FORT ROSS STATE PARK - Picking their way across the rocks and boulders that cover the shore on this stretch of central Sonoma Coast, Morgan Visalli and Jocelyn Enevoldsen started off Tuesday like two people out for a stroll with the promise of lunch and a nap by noon.
Cheery and relaxed — stopping here to check out pockmarked stone formations called tafoni, and there to examine circular colonies of goose neck barnacles — they suggested none of the fatigue, apprehension or seriousness with which others might face an undertaking as formidable as theirs.
The young marine scientists, both in their 20s, are on a very long walk, one that will take them down the entire length of the state in a quest to bring attention to the California Coastal Trail and to build momentum for its completion more than four decades after it was first envisioned.
They like to say that they are “walking to Mexico.”
It’s a three-month, 1,250-mile trek. Covering an average 13 miles daily, sometimes in tough terrain, they find their legs are usually pretty tired by evening.
But after a full month on the trail and close to 400 miles since they departed the Oregon border on May 1, the two women are still energized and raring to go, inspired by the beauty that surrounds them and the knowledge that they are building on the legacy of coastal protection, whose roots, by happenstance, lie in Sonoma County.
As imagined, the trail would be a sort of coastal version of iconic regional trails like the Appalachian Trail or the Continental Divide Trail in the Rockies, or the inland west coast Pacific Crest Trail. It is about 60 percent complete, but the 40 percent that remains is likely to be the most difficult, according to Linda Locklin, coastal access program manager for the California Coastal Conservancy.
Even in Sonoma County the coastal trail is only about half finished, Sonoma County Park Planning Manager Steve Ehret said. Large segments of completed trail in the Sonoma Coast State Park, smaller regional parks and The Sea Ranch are offset by stretches around Fort Ross and Salt Point and other places that are mere dash marks on a map. In areas such as Timber Cove, the “trail” becomes Highway 1.
Leaving Reef Campground at Fort Ross State Park on Tuesday, Visalli and Enevoldsen faced a day mostly on the rocks, as they traveled south toward Russian Gulch and then Jenner, wathing the tide table to avoid pinch points.
Their nomadic journey has taken them into majestic redwood groves and labyrinthine sand dunes, across river estuaries, through coastal prairie and atop ocean bluffs. “The coast is just magical,” said Visalli, 25. “There’s so much diversity of landscape.”
They’ve also met numerous “angels,” folks who have offered them passage across waterways, invited them into homes for coffee and snacks or, like a man they met after their very first day on the trail, handed them two frosty cold beers.
Using the trail names “Mo” and “Jo,” the two women — close friends through graduate school — are working this year under a $50,000 California Coastal Conservancy grant, serving as official ambassadors for the California Coastal Trail that, when complete, will provide a networked system of trails, boardwalks, open beaches and bike and equestrian paths open for public use, all “within sight, sound or at least scent of the sea.”