Sunday, November 24, 2013

A New Home in The West

I'm steadily realizing my most difficult task is recreating my experiences in writing. How to describe the past few days? I should start by saying I lived on a ranch and there the passage of time flowed differently, the hours more seamlessly. Days were not clearly demarcated by the stop and go of walking and so I can't now bring myself to lineate what was such a complete experience with faceless terms like the 16th or November 18th. I can only say it was as though I'd stepped onto another track, one where I could be someone else, and was; call me Sam the ranch hand.

I came to the ranch by car. It's so far off the grid I had to be picked up from Frazier Park, which is how I first met Traci Rainbolt, her son Theo, and the first of three dogs, Takota. I immediately liked them. Traci's nickname is Blaze and her red hair matches the name. As I got to know her, above everything else about her that is good, what I recall most clearly about her is the way I felt she understands. I don't know how else to put it. She has an openness to connection that I responded to right away. As we wound our way through backroads and up and around mountains, the three of us launched into a freewheeling conversation about seemingly everything so I felt like we knew a lot about each other by the time we pulled into Rancho Grande.

The link to Bodee's Rancho Grande website is here.

This is a ranch with history. Five 40 acre parcels with apple trees as old as both my grandmothers combined and structures that still retain original timbers dating just as far back. You can still find a Chumash (CHOO-mosh) cooking site where grinding bowls were worn into the sides of boulders from the efforts of hundreds of hands. When we pulled up to the gate, a cloud blanketed the pastures and animal enclosures that occupy the front of the ranch. If you kept walking, the gravel paths would lead you past tack sheds, the chicken coop, the hay shed, two rickety old pickups, all the way back into a small canyon where you can find two small lakes. They were empty when I was there but water was already beginning to collect and ducks were flocking.

Inside Rancho Grande
What excited me about the place was the air of newness and experimentation. Traci and her boyfriend Jerry Watkins have only been managing the ranch for two months so the brunt of their energies has been spent familiarizing themselves with the land and its animals and preparing it for transformation. They envision a guest ranch that draws interesting people for numerous reasons, people seeking diversion, health, retreat, even a change in their life. I could see the possibilities were only just beginning to emerge; a healing center with programs for yoga and equine therapy; an obstacle course for training riders and their horses to handle rough terrain; trail riding, hiking and fishing for recreation. Who knows what else will arise over time? There is certainly freedom enough for their creativity to run unconstrained.

As I walked my gear into the main house I was rounded on by the other two members of the dog pack, Ryder and Luna. Ryder is a four month old pup with big feet, floppy ears and a soft face. Luna is 2 years old but almost as new as I am having only been on the ranch five days. She is black, white and grey and a bit skittish due to what Jerry suspects was abuse from a previous owner, but she already seemed to be improving under the care of Jerry and the Rainbolts (solid band name if anyone's looking for ideas). Takota, who was now bounding out of the minivan, was clearly the alpha lady of the pack.

I looked around the house that was to keep me for the next few days. I first thought it small with the kitchen squeezed together with the living room but it didn't take me long to find it inviting. The red wood of the furniture and cabinets made the room feel light, warm. The woodstove that hosted a fire in the early mornings and evenings easily heated the living space. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the main room's proximity invited closeness and interaction among everyone in the house. The first night we stayed up late (for me, anyways) grouped around the kitchen table drinking tea and sparring in a spritey game of Up-Words, a sort of 3-D scrabble. I crashed on the couch drifting off to sleep with their clock chiming the quarter-hour and reminding me of sleepovers at my grandparent's house.

Theo and Jerry mending fences.
The next morning Jerry stoked a fire in the stove and said "Sam, it's time to feed the animals." Already awake, I gave a small, glad laugh because I knew this meant I was being tacitly invited to participate in the day's work. Truly, it was the work that made my experience at Rancho Grande so fantastic because it made me part of the team instead of an accessory. This was the routine every morning: Jerry, Theo and I would step out into the brisk 7:00 a.m. air, tugging on our work gloves and coats, and head towards the hay barn. I'm not a particularly graceful wielder of the hay hooks but I had a good bit of fun tumbling bales from the top of the stack. Once we had two bales of hay loaded along with alfalfa and oats for the horses, Theo and I would hop in the back and sit on the bales while Jerry drove us around the ranch. The mini-horses got their food first. Then Jerry would drive alongside the pen keeping the five regular-sized horses and Theo would toss their food over the side of the moving truck straight into their bins. The 4 goats, named after Roman Emperors, would be next in line. We fed the cows last, driving around the pasture in a slow circle while Theo and I dumped booklets of hay called flakes out the back, a hungry train of 24 cows following behind us. Sometimes they would greedily snatch mouthfuls from the truck before we'd delivered our payloads. One cow, Reba, is the favorite and more sociable than the rest. I got to jump down and pet her. I stooped close as she twirled hay into her mouth like spaghetti and gazed into the big wet globes of her eyes, fascinated by the size of her head.

After feeding, Theo and I would take the Gator our for a spin to patrol the property. I loved this part, mainly because I like the idea of performing rounds and seeing what's going on on the ranch today. Theo would tell me details about the different parts of the ranch. Theo was a model for me, for the work we did but also as a person. He seems more comfortable in himself, more self-contained than I was at twenty. Takota would tear alongside us, a bolt of white fur. She takes her job as top dog very seriously, always patrolling the animal pens and enforcing the rules. Once the animals were seen to, then the humans could feed so we'd pile into the warm house for breakfast. Jerry is not a fussy man but he loves to make his highly specialized mocha in the morning, won't start the day without one. He'd make another for me and I have to admit they were damn good.

Super Fly Caballeros
The day could now commence. There was plenty to do and I was eager to work everything in. We cleaned up the Rock Room first, wiping down all its high windows and tidying up the interior. Traci and Theo think it could be great for yoga, dances, or banquets. Jerry and Theo taught me how to mend a fence and I used a pneumatic post-driver for the first time. I never had to know more than I did. I followed Theo and Jerry's lead most of the time and paid attention until I could anticipate some needs without overreaching. We broke stride for lunch. I knew what was coming next. When I had mentioned earlier to Traci and Jerry that I'd never ridden a horse before, a mischievous smile crept up on both their faces that told me that was going to change. While Theo and his mom gathered horses for us to ride, Jerry demonstrated natural horsemanship for me in the circle pen with his horse, Scotty. Jerry is a stately cowboy with long silver hair and a Native American spiritual aspect to him.
Watching him direct Scotty this way and that without hardly touching him was beautiful to witness. Jerry says Scotty works with Jerry freely because they are partners. They share a bond and love each other.

My horse and I had no such bond. Big Red is a 25 year old behemoth who tolerated the annoying human clinging to his back the entire ride. Horses are sensitive animals but I'm sure it didn't require great sensitivity to recognize my absolute inexperience. Traci and Jerry taught me how to brush him, how to lead him, and how get up in my saddle and direct him. Luckily Big Red is used to lugging new riders about so he didn't mind. Once I'd had a brief tutorial Theo, Jerry and I set off to test out an unexplored trail. It turned out to be a harrowing one-way trail with no room to turn the horses around but I was too inexperienced to know how much danger we might actually have been in. I was grinning happily the whole time as Big Red picked his way carefully along the trail inordinately pleased with my status as luggage with little to no control over my destination. 
Brushing down the horses.

By the time we returned it was getting on dark and we still had to feed the animals. I fed Big Red carrots as thanks then headed to the hay barn to start loading hay into the truck. I knew the routine by then so everything flowed a little smoother for me. A harvest moon hung low in the sky like a gold coin. For dinner we had leftovers from the glorious chicken tikka massala Theo had cooked up the previous night The evening's entertainment was an hysterical movie called Hot Rod, which I'd never seen before. I almost dozed off in the middle of it I was so tired from the full day. I remember feeling as if I had been living from the pages of My Antonia.

On my final morning I helped feed the animals as usual and had an awesome breakfast. I cradled one of Jerry's mocha's against my chest. But I couldn't sit still realizing I was leaving soon. I rose from my chair and took around the ranch to say goodbye.

The land was glowing with the coming of winter. Yellow leaves and pine cones were scattered on the ground, the animals were doing animal things in their pastures. The placed looked good, really good. I made my way towards the lakes and sat down on the ancient Chumash rocks. For a moment, I couldn't bear to leave. Perhaps for the first time in my life I felt strong, as if I actually possessed physical strength and could direct it outwardly. I felt answered to, happy.  I wanted to stay, to ask for a job and give up this whole gambit. I never expected saying goodbye to be one of the difficulties that might keep me from New York. Underneath the sadness though I found a core of resolve which I didn't expect; there is still more to see, more places to find and call home.

New Route, New Videos

Hi everyone, here's my preliminary route through Arizona:

SoCal: Adelanto->Victorville-->Highway 18--> Highway 247-->Highway 62 above Joshua Tree National Forest-->Twentynine Palms--> Parker

Arizona: Parker-->Highway 72-->Salome-->Backroad towards Buckeye, which is south of Phoenix--> Highway 85--> Road 238 through Sonoran Desert-->Maricopa-->Casa Grande-->Florence-->Highway 79 North to Globe-->Highway 70 to Safford--> Highway 70 to Lordsburg, New Mexico.

New Videos:
Day 11:
Update on Highway 166 (Profanity), Highway 166, Peacocks!? (Profanity), Post-nap Mumblings

Day 12: I Got A Rainbow, Yay for Bees!, Walking About, All My Friends, Sighting of the Carrizo Plains Mountains, The Ninja Camps Again

Day 13: Cold Morning, Returning to the Road, Ninja Style (Profanity), The Cuyama River, Arriving in New Cuyama, Welcome to Fire Station 41!

Day 14: Special Thanks to Fire Station 41, Quatal Canyon, Never Turn The Sun Off! (I regret this video a lot), Terrible, Just Terrible, Los Padres National Forest, King Grub

Day 15: Check Out That Backpack (Warning: Expert Camera Work), Road Talk, Pine Mountain, Thinking Out Loud, Camping Among Pines

Friday, November 22, 2013


Sam managed to get this photo to me. 
He will explain soon as he is able.      
Blog Support                                    

Public Service Announcement

Dear Everyone,

I'm experiencing difficulties with my phone so posting updates has been a little difficult. Just know that I am constantly jotting down the days in the my journal; it's only a matter of beaming them up for you to read on the blog. Videos, of course, are a little trickier but I'm still recording every day. Please be patient with me!

Many of you have asked what my route is. As of right now I'm writing from Lancaster, CA. From here I will make my way towards Victorville, then steer further South towards Twenty-nine Palms. This will allow me to take Highway 62 above Joshua Tree National Park and east into Arizona. This is where I'm uncertain where exactly I'll be walking. Due to the winter conditions, I'll have to stay in Southern Arizona, most likely just above or below Phoenix. I may even have to walk near Tucson. Anywhere above these areas, say Flagstaff, will be too cold for my gear. Once I've decided more firmly on a route, I'll make another route announcement!

I wish I could write longer and throw down everything I've written to catch you up but I'm out of time. Soon!

Yours Most Truly,

Monday, November 18, 2013

Day 15 - November 15th

I broke the two week mark and still feel good about life, so that's something. I woke up today and got into the swing of routine. I still can't seem to improve my pack up time, which is always about an hour and a half. And when I hit the trail it takes me a little to get into the walking, probably because normally I'd be rolling over in bed to grab my computer and watch TV shows until I felt ready for the day around 10:00 am. Therefore, it's important to break the first sweat as early as possible so I can really jam through the cool morning hours.

I can sum up today with HILLS. Holy crap all I did today was walk up and down hills. The only saving grace was the weather, which is decidedly chilled. I'm holed up in my tent in my sleeping bag and wearing a pile of clothes. Surprisingly, I marched the hills fairly easily which means my body is strengthening. I can tell I'm going to pay for it tomorrow though.

I did meet some excellent people today. I'm now planning to stop at every fire station because firemen are awesome. Captain Chris and Matt gave me the layout of the land, refilled my water and I had a cup of Forest Service coffee which was obviously better than my Nescafe.

And as I was walking towards Pine Mountain Resort, the nearest town, I serendipitously ran into an elderly gentleman named Tom. By sheer chance, he was about to turn around at the spot he usually does right when I was passing by and so we strolled to town together. Turns out Tom was also an English major, so we hit it off famously, swapping book titles and observations about my walk. Tom is very well spoken, erudite and an energetic man for his age despite having overcome a ling disease and liver transplant. I just had the best time walking leisurely down a mountain road with the air crisp and bright, accompanied by a gentle, luminous soul who I sense has been pondering the world much longer and deeper than i have. He gave me a big hug when we parted. I still wish the road had been longer or that we had walked more slowly. Hopefully, I will meet Tom again.

Videos of the Day
Check Out That Backpack (Warning: Expert Camera Work)

Day 14 - November 14th

I woke up at 6:30 am and packed my gear up, then headed into the station for coffee and oatmeal. John offered to take me down the road a ways. Again, I almost refused, but I wanted to spend more time with these guys. I keep having to remind myself that walking is not my primary purpose. A guy name Lonny took over for Danny today and he was hilarious. I rode with him in the ambulance when we convoyed out of the station. Oh, I should also mention the guys helped with a last minute repair of my rig! Worked great all day! As I was leaving the guys gave me some granola bars and cash. Its strange to think that these are the guys who would have saved me in an accident or, alternatively, hosed me off the hood of a sedan and I might never have gotten to know such good people.
The rest of my day was a hot trek up Quatal Canyon Road, which should get me to Frazier Park eventually. I am presently camped out in the middle of Los Padres National Forest which is stunning to walk through even as I'm cursing the temperature. I can't tell you how beautiful it is out here. Hopefully, the videos can demonstrate better than my words can. Right now its pitch dark and dead quiet. Occasionally, a plane flies far overhead or a lonesome coyote yowls in the distance but otherwise I can detect no other presences. I am even starting to doubt my own presence, so invisible am I against the background of noiselessness, the original static state of the earth. It feels like this is how everything is supposed to be, quiet. And yet we ourselves are so loud with our machines and yammering TV's. I noticed that when I put in my earbuds to listen to music I became distracted, tuned out and it took awhile after I took them out to sink back into the silence. We have fall out of something basic, or so it seems to me. I will wait and see if this line of thought holds and come back to it again. This is a good hypothesis to mull over.

Videos of the Day 
Special Thanks to Fire Station 41 
Quatal Canyon
Never Turn The Sun Off!
Terrible, Just Terrible
Los Padres National Forest
King Grub

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Day 13 - November 13th

The road to New Cuyama was surprisingly verdant due to the Cuyama River.

  Fire Station 41! 

From left: Lonny, Captain John, and Dave. Great guys!

Videos of the Day

Day 12 - November 12th

Peculiar home in the middle of beautiful nowhere

View of the Carrizo Plain fault line

 View from my tent along the Cuyama River!

Videos of the Day:

Saturday, November 16, 2013

November 11th, Day 11

Highway 166, CA

My mind feels pressed up against the back of my eyes and leaves no room for any thoughts beyond the record of events which occurred today. In the morning, Limberg dropped me off at the exit ramp to 166 East, propelling me into what he dubbed "The Asshole of the Universe." It did appear that way for a while with brown hills and plains in every direction. But then a man named Jerry gave me a lift over several grades which I would not have enjoyed climbing. In a way though, I do regret getting a boost from him because the lush, mountainous land he drove me past would have been nice to discover on my own since I was expecting the opposite. I don't begrudge his kindness though because it preserved my strength by allowing me to stop early today. I spied an excellent camp space around 1:00 p.m. and felt comfortable taking it because I'd technically covered good ground already today. Jerry also gave me money which I appreciated! Once I'd made camp I zonked out for a couple hours, neatly bypassing the hottest part of the day. Now I'm writing in the cool light of evening and thinking about the roads ahead of me. Sometimes when no cars are zooming on the highway above me, I get surprised by the silence. of the small gorge I'm camped in and I receive a thrill of excitement that rushes through my back. This is one slice of America, humongous and beautiful, empty space. 

My body is undergoing some interesting adaptations in response to the exertion of walking and lugging so much weight around. My feet have produced calluses in all the right places where once there were blisters; the tips of my toes, the pads of my feet, the backs of my heels. My calf muscles are constantly sore, which I take as a sign they are growing in order to support the extra weight of my gear. My hip bones where the belt of my backpack and rig clips pull down are not hurting anymore. My shoulders are thickening their cords of muscle. Or at least they had better be. Otherwise I'm throwing in the towel sooner than I'd like. Speaking of towels, Limberg gave me a new one.

Cut-in-half mountain on highway 166


Funky little plant on the side of the road

Videos of the Day:
Update on Highway 166 (Profanity)
Highway 166
Peacock!? (Profanity)
Post-nap Mumblings

November 10th, Day 10

Grover Beach, CA
Today was remarkable only in that I managed to get lost several times. After backpacking through a nature preserve I didn't know was in the area and clambering through brush and poison oak, I popped out onto a golf course. What the hell? At this point I'd lost all faith in my "smart" phone's GPS and my own intuition and had to rely on local testimony to get back on course (literally). I had to walk through another golf course and the cushiest of suburbias in order to arrive at Highway 1, which subsequently led me through miles of ag roads. Completely pointless trekking.

Luckily, I had a get-out-of-farmville-free card by the name of Mike Limberg. The night before we'd arranged for him to pick me up so I could sleep at his house, then he would drop me off at the entrance of Highway 166 which is where I was supposed to have ended up. I almost had turned him down on the offer, thinking it would be "cheating." This sort of romance concerning the "proper" way to walk across America is going to land me in some serious pain if I can't learn to pursue high-flighted notions with a smarter approach.

So, Limberg arrived to teleport me from the middle of bumfuck nowhere and of course he mocked the heck out of me. Limberg's quips are perfectly aimed and worded more often than not. Later that night we watched another movie called Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I've been getting advice from Limberg about how not to let girls shit all over you and survive love. Tootsie and Forgetting Sarah Marshall were part of the curriculum. If I weren't trying to walk across the country I would have liked to have stayed at his house longer and joked and learned from him more. Maybe when I'm down with this adventure.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

November 9th, Day 9

Grover Beach, CA

The rest day was bliss. To my utter shock, Limberg called in a favor with his masseuse and I received the very first massage of my life. If I thought it was ostentatious, I also didn't care; hey, I'm supposed to accept whatever experience this trip slings at me, right? I also binge-watched House of Cards instead of catching up on my work. For food, I pilfered whatever Limberg had in his fridge and pantry, although at times it was a little frustrating. Limberg's tastes are a little more esoteric and exotic so instead of the Doritos and sandwich meat I was looking for, I found sprouted mung beans, hand-made quince jam, and paleo bread. Of course, I still ate everything, but I found myself eating jerky and bread from my trail bag for the heaviness, which amused me.

Later that night I went to dinner with Limberg and his close family. Thai food...enough said, I think. Then, cups of candy-cap mushroom tea in hand, Limberg and I retired to watch Tootsie. This movie slayed us. Every joke had so many layers and the cast was comprised of all the heavy hitters of the eighties, Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Bill Murray, Sydney Pollack. Tootsie has forced me to reconsider my utter denunciation of the art of cinema.

No videos of the day!

November 8th, Day 8

Grover Beach, CA
The next morning, I had breakfast with Jay and Joan Marie and Isaiah (scrambled eggs with broccoli and cheese!) then stiffly stepped out the door towards Pismo Beach, my next destination. Isaiah raced after me, his parents keeping pace behind him; this is their tradition of sending off guests, though usually Isaiah can't keep up with the departing guests, them being in cars and all. My brittle body, the mule for my own rig, was a bit slower.

I knew I could afford to go easy today because I already had a place to stay for the night, so I ambled along knowing I also was planning on taking a rest day the following day. My body needed to recategorize itself after the transformative pain of so much goddamn walking. As fortune would have it, I was staying with Mike Limberg, a good family friend who happens to make a great living (ophthalmologist), meaning I would be very comfortable. My body hadn't forgotten the previous day's effort so when I arrived at his home, I collapsed and ate all the things. I drank two sodas. Ate more food. Lied down forever.

Later that night, I attended a party for Limberg's girlfriend at the Presidential Suite at some fancypants hotel. Obviously, I was underdressed. I also didn't engage much with the guests, too tired to talk, too full to eat more. My parents were also there and so were the Mackins. It was good to see them, but the fact that they could be there at all forced me to realize how little distance I'd actually gone in one week. My surroundings had not changed yet, not really. I was still at the beginning.

I stepped outside for air, my mood turned to a lower setting. I wanted to visit the Pacific, to respond to the conversation of its movement. I walked down to its sands and, looking out over the night it was reflecting--absorbing-- I had the urge to be in it, under it, perhaps because it is so much more massive than myself. So, in an attempt to be away, I approached the rim of its waves as it rushed towards me, placed my hand in its salt and coldness, and thought about what it might be like to do the same on the other coast.

No videos for this day.

November 7th, Day 7

 San Luis Obispo, CA

Update: New videos have been posted for each of the previous days. Unfortunately there will always be a time delay in posting videos. I wish I could devise a way to upload the day they are made because that would be more fun for you readers, but I'm technologically hamstrung. Hopefully the videos will still be fun even if they aren't current!

According to my pedometer, which I suspect of overestimation, I walked 27.64 miles on Day 7. Regardless of whatever the actual statistic is, it took me 8.5 hours to walk from Atascadero to San Luis Obispo. I felt really good throughout the entire walk, until right at the end when I was literally two blocks away from the address I was to stay at that night. I had to stop at a gas station and sit...for a long time. When I finally showed up at Jay and Joan Marie's home, I was dead on my feet, moving robotically as if my limbs were made of 2x4's.

I had a wonderfully low-key and enjoyable time with Jay and Joan Marie. It was nice to be involved in their family, even if as an odd and dirty invalid-guest. They have a two-year-old son named Isaiah who is enamored of garbage trucks. He is a garbage truck, in fact, a silver garbage truck that dumps silver cans, according to Isaiah. At the grocery store, he likes to shuffle spices around on their shelves, transporting thyme and cayenne with automated scoopers (arms and hands) then motoring off on his wheels (feet). He reminded me how astonishingly clever kids can be and I shared his parents' delight of him.

Jay and Joan Marie took Isaiah to a drive-in movie while I stayed in to rest. This meant I gorged myself on Kit-Kat's and Hint o' Lime Tostitos while catching up on TV shows. I'm glad I didn't have anything to do because I'm not sure I could have. My muscles had stiffened up and every step was a deluge of aches, so I was amusingly incapacitated on the sofa, candy wrappers and crumbs strewn about my prone body. It was shameful. And delicious.

Videos of the Day:
A Day
Walking the Interstate, Pt. 1
Walking the Interstate, Pt. 2
The Tallest Man

Thursday, November 7, 2013

November 6th, Day 6

Hello everyone, it feels good to be at the helm again. Here's what happened on Day 6; these are primarily excerpts from my written notes:

I'm sitting outside on a bench, my headlamp one more light among the streetlamps and offices. My gear is around me, my food on the table before me, and no doubt to the parents of the kids in karate class nearby I'm a vagabond of some kind, if a particularly well-equipped, cleaner-than-most vagabond. Actually, I doubt I am much in their thoughts, dismissed in favor of other considerations. Not because they are callous or indifferent to others, but probably they are tired parents immersed in all the concerns of the week and the demands of their tyrant children. They don't want to be here at the gym at 6 p.m. right after work. They want dinner, their kids to be in bed, to be in their own beds so tomorrow they can be more alert and less grouchy. So I am not much bothered that I am an invisible stone in the rushing water of their lives. I'm content to observe their kids swirl about their waists with dazed expressions as their parents drag them through the end of today. It is good that there are karate classes and parents who give their kids things to do. I imagine there are always exquisite moments that pierce the bleary haze of exhaustion when the parents, on the sideline with the other parents, glimpse their child's increasing coordination or catch sight of a budding, bumbling personality and feel love. And maybe they don't even notice it consciously, tired as they are. It may be that it's an unseen current that rises to the surface of their awareness, then submerges again to run in their quiet, working hearts.

The reason I'm sitting here at all is because I'm camping at the church across the street and there is a bible study happening. It would never do to unnerve the few old bats in attendance. I sound annoyed, but really I'm glad I have a place to sleep. It can be nerve wracking scouting out a place to sleep.

Earlier today, I met a man named Matt who works at JoeBella Coffee: Roastery & Cafe. Matt is a quiet, 30-something apprentice and, by my impression of him, he seems to be in love with coffee and all its intricacies. When I first stepped up to the counter to order, I was expecting to say "Cup of house coffee, please" and get plain coffee after money exchanged hands. But oh no, how nutty or citrusy or etc. do I like my coffee? I was a bit flabbergasted because I'd never given it much thought. After I hastily ordered something to cover my surprise, my curiosity began to percolate (sorry) and my questions fed right into Matt's excitement about coffee. Here's a brief overview of what I learned; I don't cover close to everything. What most intrigued me was how many possible permutations of flavor exist in a single burlap sack of beans. Matt claims that upwards of 1500 distinct flavors can be drawn out from a product; part of the game, the art, is to experiment with different harvesting times, methods of drying/washing, and ways of brewing the coffee to try and exacerbate certain flavors, thereby bringing them to a level that's discernible. A master of taste can recognize 20 or 30, while the average coffee drinker with an average palette (read: awful palette) can detect 3 or 4.

(Matt from JoeBella, feel free to write something up/clarify whatever I say and I'll post it)

Quick shoutout to Zan Overturf from The Tree Man, a small nursery I passed by, for refilling my water with Gatorade and our lovely conversation about changing animal behaviors in response to human impact!

Videos of the Day:
Debriefing in Atascadero

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

November 5th, Day 5

November 5th, Day 5
I'm sitting in the home of Walt Kelley who came across me on the Nacimiento Dam. He asked if I had all the water I needed and told me about a market on the top of the hill. Then he drove off and I started topping the hill. Before I get halfway up, Walt comes roaring back down the hill, pulls over and offers to put me up for the night!

It's clear to me that Walt is a good man and a hard worker. He adores his two daughters Emily and Julia who've since moved out of the house. When he was young, maybe 10 he says, his father put him to work stuffing papers for the morning route. By 18, he'd moved out of the house and was using his money to ski around the country. Surfing and skateboarding were also sports for his youth, but now he does motorcross and bungie jumping! Trophis, old and new sports equipment and photos appear all along the wooden paneling of his house. He pulled out albums, newspapers that marked historic moments, and an essay his daughter Julia wrote about their friend who died of leukemia.

Walt has taken to calling me "Green Boy," immediately picked up on the fact that I'm not the most street smart person. He helped me rethink how to pack my gear. "Expect the best but prepare for the fucking worst, brother." I now have a "ditch" bag for my most essential items in case I need to bolt.

"You ever hurt anyone?" he asks.
"No," I say, quiet now. I've never been in a fight.
"Good. I have and it's not something you want to do."
"I'll admit I'm a bit of a homeboy."
"Well, that'll snap if it comes down to it."

I know nothing.

Walt also helped me upgrade my cart! I told him I was concerned about the life expectancy of  my wheels and axle and he recruited his neighbor Philip who apparently can Macguyver anything. Philip is a mechanic and Walt describes him as "a little Scooby-doo" and "cracky" but it's true what he said about Philip being able to klooge a solution to my cart. Now I have aluminum conduit greased around my axle so it doesn't wear away at the PVC frame. Slicker than snot on a brass door knob, as Philip says.

To end the day we had Walk Kelley's famous tacos and promptly went to bed.

Oh, and Walt also has a dog! Her name is Cocoa.

Before I forget: As I was eating lunch outside the market  I was approached separately by two women, Gigi Greene and Leslie McCloud. Both were interested in following my blog and sending word of my route to friends. Gigi offerend me a place to stay and both gave me money! How cool is that?

Videos of the Day:
Stove Tutorial ( :/ Audio a little low )
Lake Nacimiento
On The Dam
Upgrading The Rig (Audio also low here)

November 4th, Day 4

Interwater Road, CA
I'm a few miles away from Lake San Antonio! I could have kept pushing and maybe camped there but when I saw a gap in the barbed wire fence along the road I knew I had to stop. I already made the mistake of killing myself for the possibility of another place to camp. So I'm trespassing but at least I'm getting some rest. I've never stopped to make camp this early so I'm twiddling so I'm vaguely paranoid that angry arms-bearing landowners are going to roust me but I don't think that a likely possibility. Everyone is returning from work at dark (5:30) and they'll be too busy shaking off the Monday. I'd prefer not to skulk and be upfront about who I am and where I'm sleeping but I suspect no charisma I possess will be enough to convince anyone to let me sleep on their land.

Just right now a full grown feral pig trotted by and my first reaction was to zip up my flimsy tent and say "Oh god..." As if it would use the door to attack me. Luckily, my impressive defense and deep voice convinced it that I'm not worth tangling with and it left as swift as it came, no doubt spreading the word to all its other pig friends that Anthem, the National is around.

Even though each day I wake up to a mystery, I'm not worrying. All I have to do each day is get up and walk. Today, a man named Reyes stopped me on the road to chat and he told me I was laying a foundation for myself, four strong pillars to hold up my house. He's a general constructor who is now writing a cooking and house-building Youtube show. Reyes said that his brother died right after graduating college--a brain aneurysm took him right when he was just getting started. He then told me to stay focused on my goal because I could get taken too; if I stick with the goal, I'll grow tall.

Videos of The Day:
Glory of the Road
RIP Mr. Towel
More like NINJA camping, amirite?

Monday, November 4, 2013

November 3rd, Day 3

Lockwood, CA
Today was a lot easier, mainly because I didn't move very far. I couldn't convince my body (feet in particular) that moving on was a good idea. Thankfully I have another reason for being here which is to visit with Tracy Shelley. She called me in the morning and we made it a plan to meet up at the vineyard she's working a few miles from the Lockwood Store, which I had been attempting to reach yesterday. Tracy is a "wild ass grape grower," to quote my cousin Avery who put me in touch with her. And it's true. Tracy is a rugged farmer who, when I found her in the vineyard, was digging trenches with an entrencher. Her straw hat was patched with duct tape, her hands were callused [and bore] long thick nails. Her face was sunhardened but her eyes were bright and her smile kind. I got to stand on the side of her tractor and she drove me around the vineyard describing the irrigation operation over the rumble of the motor. Tracy set me up in the vineyards tonight which is awesome. There are pallets and cardboard boxes she said I could use to make a fire so I did, a big one at that. Tomorrow I may stick around here; Tracy liked my rig but her eyes immediately locked onto the flaws (the axle and tires specifically) and she broached the possibility of upgrading them to support more weight. I'll have to explore this offer more tomorrow. Overall, today was good because I had two sodas!

Videos of The Day:
Groggy Start to Day 3
The Search For Tracy
Regrouping in Lockwood
Portrait of Vineyard
Reinventing Castaway

November 2nd, Day 2

near Fort Hunter Liggett, CA
I am experiencing a lot of pain. This second day was not as kind as the first. All my troubles began when I had to surmount the Jolon Grade, a steep road that kicked my ass. I had to break for lunch at the top because I was so wiped out. If I had been smart I would have [broke] for camp then or soon after but because I trekked onward I hit the military base Fort Hunter Liggett. The Army owns hundreds of acres and I figured this meant I couldn't camp. So I pushed onward until I finally made it beyond the base, but now I'm sporting blisters and the entire lower half of my body is ridiculously sore. 

I was saved by the Mackins. It turns out Bob and Katie were attending a fundraiser dinner nearby and they invited me to eat. I was hurting badly so I accepted, but not without a certain reluctance. It felt lame, even a little like cheating to have Bob pick me up for this event. I imagined all the people who might scoff at me for suddenly teleporting by car to an evening in the garden and I almost declined. I don't know where this aversion to help is coming from. It seems much smarter to use what opportunities I get and not make something that's already intrinsically difficult that much harder. Even though I have declared no rules, for some [reason] I am still playing by some that I had no chance to debate. This must change or I'm not going to make it.

I'll admit I'm in pretty low spirits. I covered a lot of ground, 22 miles, but it cost me a lot physically and mentally. It's hard to see beyond the present right now. But while I'm in my tent and reflecting on the day, I have to say it got off to a great start. I junked extra weight before leaving, exchanging granola bars for condoms (I don't know why I let Bob give me those. No, I know exactly why.) He also drove me down the road a ways, then parked the car on the side of the road and walked with me for a mile or two. My friends' belief in me will have to take the place of mine tonight.

Videos of the Day:
Only The Beginning
Hills Are Bullshit, Pt. 1
Hills Are Bullshit, Pt. 2
I'm A Tad Parched
Pain is Funny, Apparently

Friday, November 1, 2013

Day One!

Guideline number 1: Never use the entire packet of Crystal Light.

The roads today were familiar and I blew through them without my attention catching onto much. My favorite part of today was actually walking along the freeway and exchanging first and last impressions continuously with strangers. I had a few seconds to glimpse inside each car, long enough to gauge their age, gender, how much facial hair they had, and their curiosity about me. Many passed by in sunglasses, unfazed by my ridiculous appearance. Others showed obvious interest, turning their heads to follow me, occasionally waving or smiling in surprise. Laughing at myself is my favorite pasttime, but maybe they weren't noticing me at all, instead getting their laughs from phone conversations or other passengers or their own thoughts. Whenever a trucker would give me the nod, I would return the gesture by tipping the brim of my hat and feel manly. Dozens of girls in convertibles whirled by and blew me kisses (This happened).

I stopped at a gas station to rest a couple miles outside my destination at Bob and Katie's house. When I pulled in there was a convoy of humvees refueling. A few of the guys struck up a conversation with me and I'm glad they did. It was a lot of fun shooting the shit with Bryce Brink, Sgt. Doss, (Sgt.?) Edwards and Commander Pat of Delta Company 184 based out of Oakdale, CA. Brink and Doss have both been deployed to Iraq, Brink for 15 months, and Doss for 2 years. Their belief that I will persist in walking will sustain me things look grim; it's still hard for me to know if I'll have the guts to keep moving forward.
Kicking it with Bryce Brink!
When I arrived at Bob and Katie's house, there was an awesome sign taped to their garage door waiting for me, as well as a finish line tape for me to run through. Official stats for the day according to my pedometer: 33715 steps, 20.22 miles. Tonight Katie is drawing up my Looking for America sign while Bob and I are strategizing over possible routes to get me out of California.

Videos of the Day:
Saying Goodbye
Crossing the 101 at Central Ave.
My first lunch
First Break of Day 1


Tomorrow morning I'm going to walk out my front door and south of everything I've known. It's late but I am not tired, not nervous, not excited. For the past three weeks I've kept a tight lid on my awareness of the precipice I'm approaching. No surprise here; I'm adept at denial, using it as a fog to cloak my troop movements, to deceive myself of my real intentions until it's too late! I'm already on the road.
I am also not afraid, for once. Tomorrow will not even be a real first day. I will be walking along roads I've driven along for years and staying with family friends who live in the next town. At their house, I'll retrieve a sign that says I'm "Looking for America." All my ideas about what that phrase means to me zip in orbit around me but I can't lock anything down. It just feels like that's what I'm doing, looking for America. It feels important that I seek out people and their stories because they are what really comprise what we call America. The land doesn't care about the name we projected onto it, but learning the land by walking it aids my understanding of us because it's part of our environment. It's where we grew up, are still growing up. And stupidly enough, I would follow this feeling to whatever suckhole of misery it's leading me to, if that's really the case, because I believe what it's suggesting. I believe walking across America is important. With or without facts, whether I am perceiving this at all accurately or not, I don't think I could do anything else but accept what I feel I'm asking myself to try.

I know I'm using the phrase "I feel" too often, but what choice do I have when, at the core of this, my impetus for walking is feeling? I am not going along quietly. If anything, the more I learn the less certain I am. Therefore, more questions well up, or I ask the same ones over and over, never sure if I've found an answer that fits.  I have a binder full of reasons I could offer to anyone who asks why I'm doing this and those are important too. But the answer I am struggling to provide is the one I am most moved by. Perhaps, this is where I need to exercise patience. I'm not supposed to have all the answers. If I did, why would I bother walking? I don't need to have all the answers today, or tomorrow, or the next tomorrow.