It’s a weekday morning on our beloved Coastal Trail, where retirees in UV hats could once hog a wide swath of road while walking rescue pups or pedaling satin-finished cruisers.
A month after California’s stay-at-home order, the local turf has felt a shift of currents — home-schooled tots burn stored fuel on trikes; millennials intently jog to Spotify; dudes speed-race by within inches of pedestrians, and couples soothe-stroll having torn themselves from home offices and nearby refrigerators after a televised pandemic briefing. Per usual, our stealthy barefoot surfers cross the path to ride big waves.
The bucolic trail ... it’s alive!
Unlike citizens of Germany and South Korea who obey strict quarantines, we Californians are harder to herd. We’re entitled to our fitness routines and views of the Pacific. John Muir said going to the mountains is “a necessity.” Our 4.7-mile trail is mostly paved, but still fills the order.
So what if only a handful can be bothered to cover their faces? Palm Springs has issued a local emergency order to protect its sizable elderly population with fines of $5,000 for forgoing masks in public. Deputies in San Diego have issued dozens of $1,000 citations to picnickers and other beachgoers watching the sunset in Encinitas. Money talks, and residents there are scared into submission.
Meanwhile, it’s a jolly holiday in Miramar. The prime beach destination is an extension of place for sheltering Half Moon Bay locals who can access the trail on foot and by bike. And although the city has discouraged outsiders from visiting, interlopers can be spied parking on the few streets yet to be blocked with placards.
“We want to share our beach, but not just now when we need to be sheltering in place and taking care of our elders and people who are immune-suppressed,” says a Miramar neighbor, an artist who has been holed up alone for weeks and finds comfort in the sunset’s magenta afterglow during her cherished evening stretches. “I don’t want them to close down the beaches as they did in Santa Cruz!”
Safe distancing on our beach trail is possible without the threat of hefty fines but comes down to an honor system. It’s akin to the dance of a four-way stop sign. One intuits her turn to move.
When an incoming trio of chatty, unmasked besties fails to fall into a single-file line, it can be stressful. My road rage crowned on an evening bike ride to Francis State Beach. A man walking beside his stroller-pushing wife firmly stood his ground, forcing me to steer into the shrubbery.
That’s not to say our trail is devoid of courtesy. Gracious pedestrians automatically box-step away in a new, animated meme. Other masked mamas and papas nod knowingly as they pass, recognizing we are on the same team. We realize success means staying the course. Anyone aware of the history of the 1918 Spanish flu knows a second wave of a mutated virus can be much more lethal and kill millions.
As reiterated by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the 6-foot physical separating rubric is merely a healthy estimate of what it takes to avoid contaminating others with a spray of air droplets.
Some beach towns have responded with placards on trails reminding folks to distance. Yet, here, the only caution signs are inkjet notices taped to wooden benches and picnic tables announcing that public seating is off limits. I had to laugh when two middle-aged women bent over to examine such a sign, then sat anyway.
Lately, I opt for the open beach for long walks with my daughters because it’s easier to fan out on the sand. As we exercise, my 23-year-old complains it’s cumbersome to breathe through her gauzy mask. Even so, she complies.
Shut-ins shouldn’t be deprived of the habitat we share with red-tailed hawks, brown bunnies and yards of golden yarrow. The saltwater breezes are life-affirming. Open-air herbal infusions by the sea are what draw us to paradise found.
Like everyone else, I’ve had to trust we’ve done a good job staying home. Experts tell us San Francisco has flattened the curve by being the first to close down. At present, hospital beds are available in the city. The numbers show our collective effort is working, while Lady Luck pulls her weight.
Occasionally, I take time to commune with a wind-formed indigenous tree guarding the trail. I tap its fibrous trunk to awaken the protective, ancient spirits long believed to reside within. “Dear Tree: We beachcombers are a hearty lot, but our country is plague-stricken. Shield us with a wisdom that has sustained you for centuries against man’s clumsy hand.”
The stirring leaves prompt me to always take the high road, to smile and be the first to step aside. By swimming with the stream, rather than against it, we just might go the distance. Knock on wood!
Luanne Sanders Bradley is an arts writer and editor, and a San Francisco art museum docent. Photos by Pete Andreotti. They live in Miramar with their family.