First person: A smelly run at Pismo Beach

I took advantage of a break in the rain yesterday morning to head out with a friend for a run at Pismo Beach.

As an avid runner, I have seen a bit of everything while out for my morning mileage. It’s not unusual to share the road with deer, bunnies, birds and the like.

But when it rains, the beach always looks different. Rivers form where there was once dry sand, and there is always more stuff on the sand. More seaweed, more rocks and dead wood, more plastic bags and bottles, more dead things ... just more of everything. But there was something different about this run.

From Shell Beach, we could see the roads dotted with signs warning drivers the area was flooded. Trucks lined the road, and utility workers checked the lift stations to make sure they weren’t in danger of overflowing.

As we ran down Price Street, we turned behind the Sea Crest motel to a path that leads to the beach.

The stairs were covered with mud, rocks, tree limbs and leaves. We braved the steps despite their mucky covering.

At the bottom of the crooked, wooden steps about 3 inches of stinky, slimy guck was piled high.

Our shoes were already dirty, so we treaded through the rest of mess until we planted our feet on the sand.

The beach didn’t look much better than the stinky stairs, but we didn’t have any other option. Once we’d picked up our pace again, we came across a dead seal. We scurried quickly passed it and decided to cut the run short and head for higher ground. We’d had enough.

Back at our starting point, we began to fear the worst. Maybe the mud that we had run though — and were now covered with — wasn’t mud at all. What if it was raw sewage? That’s what it smelled like. And just two days ago nearly 20,000 gallons of raw sewage was released into the ocean.

As a reporter for The Tribune, I thought there might be a public health risk. I called Pismo Beach’s Public Works Department and explained what I had seen — and smelled.

It wasn’t sewage my friend and I had run through — though it was just as disgusting. It was decaying kelp and other vegetation washed onto the beach by the storm.

“There’s a lot of things that decay naturally when we have storms like this,” said Pismo Beach Public Works Director Dwayne Chisam. “That decaying matter can wash up to the shore from the ocean. A lot of times, because of the high storms, you get a lot of things wash up on the beach that normally wouldn’t. That’s the reason we say stay out of the water.”

Making matters worse, mixed in with that washed-up mess was the usual trash left behind by careless beachgoers, such as cigarette butts, beer cans and empty potato chip bags.

The difference is one mess is made by Mother Nature. The other is made by us.