Preview of "Starfish Halls: When I Drowned and Lived to Tell About It"

On Thanksgiving 1989, a student at a northern California university, long yearning for a place apart, set out on a 25-mile beach hike on a wild and unpopulated stretch of California coastline called the Lost Coast. At hike's end, he was forever a changed man.

That man was I, and I told my story in a short memoir called Starfish Halls. Things happened to me on this rabid and lonesome stretch of California coast, on that and subsequent trips that no amount of science or logic will ever explain away. For starters…

Ghostly remnants of the Mattole, Native Americans who inhabited the range for 2000 years before white man, immediately greet the hiker and set the tone of the windswept and enigmatic Lost Coast. Storms rage on the mountainous coast. That Thanksgiving, storm seas tore away at the few coastal plains that separate the vaulting mountains, cutting bare what was once a center of life for a Mattole tribe and leaving exposed, for my eyes, the buried bones and abalone shell-overlay of a human as old, perhaps, as Jesus.

Midway along the range, Punta Gorda Lighthouse stands firm against the howling winds and tempestuous Pacific as the coast's lone symbol of civilized man and by far the western most point in the continental United States. It was just south of here that a misread tidal chart nearly cost me my life. Part of me is sure I did die, yet somehow survived to tell the tale.

Cold and wet from the driving winter rain, I grew resentful of a rocky outcrop that lay between me and what I imagined to be a beach just beyond. I counted the seconds before each stone-smashing wave and, ignoring the rising tide, ran hell-bent into the stormy sea. I made it. And I made it again. Again and again I made it around one rocky outcropping and into the relative safety of the small cove beyond. Until I ran out of coves.

On the sixth or seventh run from shallow cove to shallow cove with no room to climb up the shale cliffs behind me, I was caught and thrown into the seething storm sea.

The mini-memoir that resulted from this experience is Walden on acid. It is Into Thin Air at sea level. It is Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas minus the Vegas or the drugs but with all the fear and hallucinations afforded one fighting for survival against nature. It is a dreamy tale of survival on a stretch of California coast lost to most.

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