On a clear chilly day, I headed out with my autistic son and an old hiking buddy on what we thought would be a simple path.
“We wanted to hike from Rodeo Beach to Tennessee Beach a while back, but we got sidetracked at Tennessee Point Labyrinth and ended up turning back from there,” I told our friend. “Maybe we can do both today.”
The Marin Headlands is a rolling set of hills, largely devoid of forests to get lost in. My brain retained the fact that there was a trail from one beach to the other, and I didn’t bother checking a map to confirm the connector points.
The catch is that the Marin Headlands have many unnamed lesser trails, and countless unmapped naturally cut paths.
Feet and eyes follow the natural pathways guided by directional instinct, which should not be hard on a broad hilly area with the ocean to the west, the San Francisco skyline to the southeast, historic military batteries high on hills to the east, and Point Reyes outcroppings to the northwest for reference.
After a scenic stop at the labyrinth, we climbed the trail most directly aiming toward the Coastal Trail which we could follow to Tennessee Beach.
At some point, the clear trail faded into interesting geological strata, ruins of military structures too small to be mapped, and naturally formed cuts through coyote brush, with an occasional push through thick bushes.
“Looks like the main trail is just above that next ridge,” I said at least a dozen times. We stopped at various structural ruins, and stepped piece by piece along a post-apocalyptic asphalt road that dotted the hillside in broken chunks.
If we climbed high enough, we’d have to hit the Coastal Trail at some point, so that’s what we did. Another hiker ambled down from above and asked us about the trail to Tennessee Beach. We laughed. We found a scenic overlook where we could see down a steep valley to Tennessee Beach, and decided that was enough for our goal. Seeing other hikers and a dog high above, we climbed in that direction and found our trail back past Battery Townsley to Rodeo Beach.
Bushwhacking our way along the headlands, which is what I imagine Scottish hills are like, was more fun than taking the easily marked trail I didn’t bother confirming on a map.
I don’t recommend sloppy trail plans, but if you’re in an open place where you can’t truly get lost, ambling off the beaten track can be fun.
In the bigger scope of existence, who follows an exactly planned trail? Life is just one long bushwhacking adventure, and hopefully we can sometimes laugh and enjoy the view when we go off trail. Keep putting one foot forward!
This week’s Hike Notes, Marin Headlands Above Tennessee Point, introduces readers to a scenic coastal hike with unexpected historic structures along the way.
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Hike Notes 150: Marin Headlands Above Tennessee Point
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