Yesterday, after wandering around town apart, my brother and I met up for lunch/dinner.
“What did you order?
“Something called the Benjamin. Isn’t that narcissistic of me?”
“This town is a hidden gem.”
“I feel like we need to take that burden on ourselves. Find all the hidden gems lost on the coast.”
“We should take on that burden,” I mumble with my mouth full, biting into the big vegetarian breakfast burrito placed in front of me.
We’re eating in a little local diner in Weaverville. I’ve just returned from a jog of the city.
And by city, I mean jogging along highway 299. Those mountain hills, man. Really felt the elevation. It felt great. And it felt like I didn’t need to run for as long as I usually do. I was exhausted. Loving it.
And really getting used to the grunge. It’s a clean sweat, now. When we were in Sacramento for a few days, I started to feel dirty. But now that we are out on the road, I feel that dusty sun kissed freedom on my skin. Black tank top and yoga pants, hair flying straight up. I remembered what I’m doing, and why I am doing it. I’m here to live it and write it. And it feels good. And I feel one with the world again, instead of distancing myself from it. I’ll probably have to keep reminding myself of this throughout the trip, and throughout life, so these moments of clarity are a great pick me up.
“‘The Coming Insurrection?’ Anne… this is… No. Where did you get these books?” My brother grabs one of my books off the diner table and fumbles through it. “Whoa. I’m about to sleep already… ‘This volatile mixture is strategically aimed at countering authoritarian thinking with the surreal laughter of the insurgent imagination in flight.’ …Well. It looks like somebody found a dictionary… I’ve decided that my goal for this period of time is to read. I don’t feel like producing anything. I feel good. I feel good reading.”
“That’s why I brought all of the books.”
“I’m not going to read any of your books, Anne. Now. Should I go to graduate school or not?”
I need to resign myself to the fact that I’m going to spend seven dollars on a burrito everyday. Maybe that’s my writing project. Burrito a day. Small town diners. And Chipotle.
“As if we need one more of those books in the world,” my brother scoffs at the idea.
“A burrito book, with the anthro-anarcho aspect mixed in. The human voice.”
“You’ve always been threatened by politics.”
‘You’re right. I hate them. Because they are distractions. How can you defend politics? They are a waste of energy. You change the world directly with social incision. Surgery. Cut out the bad parts. The bad parts being literature, mostly. Not the politics. The politics don’t affect anyone. These writers for social change come from affluence and choose to suffer. Only those who can afford it choose anarchy and suffering. The author uses too much invective, anyway.”
“That’s the point. He’s merging dreams with reality. It’s surrealism, becoming one. He’s not trying to come up with physical solutions, it’s all about changing your mind to change the world. I’m done talking about this. We can discuss this later when we’re stuck at a campsite in the dark.”
Ben gets up, and walks back with a slice of cherry pie.
“Look at you. Splurging.”
“I’m going to buy slice of pie everywhere we go. This place reminds me of Twin Peaks. And a character in the show eats a piece of pie in every place that he goes.
“Oh… wow….” his eyes turn glassy with a red tinge, completing a frozen face on the verge of cracking.
“Are you crying?”
I go up to refill my water bottle. A cute little lady with a bandana on her head fills it up for me.
“I got water in Redding yesterday…” she looks both ways to see if anyone is within earshot. “It was full of chlorine. I couldn’t even DRINK it. UGHHLF.” She gives me a wink, and sends me on my way with my Mount Shasta water on this hot Californian day.
We head back to our campsite after the diner closes, and I go collect myself down by the river. It’s peaceful, and clear. I fall asleep soon after.
I get up to pee like six times throughout the night, and have half conscious visions of bears dragging me mid squat back into the woods.
“Oh my GOD. Stop going back to Jim as your only example of empathy.”
My brother and I are diving deep into my psyche as we drive through the mountains this morning, heading out of Weaverville and on the 299 toward Arcata. No GPS, we’ve got our parents’ trusty atlas.
We’re debating patience versus impulse. And he’s trying to tell me that I can’t stand to not have my way. And I’m letting him know that I just know what I want when I want it, and I take it.
He’s telling me I’m selfish, and I keep referencing this interaction we had with a drifter named Jim outside of a grocery store today, leaching Starbucks internet with us.
“I didn’t want to talk to Jim that long. But I kept at it, until we found the appropriate time to close the conversation.”
“You think I wanted to talk to Jim that long? Nobody did. But it happened. He talked about the best place to GROW in California for ages. Because you ASKED him where the best place to grow in California was, Anne. You couldn’t have expected that would just ‘wrap up a conversation.’ Then you asked him about campsites.”
Jim initiated conversation with us outside the Starbucks after he saw we were doing the exact same thing as him. Filling up our water bottles at the fountain, splashing water on our faces from the sink, soaking up the free wifi in the shade.
Jim asks us if we’re camping, and we say yes. He then goes straight for the gold.
“First thing you do when you get to any campsite… make sure you bury your jar. Number one. I’m not joking. You go to Southern California, and they’re looking for the guys that look like Sasquatch. But up here in Northern California, it’s the kids with college degrees and cars that they’re trying to nab. They want the people that they know will show up in court. It’s not funny,” he makes clear, as my brother and I both laugh at the absurdity of this situation. “It’s a real thing. They scare me shitless. I’ve had rifles pointed in my face more times than I care to count. ”
“Oh, yeah. For sure. I agree,” my brother puts in an all star acting effort as he feigns the lifestyle of a pot smoking professor.
Jim goes on to tell us all about his life. His 16 run ins with the cops in 6 years. His 180 days of the year spent living in the woods. His repeated tries at growing. We leave after about twenty minutes of backwood tales, and priceless advice on starting our own marijuana farms.
“It all comes down to a question of patience, Anne.” My brother continues the conversation in the car with Jim as our reference point. “You’re incredibly impulsive. And I’m patient.” He looks over to catch me pridefully smelling my own armpits. “Your odor is a perfect example of your mindset. To everyone else it’s oppressive. But you’re infatuated with your own smell. To the disappointment of all that are within a ten mile radius of you.”
“This is where we just have to agree to disagree. I’ll never be a patient person. Life is not about waiting. There is too much to explore and find to give something that is less than amazing a little more than ten minutes of your time. Yes, you should give everyone and everything a few moments. But when you’re not feeling it anymore, it’s time to run. You think you should stay and wait it out, find if there’s anything else you can squeeze from a situation or person. But I see the horizon.”
We get into a tense discussion halfway to Aracada. Stop and pee in a dog park. Then carry on the road, tensions eased.
We pass a town that is completely devoted to Bigfoot. We listen to Cat Stevens’ Peace Train on the radio, and I put my feet up on the dashboard.
“WHY?” We are stopped at a red light in the middle of the mountains. “A light that never turns green? Just taunting us?”
Five minutes later, it turns green. And we realize how smart it was to pay attention to that light. There’s only room on the winding road for one car to go at a time.
Patience. Sometimes patience is good.
We started off the day in Arcata at the BLM office. We got a map for the area, and scoped out the free campsites in our range. As we walked in, the woman at the front desk asked us if we needed bear canisters. We both looked at each other, and said no. But then after we left, we both immediately started talking about bear spray. And decided to go back and see if it was free.
We mosey back into the BLM office, and linger at the counter.
“…So how much is this bear spray, anyway…” we ask, with our best schmoozing voice.
“Five dollars. You hiking the Lost Coast?”
My brother asks what the Lost Coast is, and we lose all street credit. They tell us the bear spray is rented out for five dollars a pop, and we both look at each other again and signal that we need to get out of here.
“We’re good I think. Thank you so much.”
Downtown Arcata was a lot of walking around a little, tiny town and looking for a place to rest that didn’t exist. All of the shady spots were occupied, and air conditioning is a thing that doesn’t exist in Humboldt county.
I told my brother yesterday that the only thing I needed in life was a burrito, a mug of green tea, and wifi. And Arcata fulfilled one of these requirements beautifully. I got a huge bean, egg, roasted bell pepper, pico, guacamole and hot sauce infused breakfast burrito that was the size of my face within the first hour of being in town.
After that, the search seemed endless. The few hipster cafes in town were too holistic for wifi, and the few places that did have wifi were glass box restaurants that seemed to pool all of the heat of the universe onto your brow.
I walked over to a mailbox on a street corner, and dropped some postcards in. A girl my age ran out toward the mailbox, waving her hand around. I looked at her, and she looked at me. And then she looked back at her hand again in sheer joy and fear.
There was this huge red dragonfly clinging to her. She shakes her hand, and it just tightens its grip on her index finger.
“It just loves you…”
I’m not sure how you help a sister out in this situation. So I give her a big smile, and tell her that she’s got this. And she smiles and laughs, and we part ways.
I end up sitting at a farmer’s market co-op, trying in vain to get my wifi to work, and questioning my life choices as I look in disdain at all of the happy hippies walking around in brightly colored clothes, loving the fact that they are soaked in sweat and lost in some mountain town in Northern California. How are they at peace in this heat box of uncharted misery?
I question again if I have what it takes to do this travel writing thing. All I really want is a place to write right now. Most of the times that’s all I want. Does that qualify as a traveler? Should I be out looking for more? No one can write if they’re constantly on the prowl. This I know, I find more when I can clear my head. And I have just been too overstimulated lately to take in much of anything new. I needed to get away.
I text my brother with a guilty, “Drive to Starbucks?”
And he responds with, “Yes, please.”
And we meet up, and laugh at our ridiculous yuppie-ness. We thought we were coming to this little hippie town to soak up the local culture, but it has us sweating and ready to run away to the nearest air conditioned corporation.
To be fair, Arcata had literally no coffeeshops for hanging out in. They just had a million gemstone shops, and infinite fair trade clothing stores. Pretty touristy. At least that’s what we are telling ourselves tonight, to justify the fact that the town basically ate us up and spat us out.
“What a rough place to be,” we comment as we walk back to our car.
We’re off to Lack’s Creek, northeast of Arcata for the night. It’s free, but it’s a ways out. So we have to leave town a little earlier than we wanted to.
The Starbucks worker just came out, and let us know that “the wifi works out here all night long, just so you know. We close at nine, but you can stay as long as you want.”
Sweet people. Brother is sprawled out across a table with colored pencils, drawing Jim from earlier today. And I’m typing away. Trying to get this all down so that we can get on the road again.