La Mesa travel writer completes 800-mile walk through California’s 21 Spanish missions

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As a professional travel writer, La Mesa resident Maggie Espinosa has had the time of her life visiting all sorts of places on five different continents. She has also written a book called “The Privileged Pooch” which features hotels in Southern California that cater to people who want to travel with their dogs.            

As a professional travel writer, La Mesa resident Maggie Espinosa has had the time of her life visiting all sorts of places on five different continents. She has also written a book called “The Privileged Pooch” which features hotels in Southern California that cater to people who want to travel with their dogs.            

One of the most exotic trips she has taken happens to be one she did on foot right here in the Golden State. Starting a year ago, Espinosa walked a total of 800 miles visiting all of the 21 missions of California, from San Diego to Sonoma. Just a few weeks ago, she completed the last leg of the walking tour from the Mission San Francisco Solano.

Never one to say no to an unusual venture, Espinosa said the idea for the walking tour all started with an article she had read about the missions in Westways Magazine.

“I’d always wanted to walk the length of California,” she said. “In fact, it was on my list of 101  things I wanted to do in my life which I started about 15 years ago.”

After buying up shoes, socks and other gear—including lots of granola bars—to be ready for the walking tour, Espinosa started her journey at the San Diego de Alcala Mission in Grantville.

“The priest gave me and my walking companion a blessing before we headed out,” said Espinosa.

Always having someone to walk with her was one of the secrets to Espinosa’s successful finish. They doubled the pleasure of things they saw and heard and helped each other out when the road got long and hard. She walked with friends, her nephews and on the last leg of the mission walk, with her husband, who is a local veterinarian.

When Espinosa first brought up the idea to her husband about walking the missions, he reacted much the same way she expected. “We’ve been married for 22 years. He’s accustomed to my crazy ideas. He just said, ‘sounds fun.’”

Espinosa took a total of 10 different trips within the year to visit each of the 21 missions. She would walk four days, and then come back home. She has a lot to write about, she said, for an article that will appear in the Union-Tribune sometime in January.

“You never really see a place until you walk it. I feel like I know parts of California so much better now, like the Los Angeles area, Salinas Valley–which fascinated me—and Monterey.

“And the Cypress Inn, where I found out Doris Day is part owner. She is a dog lover, and I went to their Yappy Hour at the Cypress Inn to get my dog fix while I was there,” Espinosa said.

 While walking, Espinosa also saw the tar seeping from underground onto the Santa Barbara beaches. In Salinas, “Steinbeck country,” she said, Espinosa and her walking friend Peggy Johnston saw the immigrants picking the lettuce in huge fields.  

Espinosa marveled in all the yellow mustard flowers that seemed to follow the trail most of the way. “Legend says that the padres dropped mustard seed while walking the trail to distinguish the mission’s route,” she said.

Regarding the missions themselves, what stands out most prominently for Espinosa is the steadfast faith of the padres in what they were doing.

“What an arduous trek the padres endured without modern-day equipment, amenities, and footwear,” she said.

But Espinosa sees the building of the missions as more of a land takeover from the American Indians by the Spaniards then a willing collaboration. Still, the beauty of the missions enthralled Espinosa. She actually attended Mass at the Carmel and San Juan Bautista Missions.

The priest at San Juan Bautista bestowed a blessing on her 11-year-old nephew who was accompanying her on that part of the walk.

On the last leg of the walk to the Sonoma Mission, Espinosa celebrated her 54th birthday, walking with her husband.

“I was really happy to spend the final segment of the walk with my husband,” Espinosa said. “We’re fortunate in that we travel well together.”

Now that she is home, Espinosa plans to relax. She looks forward to enjoying the friendship and good food of the coming holidays.

“I got so sick of eating granola bars on my walking journey. I thought for sure I’d get down to my high school weight, but no such luck,” she said, laughing.

During the holidays, Espinosa will use the time to heal up some of the physical problems that she sustained during the walk. “My back and where my heel meets my arch hurts. It’s just a strain, and I just need to give it time. No distance walking for me for a while,” she said.

But Espinosa will not be resting on her laurels. She will keep busy with her travel writing assignments and working as a tour guide for DayTripper Tours.

“I don’t feel any wiser for having gone on this walking journey, but I do feel grateful. Amazed. Proud,” Espinosa said.

La Mesa travel writer completes 800-mile walk through California’s 21 Spanish missions