Parsons Landing. She looked at me, momentarily bewildered, and replied, “Honey, nothing goes to Parsons Landing. The only way to get there is by foot or bike.” I looked at Joel, who was standing beside me, and we both let out an audible sigh of defeat. Back on the beach, tampons in hand, Joel and I grappled with the thought of eight more miles. I had filled our heads with the idea of relaxing on a bus, kicking our feet up while someone else drove to our final campground. The sentiment literally got us through the first five grueling miles. Now, we had to let that go, and muster up the energy to keep going.
Before we could carry on, we had to get a few things from the Visitor’s Center, located across the beach from the General Store. While I took care of my lady business, Joel got our hiking permit and locker key. The young woman helping Joel warned him of aggressive ravens as I approached. Yup, aggressive ravens. We thanked her for her assistance as we carefully tucked away the locker key and hiking permit (along with my tampons) while making our way out. The locker key was crucial, and well worth the additional $20. The key opened a locker on the campgrounds containing 2 ½ liters of water and a small bundle of firewood. Catalina is currently in a drought, although the first two campsites we stayed at had running water, this third one did not. This part of the island, north of the isthmus, is bone dry.
The remainder of the TCT from this point is situated in a loop, intersecting Parsons Landing about half way through. We could have hiked a shorter distance with more elevation, as the TCT is intended to be hiked, or we could hike the back way, adding a couple miles, but without all that pesky elevation. We chose the back way, hiking along the coast. We were tired. Scratch that, we were exhausted. Our strong mental game we carried along with us thus far was slowly diminishing and I could literally feel myself getting more irritated and frustrated with every step. I’d look over at Joel every now and again, and he looked miserable. I felt responsible, as I too felt miserable. I felt like I had dragged him on this adventure and neither of us were enjoying it. I felt like I had let him down by filling his head with shuttle talk. I felt weak and unprepared, like I was running on fumes. Any second I thought my legs would give out from beneath me. My emotions had taken over. Around mile 10, I met my breaking point. Tears streamed down my face from behind my sunglasses as I kept placing one foot in front of the other. Joel noticed almost instantly and pulled me in for a long hug. I wept in his arms as I whimpered “I’m sorry” over and over. Joel consoled me and I eventually calmed down. I pulled myself together and we continued walking.
Those last eight miles were spent walking endlessly in and out of cove after cove before the trail finally took us inland. We had no idea where we were, especially in relation to our destination. We hadn’t seen a trail marker in several miles, and started to worry we had gotten off course somehow. But we just kept going with hopes of seeing something confirming we were headed the right way. That’s when it happened. Joel was ahead of me on the single-track trail when he stopped abruptly. I assumed he was just waiting for me to catch up, but it was even better – to his left, trail marker 31 which meant we had about a half mile to go. I cried again, this time tears of joy. We could see the coast and campground from that trail marker and practically ran the rest of the way.
As we ascended upon Parsons Landing, we were first greeted by a row of port-a-potties situated between columns of lockers on a deck. Animal-proof garbage containers surrounded each side of the landing and little trails led down either side to the campground on the beach. Beyond the deck of port-a-potties and lockers was a shade structure overlooking the beach campground and into the ocean. We dropped our bags and split up to explore. Again, we shared the entire campground with only two other people who had set up camp in the most secluded site at the far end.
Parsons Landing is literally camping on the beach. Although the campsites aren’t super close together, there’s no sense of privacy here. Each campsite comes with only the essentials: a bear box, fire ring, and picnic table. That’s it. There isn’t any shade on the beach. No showers in the campground. It’s as close to “roughing it” as we came on this trip. Nevertheless, it’s absolutely gorgeous. It has an entirely different feel than the other campgrounds we visited, it’s hard to explain. Man made rock walls at each campsite thwarted against high tide and felt like camping among ancient ruins.
It was already dark as when we finished setting up camp. The moon, nearly full, lit up the sky as we made our usual freeze-dried dinner before enjoying some hot chocolate and tea. We tucked into our tent shortly after that and drifted off to sleep to the sounds of the ocean. It was probably around 7 o’clock when we fell asleep, no shame at all.
The next morning Joel rose with the sun while I attempted to get a few extra hours of sleep. It was our final “rest” day, and our final full day on the island. I slept like shit the night before, I couldn’t get comfortable and tossed and turned all night. I woke up in a puddle of my own sweat a few hours later and peeled myself from my sleeping bag as I exited the tent. Joel told me he had spent the last few hours watching the waves and ocean come alive, so I joined him. Together we saw a pod of dolphins playing, a whale breach, and a sea lion play in the shores near our camp site.
It. Was. Magical.
After yet another oatmeal breakfast (can you tell I’m over oatmeal?) we set out in opposite directions exploring the beach. While I was playing in the tide pools at one end, Joel looked back from the other end and saw a giant raven perched atop his backpack resting on the picnic table. Worse than that, another raven had already stolen some supplies and was tearing everything apart. Joel returned to our site to see that the ravens had stolen our last oatmeal and hot chocolate (bastards!). The woman at the Visitor’s Center was right to warn us of aggressive ravens, I only wished I had taken her advice more seriously.
We spent the rest of the day exploring, climbing rocks, and taking photos. We relaxed on some left-behind Coleman camp chairs, staring into the ocean, watching waves crash on boulders sprinkled along the beach. We took it slow and soaked it all in.
While we were eating dinner that evening it dawned on us that our adventure was quickly coming to an end. The next morning we would hike back to Two Harbors the same way we came. There were only eight miles between us and the finish line. It almost didn’t feel real. We reminisced about our favorite moments – reaching our very first peak on the island the first day, seeing bison up close and in their element, everything about Little Harbor Campgrounds, the plethora of marine life we saw that morning, climbing rocks everywhere we went, and overcoming monumental self doubt.
That night we stayed up past our usual bedtime and watched strange lights dip into the ocean. We couldn’t tell what was across the channel (maybe an airport?), but we had read that the area surrounding Catalina is notorious for UFO and USO (unidentified submerged object) activity. Rumor has it that there is an underwater alien base in the channels surrounding Catalina. There’s even a UFO tour in the town of Avalon! Whatever it is we saw, we still felt tranquility on the beach that night, so, thanks aliens. After the light show, we zipped ourselves into our tent one last time and again, let the crashing waves sing us to sleep.
We both woke up refreshed and ready to hit the trail. We packed up early and headed out, the same way we came in. This time, we knew what to expect. Between us and the ravens, all of our food was consumed which lightened our packs a good deal. The weight of our packs didn’t feel that bad knowing we were on the homestretch. Wildlife encounters along the way didn’t hurt either.
Those last eight miles felt like a piece of cake compared to the rest of our trip. We were still sore but what waited for us at Two Harbors kept us going. We arrived earlier than we expected and made our way straight to the only restaurant open in town. We ordered beer and burgers (veggie and “the special”). I’m not a big drinker these days, but that beer was everything. We hoovered our burgers and fries in complete silence, that’s how good it was. Or maybe just how hungry we were.
After our meal, we showered for the first time in almost a week. The cold 3-minute shower brought me back to life. Then we went back to the General Store to find our souvenir: Trans-Catalina Trail patches. A gift to ourselves, these patches will serve as a reminder of our epic first thru-hike. We may not have hiked the TCT exactly by the book, but when all was said and done, we actually hiked about 10 extra miles and we call that a win.
In the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a summary of our adventure with some additional information and facts about Catalina. I’d love to know what questions you have about Catalina or hiking I could answer in the next post. Let us know your thoughts! Comment below or email us (firstname.lastname@example.org)! We can’t wait to hear from you!
Watch for next week’s post about our experience as Wild Keepers!