After leaving sweet, little, but smoky Ashland, Oregon, I got back on the trail towards my friend’s house in Oakland. I crossed the border from Oregon into California, passing through a checkpoint at the border, where I was asked if I had any contraband fruits or veggies. I was surprised by this, but it is probably smart for California, considering it is the food basket for the rest of the country, and if some bad bug gets loose, it could ruin their economy. But it was also another reminder that I was entering a state so large that it would classify as one of the largest countries, if it were independent, yet so fragile because of draught, fire, earthquakes, and mud slides.
Coming in from the north, you enter a magical world of primordial forests. With each mile, you notice that the pine trees are larger and larger. Suddenly, you turn a bend on the road and there she is: a massive redwood. And then, another. And another.
They rise, like giants, reaching for the sun, but they are also fragile. Their roots only go down about 6 feet in depth, making these giants vulnerable to high winds and the occasional floods.
They topple and lie on the forest ground floor for decades, slowly rotting but also becoming home to many insects, small mammals and birds seeking shelter. They live on after death, almost as vital to their habitat as they were when they were alive.
Down the road I go to the Redwood State and National Forests. And here I am so sorry I cannot camp for the time being. My sciatica prevents me from being able to get down to ground level, so all I can do is sigh when I see the beautiful campsites in the forest. But no worries, I find a trail to hike and park my car.
The trail in the Jedidiah Smith State Park takes me on a three mile loop past glorious redwoods and ferns that fill in the lush tapestry of green on green on green. I am in absolute amazement. And I am alone. Just me and the red squirrels and chipmunks and jays as I walk past living and downed giants. I don’t want to leave.
Back on the road, I drive further south towards Eureka, California, Humbolt County. This county is the seat of 1960’s and 70’s counter culture and illegal marijuana farms. Now that pot is legal, the cred of the place is not as subversive, but the old hippies are still here and I am eager to see the place.
Eureka is a funny place. A port city with a working class history and hippie soul. It was first a fishing ground for the first nation people, later a fur-trading and gold-rush town, and more recently, seat of the counter culture.
Today, Eureka is just another progressive, art-centric, small city with a loving community of people that care about their town and look after one another. I was only here one night, but that was all I needed to experience the vibrant community of people who all seem to know one another and care about their small place in the world. I felt at home.
After checking into my motel, I walked down to the old section of town where I was pleased to find a Friday night street festival going on. Streets were blocked off and artists, food trucks, and musicians had set up booths and performance spaces around the late-1800 wooden buildings that make up the old section, or downtown.
Here you find not one, but several book stores, pubs, restaurants, and cafes. In a small park, an Irish-influenced folk band was playing Pogues tunes while townsfolk waltzed and toddlers bopped up and down with the beat.
I spotted Sistah Soulja’s Jamaican Vegan food truck and realized THIS was the same woman that Jill had mentioned to me the night before in Ashland. How amazing this fine thread, this network of people have led me from one place to another. I walked over to the truck and found a beautiful Jamaica woman and I asked her if she knew a woman from Seattle, named Jill. Her face lit up. “Yes, I know Jill!” she exclaimed. I explained to her how I had met her the following night in Ashland and how she had said I needed to find Sistah Soulja and say hello. And here I was. Saying hello. We hugged. It was wonderful.
I have to pause here to reflect on how we are so connected. Not by the false connection of Facebook, but by experience and personal knowledge. I meet you. You know someone I might like. I meet them. And the links continue to be made. This is one of the magical things about this trip. I have met so many people. Friends of friends of friends and each time I am impressed at how much we have in common, even if might appear at first we do not. I am also thankful for these little connections that open a pathway to deeper friendships that might bloom over time. If I hadn’t jostled myself off my couch and onto the road, I would never have met Jill, who in turn, led me to Sister Soulja. What other connections will I make? I am excited to find out.
And I did’t have to wait too long. Within seconds, I received a text from my friend Michele, who from Connecticut, had reached out to an old friend who lived currently in Eureka. He was happy to come out and meet me for a drink and within 30 minutes, I was having a beer with another new acquaintance. A connection. Only made because I hauled my sorry ass off the couch and onto the road.
This is the magic of travel. Making new connections. Meeting new people. Realizing you are not alone in your little bubble. This is the big, small world. Get out there. Make some new connections. Reach out and find a new friend.