Pacifica resident Dwayne Erickson, out walking on the Devil’s Slide Trail.

Pacifica resident Dwayne Erickson, out walking on the Devil’s Slide Trail. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

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Our “My Spot” series shares personal experiences with special places in California.

Dwayne Erickson remembers driving on Devil’s Slide in the days before the tunnel.

It was “kind of nervish!” says Erickson, a 79-year-old Pacifica resident. “You were looking above for boulders coming down, and at the same time avoiding the boulders on the road.”

He’s standing on a road that, a few years ago, was once a dangerous stretch of Highway 1 on the coast south of San Francisco. Frequent landslides earned it the name “Devil’s Slide.”

In 2013, a pair of tunnels opened that allowed cars to steer clear of the coastline. Then the old highway was transformed into a beautiful walking path with ocean views.

Now, Erickson walks out here several times a week.

“I just gotta get out here and meet people from all over and just see the ocean,” he says. “How different it is today than how it was yesterday or the day before.”

Erickson greets everyone on the path like an old friend, whether or not they’ve ever met.

“There’s just so much to see and so much to show people!” he exclaims.

The Devil’s Slide trail -- now free of automobiles -- is a very popular route for hikers, bicyclists, sightseers and those out walking their dogs.
The Devil’s Slide trail — now free of automobiles — is a very popular route for hikers, bicyclists, sightseers and dog walkers. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

Listening to Erickson’s lilting accent, you might think he’s from Scandinavia. In fact, he was born and raised in Idaho — in a rural area called New Sweden. All four of his grandparents, and much of the surrounding community, emigrated from Sweden in the late 1800s.

“We grew potatoes, of course, in Idaho,” says Erickson. “We had all the animals, dairy, beef, and we raised other crops, grains, alfalfa and that.”

He moved to California and did well, becoming a surgeon at the Fort Miley veterans hospital. His specialty was painting artificial eyes. “I made eyes for patients that their own families didn’t know they had an artificial eye,” says Erickson.

Now, as he cheerily puts it, he’s “retired, but not yet ex-pired!”

Dwayne Erickson looks out over the Pacific from Devil's Slide.
Dwayne Erickson looks out over the Pacific from Devil’s Slide. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

Erickson looks out on the ocean and scans for whales. “If there’s fishing boats out here, that means there’s food,” he says. “And if there’s food, that means there’s whales.”

A splash of water, and he points delightedly to where a whale’s fluke gleams out of the waves.

“They are so massive it’s just unbelievable,” says Erickson. “We have seen hundreds of them here, but every time we do it’s exciting again.”

A whale's fluke, visible from the Devil's Slide trail.
A whale’s fluke, visible from the Devil’s Slide trail. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

“I thank God for every day.” he says. “Every day is a blessing to me. And then living here where I’ve got the ocean, the bay, the mountain … I don’t know, I couldn’t be more blessed.”