Not your average travel blog
1) With a little over a few weeks left, I have time, and “budget” to…
2) See A LOT of the very long Pacific coast
With its intricacies, it stretches well over 1400 miles, through Washington, Oregon and California). I also have in my mind that simply reaching the coast will not be enough to appropriately end my challenge, and I’m undecided on where and how to stop my currently challenging, slightly sadistic, but beautifully surreal life.
I realised two things before reaching the coast.
Following my ankle-injuring shinanigans (not my first) around sleeping bears in Lake Tahoe, and after at least four hours in a car, I saw the ocean briefly, but sadly not the Golden Gate Bridge or any other major landmarks on my way through San Francisco. As pre-warned, crystal clear views of the city are rarely possible. Unlike London’s cloud of smog, which hums over the influential colossus as it oozes history and eclectic Britishness from its dark and infectious streets, San Francisco sits beneath its rather unique weather. Although city-polluted, the most obvious landmark at first glance, is the notorious “constant fog” trapped by the mountains, and washed in from the ocean. It is a stark contrast to the clear and scorching weather literally, just a mile away as you travel towards it, over land. You can see it like a giant ball of cottonwool, moistly-stagnant, and perched so invasively over possibly the most expensive US city outside of New York. When I meet the locals, they appear smirkingly proud of it, and being British, with the ability to shrug off a few rain clouds myself with just a cup of tea, I think I know how they feel.
I am thrown from the back seat on some concrete side street, and I attempt to find the couch which I have been invited to stay on. I am welcomed in, offered a snack, a shower, followed by maybe a quick nap, and then a fish dinner – which puts a few swooning sparkles in my eyes and makes my belly growl in anticipation. I take a bite on a cookie, drink my entire bottle of water and hit the showers like a winning jock after a game – whip that towel – I’m in San Francisco!
I take a nap on the carpet, with a cotton sheet and my sleeping bag resting over my tired body. Suddenly I feel my hips weigh heavy into the hard floor, darkness take over my painful eyelids, and seventeen hours later, I wake up wondering why I can’t smell any fish.
I was informed later that while Sleeping Beauty had “a nap” (although more likely resembling The Beast from the other Disneyfied fairytale) I was checked on by a nine year old chap who asked mum, “Is he dead?”. Not quite dead, but I did feel like I had just hibernated through winter; now hungry, quite disorientated, and after an entire litre of water before I fell asleep, in desperate need of the bathroom.
With every intention to explore downtown San Francisco (which is 30minutes on a bus or train), but clearly more tired than I thought, and in need of a budget check after Tahoe, I decide to rest and write. I don’t have any distractions, the wifi is broken and my host is also in bed with a lurgy. I think it is my first “day off” since Texas, and it is completely welcome!
(This time around) I skip through San Francisco and avoid spending any money. However, I do plan to revisit before I leave the states, and my opinions on the Bay Area, I’m sure will be voiced.
I’m avoiding writing about it, because I am sad about its arrival, but the end to my challenge is near. I have become slightly accustomed to living on next to nothing, meeting and greeting with instant discussion points, and admittedly, (even though it most definitely is not always offered) on the strangeness, the unpredictability and the variable hospitality. I’ve come to realise that often, interaction IS hospitality, in some basic but stimulating form – and it never fails to act as a catalyst.
I have caught a ride after my sloth-style sleep and I am hopefully heading to camp in the Redwoods National Forest in the northern part of California. It’s a six hour drive up the coast to reach “the trees”, and it’s a tiring, winding ride to a quiet campsite, a couple of miles back from the beach.
After a standard night of restless sleep, Redwoods needs to be explored. A ten mile hike along the Irvine trail took me through an enchanted, redwood-filled forest. Uprooted and resting, reborn-but-decaying woodland behemoths ly next to towering giants, covered in knarled bark, fungi and beard-like moss.
It verges on rainforest, and even though ferns and moist soils crumble underfoot, it isn’t quite the rainforest so synonymous with a tropical climate. At the end of the trail, just before the coast, is a picturesque but too well trodden fern hallway. A gem of a beauty spot, with a small river flowing through is basin, the ferns growing on the vertical sides of the canyon and the floor itself, are reluctant victims of human inconvenience. Otherwise tricky to access through the forest or back from the beach, the fairytale ending to a long hike, has a car park between it and the coast. Upsettingly, this tiny section of the trail is over used, and has sadly been stripped of its romance, its quiet seclusion, and its untainted, naturally-quaint stature.
The woods behind the ferns however, were not over-walked. Almost five miles from the visitor centre to the coast were surprisingly quiet and I passed only five other folk on the hike. Much like the trees in Sequoia National Park, they are majestic, tall, regal, often bearded and wise. Redwoods are taller than sequoias; more slender, more athletic. Where the Sequoias may be the stoic Generals, Redwoods are the more active Colonels.
The forest is silent apart from the quiet shuffle of the ocean that creeps through the pine needles forty meters over head. Despite knowledge of nature, it is hidden under foliage, under a decaying floor and a dense bush-growth. It seems scarce, or maybe just shy. The cooling temperature off the shimmering ocean a few miles away keeps the fire in any footwear from melting a quick pace, and any magical noises that drift through the trees are quickly met with the abrasive, loud and spray full breezes from the sea. The waves seem aggressive and break quickly on the dark sand, as if they have some version of “short man syndrome”…come on, you’ve all heard of it..
The rest of the redwood forest is too large to explore in just another day (you really could spend years wandering around it), but the highway up and down the coast is a memorable one for me. Ever since leaving San Francisco and one on Highway 1, I am transfixed with watching the sea from the back seat, along almost its entire length.
It slithers and wriggles in and out of view as the road blurs itself in my peripheral, and I can’t quite believe I’m so close to the end of my challenge. Winding the window down, a slightly cooler air hits my face, tickles my now much longer whiskers, and it’s the first time I have smelt the ocean since I left Boston at the end of March. Sat in the back, I’m able to covertly cover my tears. I can’t help but reminisce over my journey, breath deeply as I contemplate a finish line, and catch myself thinking of everyone that matters to me back home, and how I wish they had experienced so much of my journey with me. I feel like should be rejoicing and doing a dance for the ocean, but it’s my quietest moment, full of fear, reluctance, loneliness, and my most tearful time on my trip. Maybe this is why people don’t travel, maybe this is what they like to avoid. I am suddenly scared of not knowing what to do when I can spend a week’s budget on a bottle of whiskey (let’s keep things in perspective)… I genuinely feel petrified and isolated, yet totally free! Briefly, while hiding behind the back pack on my knees and spying on the ocean through the breeze-allowing window, I am tearfully fulfilled.
Although technically over (the Pacific Ocean is touching my feet), I’m not ending this deal until I am fully submerged – and you need photos as proof, right? So, as “coastal” as I am, I have decided to continue to Portland OR, where the necessary end to a celebrated six months shall be served up in a more appropriate fashion. Before I began, Portland was the only place in the USA where I knew someone. It feels fitting.
As for an environmental end to my journey, with the unexpected and seemingly unusual experience of watching rutting elk on the beach, Mother Nature emphatically delivered a moment of gratitude which will never leave me. Again, a few emotional buttons were pressed.
Before reaching (and writing about) Portland, and the true end of my challenge, I have made a few plans to explore a little more of the western US. Leaving the magnificence of the tree-lined coast, it is time to head inland, and north east, to Crater Lake…