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Inspired by dreamy beaches far and near, home to sirens and sea monsters of all kinds.

The Trip That Inspired Us...

Inspired by a wild hike on the coast of Catalina Island

Landing at LAX is never an auspicious start for a "wilderness experience." The Trans-Catalina Trail was supposed to be a shimmering jewel of a coastal hike, where we'd wind our way through shell-strewn beaches, up high bluffs overlooking the azure Pacific, and even spot endemic wildlife such as the Catalina Island Fox and those that were introduced for the sole purpose of making Western films and then left to roam, a herd of bison. However, waiting for the ferry on a dusty, smoggy pier in LA, eating greasy food truck empanadas, I was beginning to doubt my choice of getaways.

I doubted our choice even more when we arrived in Avalon. The town had its charms, in the way that certain New England coastal towns do, with touristy knick-knack shops on every corner, bachelorette parties stumbling, single file and shrieking, behind a tiara-clad bride-to-be, and families queuing for ice cream in ribbons down the sidewalk. But we were looking for magic of a different kind.

That magic appeared when we hopped in a shuttle the next morning, winding our way up through the hills behind Avalon and into the pavement-free interior of the island. Eventually, we began our hike in the much quieter and more isolated town of Two Harbors. Making our way along the coast, we admired the midnight-blue of the Pacific Ocean, which occasionally turned bright turquoise in the shallows. At points, we could see straight to the sandy bottom of these turquoise-covered sand bars, and we watched seals, sea lions, and dolphins whip through the white froth breaking against offshore reefs. (As a side note, the famous young adult novel, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell, was likely set on this island chain).

Halfway to our campsite, we picked our way down a side trail to a deserted beach. Despite our heavy packs, the beach looked inviting enough to make the side trip worth it. My mom yelped in surprise, plucking a huge, conical tan and white shell with a mother of pearl interior from the sand. We'd never seen anything quite like it before, and we cast our eyes downwards to comb the beach for more. We needn't have tried so hard; the shells littered the beach, in varying sizes, along with sea glass and other unfamiliar seashells.

After our beach-combing diversion, we at last arrived at our first campsite, just a strip of sand with a fire ring, with a front-row seat to the crashing waves. We built a fire and toasted some marshmallows, watching the full moon rise over the bluffs above. With the sound of the crashing waves and the full moon illuminating the sand, I could easily see how past sailors dreamt up mermaids inhabiting these waters and beaches.

Unfortunately, our third day on the trail brought inches of torrential rain, an uncommon occurrence for the desert-like island. The rangers suggested we abort our hike, since the island's soil was clay-based, turning into deep, sticky mud that prevents walkers' progress, especially with a heavy pack, sucking boots off into the mud with each step and creating dangerously slick conditions on the singletrack up in the hills. While we desperately wanted to complete the full trail, we heeded the rangers' warnings and were glad we did. As we sat in the town's only bar and restaurant back in Two Harbors, waiting for a ferry to take us back to Avalon that afternoon, the rain came down furiously, and those who had attempted to hike out of town that day ultimately came stumbling back a few hours later, caked in mud up to their thighs, some missing a shoe to the quicksand-like mud. 

During a break in the rain, I took a walk to the town's beach. I was disappointed that our hike was ending this way, rather than with a triumphant march down into Avalon on foot. Watching the grey water churn and swirl, mist flying from the crests of the whitecaps and blurring the lines between the rain and the surf, I could see how past sailors could also imagine sea monsters in these waters, or maybe that was my darker mood from being stuck in town rather than out on the trail.


With a bit of perspective, back in Avalon the next morning, the rain still fell. But my mood was more elevated. While we didn't complete the trail, we'd certainly had an adventure. And I felt fortunate to have seen both sides of this magical island - the one where mermaids lounged in turquoise waters and, yes, even the side where sea monsters lurked under dark, stormy waves.

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