Kurt Schwabe had just been laid off from a dead-end job when he decided to start walking.
Not just any kind of walking -- purposeful walking.
"What I really wanted to do was expand the tools that I feel I'm best at, writing and photography, and I love to be outdoors. I wanted to help make a difference about something," he says.
And that's how he found himself spending the entire month of June walking the 330 miles of the San Francisco Bay Trail, a still-uncompleted project that began in 1997 and that runs through 47 cities in all nine Bay Area counties.
A photo exhibit of his journey, which he details on his blog, walkingthebaytrail.com, is on display through March 31 at the Bay Model in Sausalito.
"I'd been out on the Bay Trail not knowing I was on the Bay Trail, as I think we all have," the longtime runner and hiker says. "I knew that it would be beautiful to photograph, it was something I could do locally."
Not just locally; the San Francisco resident wanted to be able to take mass transit to the trail no matter where he was walking. Schwabe, 45, met his wife on MUNI some 20 years ago, so he's a big fan of public transportation. It helped that the Metropolitan Transportation Commission was willing to sponsor his meanderings by giving him a free $300 Clipper card, which paid all his fares. The MTC is also funding the photo exhibit, which heads to Oakland City Hall after its Marin run.
"I've always taken public transportation in the Bay Area whenever I could," he says. "I didn't want to drive to a trailhead, walk five miles and walk five miles back to the car. I figured there had to be a way where I could walk 10 miles and jump on the closest bus and head home and the next morning jump on the bus, head back to where I ended up and do it again."
There was just one spot that he had to drive to, the northernmost point of San Pablo Bay off Highway 37. It was also the only day that he walked 20 miles instead of his typical 10.
"That was a long day," Schwabe says with a laugh. "I was out there all by myself and I was thinking, oh my gosh, I could collapse right here."
Even though the trail isn't complete, Schwabe was surprised to discover just how far people can travel on it.
"A lot of people probably don't realize that you can ride your bike from Palo Alto to San Francisco basically without a whole lot of problems," he says. "People don't even think about it."
But the biggest surprise was just what the trail has to offer.
"When I was first thinking about it, I knew there'd be maybe interesting things out there, but there was a part of me that thought, wow, I hope it isn't this really long walk along this desolate trail that's nothing but grass and water," he says. "It was anything but that. It's really diverse. You think it's all going to be the same, and it's really not."
He was especially intrigued by the artwork along the trail, especially at the Albany Bulb, a former landfill that has attracted artists, dog walkers and the homeless.
"I had no idea what was out there. In fact, I didn't plan on going there. I was going to walk right by there because I assumed it was full of homeless people," he says. "These two ladies I didn't know who were following me on my blog asked, 'Are you the Bay Trail guy? Are you heading out to the Albany Bulb?" and I said, 'No,' and they said, 'Yes you are, we're taking you.' So they dragged me out there, and it was one of the coolest things I'd seen on the whole trip."
He also enjoyed the Shoreline Trail in China Camp State Park in San Rafael, which winds up hills with great views of the bay and lots of deer and wild turkeys.
Schwabe, who eventually landed a job in sales and marketing for a tech company, hopes to turn his photos and writings into a book. He thinks there's a market for it. For now, he hopes his photos get more people interested in exploring the trail, especially young people.
"The word Bay Trail doesn't even begin to describe the experience people can have when they're out there. You have to show them what's out there," he says.
Vicki Larson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow her on Twitter at @OMGchronicles and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/vlarson ------ (c)2014 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) Visit The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) at www.marinij.com