We trudge along a steep incline with 20 pounds of paraphernalia strapped to each of our backs. Tents, sleeping bags, propane tanks, water, a kite, a frisbee, mason jars filled with cake, fairy dust – the essentials. The strain is relentless, until we reach a ridge, where the sea and sky coalesce into one infinite cerulean panorama. It’s easygoing for a while, until we have to descend on slippery, gravelly trails. The sound of cicadas could just as likely be rattlesnakes, so my eyes scan my surroundings with every step, just as all animals in the wild must do.
By chance we spot a lonely little bison. When I say little, don’t get me wrong – the beast could have come straight out of Where The Wild Things Are. But he is small enough to be probably a newly matured male who has just separated from a herd – a common breeding ritual among just about all mammals. It’s tempting to approach him, the way he lay there so docile, rolling around like a puerile puppy. But at any moment, a bison can decide to charge at humans – or anything – at 30 miles per hour. As a sidenote, the bison were left on this island after the filming of a silent movie (which was never completed) in 1924. With no natural predators they thrived to a population of 600, but eventually the Catalina Island Conservancy relocated some to South Dakota (their natural habitat is Midwestern plains), and implemented birth control to keep their population around 150 – a number more favorable to the ecology of the island and the well-being of the bison.
Soon after our sighting, we reach our destination – Parsons Landing – a secluded primitive campground on the beach, accessible only by the difficult eight-mile hike we just conquered, or by kayak. Seals poke their heads out along the rocky shore, and in the background, a classic schooner sails by. The sun sets, the moon rises, and we heat rations of Indian food on the iridescent fire (made with the fairy dust, seriously). It couldn’t be a more perfect meal – nothing tastes as good as it does after you’ve hiked for miles and miles – nor a more dreamy night.
The next day, after hiking another eight miles along coastal cliffs and through a Boy Scout camp, Two Harbors comes into view, and my heart palpitates. On the beach I slip off my shoes, and the gravel and sand envelop my roughed up skin in smooth coolness and warmth all at once. We can’t resist baskets of French fries and onion rings, Blue Moons and Moscow mules, vanilla fudge sundaes. Tiny birds are flirtatious, daring to flutter close enough to make me believe they’ll land on the finger I’m offering as a perch, but they just tease. A black crow hops from chair to chair, oblivious to his own divinity. We board the boat and drift off to sleep until we wake to find ourselves back among the seafoam-colored cranes of San Pedro.
Photo by Katie Byron