“After 6145 miles, 34 days, 215 gallons of gas, 14 states, 8 major cities, 6 state parks, 5 national parks, 4 tires, 3 national forests, 2 national preserves, 2 fuel pumps, 1 robbery and 1 new window I am officially on the west coast.”
As I sat on Bradley Beach, on the coarse brown sand that sparkles like it is filled with miniscule diamonds, looking out upon the Pacific Ocean, I was content. Mike had walked on ahead, but I had done enough hiking for the time being. When I watched him walk away towards the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, I knew that our trip had come to the end. Wind came in from the Pacific, calling me to its foreign shores, and I inhaled deeply.
I do not know where to begin describing the differences of this place and the one from where I came, seemingly so long ago, and I know that will never be able to fully describe it adequately. Just as you can’t know the taste of something without actually tasting it, you cannot understand the feeling of some places until you arrive.
Since our arrival to the Bay area, we have been staying at hostels, which are places unlike any other lodgings. In hotels and motels, you are boxed in your own private and personal, yet boring, rooms. Sure, you can go out from there and experience your surroundings, but you are certainly not part of the hotel community. At campgrounds, each campsite is usually it’s own self-sufficient social environment, with rarely more than limited communication between parties. At hostels, people hold conversations and share food, they make plans together and become fast friends, while the whole time everyone is sure to lock up their bags. Although we also stayed at a hostel in New Orleans, I have not felt this international travelers vibe since I was in Guatemala seven summers ago. The conversations held at different at places like this, and held in a variety of languages.
After we passed through the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountain pass, which had destroyed Mike’s brakes, we still had a long way up I-5 to get into San Francisco. While doing so, because I didn’t have to drive I was reading and fiddling with my phone. While my Hemmingway book was interesting, I was much more interested in a Facebook post made Seth, by a buddy of mine from New Jersey. His post said, “Just landed in San Francisco, party time.” We hadn’t cut lose in quite some time, and I was happy to hear about a party where we could celebrate our arrival.
Since I had met him a few years back, I always knew that Seth was serious about music. After all, I mostly knew him through my buddy Marc, and, for the most part, he was in his room making music whenever I saw him. I did not know that was to the point where he has a record deal and is currently touring the country with his music, but was happy to receive the news. Suddenly we had definite plans for the night.
Since he was always going by a different alias, I had to do a little bit of research to find out exactly what show I was looking for. I got in touch with him, got my name on the guest list, and I downloaded some of his music for the ride. I booked us two beds in the International Hostel in downtown San Fran, just a few blocks away from the venue, and we drove hours through California listening to music well into the evening.
I had a great time at the show. My friend Seth, aka Com Truise, had quite a bit of followers and the whole club got into the groove. I dug all the music they were playing, and was buying over priced drinks. So much so that I got up and started dancing with some girl until I had missed the chance to shake my friend’s hand and congratulate him on his record deal. Being drunker than planned, I wound up losing my grey hoody. After a while I met back up with Mike and we walked through the pouring rain back up to the hostel.
Our meeting wasn’t long, though, because somehow I didn’t notice him walk into the hostel, and I walked right on into the night by myself. Subconsciously, I may have just wanted to walk through the pouring rain to wash myself of the constant journey. After a day in the car it felt good to walk, and when I got back to the hostel I was soaked to the bone. Mike was hanging out with these two Italian guys, and I joined them for about an hour interesting conversation before we all called it a night.
I didn’t sleep too much quality sleep after getting to bed so late and quite drunk. It also didn’t help that the hostel had the absurdly early checkout time of 10am. Regardless, we still got up in the morning and went about our plan. Mike was going to drop me off at my aunt and uncle’s apartment in the city while he drove around on his own checking out potential places to live. My Uncle Onyx had open-heart surgery on Thursday, and there were complications, and the surgery went on for 12-13 hours. I wanted to go spend time with my aunt, and to see him and send him my love, even though he was still heavily sedated.
My aunt and uncle live in a wonderful apartment building in a great quiet neighborhood of the city called Potrero Hills. Their neighborhood is exactly what I always imagined when I picture this city, complete with the steep hilly streets and the unique architecture. The apartment’s common area is something like an art gallery, with paintings from the residents hung on every wall. My uncle’s loft was really cool, and while small it was packed with art, books, and love. I am sure that I could spend several days there just leafing through their books and looking at their art.
However, I only spent a little time there before we went to the hospital to see my uncle. The Intensive Cardiac Unit, just as it’s name implies, is an intense place. There were only four hospital rooms in thw wing, and each one had a bunch of equipment likely worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. In addition, there were always two nurses continually attending to just one or two patients. It made me feel good to know that my uncle was being watched so closely, and the staff was very friendly and informative.
As a result, I now know more about cardiac life support than I ever had, and have another career option to explore. Heart surgeon? No. Out of the blue, I asked the nurse how flexible the hospital was in regards to unpaid leave. She asked me if I was considering nursing as a career, but I had to admit that I had never thought of it before I had even asked the question. However, what she told me is making me seriously consider pursuit of that option. She said that it was common for nurses to take several months off to go and travel the world. In fact, she said that if I wanted to make traveling a part of my lifestyle that, in her opinion, nursing was the ideal careers. She said that it is always easy for an American educated nurse to find work abroad. The pay is relatively good as well, not to mention it is a career helping people.
While I enjoy writing I don’t like the prospect of being a starving artist. For me, my creative expression and my career don’t necessarily have to be one and the same. In fact, I think I enjoy writing, drawing, and music, more when I am doing them for myself, and to do any of that as a job would take away some of it’s pleasure. Pursuing the path of nursing would certainly still leave me time to write. While I recently heard the news that I had been accepted into a program at Virginia Tech, it is now unlikely that I will attend. I am perfectly content traveling on through Asia and Europe until my money runs out, and by hopefully delaying that by picking up some English teaching gigs along the way. I have until I get back to decide which path I want to take.
After spending some time at the hospital, my aunt Anahid offered to take me to the nearby Golden Gate Park. She told me that they were avid hikers, and I was glad to hear that their life style was quite healthy. She had came to the very same place the day before after visiting my uncle, who was much paler at the time. It was good to be out in nature and we were definitely able to enjoy the walk in spite of the nerve-racking circumstances back at the hospital. I did not know this, but everything in the park was planted. Back in 1893 there was nothing but sand dunes, but dirt and trees and plants were brought in and it is now a beautiful place full of wildlife. My aunt mentioned that man couldn’t even take credit for creating that place, because after all, all they did was plant what was already growing somewhere else. The lush diverse greenery on the steep hills, which obscured completely the surrounding city, with the vine-covered trees growing out of the slopes at various odd angles, and it was all reminiscent of my personal picture of the mythical Shangri-la.
After my hike with Anahid, we returned to the hospital to see Onyx again. While it was still a scary experience, after a while I found out that they had been successfully weaning them off a machine that took some of the workload off of his heart. That machine, whose technical name escapes me, was operating at half the power that it had been that same morning, which was great news. In addition, we saw his heart beat return to a sinus rhythm, which, despite it’s nasal name, is the heart’s proper rhythm. He certainly is not out of the woods yet, but I am feeling confident that he will fight his way through this, and I hope to see him awake before I leave the area.
After all, it’s not like I’m in a rush to get to LA. I am enjoying the culture of the city, and I fear that the metropolis to the south will be exactly what I expect it to be. Besides, after all that time on the road, it is nice to be somewhat sedentary, even if it is just for a week. Unfortunately staying in the city is more expensive than camping in the country, but with the rain and the fog in the area, I am glad to be under a roof.
We left the hospital for the second time, and Anahid took the long way home so that I might get to see some of the more interesting parts of the city, rather than her self-described “boring-shortcut.” My cell phone had died much earlier in the day, so when I got back to their apartment I used their phone to touch base with Mike. After handing the phone off to Anahid for directions, he was on his way. We ate a small but very good dinner and Mike and I were back on the road, once again. Fortunately, we weren’t going far. We stayed at Fort Mason Hostel at Golden Gate Park, right there, in San Francisco.
The next day Mike was supposed to drop off his deposit for the room he had found on Treasure Island, a developed land fill right smack in the middle of the Bay Bridge, but he got a call from his new roommates and it got pushed back to the next day. Instead, we went to see our friend from High School who had moved out to the west coast a few years back. He was working at a co-op bakery and we went in for lunch. He got a delicious pizza that had been made strictly with fresh produce grown by local farmers. Only one type of pizza was made a day, but the cauliflower and caramelized onion pizza of that day was very good. It was certainly the best pizza I had the pleasure of eating, at least since I had left the northeast.
We then went back to his place in the East Bay to hang out for a little while, and I was impressed by both his lifestyle and living arrangements. In California, the cities seem to be much better planned than in the northeast. There is a great deal more biodiversity here, and parks are much more abundant. We had a glass, talked about life, and then we walked five minutes to the ever-present local park. It was good to hear that he was doing well, and before he had to leave for his dinner plans he told us several places that we should check out.
We drove up through Berkley and across the bay to Marin Country, where there is a hostel in the Marin Headlands section of Golden Gate Park. I got my first taste of the San Francisco fog as we drove over into Marin County. Visibility was extremely low, and both sides of the bridge were completed shrouded in white mist. The drive through the Marin Headlands was absolutely gorgeous, for the roads wound around steep green hills filled with exotic looking plants and flowers.
The Marin Headlands hostel had a much different feel than the one downtown from the night before. It was a much sleepier hostel; with hardly any boarders and no wireless internet. We decided to stay for two nights, partially because it was Mike’s turn to pay for two nights, but also because he wanted to have a base to come back to after getting his brakes fixed and running his errands. While playing ping-pong on the first night my jeans ripped from my crotch to my knee, so I gues I need another pair before I go. I took Mike’s errands as an opportunity to get a ride into Sausalito the next day, and spent it the morning exploring the town. The town itself was a little rich and touristy for my taste, and after some stolen internet, an overpriced lunch and a few used books purchased from the local library, I was ready to hike back to the hostel. Climbing a very steep 900ft in elevation half mile with my big bag on my back took quite a lot out of me, and I stopped at the top for a good rest.
As I sat, I saw another hiker coming up the hill behind me. Somehow we wound up walking and talking, and my new friend Aaron from Portland told me to take the left path for better views. He hiked along the left path with me, but when we reached another crossroads he turned around and headed back. I still had a few miles to go to get to the hostel, and I wasn’t about to hike back just to hop on the recommended trail. The trail I did take was much more arduous than I expected, climbing up and down hills for miles across the coast. It offered stunning views of the entire bay area as well as the Pacific Ocean, and I did not regret the challenge. However, the whole ordeal did net me one tick, which I had to remove when I finally made it back.
That night, I met several more cool people who were also in the midst of some travels. One guy, a dance instructor from Minneapolis named Aaron, told me all about a website called Couchsurfing. I checked it out, and it definitely seems like an excellent way to travel for cheaply while meeting good people. I created an account and have sent out some requests to folks in LA to see if I can stay with them for a few days before my flight. I also met a woman who was about to travel to Vietnam, who had been all around southeast Asia in the past, and she gave me tips on traveling in the area, and I reminded her to tie off a few loose ends as well.
The next morning she and I hiked around the lagoon and up to the beach before heading back to the hostel where Mike was in the basement using the pay-computer. Addicted to the internet, we are. I went with Mike to lunch, then out to Treasure Island so that he could finally pay for his new room, and finally back to the Fort Mason hostel where we had stayed several nights before. Again, the hostel experience led to some interesting conversations with some interesting people.
We had shopped and Mike was busy cooking dinner, and as per usual he was not interested in my help. While waiting, and because I had just finished my book, I sat with another group of people that were finishing up a dinner of their own. I had heard one woman mention her education in several different languages, and I wanted to ask her if she had any experience with teaching English. With her was an Australian guy to whom I recommended he skip Austin and spend the time in New Orleans on his American vacation, and a beautiful Mexican girl named Isabel.
I got to practice my Spanish very little when I sat with her after I ate, but shortly thereafter Petra, the German woman living in England who had spoke all the languages, sat down with us and we switched to English. I had wanted to spend more time speaking Spanish to the exotic beauty with a light scar on her forehead like I have, but they had been traveling around San Francisco and were better acquainted with each other than with me. Isabel seemed to think I was a fool for following the news, and I had a hard time articulating why keeping up with foreign affairs was important to me. She said that if I can’t do anything to fix the problems I read about, why bother worrying myself with them? I protested that I did not worry about them but still wanted to know, until finally able to be the smallest bit articulate and blabber out that it enjoyed doing it and that should be a good enough reason.
As I sat and read and typed, I thought about how I wanted to spend the rest of my time in the bay area. Definitely, I wanted to get back to see my uncle. Additionally, Adrienne, the woman I met who had been to Thailand, convinced me to go to the travel clinic to get certain shots, even though they were not required. She had been sick abroad before and made a compelling case for the shots. I also thought about my torn jeans, and my need to get another pair before I left for the airport. After all these practical thoughts, I once again how nice it was to not need definite plans, to see what doors will open before me, and the freedom to do whatever it is that my heart desires.