This past April of 2019, we chatted with a friend of ours who was setting off on an adventure of a lifetime up the coast of California, just around Earth Day. Their goal was to hike along the Lost Coast up in Northern California with the sole purpose of picking up trash that had been left behind. While we couldn’t physically go with him and his team, we were happy to support him from our home town of sunny San Diego. And we’ll just say this… the amount and size of pieces of garbage was more than we expected when hearing all about what it meant to adventure consciously.
Adventuring Consciously – The Lost Coast Project
“What about the trash? Well we brought back the 40+ lbs of trash to San Diego.” – Alex Mortensen
Let’s start with you — have you always been into nature/ the environment?
It started pretty early on for me. I grew up in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes where we were surrounded by nature and mosquitos. For the record Minnesota has more than 10,000… apparently 11,842 lakes of 10 acres or more according to Wikipedia. We moved a few times at those pivotal moments in school, and I was never the quickest at making friends, so nature was a place for me to be free from all things. One of our houses backed up to the Minnesota River Basin. I would spend countless hours roaming around out there, hiking down to the basin where it was rare if you didn’t see a bald eagle. There were wild turkeys, deer, so much wildlife. In the dead of winter, we would go down the street to the MN Arboretum and cross-country ski. For a young boy at the time who just wanted to snowboard, it was really special, and something that definitely helped shape me into who I am today.
What inspired you to go on this adventure?
Wow… where do I begin besides just the name in itself. The Lost Coast. It’s such an emotive name for a place, like Death Valley, but without the whole afterlife thing. There’s a sense of wonder and mystique about a place so remote. As a photographer and lover of the outdoors, it has been on my radar for a while. I’ve been lucky to travel to some amazing locations for work and just to fix a travel bug. Indonesia, Mexico, China, Southeast Asia, Europe, and many of our own beautiful State & National Parks here at home. One thing that has always stuck with me through these travels is the amount of single-use plastics on every step of the journey, mixed with trash found washed up on beaches, streets, or even how my own ‘selfish’ adventures were harming the environment. Only to come back to what I now call home, Encinitas, CA, and regularly find trash washed up on the beach. I began to wonder how The Lost Coast, CA’s most untouched, rugged coastline has been effected my human ‘traffic’, i.e. ocean plastics and other hikers along the trail. So, I booked a permit through Recreation.gov for 5 heads and recruited some of my closest friends to go backpacking down the 25-mile stretch of coastline. Easy right? Well they could only join if they agreed to pick-up and pack-out trash along the way, while trying to making our own adventure as sustainable as possible.
What were your expectations going into this trip? What were you hoping to accomplish?
In prepping for the trip, I got word that the place was more or less pristine. But I also read blogs of local groups from the area that would do beach clean ups, carrying back what looked to be like A LOT of trash. I didn’t know what to expect or what we would find. We also timed it out over Earth Week in April, and weather can typically be wet. Naturally, you prepare for the worst. Safety is always #1 concern while backpacking far from any help. We all agreed that we would carry out as much trash as we safely could, what we didn’t know is just what that would look like… Luckily we were fueled with enough homemade beef jerky and Perfect Bars for whatever came our way.
So, was it as bad as people claim? Just how much plastic did you find throughout your travels?
Haha yeah… It was bad. On the first day we got about ½ mile in when we found the first piece on the beach. A little pink tag, likely used for surveying/research. I was filming at the time and continued to roll as the crew stopped, looked around, and started picking up piece after piece. It was a really dramatic first look into what we were about to find. We began to notice patterns in the types of trash and where it would be bunched together. With the occasional surprise. There were plastic bottles, straws, bottle caps, a tire, foam… so much foam, buoys, shoes, a tire, a planter box, hygiene products, a hiking pole, a parking cone, a large red light fully intact. Anything you could imagine, attached to our packs and stuffed away in reusable stuff sacks. Each morning reconfiguring all of the loot, and deciding on names for our buoys. Total weight is still to be determined but we’re estimating 40+ lbs of trash. About halfway through our dialogue went from “Pick it up!”, to “It’s too much…”
What story stands out in your mind about this adventure?
We did a lot of prep for this trip; dehydrating our own food for meals and snacks, we calculated out our daily mileage, we knew what the tides were doing. I read any and all blogs about former hikers in the area. We were prepared for just about anything. But there was one thing I hadn’t looked up yet – and that was the Native American history from the area.
Our shuttle guides from Shelter Cove to Mattole Beach, Lost Coast Adventure Tours, were actually hiking in the same day we were. So we planned to meet for lunch at Punta Gorda Lighthouse where I would interview the owner, Blu Graham, about his experience in the area. He told us about the Sinkyone Indians who used to live off of these forests and waters, at the time full of all kinds of life. The Mattole River used to run full of salmon. Grizzly Bears and the Sinkyone Indians walked some of the same trails we did. Blu told us about forest burns they would have to build back an even stronger food system. They knew how to survive out here for hundreds of years, and were fully sustainable. I began to realize the name of the area we were in was only coined to be “Lost” after logging polluted rivers killing off salmon, genocide during the gold rush, and having to redirect construction of the 101 in-land because of the rugged landscape. It was the history of the very lands, and the people that used to walk them that humbled us as we continued our journey. Looking at the hills to our east, waters to our west and what it provided to these people gave us such a deeper appreciation for where we were, and what we were doing. Blu also told us we would see burnt hillsides along the trail from fires that got out of control from previous hikers… The two contrasted stories really put things into perspective. There seemed to be an overarching theme of how culturally, our respect for these shared lands has shifted. It’s a really simple swap of a couple words – instead of thinking what do these lands & waters provide for me, other people, animals? It’s now shifted into what do I get out of visiting these places?
What was the biggest thing you learned along the way?
I think the biggest thing is actually what we started to learn as we got back home and into the swing of things again. No matter where each of us was respectively on the spectrum of trying to ‘do our part’ and live greener, we’ve all started to see things differently as a consumer. Asking ourselves the right questions and having these conversations as a group has started to shift our mindset. How and what should I grocery shop for? Is there excessive packaging? Can I make it myself or buy it in bulk with my nifty reusable grocery bags from Zero Waste Kit? What businesses, individuals and self-practices could help grow a regenerative ecosystem in your space? The idea of global warming is one intimidating mountain. But I believe that a little change in mindset is enough to get the snowball rolling down the mountain, gaining in size and momentum. At the end of the day we’re all human, we all want clean water, fresh food, to feel a sense of community, and pass that on to future generations. I encourage you to think about this or some of the questions above wherever your adventures or work take you.
So now what? What can we expect to see from this trip?
I’m really excited to partnering with Changing Tides Foundation for this project. We’ll be launching a photo + video art show themed around sustainability launching August 2nd @ Culture Brewing Encinitas. We’ll examine our findings from the Lost Coast. Building on the narrative how Adventuring Consciously is an agent for positive change around the world. Fundraising, percentage of beer sales and print sales will be donated to Changing Tides Foundation.
If you’re in the area join us throughout the month for the launch party, documentary premiere, raffles, beach-clean ups and good vibes. I will also be doing some print & sponsor giveaways on Instagram leading up to the event – so be sure to follow along for more details.
What about the trash? Well we brought back the 40+ lbs of trash to San Diego. I’m currently in the process of working alongside Janis Jones with ShoreSweep to create a piece of art that will be installed for the show. You too, can meet all of our buoy friends.
Check into Culture’s website to see the month long schedule