– April 10th – 16th, 2014
We were lucky to have spent the night for free in Santa Rosa, Bob would tell us later, when we met him again at the Solar Living Centre in Hopland, California. Bob spends his winters at East Jesus (and before that an area once designated as Hitchhiker Camp) inside of Slab City, while moving north within the State for the warmer months. We had considered ourselves unlucky when late at night on Wednesday April 9th we were asked to leave the empty lot behind Toys R Us in Santa Rosa. It had been dark and empty and quiet, seeming as reasonable as any place to spend a quiet night undetected. I think maybe I had jinxed it though, remarking to Kat only a couple days prior how seldom we were ever confronted about overnight parking. There was one time in Chicago, at 6am at a Walgreens, but that was a year ago now, not even part of this trip. And one time at a YMCA outside of Austin Texas we were asked to please leave by 9am because their various classes all began at 9am and they would need the full lot for all the cars. Unless I’m forgetting another instance, those are the only times I can name, and only one of those instances being a part of this same trip, though almost five months ago at this point.
The woman tonight in Santa Rosa asking us to leave looked like she was about 4’11” and maybe 80 years old, and she was working night security knocking on strange doors in the dark. She didn’t need to say what her expression was already telling me when I opened the door, but voiced something to the effect of, “I wish I didn’t have to tell you to go, but this is just how I pay my bills”. We said that of course we would be going, and we found something near a park on Santa Rosa Ave, where we spent the night in peace, though only by luck, according to Bob. Bob told us that during rounds of chemotherapy he had endured in a Santa Rosa hospital years ago, he would often go lay down in his car afterwards, sometimes for the night, when he would often receive tickets or be woken from his rest and told to leave.
Somehow we made it the night undetected or ignored, and as it turned out, our parking spot couldn’t have been better. We left our spot to find some place to get an oil change, and there happened to be a Sears Automotive just around the corner. Also, Kat’s bike tires on her newer bike inflate using a smaller Presta valve, rather than the more common Schrader valve which my bike uses and which we have a pump for. We had been keeping our eye out for a good deal on a compact bike pump for Kat’s bike, and here within sight of where we had parked was a bike shop called Bicycle Czar, where we were able to get a small attachment that fits onto our bike pump that we already own, for just a couple dollars. Better still, there was the Santa Rosa Creek Trail within sight as well, and after filling up our tires, we biked for about an hour away until deciding to turn around and come back for the car, which was probably topped up with new oil by this point we figured. It was, and the mechanic has also spotted a nail in our back left tire, a memento from Slab City we figured, which he said could not be removed because of its position on the tire or something like that. These tires are only six or seven months old, and replacing it was not a serious consideration. It had been a little flat and I had had to top it up with air every couple of weeks for a while, but I bought some can spray stuff that goes in the tire and is like glue basically, for about $8, and that should help strengthen the puncture spot for a while.
There wasn’t a whole lot between Santa Rosa and Hopland, just lots of rolling green hills, and towns with names like Larkfield-Wikiup, and Geyserville. A little to the northwest would be South Cow Mountain OHV Recreation Area, and Clear Lake. The Solar Living Centre is open to the public by donation only for day visits, and offers classes as well, such as, “Sustainable Bee Keeping”, “Build a Straw bale House”, or “Solar Training Advanced PV Systems”, to name a few. The main building itself is straw bale, covered with cob, consisting of sand, clay, hay, and straw, creating a strong concrete-like finish that’s also a good insulator.
Bob had helped to build the private Intern Residence and bathroom/shower area, mostly cob as well, plus a couple of yurts, and gave us the full tour of the property. I don’t remember exactly now, but I think it was about ten acres in size. There were solar panels in all directions, and the place was tied into the main power grid. They could sell their excess power, but also draw from the grid too, when need be (at night or in long stretches of cloudy days, for example). It was great to see Bob again; he had left East Jesus a couple of weeks before us, and now he would be here for a while, staying in his little teardrop trailer that is about half the size of ours. He volunteers for the Solar Living Centre and stays there in exchange for free. Overnight camping otherwise would be $10 a night, unless you volunteer.
We ate dinner with the interns in the big central yurt that night, us, Bob, and about five or six others. The next day would be devoted entirely to reading and writing at the Solar Living Centre, a serene place, utopian by imagination, where water trickles into a spiral pool from above, where the treehouse overlooks the swimming pond, where the blueberries grow in the summer, and the glassed-in geodesic dome radiates with light before a silhouetted horizon like an alien craft, and all of those massive metal panels reach to the sky from the glowing green grass where future welcomes the present and the present goes sedately forward with all the reluctance and faith of a pedestrian on a moving sidewalk.
At Solar Living Centre we also saw the very first tiny house we had ever seen in person. We have seen many since. The Tiny House is a little cabin or house that is built on a flatbed trailer so that it can be portable. It is also somewhat symbolic of a greater initiative to promote and to make exciting the advantages and opportunities of living smaller, with fewer things but also few bills, fewer obligations, creating less waste and also more personal time for one’s self and interests. It could be considered a reaction to the culture of More, where bigger is self-implied to be better, or it could be a creative solution to making a home on a small budget, where a “normal” home could be unattainable. In any case, the idea of the tiny house is becoming something of a phenomenon, and one that Kat and I have shared an admiration for, so much so, that we plan to build our own tiny house this coming summer in Ontario. For as well as the ideals described above it will also be a major learning curve for the both of us, something that we look forward to and greet as a challenge. There will be associated challenges such as, Where do we build this tiny house?, Where can we find cheap materials that we can repurpose, not only to save money but to save those materials from our landfills?, What do we know about utility trailers and why are prices so seemingly all over the map?, and What do we know about the fundamentals of building and construction and what more do we need to find out? We will also have to figure out practical solutions for the tiny house to exist off the grid, so equipped to draw energy from the sun and store enough batteries to supply the house with all the electricity we will need. Water storage and intake will have to be considered, as well as grey water storage. A composting toilet of one kind or another will most likely have to meet our requirements, though they can be very expensive depending on the model. All of these solutions though can mean detaching the home from any power grid or sewer connections and being self-sufficient wherever we decide to go. It was nice to finally see one of these tiny houses in person here at Solar Living Centre.
We had to say goodbye to both Bob and the Solar Living Centre. We would come back here again, and next time plan to stay for a while, perhaps as volunteers. Our time in the U.S. as ordinary tourists is running officially low, us having been travelling the country for almost six months now. Whether it’s here in Hopland or out in the desert at East Jesus, I’m sure we’ll see Bob again next year.
We had strayed from the Pacific Coast and Hwy 1 in order to see Bob and the SLC, so we took Hwy 253 west from Ukiah to get back to the coast, not realizing until we were almost next to the them the mountains we would have to drive through and over to get there. However, we made it back within an hour or so, and were making our way north again on the number 1.
In Mendocino we picked up a hitchhiker named Cricket. I guess our car is generally packed pretty full of stuff, but if for that reason or some other, we have not picked up any hitchhikers along our travels of the U.S. so far. We should have picked up on the fact that he was sitting down on the side of the road, not standing, not smiling or engaging anybody, just sitting there passively with a thumb out so indifferently. Cricket gets a One Star rating from me as his hitchhiking host. I guess we were just coming around a fast corner and then all of a sudden there he was, and without much conversation, we agreed to pick him up. We have no problem with picking up strangers as a concept in general, but there is an unwritten etiquette that ought to be assumed, something I learned more about from folks at East Jesus and Slab City, although the decorum might present itself innately, as common sense. Cricket had a dog with him, but this dog was so small that I didn’t even see it with him until we had already stopped the car and he was wandering apathetically over to us already. I’m not a real fan of dogs in my car, even small ones, but I wish it had have been the dog whose odour would invade our space for the next hour and not its owner Cricket. Cricket smelled like a hangover incarnate, a hangover who had a hangover. He loses points again in the novelty department: if I’m picking up a stranger off the side of the road and letting him in my car, I want a little bit of entertainment. Engage us, tell us your stories, interact, converse. Cricket might have been working off the most recent hangover with what would replace it tomorrow. He loses more points for his inability to relate with his hosts when he mentions his escapades in gas jugging, as if the owner of a vehicle who has to pay high prices for gasoline in order to travel wants to hear how his passenger has no problems walking around gas stations with a jerry jug asking people for a buck of gas here and there. His, like, conversations, like, were mumbly, like, and inane, you know, and they like, dragged on, you know, like, they didn’t, like, go anywhere, and like, he didn’t really, like say anything, like, meaningful, or, you know, interesting.
He wanted to go to Garberville, this much was clear. Garberville was almost two hours away. We looked on the map, and there was nothing for an hour, until a place called Leggett. We would have felt bad pulling over randomly, saying, “You stink and your dialogue is uninspiring and you need to get out”, leaving him in the middle of nowhere, although the thought did not escape either of us. We feigned interest in the town of Leggett, saying we had driven a long while today and wanted to stop there for the night. He couldn’t really say anything about that, although he tried his best without being too rude about it to get us to go all the way to Garberville. I needed gas and he said there was gas in Garberville. We were pulling over for the night and he was telling us of places to pull over in Garberville. And so on. But we weren’t having it, and it was true, that we had driven a lot that day and didn’t want to go any further. So he hesitatingly climbed out of the back seat of the car, us having driven him about 50 miles but leaving him 20 miles still from Garberville. There’s lakes all over this place. If you want a free ride, you might want to have an occasional soak, then smile, stand up straight and look decisive and warm. Leave a bit of space between hangovers. Be interesting. Don’t talk to the person who’s giving you a free ride in their vehicle about how you walk around gas stations with a jerry jug asking for a buck of gas. Don’t be a Cricket.
We were especially happy the next morning that we had not driven all the way to Garberville, particularly with a passenger in tow where we might feel obliged to not pull over for stops but to just press on until leaving them at their destination. Leggett, California, is home to Chandelier Tree, a massive, 2,000 year old tree that is still alive but has been hollowed through wide enough for a car to drive right through, a “drive-thru tree”, they call it. As we would find out later on, there were at least three different drive-through trees that we were made aware of, but this was the first one that we came across, and so we paid the $5 to go down the hill and drive through the tree. The trailer would not quite make the height clearance, but it was close. We detached and pulled the Yaris through for a quick photo shoot before attaching again and moving on.
Soon enough we passed through Garberville, wondering if we would bump into our rejected passenger and hoping that we wouldn’t. It seemed like Garberville was some kind of haven for drifters and hitchhikers, and not the spellbinding bright eyed world travellers one hopes to transport, but more of the sitting on curbs and smoking and looking desperate kind that we couldn’t avoid only a day ago. We never saw Cricket again, but his spirit of malaise seemed to hang here in Garberville like an unidentified funk in all of its dirty and expressionless faces.
I can’t remember now the order of these things, but big, big, big trees were coming up, quickly and in multitudes. After the Drive-Thru Tree there was the Believe-It-Or-Not Tree House, a tree that was once famously visited by Robert Ripley himself because it was so large that it was hollowed out for the purpose of making it a house. The tree still stands today, but as a roadside attraction was closed for whatever reason that day. There was the Living Chimney Tree which we could walk inside of and was maybe a dozen feet across when inside; the tree had burned out from the middle at some point and the exterior still stood, completely hollowed out. There was the One Log House, a gigantic log that was hollowed out and laid on a truck bed and turned into a house. There was a place called Confusion Hill, a roadside attraction where a crooked house called The Gravity House had been built and was designed to appear, when inside, to contradict the law of gravity. It made my head hurt for a while until we adjusted to being inside. There were places to stand that appeared level with one another, but where one person would seem much taller than the person only a few feet across from them. There were golfballs you could drop on parts of the floor where they would seem to roll uphill. You could pull yourself off the ground on an overhanging bar and it would look like you were getting pulled sideways towards a wall. This place also had a train ride through the mountains but was still closed for the winter. This is also about the time that we would begin to see places here and there that were closed all winter, typically from November 1st till May 1st, coincidentally our same time spent in the U.S. to the very day.
The Redwood forests of the Pacific coast were centralized here where we were now, in Humboldt County, California. We had seen some Redwoods in Felton near Santa Cruz, and certainly there were other areas that we had yet to see, but here in Humboldt County are some of the oldest and largest trees in the entire world. Within a couple of days we would be in Klamath, California, one town south of Crescent City which would be the last piece of California we would drive through before entering the State of Oregon, and in Klamath is reported to be the tallest tree in the world at almost four hundred feet. Interestingly, it is not revealed exactly where the tree is or which of them is the tallest in specific order to keep people away from it. It would not be totally unprecedented, we can say for a fact, that somebody might cut a hole in it and drive their car through, for example. Back in Humboldt County we followed a sign off the highway for a scenic route called Avenue of the Giants, a 30 mile loop of the giant Redwoods and primeval forest that veers a bit east but follows north with Hwy 1 before merging back again. There were various pull offs to park and go for a hike here, or read a plaque there, and we made most of the stops, missing a few that came up quick and unexpectedly. The forest there, even with a single lane road paved through it, seems enchanted, something too surreal so that the mind must attempt to understand it by relating it to fictional cinematic experiences and fairytale. We were happy to have seen these great forests, before we found a place to sleep in a small place called Field’s Landing, just outside of Eureka.
In the morning we drove through Eureka looking for a campground. This is where we found Klamath Camp Ground in Klamath, where supposedly, though I couldn’t say where, the world’s tallest tree does stand. Klamath Campground was in its off-season, though still technically open. Whereas the first couple of places we found before it we closed completely until May 1st, Klamath remained open and gave away full hook up spots for only $25 a night. I forgot to mention that one place we went to before this had dozens of huge elk just lazing around the front of its property, which was awesome and we would have stayed there, but the grounds themselves were kind of shabby, the internet connection was a little weak, and we couldn’t find the owner when we arrived (his friend, I guess, came over to us and said that the owner would be back “later”). We didn’t want to wait around so we took another look at all the elk and continued north, where we eventually found Klamath Camp Grounds, where we stayed for two nights on April 14th and 15th. And after more than two months spent in California we passed into Oregon the next morning.