Grants Pass, Oregon. I’m restless. I am ready to move on, I’m aching to get going, and this time, not just to move, but to arrive; it’s time to get back east to DC and to a place where I can slow down and breathe and let this all catch up with me and sink in, whatever it is that I have just done. I’m getting road weary. It’s been a month since my last shower. It has been almost two since I slept in a bed. It’s time to get back. But I can’t leave until the parts arrive for the car. So I’m just sitting around, waiting. Amber is getting restless too. She wants to get down to California and find work. Even Tramp seems anxious to get moving. By the end of the week, I fill a punch card at Dutch Bros Coffee, and that’s not even the only café I have been going to. I pour out scribbles of ink across pages and pages of notebook, but it doesn’t help.
Amber introduces me to her family, and I thank her dad over and over again for agreeing to help out with the car. It’s strange to see the inside of her room, adorned with old photos and relics of a past life that has nothing to do with the road. I know that 3,000 miles away there is a room like this filled with traces of my own past.
The repair shop keeps pushing back the date they say my parts will arrive. Eventually, headlights and blinkers trickle in, a new hood comes, a grill, assorted latches. The core radiator support arrives another four days later, and it’s broken. It will take another week to get the correct part in. I thank the guy and tell him not to order it. That night when Amber’s dad returns from work, we pull the car into his workshop and pop the hood. By lantern light, he deftly mends the car and we stitch together my existing core support with zip ties; I hold the light, he drills holes, and Amber slips the ties into place. It’s like we’re performing surgery.
Amber and I hit the road at first light. We shoot down into California and soar along the coast through Arcata and Eureka, then hop onto a smaller, sketchier highway that slices into the center of northern California. In fading twilight we pass through redwood forest. Some of the travelers I met in Missoula are working in Hayfork right now, and we arrive under dark stars and track them down at an open mic in a local café. We sleep in the empty fairgrounds beneath a cluster of oak trees. All night long acorns fall around us like rain.
* * *
We part ways at a coffee shop the next morning. She plans to ask around for work and then hitch out to wherever she decides to head next. And as for me, I climb into my car and skid out of the dusty gravel lot, San Francisco bound, traveling alone for the first time in six weeks and four thousand miles. Hours later I pull off the highway in Woodland, trying to find a café somewhere out of the way before plunging into San Fran tomorrow. It’s warm outside, finally, finally, for the first time since leaving the North. A guy sits down with me on the café patio and asks where I’m from, “because you’re obviously not from around here.” I tell him about my journey. “But how can you just go?” You just do it. “How do you not worry about money?” The universe provides. “Don’t you get lonely?” Sometimes. “How do you choose where to go next?” Whatever I feel. He insists on giving me $3 when he leaves.
Reem calls, and she shares a quote that I have heard before but never properly appreciated: “Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” Yes. That is what I have been doing. Sometimes I feel as if this journey is an act of seeking, but in truth, this whole thing has been an act of creation, a living piece of artwork. I am creating myself.
When I head inside to write, I end up chatting with two friendly college students from Davis instead. When the café closes down, the baristas give me pastries. I drive around looking for dinner, and at a pizza place they give me a box filled with random slices and they hand me a cup. “Here, get yourself something to drink too.” I sleep in a parking lot in the shadows.
* * *
As I’m about to cross the bridge into SF, I realize that there is a toll. Shoot. A $5 toll. I pull out all my money—$6. I was planning on saving that for a few coffees. Well…I shrug. Maybe I can play some guitar in the city and make a few dollars or something. It’ll be alright. I pull up to the toll booth and reach out to hand the guy my $5 bill, but he waves me through. “The lady in front of you paid for you.”
* * *
In and out of SF for a few days; down in Palo Alto, I head to Karen’s house. The moment I step inside, she has placed a glass of red wine in my hand. She makes dinner, we catch up, she tells me about the trip to Africa she’s trying to put together for the spring. I still have a long way ahead of me, but spending a blessed evening in a home lets me finally slow down for a moment. She turns the TV on, and I relax on the couch stroking her cat. I finally have a bed to sleep in. In the morning, she sends me off with a paper bag filled with sandwiches and fruit.
I stop at the Cloud Forest Café in Davis and then hit the road that seems perpetually bathed in golden light, the road up to Arnold, California, the cabin in the Sierras, the place where this all began.