Our first lift was from a Peruvian couple who weren’t going far but said that they could drive us to the coast at Pacifica – barely outside San Francisco. We gratefully accepted (mostly out of desperation to get off the road) and agreed that as it was getting late, our best bet was to pitch out tent on the beach there and try again tomorrow.
There was nothing particularly spectacular about that beach and it was chilly and we were low on food, but something about that night was special and promising of the adventure I longed for. We smoked the last of the San Francisco weed and played guitar until the fire went out and then we slept and awoke at sunrise to get back on the road in hope of making it further.
When you hitchhike, getting on the road is exciting because you don’t know where you’re going to end up. It’s also incredibly disheartening when you’ve been waiting a while but no one has stopped to help you and you feel stuck and helpless. When somebody stops and you’re on your way again, the cycle starts over. That day we hitched three rides wit three different surfers but they were all relatively short. We probably covered about sixty miles in a few hours and ended up in Santa Cruz early afternoon where the weather was significantly better than in San Francisco.
When we stepped out the car and onto the beach my grin stretched from ear to ear. It was hot – I could actually feel the sun on my skin and the beach scene was perfect. There was a fairground, volleyball, a clear blue sea and an arcade – it was the perfect Californian beach, fresh off a postcard. Laying in the sun with all my belongings was a fantastic relief, I felt completely relaxed for the first time in a while. We stayed there until the temperature started to drop and we realised we should either hitch another ride or find somewhere to sleep for the night. It’s at this part of the day that the mood starts changing again and you realise that indeed worrying is useless, but you can’t really relax until you’ve solved the problem.
The freeway was an hour away so it seemed like going further tonight wasn’t going to happen. On our way through town we bumped into some hippy type characters smoking pot on the side walk. Joey asked them where we could camp tonight and they suggested a park in Red Wood where they’d probably be hanging out later. I was actually not crazy about the idea because as far as I was concerned hanging out with a group of wasted kids went against my vow to be sensible. Joey was much more relaxed about it though and it made me question whether I was just being judgmental. It didn’t matter at the end of the day because it was getting rapidly colder and darker and I eventually realised we had no choice but to find somewhere fast. The beach wasn’t really an option because of the police so it seemed like our best bet.
The park was a bit of a trek and when we got there we saw a group of hippies dancing and playing music in their camper vans. I wasn’t feeling up for conversation so we went into the park to find somewhere under a tree, out of sight. Joey said he wanted to ask the others for advice so I said I’d stay there and watch the stuff. My anxiety at this point was through the roof if I’m honest. I was sat in the long grass and every rustle made my heart stop. I envisioned rattle snakes and mountain lions or crazy people waiting around in the park – the melodramatic voices of a nervous mind. I didn’t like my nervousness and thought that perhaps being in a situation where it was actually acceptable to be nervous would help put my irrational anxieties into perspective. A homeless man walked through the grass dragging his sleeping bag, looked right at me and then walked the other way and lay down under a tree. After my panic subsided I realised that the guy was just looking for somewhere to sleep too and that it was pretty egocentric of me to consider myself as a victim to a stranger.
When Joey got back he told me that we couldn’t pitch our tent there as it would be too conspicuous but we could sleep in the park as long as we were gone by dawn because the rangers kick people out early and give them tickets. The forty dollars I’d spent on alcohol at the science museum would have come in handy now to pay for a motel or B&B. Instead, we went way into the middle of the field and flattened the grass out so we were hidden. It was cold and I was paranoid but there was nothing I could do about it but be grateful that we actually had sleeping bags and that I was still there by choice rather than being forced to permanently have to sleep rough. Joey had a little bit of vodka left and had bought some weed from the other campers and after a couple of shots and half a spliff I actually felt really relaxed and blessed to be laying in Santa Cruz looking up at the starts. Sure, to begin with the sound of a person passing or a rustle in the grass was unpleasant, but I eventually realised that the possibility of danger was exaggerated in my head and if genuine danger did approach, I’d have to trust myself and Joey to deal with it – everything else was just unnecessary worry.
When I woke up there were snails on my sleeping bag but no snakes or rangers to be seen so as far as I was concerned – the night had been a success. It was six in the morning and I was starting to really need a shower plus I was really hungry and still sticky from my apple the night before. Joey got breakfast at a cafe and charged his phone up and I took advantage of the restroom to wash my hands and my face. It was weird seeing myself in the mirror for my first time in days. On my last night out at the hostel I’d spent ages faffing with my hair and make-up in the mirror feeling insecure and I couldn’t help but laugh when I compared the two scenarios. That morning I’d have happily swapped the entire contents of my makeup bag for a hot meal and a wash.
With no food and dirty clothes, the morning continued to be difficult. We eventually made it to a roadside at the edge of the town and managed to get a lift with a really friendly Californian on her way to work. We only just made it out of Santa Cruz and the spot we were dropped off at was pretty bad because no cars seemed to be passing. Someone fortunately did stop eventually and we got dropped another 20 minutes by a 19 year old with a nasty looking snake bite scar on her arm. She took us to a strange little town called Castroville which boasted to be the “Artichoke capital of the world”. We didn’t see a single passer by as we walked through and it sort of felt like walking through a big abandoned film set. We were only there for ten minutes but I’d never have known the town to exist had we not been picked up by that specific, passing stranger.
The next people to pick up were a mum and her 20 year old daughter who had never picked up hitchhikers before and seemed embarrassed by her bubbly mum who had a soft spot for young travelers. She actually drove us to their home and gave us food for the way then dropped us off at a really good spot back on Highway One. Their kindness and cheerfulness really improved my mood and restored my excitement to move forward. After a very short stay, we were picked up by a young hippy chick in her campervan who gave us my first root beer then dropped us at a Mission past Monterey on the way to Big Sur where both Joey and I were really hoping to go.
Things are really starting to look up!