…and there laid the Hershey bar Jackie K desired while Ray and Japhy walked down the trail. That was like 60 years ago or so in Dharma Bums and here I was alone in the same neck of the woods as I nearly stepped on breakfast; the glossy wrapper blending in perfectly with the wet brown rocks where the fresh and salt water clashed on this beach somewhere around Ft. Bragg, California. Picking it up confirmed that it was a full block of chocolate and the packaging still sealed. “Good morning California.” I address and sticking the score in my pocket.
It was the beginning to an interesting day.
It was early and I was groggy and the grey saturated weather couldn’t have been a better ambient fit. It was a weekday, don’t know which nor does it matter, all that was on my mind was the damn chocolate bar and a cup of coffee as all I had in the past two days was two cans of whatever and I fixed myself up unpacking the cooker.
With the Grind calling the masses to get back to work there was little competition on California 1 where the land and sea needed to be appreciated. No rush and nothing but the full day ahead since waking up early that morning on a gated off private road leading to more frequent than usual stops or breaks, whatever you call them, I had no interest in making a blurry panoramic abstract representative of the neighborhood. This must be experienced. The countryside was immaculate and green, open range happy California cows filled in for the perfect contemporaries as the red forest and hills abruptly ended where the non-stop Pacific keeps carving at the edge of the continent. Land’s end. Miles and miles of coast north to south and more water than you can shake a stick at shimmering when the clouds decided to let the sun peek through.
Slow and steady the day went it instantly stands out amongst the other thousands of days I have lived and experienced. I’m alone besides the machine and since this rambling all started I was reassured nothing was better. Here I am in this body I use to move about and I’m doing just that, taking advantage of what is seldom taken advantage of and I live it. New to the surroundings it contrastingly felt like visiting an old friend and being asked, “Where the hell ya been?” Good question but then the clarity of the moment rebutted, “You are here and that is all that matters.” I am here and in the now.
We covered a tall 80 miles under a staggering eight hours, stop and stop and stop that’s what we did, Bike and I. Not at restaurants, stores nor tourist traps as that’s a calling for a whole other breed, we stopped where no one was at our own unspecified vistas scoping both the beauty and potential for squat spots. Everything was in the open and hiding on the coast from the Man was out of the question or possibility, there was no way I was going to shell out $24 for a so-called camp spot. That’s what kept me moving, having to find a place to sleep which has been my ritual for the last five years. So absurd the fact that we humans are expected to pay to sleep, fuck that and that’s when I decided the chances of getting caught were extremely high and the approach was not only to sleep for free but sleep in the open and appear extremely innocent.
And this place appeared just right.
It was early afternoon at a picnic ground and trailhead a handful of miles north of Jenner, CA. The sign for the spot said closed which is what led me to investigate but it didn’t appear so, more like someone forgot to flip the ‘Closed’ sign in the store window around, two parked cars and a couple looking into the distant watery horizon. I parked and shed the jacket gulping a bit of the remaining water in the gallon jug scoping the scene. Picnic tables to sleep on, a kiosk with a roof and a shit-house with an overhang. The door to the toilet was locked with scrapes, dents and gouges from tampering attempts. Walking up the hill with prairie-like grass the observant couple passes and the man says, “Take this.” as he handed over a shimmering fluorescent shell and all I can say is, “Thanks.” With shell in hand the colors dance a mesmerizing jig only nature can supply that humans can only dream to mimic and unexpected dog bark from the ocean breaks my space cadet moment.
I walk the actual trail where I suspected the party of the remaining car to be and find them sharing a smoke and staring and pointing over the railing down into the crashing water. The two guys and one gal with a big dog seemed surprised at my approach and I make friends with the canine first and humans second. We slide into conversation and pass around the cigarette and I ask what they were pointing at when I hear another bark but not from the dog. “The seals laying on the rock.” the girl says leading my vision to a large rock where a herd of large seals and pups laid like slugs occasionally barking at one another. “I think there’s whales out there too.” she follows up.
“Nah, you’re seeing shit.” the dude with the cockeyed cap says with a grin and shaking his head. The girl pushed at him in jest making us cackle. Finishing the cigarette and stubbing it out, the country-boy of the three digs in his pocket and hands me a gift, “Welcome to California.” and with that the trio and dog walk back towards the parking area as I hang back and watch the seals through the binoculars and thinking to myself, ‘I must stay here.’
An hour or two passes and the blurry horizon is turning a billowing grey erasing my thoughts of a sunset over the expansive ocean. I settle on one of the picnic tables as a proposed homestead closest to Bike dig in my gear to write down notes and have some tunes from the laptop and lightly nip at the plastic bottle and enjoy a smoke when a vehicle pulls in and parks and a black dog bolts free once a door is opened. A woman with purple hair and a great smile walks my way throwing a tennis ball to the retrieving dog.
We exchange a few words and personal history, “Well, you must be doing something right, you have a good smile.” she tells me throwing an orange ball. She asks of day and listens with acknowledgment as I retrace my slow moving intoxicating day, “That’s exactly why I’m up here. I ran from the Bay and had to get back up here. City is close enough when I feel like going.”
“Elbow room.” I concede.
“Yeah, it’s more simply and slow and who could not like this?”
This goes on for 30 minutes, casual talking between two strangers that just met standing 200 feet above the level of the sea on the coast of California. “Time to to actually take Astro for a walk. This is where we come every night.”
“I think I may sleep here.”
“You’ll be fine here. South at Bodega Bay is where they chase people off. See ya when we return.”
She returns shortly after, “Name’s Houston.” sticking out my hand in late introduction. It’s weird with strangers on the road, sometimes names are exchanged sometimes not.
“Karen. Good to meet you Houston.” with a good handshake and an even better smile 20 years my senior. We shoot the breeze for another moment as the sun sets without visual. “Time to get home.” Karen says and starts for the car and turns, “Stop over in the morning and I’ll feed you a better breakfast than a Hershey Bar.”
“Karen, when I get an invite I’m not one to pass them up.”
She laughs, “Make a right and then the immediate left and I’m two and a half miles on the left. See you in the morning.” and with that she and Astro hop in the car and tail-lights disappear.
“The road provides.” I toast the horizon and roll a cigarette kicking back with as Tom Waits pines away.
Out of slumber, two bright high-beamed headlights officially illuminated the dark, I’ve been expecting this encounter. I played possum and laid still and listened; the motor behind the lights kept running and after a brief moment a door slammed and the crunch of rocks beneath feet heading my way.
Rising I called out, “Over here.”
“California Parks. Sir, do you realize these grounds are off limits at these hours.”
“Yes Sir, it got dark on me and I’m tired.”
“I understand, Sir. Where are you heading”
“Bay Area, San Mateo.”
“Ok, you’re just passing on though?”
“Yes.” I lied, having no idea of what I was going to do past breakfast with Karen.
“Sir. I’ll need to see your identification. Stay seated and I’ll be right with you.”
I do the obvious and he reads the flag on the bike. “What’s the plate say?”
“Oklahoma.” Forcing myself not to instinctively say West Virginia. “Panhandle.” I follow up.
“We’re kindred spirits.” He tosses out while reciting the plate to dispatch. “Folks on the other side of the state. Back east…” and he throws the name of the town that blends in with all the names of all the other little towns that’s out there. I hear dispatch clear me.
With the crunch of gravel announcing his return, “Thank you for being patient, Sir. Like I said these ground are off limits after sunset. A lot of crazy things go on up here and people leaving trash behind. Found human feces inside pantyhose.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that and I didn’t.
“There’s numerous campgrounds along the coast.”
“I have ten dollars.”
“Yeah, that isn’t gonna cut it. Need like $24.”
“Mind if I catch a couple of Z’s and I’ll be out early?”
He quickly thinks a moment, “Yeah, we can do that. Just pick up after yourself. Have yourself a safe trip.”
“Thank you.” and with that he was gone and again it’s just the sound of dark waves hitting the bluffs and the barks of the seals. I hear ya brothers.
On the picnic bench I laid on my back watching a fine phantasm of white moist mist roll in proclaiming occupation and slipped me a mickey of forty winks. In and out of slumber the dampness grew overwhelming and a move was made to the overhang of the shit-house and again waking at midnight to wind pushing a hard rain to where I lay under my sparse shelter. My attention is turned to the locked door and I slide my knife along through the seam pushing in the lock. Inside is was three trash barrels, not toilet paper and a dry floor. I thought of sleeping in there but the California Park Ranger entered my mind, last thing I needed was to be picked up for breaking and entering if he decides to return. I closed the door from the outside, packed up the blanket and I sat upon the stuffed dry bag sleeping upright in the corner of two meeting walls.
At 4 AM the sound of a vehicle awoken me and the silhouette of a Cherokee pulled in ten feet away from me and four cackling guys spill out of the truck accompanied by the sound of a bottle or two hitting the pavement. Laying in my corner shadow I watched them moving erratically about. Not wanting to be stumbled upon I roll and light a smoke to let my presence to be known before I’m stepped on by them attempting to use the locked toilet.
A moment goes by and one of the silhouettes walks around the front of the truck and I could see I was being stared at through the dark, “Whoa dude, I thought I felt somebody here besides us. Get up and smoke with us.” and I do. The crew as they said rescued one of their fellows from San Francisco and are headed north to Redding, CA with five hours of driving time ahead of them and out of beer, the four of them totally slaphappy and finishing their dregs. The five of us walk the 200 yards to the edge of the North American Continent where it’s dark below and the waves crashingly do their thing and the rain subsided and the mist remained hanging low to the ground and we stepped through. Here I was standing on the edge of the world with four strangers in the dark and thoughts of being pushed briefly popped into my mind but I quickly shook them out and enjoyed the time with my fellow tramps as we all remarked upon the greatness of the moment. Groggy from three nights of squatting I told the boys it was time for me to retire which they agree since the beer was gone. Going back to my corner in of the shit-house I fall asleep for like the third time of the evening with yet another squiggly smile.
The four guys wake me again this time at 6 AM and just like the made their initial appearance they spilled out of the Cherokee with single word, “Cop.” They see me awake and break eye contact after our shared spread knowledge and the Park Cop pulled in a parked in the middle of the lot like he owned the place and got out of the SUV.
“What’s going on boys? he shoots at the group.
“Walking the trail to look at the water.”
“OK. Who’s on the bike?” I didn’t hear a response which was appreciated and I walked with gear in hand towards the cop who stood between me and Bike.
“Morning. Get a little fresh last night?”
“A tad.” I replied. “Talked to a ranger last night and he said it was cool if I slept here. Got dark on me.”
“That’s fine. Be safe.”
And with that I started off in Karen’s directions which I scribble on the CA state map and found it damn interesting how the flow of the day before began with breakfast, the Hershey bar I found in a creek who’s name not matters finishing it’s trek that started from a spring and ended where I stood. The water from beginning to end yet always there.