Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”
My last two weeks have been spent exploring parts of the west and the Golden Coast. Here are some scribblings from my travel journal:
During the Tahoe summer, you wake up to the chirping of birds, the barking of dogs and a brisk breeze that makes you want to jump out of bed and run through the forest. There isn’t the hustle bustle of rush hour, or the stop and go sounds of a city. Just the language of the trees and the animals which inhabit them. Regardless of whether or not you can see it, the lake is felt wherever you go. Even the blind can understand the magnitude of its presence. It’s more than a visual, more than a description. It’s a life. An entity with a magnetic, unshakable beauty.
A Ridiculous Lake Experience
We’re swimming in the Tahoe blue when a punk kid who looks around 11 years old comes up to us. First he’s like: “Hey man you gonna kiss her? Kiss! Kiss! Smooch! Smooch!” for like three whole minutes. We tell him no then do our best to ignore him, but this kid’s got balls. He turns to Nathaniel and screams, “This guy is pissing in the lake! Ew! Everybody, he’s peeing in the lake! Get away from this guy!”
I want to ignore him because I know it’s the best thing to do, but I’m laughing so hard I can’t breathe. Eventually we retreat to the shore and he goes back to harassing us about kissing, before swimming off in hopes to humiliate other lake-goers. I’m not too hopeful about the man this child will become…
Fourth of July in Tahoe
The night before, alone on Nevada Beach, we’re the only people under the starry sky. Clusters and clusters of fireballs break up the black night. The reflection of the moon glistens on the iridescent lake. Cool air and a magical environment create a sense of nirvana unlike any other.
The next night, on the “birth” of our nation, tourists hoard the exact location. They bring filled coolers, portable grills, noise, and light pollution to the surreal serenity. Fireworks dazzle and amaze; the best display I’ve witnessed. Yet, I’d take the magnificence of untouched nature any day.
The very second the show is over, people run, sprint, leap as fast as they can from the scene of the celebration. It feels like an apocalypse. Families, couples, weird animal friends, everyone retreating as if each second they stay on the beach is one closer to doomsday. I wonder why everyone is running, until I realize I’m running too. The mob mentality is a strange phenomenon.
Those Xenophobic Locals
Something I noticed about the Tahoe Locals: they have a huge fear of traffic and outsiders. The days before and on the day of the fourth, I must have heard a zillion times, “I’m not going out man, there will be WAY too many people here,” or “Yeah, tourists wait for 8 hours to get a good spot on the beach. I’ll watch the fireworks from my porch!” And pretty much everyone we came in contact with warned of the “crazy, life threatening traffic.”
Here’s the reality of the situation: The traffic was equivalent to a calm day in a New Jersey suburb (a five minute back up tops), there were tons of available spots on the beach (we got there 5 minutes before the fireworks started and found an outstanding viewing space) and although tons of folks from other places enjoyed the lake, there weren’t long waits at the restaurants or any over the top tourist behaviors besides the typical invasive discomfort.
Nate started to complain about the traffic and I questioned, “You lived in New York, one of the craziest places in the world. How on earth does this bother you?”
He thought for a moment then said, “Yeah but this doesn’t happen in Tahoe. Never in Tahoe”
The Pope House
The best historic tour I’ve ever been on. This lake view mansion was built by the Tallac family in the late 1800’s, but ultimately, the aristocratic Popes of the 1920’s were responsible for turning it into a grandiose cabin of wealth, pride and class. Cedar and redwood detailing cause an amazing aroma to fill the summer home and customized wall fabrics are held in place by brass tacks in every room. There are cabins upon cabins of guest lodges and servants’ quarters, and even a detached kitchen equipped with a huge wood burning stove.
Although their summer getaway is magnificent, these Popes were missing one thing: LIFE.They had people doing everything for them, from getting them dressed, to preparing their meals, to anything else one can think of. There are doorbells in every room (including on the porch) used to call servants at any hour they wished. So sure, the Popes had an astounding summer home and a life of unbridled luxury, but they didn’t do anything for themselves. I bet they just sat on their butts all summer long, commenting on the wonderful Tahoe weather. I wouldn’t want to live like that.
Words to describe San Fran: Colorful, green, homeless, seafaring, eclectic, chic, steep.
Only in San Fran can you see a man kick boxing a tree, an old woman in a long dotted skirt boarding an adult day care bus, and an unidentifiably gendered body passed out on the side walk, all on the same block.
The Homeless of San Fran
These folk are more vocal and drug ridden than any homeless I’ve yet encountered. They have their own culture in this city. Their community is a vibrant thread in the eclectic tapestry of life here.
Some fragmented vagabond quotes we heard along the way:
We watched a drug deal go down between two women and in nervous apprehension the one on the receiving end yelled,”They might be cops!” (in reference to us) and sprinted away.
We also witnessed a conversation in passing between two men. One said, “Man you just ruined my day! I bought you a beer and everything!” The other sat slumped, screaming “God Dammnit! God Damn it! Nah. Nah.”
At around 10 pm on our first night in the city, a guy sang Motown deep into the lamp lit night. Another simultaneously chased us down the street screaming for the man with the sultry tone to “Shut the f* up! Shut the f* up!”
Sadness overwhelmed as I watched a man from the vantage point of my San Francisco hotel window, pour Fireball into his orange soda at 8:30AM. He looked around cautiously and had no idea he was being studied from above by an empathetic visitor. I hope he finds his way. He looked like a good soul.
A mecca for hipsters and potheads; wonderfully colorful and cheery. Every other store is a smoke shop boasting that it’s “the best in the country.” Old school hippies are few and far between, but some still work at head shops or gypsy clothing stores. The liberality of this place is present in every inch. Here people don’t care what color you are, what your sexual orientation is, or where you came from. Their only judgment seems to be based on whether or not you’ll fight for the legalization of marijuana. FAR. OUT. DUDE.
Golden Gate Vista Point
License plates from around the country and humans from around the globe congregate here. Dozens of Asians from the English Language Institute snap photos while their Irish sounding tour guide tries to speak over the fierce wind. A guy with a backwards hat and knap sack asks if we’re heading North. We aren’t. I wish we could give him a ride, but I’m confident he’ll get to where he’s going.
Camping by firelight with my closest friend under the redwoods, surrounded by nature hundreds of years older than anyone here. There is a sense of closeness and bonding even though not a word is shared between dwellers of different campsites. Skunks spraying dogs and an uneven, wood chippy ground. I love it here.
The Next Morn’
I used a few pages of this journal to give life to last night’s fire. Smells of sizzling breakfasts fill my head and make me consider eating meat, though I know I never would. Today we’re hiking Pfeiffer Falls. Let’s see what’s just around the redwood river bend.
Being in the presence of redwoods and ocean side cliffs stirs my senses and ignites a sense of wondrous awe in my state of being. Here nothing matters. No judgement. No status. No pride. The only sense of self is one at peace with the environment. My soul seeps into nature, making my individual being indecipherable from the browns of the trees, the lush green extremities. We are unified. Life is life. Nature, nature. No form of living is less or more powerful. We are one. Coexistence is tangible here.
The height of the redwoods tower over human perception. Feeling big, proud, vain? Stand next to the truck of a divine redwood and let it humble you. Look over the cliffs of Big Sur and allow them to remind you of a life in in motion: the push and pull of all things worthwhile. The journey, the climb and ultimately an overwhelming sense of gratitude. For this is where you are at this place in time and nowhere else.
The hike up the mountain is the most magnificent hike I’ve ever been on. Switch backs escalate us up the red wood coated trail. Brooks and waterfalls can be heard from all angles. Steep dirt passageways and an open cliff face on one side make you aware of a life’s worth. Then higher and higher to the most splendid of views: the turquoise sea. Rocks, palm trees and waterfalls jut out beneath. On the opposite end, the thousands of colors of a concave mountain valley.
My heart races on this thin trail that stands higher than the clouds. It’s difficult to look down, to understand the magnitude of our height. No safety rail, no thin rope telling of a line not to cross. Just you and the narrow walkway, the elevated earth below and the watercolor sky above. That’s all that matters.
Cali through the eyes of Steinbeck
Not only did we venture to Salinas, Cannery Row and Monterey (well-known Steinbeck stomping grounds), we also found out he lived in Tahoe and San Fran as well.
Without making a conscious effort, we ended up touring California through the footsteps of one of the greatest authors to have ever lived. Steinbeck was a wonderful man. He remained himself in the most vain of circumstance. He wrote for those who needed to be heard, but didn’t have a means of expression. Sought to prove others wrong when they spoke of limitations, justified his sanity when they called him insane. A truly outstanding human being and one of my biggest inspirations.
Before we went to Salinas, Nathaniel and I conversed of what it would be like. “Ooh! Ooh! It’s going to be just like this! Valleys and drought ridden plains, where men struggle to find work. Kind of how I picture Of Mice and Men.”
He said something like, “I picture it more Grapes of Wrath-esque with less trees and more desperation.” Our ideas were both along the lines of a Podunk town in the middle of nowhere. We talked about it for the duration of the drive, when alas we pulled up to the real Salinas.
We couldn’t have been more wrong. On one side of Salinas there are lush farm lands, kept alive by the perfect farming climate and innovative farming technologies. On the other however, there is a crappy suburban city full of poorly constructed buildings, smoldering dry heat waves and wandering individuals begging for dollars. Nothing too substantial about this place other than the John Steinbeck museum and the house he grew up in.
His museum is the only museum in the country dedicated to one writer and one writer alone. And it’s pretty dang cool! Steinbeck had an amazing life and some tough cojones. He wasn’t afraid to expose the harsh dustbowl realities of our country, to shatter the guise of the golden dream and uncover the struggles of the average American. You go Steinbeck!
Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row is titled after this seaside location. Here he had many inebriated adventures with his best friend Ed Rickets inside Ed’s infamous laboratory.
Cannery Row is a smelly place, quaint in its splendor and fancy in its touristy show. Known in past years for its sardine canneries, it is now a cute little town full of hotels and romantic restaurants. The unpleasant smell is strangely, not all that unpleasant. It provides this location with a certain kind of charming character.
A foul Monterey hostel wants to charge us 80 dollars for a four minute shower and coed room. We’ll skip the shower and camp instead. Thanks…
A guy in a café in Monterey says this to his co-worker: “I used to live with all these strippers. They were daytime strippers though, so it was different.” I wonder what the hell he could have possibly meant…
17 Mile Drive
Pit stops of paradise infested with humans of far away places. The locals play golf while over eager spectators look through lenses and point to gangs of marine life. And how about that guy driving a lawn mower to preserve the 11th hole? Does anyone stop to think about him? His perception of the Pacific restlessness and ogling expressions? Probably not.
I climb China Rock and am admiring the beauty, when a little girl looks at me and goes, “Excuse me miss!” Her accent is adorable and I’m trying to figure out what she means until her Dad looks up too and says, “Excuse me miss!”
I then realize they’re trying to take a picture of the ocean without me in it. I move two feet and hear it again by a different man. “Excuse me miss!” I move again and again, and am bombarded with “Excuse me misses.” How am I in everyone’s picture and how do I get out?
It’s beginning to feel like an episode of The Twilight Zone when finally, the requests cease. I am alone on the tall rock, watching Nathaniel snap photos of pelicans and crabs below.
This place is as tacky as you’d expect. Surrounded by miles of dry desert and an unforgiving 98 degree heat, Reno is littered with strip malls, out dated casinos and bad food. Not to offend anyone who lives here, but I keep thinking to myself: there isn’t much redeeming about this place (and I usually love most places). The pinnacles of the city are the Reno arch and the old Reno arch, which are located a few blocks from each other. The old remains a skeletal reminder of the city’s bizarre history.
I can’t really put my finger on Reno’s cultural merit. It seems more like a melting pot of people of different races and sizes who have lost their way and somehow ended up here. Maybe they’re a fan of the legalized prostitution. Maybe the casino meat buffets and beer pong tournaments draw them in. Either way, I’m not sure I understand. I’d never want to live in Reno.
The Road and In Betweens
The Dudes and the Tree
While we journey on a lake-ward hike, we pass these two guys straight up chillin’ by this huge, abstract looking tree. Right away Nate and I stop because it’s one of those trees which makes you stop. We aren’t offered a choice by the universe; we have to stop and stare.
As we’re admiring the intricate foundation of this masterpiece, the two guys keep talking to us. Actually no, not talking to us, more like enthusing into the lake air. The first guy keeps saying over and over, “Dudes! This tree! Guess what? My facebook profile picture is a picture of me climbing THIS tree and smoking a cigarette! Smoking a cigarette! My facebook picture!”
His loyal and like minded friend backs him up. “Yeah! It’s the greatest picture! He’s standing right there. Right where you guys are, but he’s climbing the tree and smoking a cigarette!”
I’m just as excited as them and it’s not because of the picture, or the cigarette. It’s because I got to meet these two characters and share this amazing moment. They go on and on about how awesome this picture is until finally, a light bulb goes off. Guy number one says: “Hey man! You have your phone! You can show them the picture!”
The other guy pulls out his phone and tilts it over. I look down and see the exact image the two have detailed: Guy number one in the tree, smoking a cigarette. I tell them it’s a cool picture. Nate looks up and in all seriousness asks, “What are you doing man, giving a peace sign?”
The guy looks as if he’s just seen double. “No man! I’m in the tree smokin’ a cigarette!”
The Stop of a Lifetime
Spotting a family of three dolphins from the road and pulling off at Carmel Bay beach was the gem of a lifetime. Watching two soul mated seals body surf, while running along the pebbly Pacific Coast is the reason for wanderlust.
Love and a bridge
We stopped at an insane bridge on the way to Big Sur. There, I envied a couple eating a vegan meal while overlooking the view. Their chickpeas, avocados and fold out chairs looked to me like love.
Lady on the way to US 1
My head is out the window in Watsonville and I’m rocking out to Sublime. We get stopped at a red light and the old woman next to us rolls down her window. She tells me I look tired. Somehow she knows I’ve been on the road for days and am in desperate need of a shower. Maybe my greasy hair gave her a hint, or perhaps the moon shaped bags under my eyes.
I tell her California is a beautiful state before she drives off and wishes us a safe journey. I wish her one too because although she was born and raised in Watsonville, is life ever not a journey?
Santa Cruz seems like a place you go when you’re down, out and addicted. The sunshine and beachy vibe are contradictory to the grey souls roaming the streets.
A storybook looking town and one of the cities where the original bohemian movement started. It’s hard to believe because everybody is rich and all businesses close at six.
An Ivy League school without the prestigious feel. The buildings are neither old, nor stately as one would presume. The Architecture is indistinct and construction clouds every intersection. My advice: someone should really stylize this school and give it some much needed Ivy League flavor.
Nothin’ like the place Johnny Cash sang about. Just another Cali town full of Costcos and chain restaurants. The coolest thing about Folsom is the city limits sign. It’s decked out with Latin flare that parallels the street names.
Whether on a trip or not, every second, moment, experience should be seen as so. Look around wherever you are and notice things you haven’t before. Have a conversation with a new face, explore an old building and imagine those who were once there. Never quench your thirst. Never say you’ve done enough. Live, live, live! Love is the greatest gift of all. Embrace it with the totality of your heart and run towards possibility.