When I get my annual physical, on a long list of questions my doctor asks to assess my current 62-year-old well-being is The Big One: What do you do for exercise?
Dr. Tortora knows me well enough by now that she writes in “walking” before I answer, but what I really mean by “walking” is hiking, and what I really mean by “hiking” is “go to the beach.”
I ski, sometimes, and snowshoe if the trails haven’t been set. Years ago I used to run dogs and play community volleyball (not at the same time). I used to kayak. Doctors say to develop a fitness plan you should find something you like to do and keep doing it. I really, really like to walk beaches.
I grew up in Tampa, Florida, inland and a 30-minute drive from a decent beach. If I wanted a good walk, I strolled around the decrepit golf course behind my house that went bankrupt in the early 1960s.
On weekends Mom would load my three sisters and me into our old Oldsmobile station wagon and cart us off to Clearwater on the Gulf of Mexico. In summers our family rented a cabin at Longboat Key.
On that big barrier island that runs for miles, I discovered the joy of strolling. If golf is a good walk spoiled a beach is a good walk made perfect. First, you have sunshine, always therapeutic. Next, you get fresh air, pounded and minced by crashing waves. Third, the white noise of surf, wind and seagulls settles the mind, dropping you into a walking Zen state.
I’m kind of a finder guy, too, so when I walk beaches I look for stuff like seashells, feathers, cool driftwood and the odd wrack the sea tosses up. As totes amaze Florida beaches might be, nothing beats an Alaska beach.
Florida might have conch shells but Alaska has sea otter bones, cedar floats and, if you’re really lucky, glass balls. We also get a lot of yucky plastic, some from odd parts of the world, which is why I carry a bag when I walk the beach. The stuff that washes up here can be cool. Buy me a beer and I’ll tell you the story about finding a box of plastic box of cremated remains from a poor women who died in Nikiski. (Good news: she was sent back to the sea.) My luckiest find was a floating xxx brand VHF marine radio that still worked once I recharged the batteries.
Despite some cliff-hugging cabins, most Alaska beaches remain wild and undeveloped. I love the Diamond Creek beach, accessible by a rugged goat trail Alaska State Parks periodically throws a few coins at to maintain. On a sunny summer weekend day I might see 20 people there, and they spread out from the mouth of the creek north and south.
If you want an adventure, park a car in Homer or at Anchor Point and walk from Diamond Creek north or south. Watch the tide. Kachemak Bay can cork you off at certain points, and you’ll be hugging the bluff waiting for the tide or tromping through devil’s club to get around. It’s a decent fat bike ride, too.
Diamond Creek has beautiful birds, like cormorants that cluster on rocks or harlequin ducks bobbing in the surf. At one point seals haul out on rocks. In early spring the bluffs warm up first and that’s where you see the first wildflowers. Some years I can’t wait for the road down to clear and I’ll ski or snowshoe to the beach.
But my all-time, year-round, go-to beach is here, about a half mile from the Homer News — Mariner Park beach. There’s a summer campground but in the winter it’s empty except for people picking coal. My dog, Princess Leia, and I take a lunch walk at Mariner Park almost every working day. Doctor Tortora, I log at least a mile a day, and yes, I should get my heart rate up. Even in snotty weather I walk that beach.
There are dozens of ways to recreate in this amazing state, most of them done with incomparable scenery. For this old beach bum, give me the sand and rocks and surf and otter bones and I am in bliss.
Michael Armstrong is the editor of the Homer News. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.