West Coast Is Theirs, Underfoot

Times Staff Writer

They dodged high tides in Washington by scaling crumbling cliffs and crossed Oregon rivers by hitching rides with fishermen.

On Wednesday, after winning permission to cross Camp Pendleton, Nate Olive and Sarah Janes set across a rocky beach at San Onofre en route to the Mexican border -- the finish line of their 3 1/2 -month coastal journey.

With long hair, weathered sandals and deep tans, Olive and Janes are completing a 1,800-mile trail trek that began in Cape Flattery, Wash., the northern tip of the Olympic Peninsula. Their aim is to help the Portland-based National Coast Trail Assn. promote preserving and increasing coastal trails as well as public access to beaches. They’re also helping promote an Atlanta nonprofit called Welcome Home, which serves at-risk youth.

They call such adventures their lifestyle. Olive, 28, and Janes, 23, have hiked the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail and the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail.


“We hope people hear about what we’re doing and will feel inspired to make a connection with this dynamic coastal area,” Olive said. “We just want people to know that there’s another beautiful way to live; an alternative.”

Olive, a native of Georgia, and Janes, from Louisiana, set off with their overstuffed backpacks on June 8, taking a hiatus from their jobs as ecologists for the National Park Service.

Only scattered sections of what advocates seek to make one uninterrupted trail are labeled and mapped. The hikers had one main rule: Keep the coast in sight while walking. Being careful not to trespass on private property, they had to take a 35-mile detour around Vandenberg Air Force Base. At times they were wading through surf.

Reaching Malibu, they were surprised to see beachfront homes surrounded by high fences and signs warning, “Private beach.”

They took to the water, only to be buzzed by a law enforcement helicopter.

“They just looked at us and flew off,” Olive said.

Although people along the way were usually friendly, he said, some mistook them for homeless wanderers.

“There’s that moment when people look at us [suspiciously] and try to figure out what we’re doing. We tell them, and then their tone changes,” Olive said.


By day’s end Wednesday, they had covered 16 miles -- about what they’ve averaged -- reaching a campground on the south side of the Marine base. They’ve called their mothers when encountering pay phones, and Olive each week has sent pages of his journal to his mother, in Atlanta, so she could post them online. He plans to publish his coastal photographs.

Every few days they have replenished their supplies, including tortillas and refried beans, a staple. Rather than carry most supplies -- maps, granola, dried fruit, meat and vegetables -- they mail them ahead and pick them up.

The couple will stop when they reach the Mexican border Tuesday, probably “where the water meets the fence,” Olive said.

In another year or so, Janes said, they plan to tackle the Continental Divide Trail, which Olive called the “king of long-distance trails,” stretching more than 3,000 miles across the Rocky Mountains from Canada to Mexico.