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West Coast Just a 377-Day Challenge Afoot

Times Staff Writer

Walking, it’s said, is therapeutic.

But walking is the most dangerous thing he has ever done, according to Bryan Barrow.

With compass in hand, Barrow started walking south from Vancouver, Canada, on April 17, 1984. Six pairs of shoes and 377 days later, after scaling oceanside cliffs and encountering bears and armed marijuana harvesters along the coast, the 22-year-old arrived in San Diego on Monday on the final leg of his trip to the Mexican border.

“I just wanted to do something that has never been done before,” said Barrow, resting in an Ocean Beach park. “No one has ever walked this coastline, and I saw it as a challenge.”

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Barrow is not soliciting money for charity, he said, because he did not want any external motivation for his long trek. He contacted The Times Monday because his trip is nearly over, he said.

A Sierra Club spokeswoman said recently that many people have hiked the same distance along the inland Pacific Crest Trail, but that Barrow was the first she had heard of who had walked the coastal route.

A recent graduate of an art institute in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Barrow said that he began the adventure because his life was “without excitement.” In several soft and well-worn notebooks, he has kept a daily record of his walk, hoping to write a book about his experiences, he said.

Earning spending money at various places along the route, the “coastwalker,” as he calls himself, said he has eaten everything from seaweed to stinging nettles.

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“The stinging nettles were actually very good,” he said. “They tasted like spinach. And I used the seaweed to make soup.”

“I had to learn to supplement my diet with things from the ocean,” he said. “I was able to feast on mussels throughout Oregon. But there isn’t much seafood on the California coast. Here, I found berries.”

Barrow said he had made many friends along the way, but he also found some enemies.

“I had a hard time trying to walk through the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant,” he said. “I was harassed by the guards and then I finally talked to the landowners who had retained access rights and they got me through.”

Property owners in Big Sur also were unfriendly, he said. One man who escorted him out of the area told him he was lucky that “he and the missus did not take the shotgun to his head.”

“He was very serious,” Barrow said. “I know that he would have shot and killed me, and no one would have ever known.”

An experienced cross-country cyclist, Barrow said that despite near brushes with death and unpleasant encounters, his trip has been a joy.

“I watched the whales and their calves all along the way,” he said. “And when I was climbing some cliffs in the Olympic Peninsula, I saw eagles fly by.”

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Barrow, sunburned and wearing a pair of cracked leather tennis shoes, one of them wrapped with thick electrical tape, said his trip will end May 5, when a badly blistered foot steps across the Mexican border.

“After having done this, I know that I can do anything,” he said. “But I would never do this trip again.”


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