California Highlights Part 2

I walked to the next town excited to be picked up in a helicopter. I had no idea how the logistics for this would work but common sense told me I’d need to find a flat, open area for the landing zone. I waited in a nearby orchard expecting confirmation from Susie but after an hour or so I got a phone call that said the endeavor was a “no go.” There had been a bit of a miscommunication between Susie and her friend and the people she wanted me to meet were not actually home. Disheartened and near dusk, I struggled to make it to the next town, Robbins. Unknown to me, I was approaching the rice fields in central California. What had reminded me of Maryland the day before, now unmistakably resembled Kansas. The heat and humidity were ridiculous but even worse, there were swarms of mosquitoes. I crossed over a bridge on a small river and heard the swarms as I approached. I felt them brushing against my legs with each stride and if I stopped even for a second I’d be consumed. My bug spray did next to nothing and all I wanted to do was run, to free myself from the blood sucking monsters. Once I gained distance away from the river the mosquitoes became tolerable again and I was able to check my phone. There was a missed call from Susie and a message that read, “I will come get you if I hear from you before 6.” It was 6:10pm. I frantically called her and sent her a message but there was no reply. My frustrations grew and I wanted to allow myself to cry. However, I couldn’t fall apart now. I needed to get to town. I made my way onto a small highway as the sun began to set. Would I make it? A small truck slowed and asked if I was walking across the country. Scott saw my gear and the purpose I walked with and knew I wasn’t one of the usual homeless individuals walking between towns. After a good conversation, I asked him to drive me into town. I’d lost the daylight that I needed to get there. Scott was hesitant about leaving me at the rough looking convenience store but I insisted. I walked inside to gather a few groceries and didn’t bother allowing myself to feel nervous. Everyone spoke Spanish and I was clearly out of place. Yet when I got to the register I asked about places to sleep and they all agreed the nearby elementary school would be best. I wandered around the school fields looking for a good spot but it made me nervous having people hanging about. At the edge of the fields were two storage containers and that would be my cover for the night. I crushed the stalky grass hoping it wouldn’t puncture any holes in my tent. Then, I got a call from Susie. ” 9am tomorrow we’re going on an adventure!” I knew exactly what that entailed and slept with excited anticipation.

“We need an open space clear of wires and telephone poles,” were the instructions Susie gave me over the phone. Her and her boyfriend, Dave, were prepping the helicopter and they needed to know their flight pattern and estimated landing zone before they took off. Susie gave me a quick run down of how everything needed to be executed. “We’re going to touch down and you need to stay back and wait for me to come get you.” I heard the helicopter before I saw it and I stood ready to go. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me! I waved my arms in the air as they circled the soccer field. They spotted me and began their descent. They touched down and Susie jumped out and ran to me. After a quick hug she instructed me to stay low, throw my backpack in the far seat, and sit. The noise from the helicopter was deafening but I managed to get the gist of what she wanted me to do. She buckled me in and put noise canceling headphones over my ears. As we took off and quickly gained elevation, I felt lightness in my stomach. The land below was a cluster of gridded agricultural squares. Anything that sparked Dave’s curiosity on the ground resulted in him leaning the helicopter to get a better view. Despite my excitement, I quickly learned that if I too tried to investigate the ground for too long I’d become nauseous. I had to strategically find focal points ahead of me so when I explored the world below me for too long I could “ground myself.” Susie gave me ginger candies that helped my stomach. I wasn’t going to let motion sickness stop me from enjoying my spontaneous helicopter ride! It was decided that we were flying to Bodega Bay! We were going to do a flyby of my end destination! We flew over a small range of mountains that took us into Napa Valley. The bird’s eye view provided enormous detail to the geographical features and it reminded me how small humans are in the world. The mountains were lined with the parallel rows of grapes for the wineries and roads could be traced along the ridges. We continued West and we flew above the clouds. They looked solid enough to walk on yet we were traveling through them! Encompassed by white, we only knew we’d reached the ocean from the GPS coordinates. Dave directed the helicopter towards an open patch of clouds and we descended above the ocean. The white was quickly replaced by the depths of the blue ocean and I stuck my face into the window bewildered and amazed. Then I spotted my end point, the place I’d been almost a year before, Bodega Dunes Beach. We flew low above the ocean, parallel to the beach, and the surfers and beach goers looked at us confused but waved all the same. On the ride back, I did my best to control my nausea but I was beginning to lose the battle with my stomach. Our next destination was one of Susie’s friends that she wanted me to meet and stay with. We circled the home and looked for a landing zone. The best around was farmland but it was a risky landing. The remains of the crops were dry and there was a possibility of a fire starting. So, the second the helicopter landed Susie jumped out and scoped the area for any smolders or possibilities of fire. All was clear. The neighbors came to investigate and see what was wrong. One of the kids began yelling indistinguishable words at us so Dave went to talk to them. Turned out the kid was asking if we had tacos. The kid explained that his grandma lived in Sacramento and made tacos. He wanted us to fly there and get some so we could bring them back. Susie introduced me to her friend, Feral, and I would be staying in the “chill dome.” It was a tent made out of colorful cloths and had furniture in it. Feral had made it for the previous Burning Man festival. The whole household was an artistic masterpiece and later in the day I got to meet her family during a mini reunion. Once again, I found myself part of another family.

Despite sleeping outside, I didn’t get attacked by mosquitoes like I’d expected. Instead, there was a small critter running around that gnawed a hole in my bag of cheese popcorn. It only took one though so I guess it didn’t like it much. As I stopped into a Dollar General in the next town I got a call from Susie. “I want to walk with you!” I welcomed her into my journey but felt the need to add a few disclaimers. I knew the road I’d begin walking on had very little to no shoulder and was quite curvy. It could be quite stressful at times and a bit more difficult with two people. However she was adamant so I welcomed her. I told her the road I’d be walking on the rest of the day and she told me she’d find me that night. The road was beautiful going into the small mountain pass but the lack of shoulder proved frustrating. With several reservoirs ahead of me and it being a Sunday, boats came flying down the road way behind their vehicles. With no shoulder I had to retreat into the thorny weeds. I’d told Susie that I’d meet her at the Glory Hole, a cement structure at the edge of Berryessa Dam that consumed water when the water was too high, yet when I got there I was trapped between a chain-link fence and a rock face. I knew I couldn’t stay there so I kept walking. I hoped that Susie would realize the inadequacy of the location and keep driving down the road until she could find me. There was no cell service so I hoped Susie would use her intuition to find me. I stopped at the first feasible location, a turn off down to the water, and waited there. Roughly thirty minutes later, Susie pulled in but didn’t see me until she almost passed me. She was ecstatic! I didn’t know what her plan was but I jumped in the car. Next thing I knew, we were headed back in the same direction I’d come. We drove down the windy road and I was able to get the opposing perspective, the one from a vehicle. I had mentioned that a milkshake sounded nice so Susie pulled over at a car wash and asked a man where the best milkshake in town could be found. Unfortunately, that was at a Burger King. It wasn’t what I had in mind but it sounded good all the same. After we got that taken care of, we needed to find a place to sleep. Susie, being a social butterfly, decided we’d go downtown and ask the locals for places to camp. Her opening questions were: “Are you a local?” “Are there any camping spots?” and “Where can we find a good milkshake?” The first people that we came across were staring at a hole in the ground and taking measurements. The woman had stepped into this hole on the way back to her car and fell, injuring her hand and head. They wanted the hole fixed so that no one else became injured as well. We left them and asked a few more people before I realized that Scott, the guy who dropped me off at the sketchy convenience store, lived in town. I gave him a call and he agreed to meet us at a cafe. Scott wasn’t able to let us camp on his property due to the short notice but embarked on the adventure of finding a place where we could. We wandered down to the river to check out stealth camping possibilities but decided too many homeless people hung around there. Next, we went to the park and that is where Scott left us. That is where we thought we wanted to sleep until Susie and I both decided we just wanted to sleep in the car. With that decision, we drove to the nearby residential area and parked. Susie was terrible at being discreet. She sat in the car with the lights on and moved her bedding around while bicycles and cars drove by. All I could do was embrace it and see the humor in it before we finally settled for the night.

We began walking at Marley Cove because Susie needed a place to park her car and a landing zone for Dave, in the event he needed to pick her up in the helicopter and drop her off at her car. Susie was determined and excited for the day. Her gear and attire didn’t make her look like a backpacker but she had spirit and optimism. She wanted to pick up all of the shiny things and pretty rocks on the ground but I had to remind her of the extra weight she’d then be carrying. After a while, I could tell she was starting to hurt but to keep morale high she’d say, “This is so exciting!” She never complained yet I could increasingly see her discomfort. Her backpack had no waist strap so all the weight pulled on her shoulders and she began walking with her hands behind her, lifting the pack. After eight miles we rested at a closed winery/bar and had five more miles until we’d reach Turtle Cove, our stopping point. Those last five miles were difficult for her but without complaint she made it and by the time we got there she was hobbling. The next challenge was for Susie to find a ride back to her car and luckily we found two guys that were heading that way! I waited and ate the spring rolls the place was known for and rested. Susie came back with her car and wanted to going swimming so we began to make plans for her to swim and me to walk eight more miles. Well, right before she left she asked me if I was sure I didn’t want to go swimming. I definitely wanted to go swimming so I gave up on walking for the day and went with her to find a place to swim. Susie didn’t find the quality of the water in Lake Berryessa appealing so we decided to go to the next lake. Turned out that there was no swimming in Lake Hennessey because it was the water supply for Napa Valley. With that, we gave up on swimming and drove into town to eat and find a place to sleep. We ended up sleeping next to a Montessori and next to someone’s house. I was tired and wasn’t the happiest with that sleeping location but I forced myself to get over it.

We started the morning walking on a busy road. Susie noted how disgusting she felt from all the car exhaust but I’d never paid much attention to it. Once we turned onto the road out of town the traffic dissipated, the shoulder disappeared, and the uphill out of Napa Valley began. It was beautiful and calm in some sections and others Susie and I struggled to not get hit by cars on the curvy, inclined roads. Susie’s goal for the day was to walk ten miles with me and then say a final goodbye. Ironically, the ten mile mark was at the crest of the massive hill and we soon realized that it may be more difficult for her than we thought to catch a ride back into the valley. That’s what we thought anyways, turned out that immediately after we reached our point the first truck that drove by stopped. It all happened so quickly. She gave me a quick hug and then she was gone. One second she was there and then she wasn’t. The rest of the way into Santa Rosa was downhill with a disappearing shoulder  and a narrowed, curved road. It was absolutely the worst conditions for a road to be walking on. i was trapped by either a rock face or a massive downhill  on the side of the roads and traffic was increasing rapidly. I bounced back and forth from each side of the road and occasionally found a ditch to retreat into. As I topped one of the last hills, a man named Sig was parked on the shoulder. I wasn’t sure if it was a coincidence or if he’d been waiting for me but he asked if I was walking from St. Helena. He was excited to hear my story and offered me a ride down the hill. I declined despite the sketchy walking conditions. As soon as I set foot on the first sidewalk in town I started to smell cologne but there was no one around me. It smelled so good but I was confused by its origin. I continued through the parks and bikeways until I made it to my friend’s, Landon, parent’s house. It was like a scavenger hunt for me to find the house and then to get in it. I called Landon while I explored the home and he gave me an auditory tour. It was great to see all of his childhood pictures and the place he grew up in. I was extremely gracious for him and his family’s generosity. I spent the evening relaxing and cleaning up and when Landon’s dad, Tom, got home from work he immediately went to find me and to hear my stories. It was great talking with him but by the end of the night I could barely keep my eyes open.

Tom made me french toast for breakfast and told me that he wanted to drive me past one of the sketchier parts of the bikeway. I originally declined but I could see concern in his facial features so to make him feel better I accepted. Unknown to me, that turned out to be six mile boost. I originally thought I had a late start to the day but now I was ahead of schedule. My parents were arriving into the area from Texas in the afternoon and then they’d come find me and pick me up. I originally was headed towards Wild Flour Bakery, many locals told me to stop there, but it was closed for the day. I instead decided to continue to the historic one room school, Watson School. It was a quaint little spot and perfect for stealth camping but that would be unnecessary for the night. I waited for my parents at one of the picnic tables and I had no feeling of anticipation about finishing. At this point, I knew I would. Strangely enough though, I didn’t have a triumphant feeling. Deep in thought, I saw a rental car pull up and my parents jumped out congratulating me. I tried to tell them that I hadn’t reached the ocean yet but to them I had already succeeded. They took me back to their motel room and then we went to the local diner. A chocolate milkshake was a must!

I knew it was my last walking day yet it didn’t feel like anything significant was happening. I ate tuna for breakfast and wanted to start walking as soon as possible. I hoped for a decent shoulder to walk on for the last few miles but I didn’t know what to expect from Highway 1. While walking, I had to allow myself to get into the groove of it all. Nine miles of walking was still three hours. I ended up taking a road off the highway and it was gorgeous! As I got closer the smell of sand and salt filled the air. The road winded through the trees and climbed steeply over the hills. I crested over one hill and the descent presented the ocean! What a magnificent sight! Two of my friends, Bob and Lia, were also going to meet me at the ocean but I was afraid I’d beat them there so I took my time. Rather, I took the time to appreciate the things in front of me. I examined the massive pine cones I found on the ground and took pictures with all the local signs. Then it was time to enter the last stretch into Bodega Dunes Beach. I knew exactly where I was then. I’d made this turn almost a year before in my van while I was traveling on the West Coast. Right before I walked past the entrance booth, Bob and Lia drove slowly up to me and I greeted them with a weird facial expression before hugging them through the car window. They drove off towards the beach and then called saying they didn’t see my parents. A spark of anxiety lit within me. “Where are my parents?” Before too much worry overcame me they pulled up next to me in their vehicle and my dad jumped out. He was going to walk the last bit with me and distract me while my mom, Bob and Lia worked on a banner. When I got to the parking area I sat at a picnic table and watched from afar as loving family and friends created a banner for me. I felt no rush to get to the ocean. It wasn’t going anywhere. After all, it is the journey and not the destination that mattes. I waited and when they were done we all walked onto the beach together and I waited again until they were camera ready and had the banner properly placed. That’s when I jumped and ran into the ocean! I had uncertainty about jumping into the ocean but I did anyways with my shoes on. The massive, powerful ocean was a foreign place for me but like the other obstacles, it wasn’t going to stop me. After running into the ocean I made a sand angel and grabbed a giant ocean root/seaweed and started jump roping with it and then went for a second sprint into the ocean. I was high on life and everything was beautiful. I did my best to absorb each moment and take mental snapshots but all the while I felt that this was not the end of a journey but a beginning.

Thank you to all. You have shown me a world I never would have imagined by myself.