Every day I spend hours doing this - interviewing myself and giving answers to an imaginary audience, but for some reason I have so much difficulty getting started when I have a computer in front of me. This morning I asked myself “What are things you don’t like?” - like I was a Rolling Stone writer or something and everyone in the world wanted to know about the things I don’t like.
"Corvettes" Was all I could come up with. It was a short interview.
It rained for four days, when I arrived in San Luis Obispo and then four days through Morro Bay and Cambria and into Big Sur. Everything was wet. Wet sleeping bag, wet socks, wet backpack. The screen on my phone was always fogged. Every morning waking to the clinging moisture on the inside wall of my tent’s rainfly and wanting to never move again. I really started losing it then. I started talking to cows and rocks. I’d see something on the side of the road and I would say it’s name: “Wrench. Goggles. Bottle of Piss.” At one point a cow and I watched one another from at least four hundred feet away, when I came to where he was standing I gave him a shaka, hang-loose sign - and I swear, the cow nodded it’s head and understood. It’s easy enough to slip a little when nobody is monitoring you.
Last time I wrote in here I was in Lompoc. It feels like a long time ago. I’ll write about the hard first.
My feet hurt a lot. This morning I sat my shoes and backpack in to a pile of large animal excrement. I have chosen to believe that this animal is not a human being, although I am not sure. My legs stick together at night from sweat and dirt, so much so that I wake up when I move and they un-stick. All of my clothes should be burned. Did I tell you about the poop? Everything was wet, and most of it is still wet. I face death from cars and trucks and motorcycles everyday. Those gigantic campers for retired people who don’t like camping are the most dangerous and push a lot of air around. Walking hurts, especially after 15 miles. I’m uncomfortable always and in pain often.
But then there are the sunsets, after watching the white line on the side of the road for hours and hours and now I’m standing there on a rock on the cliffside and hold my arms out until the sun is beyond the end of the ocean and everything is a million colors just for me. There’s the one star that is awake before the rest. It’s always in the same location. I see it and say “Hello star” and I pretend it’s the star leading the shepherds to baby Jesus, and I’m the only person seeing it. There are the eyes of all the people coming against me in their cars, they say “I wonder what you are?” Like a cat’s eyes might say, because it is only for a second that they’ll think it. There are the mornings with the best cups of coffee I have ever had - that taste like dirt and grounds, but it’s hot and there’s rain outside. There are the first five miles on an empty road before the world wakes up, when my feet are fresh and the whole world feels like it’s right at the edge of where I could configure it all like a telephone operator. Beauty is harder to see when you are uncomfortable, maybe until later when you remember that it was and you forget it was hard.
Today I’m in Monterey, where the parents of my friend Christian have given me a shower and a bed and a hot meal and everything is amazing. I’m sorting through this notebook which is half full of writing now, and all of the pages are black with mud and dirt. I’m seeing that I’ve written a lot about observation, which is a thing I’m learning about.
In Cayucos I stopped for a coffee in a little coffee shop there near the pier. I was writing in my little book when another customer came in, it was early and dark outside and the waves were clean and cold as the sun started to rise over the mountains to the East. The barista met this kid - probably 24 years old or so and they talked about the town and the pier and the party. It was going to be a big party, this weekend in Big Sur, in two days. It cost Five dollars. Everyone was going to be there. He was going to go help set up the party on Friday. She was coming Saturday morning.
Friday morning I have coffee in Ragged Point, which is a little resort settled in the pines a couple hundred feet above the Pacific Ocean. The barista is a 60ish year old man. In come two guys in coveralls. It’s gonna be a big party. Two bands. Five dollars, you know - for beer. At the base of Big Sur mountain. Everybody was coming. Guy-in-coveralls number one is going to talk to girl from Big Sur Bakery. She is beautiful.
Saturday evening I have dinner in Gorda. There are no staff working who are younger than 37 years old.
Sunday morning I have coffee in Lucia. The light is dancing yellow from the old glass and the ocean reflections. My waitresses look like they were recently drug by horses. Big black circles under the eyes. A couple of other young people stumble in. It’s noon. They order cheeseburgers for breakfast. LOTS of water please. Coffee too. It was a big party. Two bands. People were handing acid out. Somebody fell in the fire. He’s ok. Marty kissed an “older lady.” The guy by the fireplace is clearly still on acid.
Tuesday morning I stop at the Bixby Canyon Bridge. Two guys busking for money. “Were you at the party on Saturday? It was a hell of a party.”
I think I had lost the ability to observe. John Steinbeck once said that the job of the writer is not to write, but to observe and record. We are so bad at observing - observing people, observing nature, observing the intricacies of a fragile existence - and I think it’s because we don’t care about the party if we aren’t going to the party. If it isn’t looking us in the face it must not be important enough for us to look for it either. But meaning lies there, in the cracks in the rocks - in the subtleties. It’s how we connect to the larger story and learn and see the beautiful. I saw that the kid in the coveralls was so much deeper along than he allowed in his conversation. He was going to talk to her. This weekend. He’d thought about it. The waitress in the diner with the yellow light - I could see it in her face, her thinking about all the reasons it was a great night and “this is how you live young and free.” And then she sat in the corner and looked at the rest of the young people with a look I can only describe as terrified loneliness.
"So what are you doing, anyway." She asked me, holding a coffee pot. She’s surrounded by people from the night before. I’m writing in my book.
"Walking." I told her.
She looks away, out the window.
"Do you see the birds, and the butterflies?"
"Yeah, I do."
"It makes me sad."
When I asked for the check she brought me a blank piece of receipt paper, written in pencil:
"I hope you find infinite beautifulness."
When I sat down today to type this update on the computer in the “business center” of the hotel I’m staying at in Lompoc, it took me a long time to even begin writing. I don’t really know where to begin or what to say. I’ll tell you the things I started noticing.
On the second week I started noticing the things on the side of the road. Miles of cups and paper bags, billions of cigarette butts and rubber from shredded tires – these are the things you see if you look for only a moment, but when you look at it for a hundred hours the patterns and outliers become apparent. The first thing I noticed were the doves. The doves hide in the weeds huddled together and watch, only flying if directly interrupted or startled. I’ve been seeing doves everywhere, doves and crows; black and white, one always watching and one always talking – like two different people, one I admire and one I pity. One that I usually am, one I’d like to be. I’ve found that road revelations come like this: two pictures, side by side and then a realization. I say “I like how those doves watch.” It says “You sound like a crow.”
The second thing I noticed were the butterflies. Monarch butterflies, huddled in the seam of the road and the side – they were dead, I don’t know why, but I saw them there and I noticed them in pattern, and then again, hummingbirds there and the little hopping birds that fascinated my mother. They all die easily and alone in the corner where the road meets the land beyond and I think “We take what is beautiful and we leave what is ugly” because all around their bodies – the hummingbird mouths and the orange and black eyes on the butterfly wings, is something somebody threw out the window when they were finished with it.
I identify, with them there flying in slow motion while the whole world sped by.
There have been many people – I started writing them down in my notebook under a heading that says “CAST” – Orville the Balloonist, Moses, the Grown Children and the Beautiful News. I write them down like this so I remember them better. They are colors. I think the way I am on the road comforts people somehow, because I’m moving slower and I’m tired and dirty. It’s like they don’t need to impress me, but they also don’t need to protect anything they love from me. It has made me see some deeper light that shines inside the pure fact that we are human and the same. I like them.
It’s all being written down in a notebook. Here are some better moments.
I hiked into Oxnard late, having walked 22 miles that day. It was near the harbor, I found a housing development near a shopping center and set my tent behind some bushes at the entrance. The security office is next to these bushes and the security guards were outside the entire time smoking cigarettes. I didn’t worry about them catching me. I have learned, everyday in another way: that people do not observe anything that is not directly what they are attending to – and they are almost always attending to themselves. It’s not hard to hide in a world like this, and I’ve been taking advantage of it.
The wall behind the bushes is a temporary one to shield the work of a new construction project, leaving the ground covered in concrete dust and woodchips. It was 1:30 in the morning when the sprinklers came out of the ground and soaked everything I have within seconds. I pulled all of my belongings out of the bushes covered in wet concrete dust and mud and reclaimed sprinkler water. I didn’t know what to do so I packed my wet things in a wet backpack and started walking North. Two hours of sleep on twenty mile knees and wet clothing make for a hard night, but when the rhythm of walking slowed my anger and I looked up, things were beautiful.
This was one of my favorite moments of the trip, walking in the darkness, before morning was anywhere near. The fog was in from the sea and the moon was enormous and bright lighting the air like stadium beams in the lines of the steam. It was cold, visible breathing, crunching of footsteps, rushing of tires and then silence. In the time between, in the shadows of the trees it was pure darkness and shadows with the lights off the shore in Ventura down the point, glimmering and turning with the waves and the dancing of distant tree branches in the light’s path. When the sun came up it was like another day again, bright and warm. I arrived at the first oceanside mansions in South Santa Barbara County in late morning and swam on an empty beach, washing the dust and mud from the night before and I fell asleep with my head on a rock in the warm sand. You see, the bad made the good better – and the endurance of what is unfortunate always promises my favorite second chapters.
There are other stories. I’ll save them for later. It’s past my bedtime, which is whenever the sun goes down.
Day Three. I think.
To say that this trip is nothing like I expected would be a vast understatement. I don’t expect to be doing updates so often, but I had the chance to steal a computer today, so here goes.
Monday morning I woke up before the sun and walked out the front door of my house in Solana Beach. I decided to walk over to the coffee shop down the street for coffee. This was my first lesson - that you don’t simply “walk over for some coffee” like you would drop by on a roadtrip. When you’re walking a long way, every step in any direction other than due North feels absolutely excruciating.
There’s a path along the lagoon in Solana Beach that borders the town of Del Mar, which I walked to the beach, over the train tracks and across the PCH. There’s a little section of beach below the bridge and along the rivermouth where the waves come along in miniature curls along the banks. A friend of mine told me he saw a great white shark die there once, but it has always felt like a special place to me. My mother’s time was in the morning, where she sat and watched the ocean or the cows or whatever was nearest where she happened to be sitting. When she died I knew I would be placing some of her ashes there - which I did, half of the film canister I keep in my backpack, and the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean. I read the two remaining letters she had written to myself and my dad and sister. I don’t know how to explain what that time was like for me, so I won’t try.
That day I did twenty miles to Oceanside where I hobbled into to my friend Blake’s livingroom, hardly able to move my legs. This was my second lesson. Listen to your body - also that I should have “trained.”
The second day I attempted to walk through Camp Pendleton, which is a twenty mile marine base which separates Orange County and San Diego County. The Marine with the machine gun at the entrance to the base told me I couldn’t walk through. He also asked me “why?” which is a question I am growing accustomed to. The only other way through the base is via the 5 freeway, which led to an exciting time of walking on a six lane freeway with 80mph traffic as the sun was setting. My legs started cramping again as it was getting dark so I jumped the barbed wire into the base under the branches of some giant eucalyptus on the side of the freeway.
Under those trees, when I looked back towards the road I saw the sun just peaking over the horizon and in the light I could see a dozen spiderwebs illuminated like neon in a bar window. In the direct center of each web was a spider that probably spanned three inches, and who’s body was the size of a quarter. I don’t know what it was, but something about all these silent creatures resting on the banks of the busiest freeway in California - all the road noise dropped entirely and, if only for a second, it was company and rest - and, strangely, like an understanding.
Camp Pendleton in the dark is like every childhood war fantasy. It’s miles of fields of weeds and tall grass with dirt roads cut through by humvees and desert trucks towing Howitzers. I walked the dirt roads parallel to the ocean until I found some more trees and logs which offered some protection from the road - directly across from the maintenance yard for the Southern California railroads. I set my tent here and went to sleep.
Probably two hours later I woke up again. The air was perfectly still, and so silent that I could hear the leaves of the trees falling at random one at a time all around where I was sleeping. I put my jacket on and walked barefoot to the hill beyond the railroad yard. From behind the shop a guy came walking, smoking a cigarette in the dark - I could only see his silhouette. He climbed the ladder of the middle of three locomotives in a connection, unlocked the door and pulled a lantern from inside and lit it with his cigarette lighter, and then turned toward me and leaned over the railing. I was just standing there in the trees, watching him, and I’m sure he saw me immediately, but it was like he hadn’t. He just kept standing there, twenty yards away. I could only make out his hands and hair, the outline of his nose and the occasional glint from his eyeglasses when he pulled off his cigarette. He didn’t say anything and neither did I. We just stood there for three minutes, watching one another until he tossed his lit cigarette into the rocks below the rails, walked inside the engine, and disappeared. When I was lying there again in my tent I heard the diesel fire over giant cast iron pistons, and he was gone.
I don’t know why these are the moments I remember, because in a normal day they would mean nothing to me at all. Probably in a “normal day” I would be moving too quickly to even notice some spiders in the sun, or stop to have a wordless encounter with a locomotive engineer in the dark. I think that’s because our world has lost so much meaning, because meaning is in the subtle details and the whisperings. Now, every step is either uncomfortable or excruciating pain. I can’t track the days and progress and match my distance goals, and when I try to I realize that I’m behind schedule and that San Francisco is impossibly far away. The goal there in the distance has become so far away that I am now forced to evaluate why I am doing this. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s caused me to become, well, aware - aware that anything can become a distraction. That the spiritual world takes work to tune into - but it’s available if you’re listening closely.
As for my mother, when it gets really hard and every step feels like nails in the backs of my knees, I walk on the left of the sidewalk, or the shoulder of the road and she walks on the right, and then she tells me to pray.