Last Saturday, 11/21/20, I woke up in my tent on the cliffs of San clement state beach. At 4:15 AM I packed up camp, walked the quarter mile down to the beach, and stepped barefoot into the ocean.
Letting the frigid November pacific wake my legs, I turned back to shore and took the first sandy steps of my journey. It will be at least six months until I see another ocean and my voyage will come to a close once my feet – after carrying me and my pack about 3,000 miles – are soaking in the Atlantic.
With boots and pack on, I started out for Indian Potrero Trailhead in Cleveland National Forest, where I thought I’d be sleeping. The first day brought me through quiet suburban neighborhoods, an army base, a wildlife refuge, and national forest. Not one person at the army base questioned my presence, proving the privilege I knew I was carrying as a white woman. Where I did find trouble was at the nature preserve, which was gated and signed with “no trespassing .”
I hopped the first gate, knowing there was no other choice but turning back through the Base, and headed down a paved road. It would have been a straight shot to the trailhead from inside the preserve, but when my next turn was met with another gate and barbed wire fencing, I was met with my first reroute of the trip. I knew RT 74 would get me in the right direction, and saw the road I was in would connect- only taking me a few miles out of the way. Several folks told me I wasn’t allowed to be there, and I did my best to hurry through.
I left behind the quiet of morning and traded in for a bustling afternoon of small shoulders and a winding scenic drive. That day I walked as far as I could, until collapsing to sleep in a dried-up river bed.
I spent the whole of day two walking along the canyons of Cleveland national forest on the 74, doing my best to stay visible – scurrying from left to right every few minuto stay in the outside of the curves. Motorcycles and race cars sped along for sport, unbothered by dramatic drop offs in either side. It was pure stress.
In addition to the fear of traffic, I learned in these two days that my solar charger is unreliable and that my boots were doing more harm than good.
I ended day two at a Coyote Cove campground in Lake Elsinore, full of interesting characters including two older fisherman mumbling and shouting about their catch, a person who screamed “help me!” once an hour, a group of young folks using their 1970’s RV as a prop for a photo shoot, and lots of barking dogs.
I spent the night (up until falling asleep at 7:00) people watching and taking care of blisters -a process that would become a nightly ritual of of sanitizing needle and skin, popping, draining, applying neosporin, airing out, and bandaging loosely. I was surprised at the shape of my feet. I had walked farther and longer before without such carnage (blisters around toenails making the nails loose) but attributed it to the pavement and having the wrong shoes for the job.
Days three and four were rough, and have become clouded by the pain of my feet. Towards the end of day four I passed a sporting goods store, went in and asked for the best walking shoe they had. I tried on a pair of new balance, immediately felt relief, paid, and wore them out of the store. So much better!
Day five – more 74. I had interacted with Rt 74 in some capacity each day, but this day, like day 2, was a winding, steep, mountainous stretch through San Bernardino National Forest. My feet were feeling much better (still blistered and bandaged but bearable) and I was excited to get to my destination of Idyllwild. I left the town of Hemet and started making my way up. My map said there would be a road to get me off the 74, which my heart had been set on. When there was no road, my mental state took a hard hit. The reroute added 7 miles to the day, all of which were steep, hot, and overall grueling. Every hour was a back and forth of cheering myself on and asking myself why I’m doing this.
I made it to camp just as the sun went down, ate some food, and passed out immediately. Today I woke up to a sunny, blue-sky Thanksgiving, and last night’s “why’s” already seem distant. I am so grateful to have this rest day, for my family and friends who have made this possible, and for having this time on the road.
Before I left a friend said to me, “there must be more to why you’re doing this than just climate change. No one just does this sort of thing.” I told him that when I had the idea, it felt like the most important thing I could be doing right now and I didn’t even fully understand it beyond that.
I’m sure the deeper “why” will change throughout the journey, but I still know I didn’t want to fly or drive home again. And for now I think that’s enough.