I realized this post is long overdue, and I wanted to complete the blog before I hit the road again in a few days. This is what happened during the four days following the last post.
I woke up to the same foggy sky. I remember starting to get a bit irritated by it, hoping that the entirety of the west coast wasn’t like this for the rest of my trip. I made my way to Bodega Bay, another small Norcal town composed of a gas station and a couple park buildings. I made a stop at the gas station to fill water and crushed some Clash of Kings while I charged my phone.
Half an hour probably went by before I was approached by a man who was probably in his 50s. He was pretty fat, had dark hair, and was of Native American / Italian ethnicity. “Is this your bike?” As soon as he spoke to me I could tell he was a little fucked up in the head. His voice was choppy and he slurred words occasionally, and at first seemed came off as a pretty crazy guy. Needless to say when he asked if I wanted to ride to the top of a bluff overlooking the ocean to spark a nug he presented to me, I was happy to indulge.
“Gold Bear” is what he introduced himself to me as, claiming he was known along the Highway 1 by that name. He told me his real name at one point, but of course I don’t remember. He talked a lot, mostly about himself and at first I was a little doubtful about the truthfulness of his stories, but it was pretty interesting. He apparently had stopped working 4 years ago and set up a remarkably minimalistic rig on a pretty retro bike. Ever since, Gold Bear has been riding up and down the Highway 1 about seven or eight months out of the year.
We smoked and he continued to talk about his life. Eventually he began to explain his mental condition to me. I think it was a car accident, about 10 years ago, really messed him up. It was then that I noticed he was missing fingers. He showed me the back of his left calf, where there was pretty clear evidence of what must have been the gnarliest compound fracture in history. Of course, his head got banged up pretty well too. So he couldn’t work anymore. I think he said he used to be an electrician or a mechanic or something of the sort. “Hurts to walk, hurts to climb, hurts to even stand sometimes.”
Biking didn’t bring him pain though, so he decided to live on his bike. We decided to ride together, knocking out 10 mile portions of the highway at a time. He kept telling me not to wait up for him and that he’d eventually catch up. I was quite a bit faster but he could haul. He was never too far behind, which was unexpected for a fat old indian dude with a fucked up leg. I was impressed.
He was, even to me, a little strange but I can’t decide whether some of his tendencies were a result of his mental condition or actually legitimate. At one point he was convinced that on a certain stretch of road we could find edible mushrooms. He said that they were pretty tasty, and that he usually sold a couple of them when they were in season to help pay for food on his trips. We hopped off the bikes and he showed me the types of spots you could find them and we began looking. Something pretty hilarious happened next.
A guy in his 20s and who I assumed was his girlfriend were approaching their car from a trail nearby. As I feared, Gold Bear immediately decided to accuse these people of taking all the mushrooms.
“I bet you two already found all the mushrooms here! I knew that was why I wasn’t finding any.”
I’ve never seen such classic “what the fuck?” faces. These people clearly hadn’t a clue what the hell he was talking about. He continued to ask them if they found any, which of course they denied because they probably didn’t. It was pretty clear that the two of them thought he was talking about hallucinogenic mushrooms, and at this point probably assumed he was tripping on them (which, as far as I know, he might have). The couple somewhat hastily proceeded to their car and drove off.
We stopped at a small store, probably the only building we’d seen in a good 30 miles. Popped in real quick to buy a Snickers. Gold Bear came in too looking for a spoon and began talking to the store clerk, who gave him really weird looks. I didn’t really like that. He does come off pretty weird but there was no reason to be a bitch about it. He eventually got a spoon and we went to have a quick snack. It was at this point I realized the only food he had with him was a pretty big Jello container and cranberry juice. No water, in fact he refused it when I offered him some. He mentioned that it was all he needed to make it a couple days on the road. “I ate a pizza by myself before I left Santa Rosa.”
The Highway got pretty hilly soon and evening was approaching. Gold Bear started to tell me more about himself. He told me he had been at his old job for 20 something years. He loved it because he got to work with his dad, who he said was his best friend. His dad died a couple years ago and I could tell it hit him pretty hard. He started talking some jargen about the “key to life” he had, this and that about God and why he’s been biking for so long. Gold Bear had the best monologs.
Soon enough it was dark out and we had finally arrived in Gualala. Gold Bear insisted on sleeping on a bench by the ocean. I decided it was time to split, I wanted to set up a camp so I could make food and I wanted to find a water source. All the businesses were closed and I decided to head off in search of water. I bid farewell to Gold Bear.
It was past 10, so I decided to just post up at a campsite nearby with a water pump. Aside from it being super late, mosquitos were in full force so I made dinner quickly and hopped into the bivy.
The following day I slept in a bit, taking advantage of the amenities of the campground. After taking my first shower since San Francisco (a very cold one at that), I made good time on the bike, 50 miles all the way to Mendocino. Mendocino was a bit bigger than the other Norcal towns I had been bumping into. Lots of stores and I even saw a couple bars and restaurants. A beer was tempting. I turned my phone on for a second to check in with the world and had a text from my sister that said “call me when you can.” I called her and she explained to me that Giddo (my grandfather), who had been seriously injured by a car accident 9 months prior, was in really bad condition and that I needed to find a way home.
I took a moment to figure everything out. I had been planning on meeting my friend Steve in Montana at the end of my trip. I decided to give him a call to tell him I couldn’t make it because I had to get back to San Francisco to fly home. Steve told me that in 20 days he was driving all the way back to Michigan from Montana. “We could always just strap your bike to the top or something.” The distance to Montana was much too far to travel by bike in 20 days. I figured I could ride to a more populated area in California, and hopefully do some insanely efficient hitch-hiking to get all the way to Montana. Challenge accepted.
I decided to cook dinner above a cliff overlooking a scenic bay just south of the town. I made a few more phone calls to some friends and decided to find a place to camp while I still had light. I walked by the bar and there were a bunch of people outside. One man began fighting another and everyone freaked out. People can be such dumbasses sometimes. I found a well-hidden power outlet on the side of a building and used it to charge my phone. I saw a group of hippys hanging around some benches with a bunch of dogs and decided to go talk to them.
There was a tall guy with long dreads who immediately introduced himself to me. A much older guy who was clearly super drunk or super high didn’t seem too excited about talking to me, or anything for that matter. Then there was a girl, younger and really pretty. Lastly, there was Andy.
Andy was… interesting. A college dropout, a slacker in his finest form. Nice guy though, for the most part. He was younger than me, shorter, not very fit and, like the rest of them, dressed in clothes that hadn’t been washed in a long time (although I’m not one to talk). He had this dog that constantly misbehaved and he’d always lightly kick it in the ass when it was being stupid. It’s leash was tied to his belt loop so it could never walk far, and he’d always have to reposition himself while he was talking to you because of the way the dog would continuously wrap it around him. What a shit show.
They were complaining about how the cops knocked down their fort. I learned a lot about the homeless culture in the area from this group. They called it “the Emerald Triangle,” a combination of Trinity, Humbolt, and Mendocino counties. It’s where all the outdoor growers grew their crop… you know… the areas where you hear not to walk into the woods off the road. People tell all sorts of stories about hikers being back there and suddenly one of their buddy’s heads explodes from an assault rifle round fired from a concerned pot farmer somewhere in the forest. If you’re spotted back there, you can expect anyone to assume you’re trying to snag some free product.
Anyways, whenever they do their harvest they clip the leaves off the plants to clean up the nugs that they sell to the dealers. This results in copious amounts of trimmings, which is distributed one way or another to the quite prominent homeless population in the Emerald Triangle. Now I can’t speak for all of them, but from what I began to understand is that the homeless in these counties bum around all day smoking insane amounts of these trimmings for free, living off food stamps and traveling from county to county. For the most part, they mostly stay in the ET unless they are compelled to leave for something better.
Something better like “The Gathering.” They excitedly asked if I was going when I mentioned to the group that I was headed out to Montana. I had no clue what they were talking about. “The Gathering dude! Don’t you listen to Grateful Dead?” Can’t say that I ever have. They were flabbergasted. “You should just go to the gathering man! We’re all trying to get up there!” I tried to explain to them that I didn’t really care to go sit around in Montana on an insane amount of drugs for a week, but I don’t think they understood.
I asked them where I could camp for the night. The taller dude suggested going down by the river, apparently quite a few hippys/homeless lived down there in shelters they built out of driftwood.
“Just don’t go into the woods.”
Eventually everybody but Andy and his dog left. Andy said he wanted to go cook some hamburger he picked up. He showed me a path down the cliffs to the shore by the bay and led me over to “the fort.” It was nothing more than a massive pile of wood, but Andy told me that it was once a massive teepee they had all made. Unfortunately, Mendocino attracts a certain amount of tourists and the city doesn’t care to have these tourists go check out a cool wooden teepee on the beach only to stumble upon a bunch of hippys crashing there. So the police wrecked it.
I decided to make camp there. I read while Andy cooked his burger and talked. He was from San Diego, and had been bumming around the ET for a couple of months. When he told me he received food stamps I asked why he didn’t work.
“No one will hire you around here.”
“Well, why not head to the cities? I saw lots of jobs in San Francisco.”
“Weed isn’t the same down there.”
He threw some raw hamburger to his dog. He told me something that Gold Bear also mentioned. It’s really easy to get free weed up there.
“Just ask a homeless person.”
I headed to sleep relatively early. I wanted to get up in time to dip out before cops might search the beach for illegal campers. I also had to get moving on my plan to get to Montana in time. The agenda for the day was to 10 miles north to Fort Bragg, then 35 miles east to Willits where I could hopefully catch a ride that might bring me to I-5 so I could start heading north to Oregon.
I got to Fort Bragg pretty quickly. I stopped in McDonalds (which was the first sign of industrialize America I had seen in a while) to have a cheap but highly caloric meal before the long ride ahead. Not the best diet, I know, but it was pretty delicious. It was a stack of pancakes, some eggs, a hashbrown, sausage, and ham. I was about half-way through my breakfast when a bum approached me. Ned looked like a Snoop Dogg if Snoop Dogg were white, 50, and homeless.
“That your bike?”
Ned had a pretty hilarious ghetto-rig made put together with a plastic egg basket tied to his handle bars with twine. There were some old saddlebags and a blanket. He sat down at my table and we shot the shit for a while. I eventually offered him my hashbrown. He was stoked.
“Hey man, a friend of mine dropped off this nug earlier. Want to go smoke it?”
We walked across a street behind McDonalds to a field by a ravine and smoked right freaking there. Nobody seemed to give a damn. Ned kept talk, always just kept talking. Soon enough two other homeless people approached. An older balding man, and a younger guy with long hair. I could immediately tell they were high on something, especially the younger dude. He just sat there and mumbled to himself like somebody gone stupid. The other two talked a lot of shit to him.
“Marty, if you were my brother I’d smack you right now.”
The three of them would all talk over each other, completely unaware that I was attempting to listen to 3 random homeless people tell me something different at the same time. I looked from bum to bum, trying not to be rude and make them think I was ignoring any one of them. Marty was really just sitting there mumbling to himself. At this point I was searching for a way to get away from them.
That’s when Ned changed the topic and addressed the older bum, “hey man this dude is biking all the way to Montana! You got any bud for him?”
“Yeah! I’ll be right back.” The man jogged away and left a box of doughnuts behind. Ned and Marty dove in. I was offered one but humbly declined. 10 minutes later the older guy returned with a garbage bag. Yes. A garbage bag full of weed.
“You got a bag, man?”
“uh… not really? I just have this grocery bag here?”
He began stuffing handful after handful of trimmings into the grocery bag. I was in disbelief. It was all trimmings but I had never seen so much weed in my life. Ned suggested that we smoke a fatty before I headed off. I declined, and headed off to Willits.
It ended up being one of the hardest rides of my trip. One of the bums told me “you go up a big hill and then down a big hill and then you’re there!” Actually, you climb a fucking mountain, bomb down it, and repeat. Not only that, the temperature hit 100 degrees that day. As I ascended each ridge I would alternate sides of the road, desperately trying to stay in shade. Ran out of water at one point and had to stand on the side of the road holding my empty water bottle upside-down in attempt to flag a car. You’d be surprised, about 20 people passed me before somebody stopped. A kind soul gave me a bottle to chug on the spot on top of refilling my bottle.
It was a long day. Decent mileage, but lots of climbing. I was beat by the time I was descending the mountain into Willits. I stopped at a grocery store and picked up a half-gallon of moose tracks, a big ass orange, and a gatorade. I sat down outside the building and plugged my dead cellphone into the only outlet I could find and dug into the ice cream.
“You’re kind of in the way. Can you please move?”
People in Norcal are kind of assholes. I’ll explain.
So I finished up the ice cream and turned my phone on. I had a text from my mom saying I needed to call her. When I did she told me they had taken my grandfather off life support and that he would die by the end of the next day. I had to get to an airport to fly home for the funeral.
I hung up, frustrated. This now meant I had to get to the nearest airport which was all the way back in San Francisco. My dad was already on top of finding flights home for me. Considering I’d be flying soon, I also had to ditch my weed. I approached a guy around my age talking on the phone.
“Want some weed?”
“…. woah. Thanks!”
I made a sign and headed to the busy intersection nearby. “Urgently need to get to San Francisco!” I stood for 4 hours. I remember counting out loud how many SUVs and trucks with room for myself and my bike passed without stopping to help me out. I remember getting past 200.
After a few hours it had started to get dark. Plan B. I started biking south. It was night by the time I had gotten a couple mile out of town. The highway was really sketchy. A lot of people were commuting away from the coast, returning to the cities after a weekend vacation. I waited for the road to be clear and dismounted my bike and tossed it over a fence on the side of the road. I quickly set up my bivy right on the side of the road, hardly visible due to a depression and some tall grass. I camouflaged everything and headed straight to bed after a bit of reading.
I woke up around 4:30 in the morning and was walking along the highway with my thumb out by 5. Only about 15 minutes passed before somebody picked me up. It was a man in probably his 30s, of mexican/southwestern complexion.
Sketchiest. Dude. Ever.
This guy had apparently been away for nearly 2 days. He was coming back from a casino somewhere north of where we were, getting away for the weekend. He kept talking about some prostitutes he had sex with and kept making side comments about meth. He didn’t seem very threatening. Regardless, when he asked how much my bike cost I said “it’s a load of junk, probably $200 if you got lucky.”
I asked him if he wanted to smoke the a joint I had rolled with the trimmings, which he was thrilled about. He started asking about my journey and I told him the situation I was in. He felt really bad and told me he would drive me all the way to San Francisco if I paid him. I considered it but I didn’t really want to send him out of his way, and I was still a little unsure about him. We approached his town and he offered to bring me to his house for some food. Being cautious, I declined, but he insisted multiple times and said it would only take a minute. Reluctantly, I accepted.
He lived on top of a hill in a pretty humble house. All the windows and doors were open, and the air always smelled fresh. He raised a bunch of goats in a yard nearby, and had a bunch of dismantled vehicles in his garage that he was clearly working on. He invited me inside where he cooked me a pretty dank beef burrito.
“Good luck to you man, I’m really sorry about your grandfather. Share your story with people, they’ll help you out.”
He ended up being a good dude.
I ended up back at the highway entrance with my sign out and my bike by my side. He said I’d be able to get picked up there, but it wasn’t for a few hours that a lady finally picked me up. She had been driving back from Idaho after a kayaking trip. Apparently she and her partner had a falling out, and she had to get away for some white water therapy for a few weeks. She seemed a little upset about it so I changed the topic and explained to her where I was trying to go.
“Well, tell you what. I live in Berkley, the train to San Francisco is pretty cheap and I can drop you off at the station there.”
I was very grateful. By 1:00 I was on the BART headed under the bay back to San Francisco. I decided to get off the train in the Mission District so I could head to a bike shop where I could get everything packaged and shipped home. It felt weird once I left, not having my bike. It was the first time I was without it since I started my trip. I carried my saddlebags down the street to the bus stop where I boarded a bus back to the Brydon house.
Somehow I managed to ride the bus for free, and hopped off about two miles away from Jeff’s house. Still carrying the saddlebags, I made my way up a maze of roads. When I got there Jeff was hanging out in the kitchen. I unfortunately had to get right to planning for my flight home after chatting with Jeff for a bit. I reorganized my gear and had to ditch a couple of things to reduce my baggage to what I could carry on. I was able to hang out for a few hours, but by evening I was at the airport ready to get home. I was a little surprised I wasn’t subject to “random screening.” My beard was long and I was looking pretty haggard after all the traveling. I took time to pass out on the flight to Denver. I was pretty exhausted.
I had been in the west for seven months by that time. I was disappointed that my trip was cut short, but excited to return to Michigan. Still, I’m glad I was able to see my country the way that I did. I have gained a completely new appreciation of it’s vastness, unmatched beauty, and diversity both cultural and geographical. There is still so much I have yet to see here, I hardly feel compelled to leave the United States just yet.
I am thankful for the opportunity I had to do this. I am grateful for my health and the support I received before during and after the journey. Those of you who have continued to read my blog have really helped motivate me to keep going when I’ve felt alone or beat. Sharing this experience makes it worth living. Very soon I will be starting my next adventure on the Appalachian Trail. Follow me at nobohippybro.wordpress.com.
Thanks again for all the support! It means the world!