Klamath Falls, OR to Berkeley , CA
July 22 to August 15, 2019
I’ve walked 410 miles since my last post. BAD THOMAS!!!! I’ve been putting off posting because, well, I guess I’ve been lazy? After not posting for a few weeks my blog started to feel like overgrown lawn. Lawn that just kept getting longer and longer and, by the time I decided to finally go cut it, I wasn’t sure where to begin. And my lawnmower was out of gas. It’s been a weird month for me, to be honest. Let me explain.
This post is going to be a little different. Part of the struggle I had to get this done was that I was telling myself that people who are following me regularly see my FB and IG posts so they know what’s going on most days and the blog is just a longer version of those. But, I think, the reality was that I knew that this blog will be, in the long run, for me to reflect back upon in the years to come so that I can remember the people, places and events that shaped my walk. And it will be a reminder of how I felt at different times during my journey. Perhaps being able to reflect on my feelings next year and the year after will help remind me how much I wanted to find change during this time.
I left Klamath Falls on a Sunday morning with great excitement. That day I knew I was going to pass into California. My final state line crossing. My home state. And the reality that this journey, although still 800+ miles to go, was coming to an end soon. I was only 75% through my walk but, for some reason, passing into California made it feel like I was pretty much home. I was, and still am, fearful of the end. Not fearful because I don’t want to finish my journey but fearful because I know that I have to go back to reality, back to work, back to facing many facts about life that I’ve kinda been avoiding for the past six months.
You’ve all been faithful followers and I’ve shared a lot of intimate details about my life on the road. I feel like I owe you more intimate details about my real life so you can understand, maybe even feel what I’m feeling. Maybe some of you can sympathize because you’ve been here before or, perhaps, you’re here now. Or, maybe I’m sharing too much. But this journey, this blog, is about me. What I write will stay with me forever and I will be able to look back and remember these feelings later in life or, maybe, from another trail someday. You will read them now but it will just be a moment for you. I guess I’m just journaling a lot of personal stuff for all the world to see. Baring my soul, my realities. Not for your sympathy but, to truly be on this journey with me, you should know why I’m here, what I hoped to learn about myself and everything I haven’t.
People often ask me why I’m doing this, what inspired me to walk across a continent and what will I do when I get home. I tell the same story most of the time. Here’s a synopsis of my story – last year I turned 50, sold my restaurant to my business partner, my son had just graduated college, I am single and I wanted to do something extraordinary and crazy and different and, if I could raise money for children battling cancer while on my journey, even better. That’s my story and, for the most part, that is all true. I never intended to do this for philanthropic reasons. When I planned to walk, adding a charity wasn’t part of the plan. About a year ago I started to come to the realization and admit to myself that my business, my restaurant that I loved so much, was not going to be mine soon. I tell people that I sold my half of Taco Brat to my business partner and, in a way, I did. But the reality is that Taco Brat wasn’t doing well financially and we had a major setback last year when an employee fraudulently sued us and, although our attorney was confident that we could win the case in court, the cost to defend ourselves was far more than they were willing to settle the lawsuit for. My professional relationship with my friend and business partner, prior to the lawsuit, was already unraveling because we weren’t making any money and our vision for the future was starting to differ. I was steadfast and stubborn. I wanted to keep pushing through the difficulties and continue to tweak the concept to success. My partner wanted big changes and he had a lot of money tied up in the business and had every right to demand change. For months we tweaked the business to no avail. Then, when the lawsuit happened and we had to settle out of court, we both knew that we were nearing a tipping point. I had read Tyler Coulson’s book, the book that inspired me to walk, a few months prior to the lawsuit being finalized. When we got to our tipping point, the point at which I knew I was about to lose everything I had worked for, I knew that it was time to walk. So, when I tell people I sold my business to my partner, it sounds a lot sexier than it actually was. Selling a business makes it sound like you made a bunch of money and that’s an easier way to sugar coat the fact that no money exchanged hands and that we had decided that I would leave Taco Brat so that he could make the changes he needed to in order to protect his investment. I don’t blame him one bit for making this decision. But I also don’t blame myself for being in the position that required him to make it. Taco Brat was wonderful and, in all measures besides financial, was a success. We had great food, great drinks, an amazing atmosphere and tons of regulars. We also had a really difficult location that made it tough for people to get to regularly enough to sustain it. It was one of the most heart breaking decisions of my life. Taco Brat was my concept. It was my menu, my recipes, my sleepless nights and insane working hours. It was what defined me for two years. I loved everything about Taco Brat. But it also consumed me and my personal life suffered greatly for it. Leslie and Brett, the two people closest to me through my Taco Brat days, said to me when the change was happening that, although they loved Taco Brat, they loved me more and missed me and now they were getting their friend back. I’ll never forget the night over wine that they shared those feelings and I guess it helped temper the loss. So I decided to walk. Not just away from my restaurant but all the way across our country in hopes of finding myself again. I’m nearly done and I’m not sure I accomplished that yet.
I decided to add a charitable component to my journey because I felt I needed an easy answer to the question, “Why are you doing this?” It’s so much easier to tell strangers that I’m walking across America to raise money for childhood cancer research than it is to say that I’m 50 years old and lost. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying, though. I LOVE raising money for the PCRF. I love knowing that, although I’m out here for some pretty serious soul searching, in this mid-life WTF moment I find myself in, I can do something really great for kids who are in a far worse WTF moment in their lives. So far I’ve raised just over $15k and that’s pretty damned cool. I just dumped a ton on you but, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself on this walk, it’s that I need to be honest with those that are trying to share the road with me. I will finish this walk in about 5 weeks. When I finish I won’t have two pennies to rub together. I don’t have a firm job lined up yet although I am in talks with a company I’ve been consulting for since I left Taco Brat and, hopefully, that will come to fruition. But what I do have is a desire for change. I have an amazing story and a journey to share. How I share it is still in the works. I also have an amazing group of friends that support and love me. I have the best son in the whole world. I have two loving parents and loving brothers and sisters. I have an extremely strong work ethic and am very employable. And, most important, I persevere. Always. I have some interesting ideas rolling around in my noggin that I feel excited about. I’m not ready to share them because, to accomplish them, will require me to take a pretty hard look at my situation at home and make some significant changes. Changes I’m not positive yet that I want to make. I was reminded by a woman that I stayed with in Arkansas that a change in your life is only one decision away. Hm.
Which brings us back to the California State Line. I cried when I got there. You didn’t see it during my Facebook live feed because I had given myself enough time to be alone before going live. It was a feeling of amazing accomplishment. I had daydreamed of that great big blue sign so many times but it never seemed real until I came up this long hill and, suddenly, there it was. I was expecting rays of sunshine and perhaps a few rainbows and unicorns to appear. What I got was just that big blue sign next to a makeshift rest area and some benches on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere. No welcoming committee or bands playing. There wasn’t even a water spigot or toilet. But it was awesome. I could see Mt. Shasta in the distance and knew we would meet in a few days. I had to get to a small town named Dorris that day and then the town of Weed the next day before I would make it to Shasta.
There’s not much to say about Dorris except that I don’t know why people live there. I didn’t see any industry or much farming but, perhaps, I missed something. The town had one market, a few little food stands and a motel and Highway 97 just kinda blew right through it. I stayed at a crappy little motel that was one of those “weekly rate” type places but most habitants were day workers. They lived there and worked somewhere. At night they all gathered in the parking lot area and made dinner, drank beer and listened to music. I sensed that this was a nightly ritual because the camp stoves they cooked on appeared to be fairly permanent fixtures under their motel room windows. Next to most of the camp stoves were small, beat up refrigerators connected to extension cords that ran into their rooms. This was home to many hard working men and women. I wanted a taco but was only offered a cursory nod. I was definitely an outsider. Perhaps they had dealt with other one night strangers with carts full of gear before me and were a little lacking in the trust department. I didn’t judge them for that. I look interesting, if not worse, to locals all over the place. But I really wanted one of their tacos. I settled for soup and crackers that I heated up on my JetBoil in my room.
Walking into Weed the next day was a bitch. It was a 30.6 mile day with lots of hills and this crazy wind that blew right in my face all day. I had serious doubts most of the day about making it all the way. There were no other options so not making it wasn’t going to happen! I just took it slow, battled the hills and wind and finally walked into town well after normal dinner hours. The town of Weed definitely capitalizes on its name! Murals and tourist shops all selling merchandise cleverly using the town name to imply the town was named for marijuana. The town’s founder’s last name was Weed and that’s where the name came from. I didn’t spend much time there. I got to my motel, ate some dinner and went back out to take some pictures and then crashed. I was too excited to get to Mt. Shasta the next day to spend much time in Weed. I did buy a t-shirt and sent my mom a coffee mug that said WEED on it in hippy/graffitti looking letters. I figured she’d get a kick out of that because she smokes a lot of pot. JUST KIDDING!!!! My mom does not smoke pot which is exactly why I sent it to her.
Mt Shasta was only 11 miles away and was a pretty decent walk. I got out early enough so I could get there with time to explore. My destination was a KOA campground in the northern side of town. I got set up and then walked into town to see the shops and restaurants and downtown area. I enjoyed a local brewery and had some dinner but got back to my tent fairly early. I was still quite beat from the walk to Weed and needed a good night’s sleep. My next day was going to be short and sweet. I was only walking to the south side of the town to a motel about 5 miles away and could do some more exploring the next day.
I ended up sleeping very late the next day. Still exhausted for some reason, I took my time getting across town. After checking in to my motel I made my way back into downtown and bought some groceries and some paracord at the hardware store for another thing I was carving out of wood.
Getting from Mt Shasta to Redding, CA proved to be my most challenging set of miles on my journey. Between the two cities is a great big forest – The Shasta Trinity National Forest. There are only two legal ways to get around it and both were daunting. Massive climbs, dense woods, zero services and temperatures in the 100s every day. My longest stretch without services would have been 4 nights. However, Interstate 5 cuts straight through the middle and, for all but about 10 miles of it, there were service and side roads shown on Google Maps that were walkable. I knew that, if I chose to attempt going down the middle, that I would have to illegally jump on to I5 at a few points and hope that I didn’t get caught. Screw it, down the middle it is!
My first day out of town was a nice, easy 15 mile day to a cool town called Dunsmuir. I wanted 1 more day in a town before setting out into unknown territory and the woods and to re-stock Alexa. Dunsmuir’s claim is that they have the cleanest water in the world. It’s their town motto I think. And they have a great brewery which, of course, I made a pit-stop at. I met a bunch of PCT hikers there. The trail is not far from town and a lot of hikers stop there to re-stock. I kinda envied them. They had a trail. They knew they had safe camping options every night and a trail map that told them exactly where to go. They were dirty and smelly and so happy about it. They had about 1,000 miles to go to their finish line in Canada and their energy was awesome. As I was sitting at the brewery, still trying to figure out where to sleep that night, one of the hikers told me about a PCT hikers campsite not far from town at Castle Crags State Park. I hadn’t seen it on my map but quickly found it. My plan had been to get a motel in Dunsmuir but, after meeting them and hearing about this cool campsite, I decided to go a few more miles into the state park and camp there. I was super stoked that I did because, for one night, I felt like I was in their life. I found the campsite which was separated from the rest of the campground. The PCT campground was a shared site for all PCT hikers coming through. It was right on the trail and was really just a large clearing with a fire pit, a few picnic tables and a bear cage. Inside the bear cage were supplies that the hikers would leave behind, take what they want, leave what they can. It was like a shared pantry of food, gear and toiletries. And a big stack of shower tokens! The state park had showers that ran on tokens. One token gives you 2 minutes in the shower and tokens are 2 for $1. I bought 2 when I entered the park but, when I saw the stack left behind by other hikers, took a few extra to the shower stall with me. It took me 4 tokens to get myself properly cleaned up after only walking about 15 miles and I had showered the day before. I can imagine it would take at least double that many tokens for the average PCT hiker to get clean! Something about that communal feel at the campsite was exhilarating to me. I had a moment where I wanted to ditch my cart and finish my walk southbound on the PCT. I met a cool couple from Austria in camp that night. They weren’t staying over, just taking a long break from the heat and a moment to clean up. I had already taken several things from my cart to add to the bear cage pantry and they were super stoked because they were low on food. We sat and drank beer and exchanged stories of our journey and I really bonded with them. We had mutual envy. They wanted all the luxuries I get from walking on the road and I wanted to follow them into the woods and disappear. Grass is always greener, right? I camped alone that night. All the hikers that stopped were going to get some early night walking in because their next day was going to be a brutal uphill and they all knew that starting from that campsite wasn’t the best option. They were going to get an additional 5 miles in before resting for the day. As I rested in my tent watching stuff on my ipad, a deer walked straight up to one side and, after inspecting the area immediately around the bear cage, came up and sniffed the mesh screen on my tent. I tried to be as still as possible to enjoy the moment longer but, within a few seconds, the deer figured out that there was something breathing inside and took off but not before I was able to get a pic of him just a few feet away.
I left the next day knowing that I was going to have to do some law breaking and get on that interstate. I took lots of side roads that jumped across I5 several times. Sometimes the roads were heavy rock and gravel paths that ran along the railroad tracks, some were dirt roads that meandered through the mountain side and some were well paved roads. But all good things must come to an end. I arrived at the ramp to I5 and headed forward. I didn’t even make it to the actual interstate. My timing couldn’t have been worse. A local sheriff was exiting when I was only about a hundred steps on. Dammit! He pulled over and asked what I was doing. I was honest, told him I was in a bind and that the frontage road that I saw on my map wasn’t really there and that it was impassable (50% true). He was nice and conveyed his understanding and concern but said I absolutely could not walk on I5 and that I either had to go all the way back to Mt. Shasta and go around the forest (No, that was NOT going to happen) or I had to get a ride or figure something else out. He knew that I would have to jump on and off I5 all the way to Shasta Dam and quickly told me, under no circumstances, was I to get on the interstate between there and the dam. Shit. I’d been warned. The dam wasn’t too far but it would have required me to jump on and off the interstate and walk across the bridge that goes over Shasta Lake. Now, mind you, I studied that bridge and it was absolutely passable by foot because there’s a bike path on the side of it. But the difference in the eyes of the law is that a cyclist is considered a vehicle so they’re allowed on the interstate. There’s nothing in the code about legally pushing a baby stroller. In fact, quite the opposite. The sign at the entrance of any interstate clearly states No Pedestrian Traffic.
I made my way back to the on-ramp and stuck out my thumb. Mind you, it was about 95 degrees out and I was stuck. I had already navigated onto I5 for about 1/2 mile to get to the campground so I was in a bubble of land at the state park that only had I5 in and out. There was no way north or south for a guy with a cart. If I was backpacking, like the PCT hikers, I could take the railroad tracks which is how they get to Dunsmuir but, with my cart, no way. This is also an on/off ramp that barely anybody uses. There’s no reason to get off there unless you’re going to the state park. I was pretty screwed and there weren’t that many trucks willing to pick up a baby stroller pushing hitchhiker. As it turns out, there were zero. I never got a ride. I had to call a taxi. And it was not cheap. But I got to Redding safely and legally and with guilt that I had used an auto to help me forward. Oh well, I’ll make up the 30 some odd miles the next few days.
I got a cheap motel in Redding that night. I was warned the previous weeks that Redding is the hottest city in California and they weren’t kidding. It was 106 when I finally got to the motel and it never got below 85 that night. I needed to make up miles so I left super early the next day and made my way back out of Redding, northbound, to Shasta Dam. It was a hell of a hike and mostly uphill and it was crazy hot the whole way. It was about 16 miles to the dam and then another 3 or so to the campsite on the other side. Luckily that last 3 was all downhill. When I was up at the dam I hung out for awhile in the well air conditioned visitors center which was staffed by some pretty cool people. I asked about the campsite and, since we were up really high and on the edge of the dam, they pointed to a clearing on the other side of the Sacramento River to where the campsite was. They said, “Just head across the dam then down that windy road and, about 3 miles down, you’ll see a campsite with a few bathrooms. You can’t miss it”. Perfect. So I left and, in temps well higher than 100, walked across the top and started down. Sure enough, about 3 miles down, there was a massive concrete slab flanked by huge flats of gravel, a few well maintained restrooms and a large gazebo with picnic benches. It was only about 2 pm, I had no cell reception, I was hot and sticky and smelly but I was at site and I had shade and my ipad. From the road you could see the gazebo where I hung out at all day but there wasn’t much traffic. When I got to the site there was a locked gate across the entry with a sign that said “BLM Group Campsite. Please Call XXX-XXX-XXXX for reservations.” I thought that was weird considering the visitors center had pointed it out and told me to go there. Oh well, I maneuvered Alexa around the gate and made my way in anyway. So, there I sat and chilled out all day waiting for the sun to go down. I hadn’t pitched my tent yet but I had pulled all my gear out to organize. The bathrooms were just toilets and the only running water was from these faucets that were attached to wood posts about 3’ off the ground. The water was cool and tasted wonderful. Definitely good well water. But they were highly visible from the road so, my plan, which was to strip down naked and sit under the faucet to wash myself, was going to have to wait until the sun went down. The sun finally made it’s way to the top of the mountain to my west and inched over. It wasn’t dark yet but I decided to go for it and get my “shower” done with. I opened up my umbrella and positioned it to block as much of me as possible from the road. I got naked and plopped myself down under that spigot and cranked it open. It felt awesome!! I sat there for a few minutes letting the water pour over my disgusting head and body. Finally, I lathered up and felt like a million bucks. I grabbed my towel, dried my hair as I was still sitting there and stood up, still completely naked, to find a man standing at the edge of the gazebo. He was waiting, respectfully, for me to finish. There was a brief moment of silence as I dried off and wrapped my towel around me. “What are you up to?” he asked. I apologized for being naked and told him I was camping, that I wasn’t homeless and that the visitor center had pointed out the site from way up high. He laughed and said I was at the wrong campsite and that the public site was a few hundred yards down the road next to the river. Oh, and that he was the campsite host and I needed to pack up and head down. Well, shit. I had sat there all day on a concrete slab in blazing heat and there was a legit campsite 200 yards away by the river? With grass? So, he left and I packed up Alexa and, as I got ready to leave, he arrived with a small truck and helped me load her in and took me around the bend to the campsite. It was near dark and he didn’t want me on the main road which was pitch black at night. He was super cool and thought the whole thing was pretty funny and he didn’t charge me for the night in site.
I left the campground at the dam and headed down a 19 mile trail that followed the Sacramento River all the way to Redding. It was 90 degrees by the time I started walking and the forecast for Redding was 104. Long day but at least I wasn’t battling any cars! This path was awesome!! Wild blackberries lined both sides of the trail for the first several miles. It was relatively flat and the river flowed smooth, slow and cold on my left. The water was in the high 40s as the area waited for salmon season to begin. Around the 10 mile mark and a sharp turn, the entire look and feel of the trail changed. I entered into an area that looked apocalyptic. This new range of hills had suffered through the severe fires from the year before. I wasn’t too far from the town of Paradise and, if you remember the news from last year, that town and many residents were lost to the flames. The trail also started climbing and it was pretty steep with lots of switchbacks. I got around the burned out area as I made my way to another smaller dam and that’s when my nice little trail journey abruptly ended. A large chain link fence and the word DANGER spray painted on the trail presented me with a gap where a bridge used to be. Apparently the fire and flooding that occurred after had wiped out this bridge. The gap was only about 20’ across but it dropped straight down to water. Impassable with a cart. Probably passable by a well seasoned rock climber but I am not that and I have 120 pounds of cart and gear. Nope, time to turn around. I did make my way around a new path on some pretty windy roads but Redding finally re-introduced itself to me.
I left Redding with Cottonwood as my destination. There was a cute little motel I was going to hit for the night but had 18 miles to get in before I would arrive. I’ve traveled, at that point, about 2600 miles. During that time I had three flat tires but none of them due to punctures. They were all blowouts from curb hopping and one from a worn out tire. The morning out of Redding I had two puncture flats from goathead thorns! Damn! It was hot and I was fixing tubes on the side of the road. Not happy and a little worried because I only had 1 spare tube left, I found a Walmart on my route to Cottonwood in a town called Anderson. Those two flats would define my walk for the next week. After buying another box of tubes (i really suck at patching holes and tubes are pretty cheap) I decided to stop for awhile at a Starbucks because it was dreadfully hot outside. While in line waiting to pay for a salad and order a cold coffee, a lady approached me from behind and asked if the cart outside was mine. I said yes and she said, “OK, you have one minute. Tell me your story.” I gave her the Cliff’s Notes version as she looked me up online on her phone. Once she realized I was legit, she payed for my meal. Her name was Donna Araiza and she had lost her daughter to cancer. Donna was a wonderful, kind and well respected and connected woman in the community and known for her charity Wings of Angels that has raised $1.5 million for families coping with pediatric cancer. She was at Starbucks due to a last minute change in her agenda for the day. Two last minute changes in our schedules brought us together and I could not have been happier.
Donna posted about me and, a few days later, I would receive a message from her friends that made the following week a wonderful experience. But back to them in a bit.
I made it to the little motel in Cottonwood and don’t have a ton to share except that I was really wanting a day off but, unfortunately and surprisingly, the little place was fully booked the following night due to a wedding in town. Knowing my next day was going to be long and I was pretty fatigued at this point, I crashed early but not after ordering some Chinese take-out. It was pretty damned good!!
The next day I will have to label as the worst walking day of my journey. I got up very early and was crazy tired. I really needed a rest day and had no desire to battle the heat again. Oh well, power on. In this portion of California, I-5 runs straight south and is flanked by nothing but brown and farmland. It’s insanely hot. Redding, I’m told, is the hottest place in California and it was August. There is no shade anywhere. And, because I can’t walk on the interstate, my side roads winded around the farmland. Most roads were paved but some were gravel and dirt and followed the railroad which adds the constant smell of tar and trains blowing by all day long. What I’m getting at is that the reason you didn’t see majestic photos of this section of my journey is because there is nothing majestic to photograph. Unless you think hot dirt is majestic. Oh, and goathead thorns. My day was mapped out at 21 miles to Red Bluff. I had a cheap motel lined up in the north part of town and couldn’t wait to get there. About 12 miles or so into my walk my mom called me. She was concerned because she was watching my GPS and thought maybe I was going the wrong way. Sure enough, somehow I had missed a turn and was a few miles off course. I was so pissed!! I now knew, in the middle of that heat and dirt and thorns, I had added 4 extra miles to my day. I made my way back to the road that I had missed and started in the correct direction. It was about 2 pm, it was over 100 degrees by then, the road I was on was dirt and gravel, there were zero buildings anywhere in site, I lost reception so Google Maps didn’t work and, worst of all, I was low on water. Very low. The four extra miles and extreme heat caused me to consume all but about a pint of water. I started with nearly two gallons. That’s how hot it was. I was actually getting pretty worried. I knew I had at least 8-10 miles before I would be near civilization. If that whole scenario isn’t frustrating enough, wait till you read what happened next. I found a house!! Yes, a dwelling, fairly new, in the middle of nowhere. And, even better, there were two young men in the driveway. As I approached, one of the men walked into the house. I don’t think he even saw me coming up the driveway. The other guy was getting something out of the trunk of his car and noticed me as I got close to the house. I told him my situation and asked if I could fill up my water bottles from the faucet that was about 15’ away from me on the side of the house. He replied, “This isn’t a house. This property is owned by XXXXX (I can’t remember what he said) and I can’t let you on the property without a badge.” Huh???? I explained that I just needed some water, pointed to the faucet, told him that it was over 100 degrees outside and that I was walking and far from town. He simply said, “No”. I asked again. “No.” And he smirked as he said it. I turned the cart around and, a few feet later, told him that was really fucked up and called him an asshole. Now, after my gun situation in Oklahoma, I probably shouldn’t have done that but, heat of the moment (pun intended), you know how it goes. So, I was back on the dirty road and sincerely worried. Within a few more miles my water was down to about one or two more good swallows. And that’s exactly when a little car came down that road and pulled over to ask if I was ok. Perhaps I didn’t look so ok. I asked how far from any source of water and he pulled a big bottle out of a cooler and handed it to me. Just like that. Cold water out of a cooler. Can you believe it? Totally happened. It was delicious and plenty to get me a few more miles. The very first place I saw in the town of Red Bluff was a Chevron. I ran in there so fast and bought a few quarts of Gatorade and downed both of them. I felt pretty good after that! Tired and fatigued but rehydrated and happy. I only had one mile left in my day…so I thought. One mile later I met Asshole #2 and he would be the owner or manager of the motel where I had booked my room. He wouldn’t let me check in because of my cart. He said he didn’t want it leaving tire marks on his carpet. He said I could leave it in my car even though he knew I didn’t have one or I could leave it outside the door of my motel room and that DEFINITELY was not going to happen. Not in this town. So, I kid you not, he performed a few keystrokes and said, “I just cancelled your reservation.” For the second time in one day I looked a man in the eyes and called him an asshole. Luckily, Red Bluff is a decent sized town with lots of equally crappy motels and I was able to secure another one about a mile away. They had no issue with my cart. Total miles that day 24.9. Temps reached 105 at 4 pm. But, I was in a motel with AC and I ate a great big burger from Denny’s.
Before bed I got a message from Donna’s friend that I had mentioned before. Her name is Julia and her husband is Dario. They have a child, now 31, who survived childhood cancer which is how she knows Donna. The lived back in Cottonwood about 8 miles out of town on a nice piece of property and offered to come pick me up after walking that day, host me for a night and then drop me back off. Well, we hit it off big time and that one night ended up being 4 nights! Yeah, they would drop me off, drive back home, I would walk and then they’d come pick me back up. They drove so many miles! But we cooked together, ate some awesome meals, played a cool card game, I slept a lot and got my miles in knowing that I was going to sleep in a home with good food and cold beer. Julia and Dario were amazing people. Total givers. I met one of their daughters, Crystal, and her family at their home nearby and I met their other daughter, Brittney, via FaceTime. I can’t say enough, in this blog, how incredibly helpful, kind and generous the Moore family was to me. Like many other amazing families that have helped me along my journey, the Moore’s are friends for life. And I can’t thank Donna enough for approaching me at Starbucks, becoming my friend and introducing me to them.
On my final day with the Moore’s they drove me to Williams, my last stopping point, where we would say “till next time”. I was turning westbound once again on Hwy 20 with the mountains of the Mendocino National Forest in front of me and the promise of the Napa Valley just a few days away. Just over those hilltops were vineyards and temperatures a good 15-20 degrees cooler. That night I camped out at the Cal Fire station on Hwy 20. I got to hang out with the crew and they let me eat dinner and breakfast the next day. They told me lots of stories of the previous years horrible fire season in their hills and helped me route the top of the mountain. The next day I only made it to the top of the summit where I found a nice place to pitch my tent next to the Cache Creek. I got in the water, which was super cold, and cleaned up. It was a very restful, peaceful spot on the ground and I just sat there, all night, watching the water flow by. I had no reception, nothing downloaded on my iPad from Netflix and, really, nothing to do at all. Just be.
I made my way to Clear Lake the following day. It was a fairly short walk, maybe 13 miles or so, and got a motel. Clearlake is a town where I was warned not to camp, even at campsites. There is a major homeless and drug problem in that town and it just wasn’t a safe place to be after dark in camping areas. Motel it is! I was concerned about my next day, though. I had to get over Mt St. Helena and was told it was not passable by foot. It was a crazy winding road with no shoulders, no guardrails and steep cliffs on both sides. Local police told me no way. So, I was standing at an intersection when a woman in a truck called me over. She asked about my journey and offered to drive me the few miles over the top to where the curves became straight. My other concern that I had for that day was where to sleep in Calistoga where I would end up. It as a Saturday and all campsites were full and there wasn’t a single motel in town that was under $300! I sent out about 20 messages on Couchsurfing and got a reply from a guy named Gatlin. He was 22 and had moved to Santa Barbara from Calistoga and said his family would be happy to host me. Awesome!! When I arrived at the address he gave to me, I met his parents who showed me around the cute home they had just remodeled. When I asked which room was mine they said, “Oh, we don’t live here. We own this place and use it for family and friends. It’s yours as long as you want it!” Boom!!! I ended up staying there three nights! Each day through the Napa Valley my plan was to walk my 20 miles and get on the city bus back to Calistoga then bus back the next day and do it all over again. Perfect! My first day out was to Oakville Grocery where I met an old friend named Lisa Cervone and we spent an hour or so catching up. Then, a lady named Maureen, who was Donna Araiza’s cousin and who lived in Yountville, picked me up and drove me back to the house. The next day I made it to the town of Napa. My friend Courtney was in San Francisco that week for a concert so she decided to drive up and hang out with me that night so she picked me up and got me back to the house. The next day, back to Napa and headed south. It was a quick, one night visit with Courtney but we got in some good wine tasting at Heitz Cellars and Freemark Abbey before calling it a day.
It was hard to leave Napa Valley. It was so beautiful there and the walking was easy and the weather was perfect. Seeing the valley at such a slow pace was just unforgettable. About halfway through my walk a car came to a quick stop right in front of me and my buddy Dave from home was in the driver’s seat! He was in Northern California visiting some friends, stalked my GPS and came out to see me. It was so cool. We met at a Starbucks a mile down the road and caught up and it really made my day. That was pretty damn special. My walk out of Napa brought me through some totally forgettable cities like Vallejo as I made my way over the Carquinez Bridge into the west bay north of Berkeley. This is where I got picked up by Leslie’s cousin John and was driven into Berkeley where I would basecamp for three nights. On Wednesday I made the 2.5 hour public transport journey to Stanford Medical Center and the Children’s Hospital. I was able to meet a few doctors who receive funding from the PCRF, tour their labs and the brand new children’s hospital, meet a few kids and actually witness what amazing work is being accomplished with the money from the grants they receive.
While I was at Stanford I got a message from my closest childhood friend Kelly Atkins. We grew up together and were inseparable best friends before I moved to Idaho when I was 14. We’ve remained in contact, somewhat, over the years. She lives in Fairfax with her husband Matt and son Olie. She knew I was in Berkeley and told me she was performing at a house show in town and invited me. Kelly is an amazing singer. Her voice is beautiful and haunting. I’ve listened to her band 20 Minute Loop for years but had never seen her live. Turns out that the house she was performing at was less than a mile from the home I was staying at! So, after a great dinner with Ellen and John at a cool old pizzeria in town called The CheeseBoard, I went to see Kelly sing and it was awesome! She wasn’t with her former band, she was singing in a duo with one of the frontmen from Camper Van Beethoven! He played guitar, mandolin and violin and they both sang and it was great. There were about 30 people in the house and I felt pretty special to have been invited. I wished that we had more time to catch up but I’m going to make that a priority.
Well, that pretty much gets you caught up on my life since Oregon. Today I’m visiting the children’s hospital at UCSF and then hitting the road tomorrow! Next stop – Walnut Creek where another old friend lives. More on all that later.