In the movie The Way, Martin Sheen’s character undertakes a 500-mile walk across northern Spain in memory of his lost son. The journey on the Camino de Santiago (the way of St. James) initially seems arduous and perilous, but it turns out to be an exhilarating adventure that liberates Sheen and other trekkers from the confinements of their everyday lives. It inspired me to make my own mini-pilgrimage — one that would take a few hours rather than weeks.
I mapped out my own camino de la playa from Hendry’s Beach to Goleta Beach, a six-mile stretch of shoreline that seems far removed from the nearby urban bustle. I consulted the bus schedules and tide tables. The Number 5 bus would drop me off at the Hendry’s (Arroyo Burro) parking lot, and the Number 11 would take me back to town from the airport road near Goleta Beach. I chose an afternoon when the tide was very low.
The ocean takes on many different colors over the course of the year. On this clear winter day, it was a brilliant cobalt blue, sprinkled with dabs of bronze where kelp broke the surface. Ahead of me, a wide carpet of firm, wet sand stretched into the distance. There have been no storms powerful enough to scour the sand away from the rocky shore.
A sea lion was swimming 20 yards offshore as I started walking toward the distant landmark of UCSB’s Storke Tower. Aside from a couple on a brief stroll and two stand-up paddleboarders rounding the point, there was no human activity in sight. There were birds galore — the ever-present gulls, grebes, and cormorants diving in the surf, stately pelicans gliding overhead, and shorebirds of all sizes patrolling the edge of the water. They will be duly identified by eager bird-watchers on December 31, when the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count will be conducted here. Last year’s count yielded 211 different species, ranking the Santa Barbara area as the fourth most diversely populated bird sanctuary in the nation.
Rocks exposed by the receding tide were crusted with anemones, mussels, and barnacles. Some colorful blue and green tendrils in a tide pool caught my eye. They turned out to be strands from the webbing of a discarded patio chair.
Seeming even more blatantly out of place was an abandoned bathhouse on the beach. The familiar landmark sits on massive concrete pilings. Signs on the weathered, windowless walls of the structure declare that it’s private property, no trespassing. Along this stretch of sand, the coastal bluffs soar exceptionally high. They are the ramparts of Hope Ranch, that verdant domain of the privileged — my apologies to the decent, generous citizens among them. Below the high-tide line, the 99 percent of whom I am a member can walk freely on sand that we own.
An airliner streaked overhead and descended over the cliffs. As my walk progressed, I noticed my left side, exposed to the sun (which was low in the southern sky), felt toasty. But my shaded right side was many degrees cooler. On the beach below More Mesa, at a discreet distance from the shore, a lone nude sunbather was trying to stay warm.
I had to pick my way through several rocky outcroppings, which made me glad I wore a pair of old running shoes. But there were sandy passages winding through the maze at the lowest point of the tide. It was offshore from one of those points, where the cliffs had the color of burnt charcoal, that the wildlife was most spectacular. Dozens of harbor seals were resting on exposed rocks. Their deep-throated growls carried over the sound of the waves.
I removed my shoes to wade across the creek exiting the Goleta Slough. It had a strong tidal flow. Only two and a half hours after I had started out, I reached the Goleta Pier. I felt deserving of a brew at the restaurant, but I had a bus to catch.
I revisited the beach a while later. It was a cloudy day, and the ocean was a steel gray. I might be a frequent explorer of the outdoors during these holidays. It is more uplifting than sitting on the couch while another of the teams that I picked in my college bowl pool goes down to defeat.
HOLIDAY HOOPS: The Santa Barbara High Tournament of Champions, featuring 32 girls basketball teams, will continue through Friday, December 23, when the final games will be held at J.R. Richards Gym. The following week, December 26-29, Santa Barbara will host a boys basketball tournament. … In college men’s basketball, UCSB, chagrined by a 20-point loss at UC Berkeley on Monday, faces another tough matchup at BYU tonight (Thu., Dec. 22). … Westmont College will host the Tom Byron Classic on December 29-30.