Walk to San Francisco Week 5: Mendocino to San Francisco

Ok, I’ve been using the word “week” loosely to make neat chapters. Forgive me.

Here is the link to this project, and at the bottom of this post there is a list of resources on the topic of homelessness if you are interested in learning more.

Day 31

I walked out of my hotel into unexpected morning rain showers. I was, kind of unreasonably, annoyed by this since I’d expected it to be sunny from here on out. I still caught a few glimpses of the ocean as it started to clear after a few hours. Then, I turned onto the highway into another redwood state park. I saw no one for 7 hours or so, and then I finally got to a little market where I bought a snack and sat for a bit. The weather had become beautiful.

I walked through wine country, immersed in impossibly picturesque farmland like a postcard or cartoon in every direction. It felt literally unreal. The level of luxurious vacation atmosphere was really like nothing I’d ever seen, mixed with saccharine versions of country imagery– a perfectly rusted red truck, farm equipment on display, blonde children riding bicycles in circles. I saw tons of sheep and horses.

I eventually stopped at a winery to do a tasting and send a bottle of wine to a friend. The man who served me 10 or so different wines seemed about my age. He was upbeat and talkative and said he had pretty much always lived in northern California and used to work in radio. I regretted not doing more tastings.

I happened to get into Boonville after 32 miles right around sunset, so I tried churches and the corner store for cheap lodging ideas. Everyone was friendly, and the guy at the corner store said, “it’s too bad the bar isn’t open Tuesday, you’d definitely find someone there.”

The hotel office was closed, but I saw someone inside painting the kitchen. I stood for a while trying to wave at them and knock on the window. Eventually I went around back to try to get their attention. The innkeeper happened to be walking in the back after practicing with his local theater group at the Grange, so he came in to get me a room. This place was ordinarily outside of any price range I’ve ever had for lodging, but he gave me an arbitrary cheap price instead given the circumstances. I was happy for the bed and nice smelling soaps but felt a bit out of place.

Day 32

Especially grateful when I saw how much frost there was in the morning. I continued through crunchy ground and vineyards as it warmed up until it was 60 and sunny. I got into Cloverdale and sipped iced tea next to some women knitting. The town was really cute, and I could feel that I was getting closer to a major city. I walked as far as I could, 34 miles, before Carolyn picked me up.

Carolyn is starting a Facing Homelessness branch in Cloverdale and her friend Holly works with a local organization, Reach for Home, with her. We got a beer at a “locals-only” bar while we waited for Holly to get back from work at the local museum. Carolyn talked about running a wine tasting room while also working with the homeless and balancing these pursuits.

I took a shower at Holly’s very cozy home. Then her husband Peter made us dinner while we talked and pet her three adorable dogs. They talked about the difficulty interfacing with different people they met through their work, and dissecting truths in the stories people tell. They talked about finding people to staff the emergency shelter during cold times, and how people who had been through similar circumstances were better at relating to people. I went to bed happy and very full.

Day 33

I got a Lyft from Holly’s house that was surprisingly inexpensive. My driver was originally from Colombia. He explained he wasn’t even sure why he’d gone so far out of his way to pick me up, but I was grateful since I prefer not to hitchhike. We talked about the draw of the California landscape and he dropped me off where I left off.

Wine tastings and grapes growing on hillsides continued for a while, and then I got to Healdsburg, which was pretty fancy. I filled my water bottle up with sparkling water at a coffee shop. I saw lots of cool public art and suburbs where people seemed confused to see me. I passed through Santa Rosa, which felt somehow familiar to me, with people talking in the street, smoking cigarettes and speaking a few different languages. I was re-entering the big city!

Peter (from the night before) saw me walking by their house and walked with me for a bit. It was nice to have company and it was a beautiful day for a walk!

In Petaluma I stayed with a friend of my mom’s friend, Lisa, and her family. She is a PE teacher and mentioned having some homeless students. The couple gave me a burrito and sat with me until eventually their son came by between college and the airport. We talked about the cultural differences across the US as I drank a mug of tea out of the same Disney mug favored by one of my childhood friends. I slept in their daughter’s childhood bed.

Day 34

The next day I really enjoyed the countryside around Petaluma and the no-nonsense tea shop with a kind and knowledgeable lady who helped me pick tea as gifts for multiple SF friends. At one point, a man pulled over in his truck and excitedly explained he’d seen me over several days, traveling to and from state parks to do trail work. I gave him a sticker and he told me “don’t let anyone hurt you!”

Later, after teaching a class Lisa came and walked with me through more rolling hills full of cows and horses. We talked about running and not growing up too much, which was cool because I hadn’t talked with anyone about my hobbies in a long time. We compared local training mountains and eventually she went home.

Then, I walked into the northern part of San Rafael and bought more post cards. I decided to get a ride to SF to stay with a friend (not the same one as the end goal! No spoilers!) even though it was a bit contrived because it would both be more fun and cheaper than finding lodging on my route. My driver was floored and called his family to tell them in Portuguese what I was doing. I wrote down a list of his favorite places in the area as he bubbled over about his love of the landscape. I explained my journey and he told me some of his favorite encounters with strangers as a driver, including being invited to very fancy parties and sharing tears with his passengers.

I found Jing and her boyfriend Jin and we went to a pho place where they insisted on treating me to dinner even though all I had for them was tea! I hadn’t seen Jing in three years or met Jin before, so we had a lot of catching up to do. We talked about what had become of mutual friends from college and what we were doing now. Jing likes crafts and strange small objects, so their apartment was full of odd character, including letterpress things they’d made. One said “let’s work together to reduce breakage of our working tools.” One had fish on it and said “pick a cod, any cod.” I was so excited from nearing the end that I talked too fast and also spilled cookies all over the floor in the Whole Foods. I slept on a yoga mat on their floor among their cats after we stayed up slightly too late talking.

Day 34

I left Jing’s and got back to exactly where I left off. It seemed strange that it was the last day. It was still quite cold in the morning, but I’d started out in shorts. I got through the cold and to coffee after a couple hours.

I continued through suburbs and bike paths, seeing Mt. Tam in the distance and egrets and trail maintenance crews. It was so wholesome, like a suburban dreamscape with perfect weather. It was actually surreal how pleasant it was, and everyone seemed excited to be outside and smiled at me.

I tried running a bit and the direct sunlight was actually painful. I ate a smoked salmon sandwich, happy for “big city food” again. I called Wade. Eventually I got to the Golden gate bridge. There were tons of tourists appreciating it. The sea air was cool and pleasant.

On the other side, I forced my way frustratedly through drunk people celebrating St. Patrick’s day and found a plant shop. I commiserated with the fashionable plant shop guy about the party. He said “they’re all so annoying, but of course I’m nice to them anyway.” I bought a tiny cactus for my friends. I walked up the row of Victorian townhomes, located the right one, and pressed the doorbell.

Some Final Facts!

I walked about 910 miles in 35 days, over 25 miles/day on average, including the days I rested or went to the doctor.

I had to be driven around 30 miles along my route (not included in my mileage) due to dangerous snow conditions for driving, a landslide, one scary tunnel, and legal concerns.

Of those 36 nights I spent 9 with friends, 7 nights bivying (never legally), 2 nights in cars, 5 nights sharing a motel room, 5 nights at Airbnbs (usually with friendly hosts), and 8 nights alone in a motel/hotel. My goal was to have fun and not to camp much, but to avoid spending ludicrous amounts of money.

I walked in silence roughly 40% of the time, listened to podcasts or audiobooks 20% of the time, listened to music 30% of the time, and spent the rest of the time talking to someone.

I got zero blisters on my feet and gained/lost approximately zero pounds.

I ate 17 croissants, and the last one was the best one.

Homelessness Resources!

  • I listened to Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, which I found both devastating and analytically thorough. I can’t recommend it enough.
  • Somewhat relatedly I also read Trauma Stewardship. It was interesting in terms of relating to people who have been through things you can’t understand and also as a self-help book. It made me really appreciate the nurses in my life.
  • I listened to this TED talk Rex did multiple times.
  • My friend Shannon worked for Sisters of the Road, a cafe in Portland you should check out.
  • Reach for Home is the local organization I mentioned in this post.
  • A former boss happened to email me while I was on my walk and mentioned this shelter in his hometown of Findlay being a life changing volunteer experience.
  • My friend Noelle sent this short document on how to interact with people you encounter on the street.

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