Berkeley, CA to Long Beach, CA
August 16 to September 20
People often ask me what I would do differently if I did this walk again. The list is not super long but, for the purpose of this particular post, I will mention that I would never walk north to south in California again. I’m not saying I regret my decision to go to the Pacific Northwest and head down but, now that I know how difficult California was to walk, I would choose a different route. That’s all. It was a tough walk mainly because of the lack of north-south roads that are legal to walk and the fact that, in California, sometimes you can walk on highways and sometimes you can’t and Google Maps is not in sync with local laws. And Google Maps is not accurate with which of the far off side roads along the highways are public and which ones are private.
One of many roads that suddenly became private property that Google Maps sent me down.
Another reason California was a tough walk was, quite honestly, the people. I MUST say that I met many incredible, friendly compassionate people in California. You know who you are! But, as a whole, Californians are just less interested, more self absorbed, far less giving, much less careful and, to boil it down, just plain rude and judgmental. This is hard for me to write. I’m a native Californian. Besides a few years in Boise as a teen and a year in Arizona for culinary school, I’ve lived in California my entire life. When you’re from California you often hear about how rude we are but it never makes sense because I’m not rude and my friends aren’t either. I just never saw us from an outsider’s perspective. But when I walked, with a cart, I was an outsider or a vagrant or a threat. Despite my cart having bold lettering explaining my journey, for the most part, people here just didn’t read it or make eye contact. I was just another homeless guy pushing around his junk. It made me sad often. Not for me because I knew what I was doing, where I was headed and I was proud of my accomplishments. It made me sad for those people that are just pushing around carts full of what is important to them and it made me sad for California. I never felt a sense of community anywhere in the state.
One day when I was walking from Ventura to Malibu through decent sized cities I did a little social experiment. I smiled at every single person I made eye contact with and waved to as many of them as I could. Although I didn’t count, I can safely say that an overwhelming majority of those people that made eye contact with me didn’t return the smile or the wave and, for the most part, looked away quickly and gave space so they didn’t have to be near me. I was clean, I didn’t smell and I was being friendly. It just made me sad, that’s all. I’m not sure what happened to California but I’m sure a lot of people reading this have their opinions on this topic. Maybe it’s the insane homeless problem that’s caused us to turn a blind eye. Maybe it’s the crime rate. Maybe it’s because we never get out of our cars and we’re too stuck in our own little worlds. Or maybe Californians are just rude like outsiders have been telling us for years.
BUT, I met some amazing people in California! Actually, I met so many amazing people that I can absolutely state with great happiness in my heart that my previous few paragraphs, or rants, do not apply to all. Most of those people I’m referring to are people that took me into their homes, fed me, let me bathe and sleep soundly, made donations to the charity, continued to follow and support me and are now lifelong friends. Thank YOU for making the California portion of my journey great. Like I said, I wouldn’t change anything about this walk because I got to meet some bad-ass cool people in California. I just wouldn’t do this portion again because it was just really hard on those days between awesome families.
But I am going to jump ahead a week or so to tell you a story. I’m jumping it to the top, out of timeline order, because it’s pertinent to my intro. I was having a particularly bad day in the Central Valley. It was hot and, like most of CA, the roads were hit or miss. I was several miles into my day when I saw someone approaching me from afar on a bicycle. This person was not a cyclist, rather, just someone on a bike. As he got closer I noticed a bag hanging from around his neck. It appeared to be very heavy and dangled in front of his chest. As he got closer his right hand reached into the bag which sent red flags up. We were nowhere near a town and, after walking 3000 miles across the country and after encountering enough crazy people, I’m always on high alert. My right hand moved from my handle bar grip to my knife which is in a sheath and concealed directly below the grip within easy reach. I wasn’t judging him, just being cautious. When he was directly in front of me he pulled out a peach and held it out and, as he rode by, without saying a word or even slowing down, he handed that peach off to me like a baton change in a relay race and continued his ride. We never spoke, never even made eye contact. It was the simplest form of kindness and compassion I had experienced since my start back in February. And it lifted my spirits to new heights. I will never be able to thank him in person for making me feel so good that day but, anybody with that kind of heart, already feels the love for other humans because it’s part of their lives. I ate that delicious peach and will forever remember that moment.
So now let me back up to Berkeley. I had a great stay there with Ellen and George Porter who are Leslie’s aunt and uncle and, for two days in a row, took BART and various busses to Stanford and then into San Francisco to visit two different children’s hospitals. It was fascinating to see the labs and meet the doctors who are doing research that has been funded by the PCRF. I met several kids and witnessed bravery and courage like I’ve never seen before. Being in such a big city after so long of being on the road was pretty overwhelming. Especially a city like San Francisco that is so congested and fast. After a few hours it made me long for the mountains of Oregon or the rolling hills of Alabama, two of my favorite walking states.
My oldest friend in the world, Kelly Atkins, lives in Northern California. We grew up together as kids and were inseparable. After I moved to Idaho when I was 14, she and I kinda lost contact but have seen each other a few random times over the years. Kelly is a vocalist in a few groups and she just happened to be singing at a house party about. 1/4 mile up the hill from the Porter’s and I was so stoked to be able to see her sing. It was a brief but wonderful visit.
I left early the next day to head over the Berkeley hills into Walnut Creek where I stayed with my friend Sarah. She lived next door to me years ago in Costa Mesa and underwent treatment and surgery for brain cancer last year. After spending a few days with kids with no hair and then with Sarah, who’s hair is making a stellar comeback, and a few bottles of wine, we decided to buzz my hair. You can see the vid on IG if you’re interested. I love it! So easy, so cool in the heat. Great decision. And I have a pretty damned good lookin scalp!
My path over the Berkeley hills
More of that path. It was tough with a cart but it was beautiful
A few days of uneventful blur and I made my way to my cousin Heather’s home in San Jose. I stayed there two nights so I could take a rest day. Heather and I hadn’t seen each other in many years and it was great to catch up. I then set out to conquer the Central Valley with an 8 day rush to get as close to Paso Robles as possible. My buddy Brett, Holden’s step-dad, was driving up to meet me and camp a few nights and our plan was to hit some wineries in Paso so I had to get as far as possible.
A few things of note for this 8 day stretch. This is the stretch of the walk where the peach incident from above happened. Camping was impossible for me. Maybe for a seasoned stealth camping vet it would have been easier but I was surrounded on all sides, every day, by nothing more than fields of vegetables and dirt roads of which most were private. Camping on farmland, in my opinion, was a really bad idea. Farmers are protective of their land and I don’t blame them. So, a lot of motels and a few couchsurfing hosts. I did attempt to camp one night next to the Salinas River but got booted by the landowner. That sucked, too, because it was a great spot!
Typical foot view after a day of walking. Yes, that is one day of road grime.
One great story from that rather long and boring stretch is pretty good. I was walking from Gonzalez to Soledad which was only about 10-12 miles by car but nearly 20 on foot because I had to walk almost 3 miles out to a road that was legal to walk south. Well, that road, like many during this time, was hard packed dirt that ran dead straight for about 5 miles between fields of cabbage and some other unidentifiable crop. The land was owned by Dole which I knew because there were signs everywhere but there was not a No Trespassing sign to be found. So, I took the road. The entire time I was entertained by the daredevil flying of a helicopter crop duster which was really awesome to watch. I’m certain I inhaled all kinds of killer chemicals. About 3 miles into my walk I came to an 8’ wide, 1’ deep creek or water run off that was not visible on Google Maps. I looked left and right for a foot bridge. None. Crap. No chance I was backtracking. I took my cart completely apart and chucked it and all my belongings across the creek. Then I stripped off my pants, shoes and socks and sent them over. Into the creek I went It was horrible. The bottom was rocks and dirt and killed my feet. I slipped in the middle, got soaking wet, cut up my leg and twisted my wrist which hurt like hell. All the while, the helicopter decided to take a break from crop dusting and hover over me to enjoy witnessing what must have been a pretty funny scene down below. I got to the other side, dried off as best I could and re-dressed. After I got Alexa all put back together, I continued down the dirt road. A truck approached me and the guy had a part laugh part confused look on his face. “How the hell did you get all the way out here without us seeing you?” “Funny story, actually.” And I described to him the last hour of my life which he found pretty amusing. He was cool and let me keep walking through his farm. When I finally made it to my motel in Soledad, I was worked. Tired, bleeding, bruised and hot and I probably smelled something fierce. And that’s when I realized I had lost my wallet. I wear two pair of identical pants that have a zippered side pocket that my wallet has lived in for 8 months. I haven’t misplaced it once. Now it was gone. Had to be back at the creek, right? The thought of going back there to find it almost made me cry. Then my phone rang. It was a woman who found my wallet back in Gonzalez in front of a Mexican restaurant and then I remembered. I sat in front of that place to make my motel reservation, pulled my wallet out to pay and I must have set it down next to me then left it there. I explained to her that there was no way in hell I was going to be able to walk back there – 20 miles, over that damn creek again and on that long dirt road. Oh, and there are no Uber/Lyft cars out there and no taxis. She was sweet and offered to drive it to me. How lucky was I?? Without my wallet I would have been dead in the water. No ID, no credit cards, no debit card, no cash. But, that didn’t happen. I had my wallet two hours later and got myself into a shower very shortly after that!
I think that was my 1,000th Reese’s Peanut Butter cup. So good.
Brett picked me up at a small cafe in a town called San Ardo and we made our way to Lake Nacimiento where there was a huge, empty campground. We were the only ones there our first night. OK, camping with Brett. Brett has a Toyota Tacoma with a cover on the back in which he also had a blow up pad that was about as thick as a normal bed mattress. I had my tent on a pile of dirt. Thanks Brett!! LOL Our first night was like Night at the Museum. We were up all night to the sounds of raccoons, skunk and deer rummaging through all of our stuff. It was crazy. They had no fear whatsoever. When we got up the next day, pretty much everything was covered in dirty paw prints including damned good evidence of a very valiant effort to open our cooler. Even the sides of my tent had paw prints on them. We went to a few wineries the next day – one fancy one and one totally down to earth. Chronic Cellars was the chill place and we drank a lot of wine and played horseshoes which I lost at both right and left handed. Shameful. I always feel bad after I let my friends beat me in games but Brett’s feelings are delicate and I didn’t want to see him cry. Ha! He doesn’t read my blog so I can make these claims without any rebuttal. Our second night was animal free!! But it probably had to do with the fact that a huge group of people showed up that day and set up serious camp shop not far away and probably had a lot more goodies laying around than we did.
At Chronic Cellars
For the next several days I was hosted by some awesome people Marge and Dick Griffen in Atascadero (parents of my high school prom date Chelsea), Allison and Craig Brandum in San Luis Obispo (Allison and I have known each other since I was in kindergarten), Sharon and Martin Suits in Avila Beach (Sharon learned of me because she followed Tyler Coulson during his walk), Amy and Don Keuffler in Nipomo (friends of the Suits) and Pam and Joe Waltuch (Joe is Craig Brandum’s uncle). During this portion of my journey I got stranded due to a stretch of the 101 where I was warned by a CHP officer not to attempt to walk. A guy named Jack Lockhart from Irvine had been following my journey since he read about me in the LA Times back in April. Jack drove up to Santa Maria on a Saturday morning just to have lunch with me, bring me some gift cards and goodies and he was able to get me through that stretch of the 101 because he drove a big ass truck where Alexa fit perfectly. Thanks Jack! I made those miles up a few days later.
On my way to Nipomo I crossed my 3,000 mile mark and it was really cool! As I was nearing my mark a girl cruised her skateboard up to me and asked if she could walk for awhile. We talked a lot about the town she grew up in. She had just moved back after attending college in South Dakota. She walked to my 3,000 mile line and held my phone while I did my FB live. Her name is Kylie and she made that moment extra special. She continued to walk with me for another mile or so and we said good bye. Thanks Kylie!!
Kylie at the 3,000 mile marker!
I made my way down the highway along the ocean, without ever touching it or even getting close enough to be splashed, and camped at a place called El Capitan. This is like crazy fancy camping and super expensive but it was the only place to go. I set up camp, had a nice meal and a few beers in the great little cafe on site and spent the rest of the day and night in the pool and jacuzzi. Yeah, pool and jacuzzi at the campground. It cost $65!!! I took advantage! The next morning when I checked out, the manager comped my night after reading my cart. So cool!! I love the compassion and hospitality of great people!
Squirrels got my food!!
Next stop was Santa Barbara where my dear friend and former roommate Katie lived with her sister and brother in law. It was a quick visit. We had a great homemade dinner and I crashed early. My next day was to be about 30 miles to Ventura where I was going to stay at Katie’s parent’s house for two nights so I could take a rest day. On my day off in Ventura, Leslie came up to visit me and brought Wink!! Little guy wasn’t so little anymore! He’s put on some weight since he got comfy down at their house! I think he looked at me and, in his mind, said, “Oh, hell no. I’m not goin back with that guy! Take me back to the beach, I don’t want to walk!!!”. We had a great day just walking around town and eating some lunch and drinking some beers. So nice of her to drive all that way to see me and bring Wink.
Ventura to Woodland Hills was a pretty easy walk. It was in pieces, too, because I had roads not legal to walk. One thing happened that kinda bothered me, though. After 22 miles in the heat I found a tree on a patch of grass that provided shade and a safe place to wait for my ride to come pick me up. I got my chair out, ate a banana and was watching Netflix (I had about an hour to kill). I was very comfortable. That’s when two military police showed up. They asked for my ID and phone number, checked me out, and told me to leave. They said I was sitting on a military installation and couldn’t sit there. I told them my ride was only about 15 minutes away but they still made me leave. And they were rude about it. The first cop called in a second cop who stood there with his hand on his gun the whole time like I was gonna draw down on them. Even after showing them my cart, giving them my card and everything, they were still insanely aggressive towards me. On my entire walk I had never been harassed by police and this just bummed me out. So, I walked another mile to a safe spot for my ride to pick me up.
Nick and Erin hosted me in Woodland Hills. Eric is Allison Brandum’s older sister and she’s my age. We were friends and went to kindergarten together. I had a nice night with them and their two daughters. We read books at bed time and talked a lot about my walk. I love kids who are genuinely interested!
From their house I tackled Topanga Canyon. This was not the best idea. In fact, it was a flat out bad idea. It was a winding road with zero shoulder and people drove way too fast coming up from Malibu into the valley. I honestly had moments where I wasn’t sure I would survive that day, it was that sketchy and scary. But, silver lining. About half way through the day a car pulled over on the opposite side and rolled down their window. The guy yelled over to me asking what I was doing and what my website was because he couldn’t see it from so far away. It was a hard conversation because cars were flying by. We said good bye and that was that. The next day I got an email from ZG – The guy you met in Topanga. It was a quick message saying he’d like to buy me lunch or dinner when I made it to Venice. I replied yes, would love to and thank you. A few days later I got an email from him saying he apologized and that his day had gotten away from him and that he assumed I was well past Venice at that point. I replied that I was staying in the area for a few days and would love to meet. A few minutes later, Julie from the charity I’m walking for, PCRF, messaged me, “Do you know Zach Galifianakis?” I replied no, not personally, but I know who he is. Well, that guy in the car was Zach and he had just made a very sizable donation to the PCRF!! So cool. I messaged him to thank him noting that I had had no idea that it was him given the environment in which we met. We didn’t meet for lunch or dinner but I did invite him to the finish line. Who knows? Maybe he’ll show up? Another cool thing that happened up on Topanga was meeting two people up near the library. They both came out separately to say hello. Lisa was one of those awesome people. She said she was going to meet me at the bottom of Topanga and walk with me. A lot of people say that and never show up but she did!! And not only did she walk several miles with me (and then back to her car), she also pushed Alexa uphill into Pacific Palisades! Loved the break! Thanks Seaglasswoman!!!
Lisa sweatin up that hill on a hot day with Alexa
I stayed two nights in Pacific Palisades with an old friend Jennifer Summers and her family. By this time I was ahead of schedule so I was able to take more down time, rest, write and just be in my head. I made my way to Marina del Rey where I stayed one night with my friend Linda Ferrari and then 3 nights with Courtney. During those days I walked out and back to get miles in, eat good food, have some drinks and lots of sleeping.
I stayed the next two nights at my buddy Geoff’s house in Long Beach and, thankfully, had a day off because I got a bug that lasted about 12 hours that kicked my ass!! They were at Disneyland for their wedding anniversary and I stayed in bed all day minus the time spent during several trips to the bathroom. Ugh. What the heck? High fever, sweats, stomach…all of a sudden! And, as suddenly as it appeared, it was gone the next morning. Who the hell knows? I walked just 3 miles to my friend Katy Clark’s house, also in Long Beach and enjoyed a nice night with her and her 3 kids. Yesterday I walked 14 miles to my friends Jeff and Christa Denson in Fountain Valley. We had a great reunion after a long, long time of seeing each other.
I have only one more night after today before I’m home. I’m spending it at my friend Claudia’s home in Huntington Beach. I have extremely mixed feelings about these final few days. Excitement, anxiety, fear, happiness, pride…all rolled up into a big ball of “OK, I did that. Now what?”
Now what…I cross the finish line this Saturday at noon. I’m meeting my son a few hours earlier about 3 miles from there. He’s bringing Wink to me and the three of us will finish up the walk. Some people will join us for the last 1/2 mile. There will be fun and festivities. Family and friends. Some kids I dedicated days to and their families may be there. The PCRF will be there. Maybe some news crews or reporters. But, most importantly, there will be that big old ocean that, for years, I’ve lived near but never fully appreciated. We’ve never been great friends. I’m just not a big beach goer. But I’ve been waiting to jump into that water for eight months. She’s been by my side on and off for the past few weeks tempting me to get in. She’s had to wait. I’ve been disciplined. I’ve spent eight months walking across America, I can wait a few more days.
Yes, I walked across America. When I jump in that ocean it’ll be 3,235 miles. 6.7 million steps. 231 days through 12 states. All the way. My way. My rules. My route. My body. My pain. My heart. My future?