Hikers on an epic journey along the California coast will celebrate their 1,000th mile at the Venice Pier

By Melina Sempill Watts

Jocelyn Enevoldsen (left) and Morgan Visalli trek the California Coastal Trail. Photo by Kyle London.

Jocelyn Enevoldsen (left) and Morgan Visalli
trek the California Coastal Trail. Photo by Kyle London.

Sometimes love makes people do crazy things.

Jocelyn Enevoldsen and Morgan Visalli are showing their affection for the California’s coastline by hiking all 1,200 miles of it so that maybe someday you can too.

Their 14-week MoJo Coastwalk began May 1 at the Oregon border and brings them to Los Angeles on Saturday, when Enevoldsen and Visalli will celebrate their 1,000th mile with a public meet-and-greet at the Venice Pier.

The journey follows the length of the largely unknown California Coastal Trail, a braided network of connected pathways mandated by the same 1972 state ballot initiative that created the California Coastal Commission (later made permanent by the California Coastal Act of 1976).

The challenge facing Mo and Jo is that, despite being on the books for 44 years, more than a third of the trail doesn’t actually exist yet.

Gaps in the voter-mandated trail system have forced Enevoldsen and Visalli to confront rugged terrain or to circumvent private property or military installations by taking long detours along California State Route 1 or slipping through narrow seaside passages at low tide.

“Not a lot of people know there’s supposed to be a public path along the coastline of the entire state. We want to get people talking about it,” says “third sister of the sea” Alisan Amrhein, who’s coordinating the hike, providing essential logistical support and walking portions of the trail.

The three women hope the MoJo Coast-walk will increase public awareness of the California Coastal Trail and help push state and local governments to finish the job.

As part of a California Coastal Conservancy grant, they’re also collecting GPS data so that the conservancy and the nonprofit California Coastal Trail Association can build a smartphone app to guide future visitors.

Inspiration for the MoJo Coastwalk struck as Enevoldsen, Visalli and Amrhein were completing their master’s degrees in coastal marine resource management at UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management.

“The three of us bonded over our love for the beach,” says 27-year-old Enevoldsen, who grew up in Ventura County. “When we were not at the beach, we were usually talking about the beach or our plans to get to the beach.”

Visalli, 25, grew up in the Virgin Islands and New Jersey.

Amrhein, 28, lives in Santa Clarita.

What brought them together was enjoying the ocean “as swimmers, as surfers, as scuba divers, as kayakers,” says Enevoldsen. “We fish. We snorkel. Anything you can think of.”

But the past three months have been a physically intense adventure on foot, walking with backpacks and hiking gear on rocky trails in Northern California before transitioning to bare feet and bikinis once they hit the sandy beaches of Santa Barbara County.

As much as humanly possible, they’ve faithfully walked every inch of the coast.

“Big Sur is a tough section because a lot of it you have to go on Highway 1. We were planning on walking along a ridge and it was too hot and there was not enough water available. Up in Mendocino, there’s a long stretch that is just Highway 1 and most of the area is private property,” Visalli says.

She describes two long biking days to get around Highway 1, first past the nuclear Diablo Canyon Power Plant and the Vandenberg Air Force Base, then in north  Santa Barbara to bypass the Bixby Ranch and the Hollister Ranch.

There are also some narrow seaside passages that can only be traversed at low tide.

Despite those challenges, Amrhein has done an astounding job of keeping them to a meticulously planned itinerary; they are not off schedule by even one day.

Food and sunscreen are also critical to mission success.

“Every single meal is a highlight for us, so we eat as much as possible,” says Enevoldsen. “And we are very, very careful about sun protection. Both of our mothers have instilled this in us, so we put on sunscreen multiple times a day. You should put that in there — they’ll be really proud.”

Despite obstacles, mishaps and injuries, the hikers have kept a positive attitude.

On July 13, Enevoldsen stepped on a seashell shard that went deep into her big toe. There was nothing for it but emergency trailside self-surgery.  But, as she cheerfully points out, she later stepped on a blob of tar that she’s certain is keeping her from an infection.

And then there was the nighttime skunk attack.

“We had laid out our materials for s’mores, the fire was going, and the plan was retreat and go to sleep — then we hear some rustling in the bushes,” Visalli recalls. “The smell was absolutely overwhelming —we could see the splatter [on the tent].”

Despite an extensive effort to clean it, they had to abandon the tent and sleep outside that night.

“It was not funny at that time,” says Enevoldsen. “Now it’s funny.”

Noah, Amrhein’s friendly rescue dog, sometimes tags along as their camp security system, but he’s had his own skunk troubles.

“Noah got sprayed twice, in the face then at the tent,” says Amrhein. “I got baking soda and dish soap at a nearby gas station and took him to the camp showers and washed him, sudsed him like eight times and people were mad at me for being in there. … He still smells.”

Other encounters with wildlife have been more uplifting.

“We got to see an otter wrestling a lingcod. He dropped it, snatched it back up and we were there for the catch. We’ve seen 11 species of baby animals, because we’ve been on the trail in the spring and in early summer,” Visalli says. “The wildflowers have been spectacular — just total rainbow fields pretty much every where we’ve been.”

The early part of the trip was “a whale parade,” Enevoldsen says. “We caught the tail end of the whale migration from Mexico to Alaska … [but] the otters just steal the show. They’re so freaking cute, it’s not fair.”

Meeting people along the way has also been inspiring.

Starting off around mile No. 2 in Crescent City, a local couple who had read about their adventure invited the women and other hikers who were temporarily tagging along into their home for cookies.

The women are grateful to state parks officials for arranging campsites throughout their journey, but they’ve also stayed with supporters along the way and coastal inns have given them free stays.

And that figures directly into the mission of the MoJo Coastwalk.

“It is so exciting because every single person we tell about the California Coastal Trail loves the idea, and we’ve given them all a task, which is to tell three friends about the CCT. People we talk to say, ‘I’m going to tell way more than three,’ and that makes us all feel really good,” says Enevoldsen. “We want to tell people about this amazing resource that belongs to all of us.”

All are welcome to join Enevoldsen and Visalli as the Mojo Coastwalk makes its way through Los Angeles County.

The hikers leave Topanga State Beach at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 23, following sandy shorelines before picking up the Marvin Braude Bike Trail from Will Rodgers State Park down to the Venice Pier, where they plan to arrive by 4 p.m. that same day.

For more information, visit mojocoastwalk.com.