Monday, November 8, 2010

Santa Barbara -> Monterey

(Recomended soundtrack for this blog is )

I ended up spending a little under a week in Santa Barbara. Couch surfing yet again really came through for me, a last minute request sent from the SA public library saw me in Micah's apartment a few hours later. Probably one of the coolest people I have had the fortune of meeting on this trip, Micah is in his late 20's and currently studying something environmental...or something. He is a traveller on hiatus being that his current situation doesn't give him much time to explore. His stories about the 15 months he spent in and around India were absolutely fascinating, as were the endless beautiful pictures he was showing me from aforementioned travels.  I ended up spending Halloween weekend in Santa Barbara with Micah and 2 girls who were also couch surfing with him. We had an awesome time, and on the first night (costume - turban) I completely blacked out, cant remember shit past midnight. I am told we left around 3.30-4am, all I know is I woke up with a sweet ass straw hat.

Me and Micah parted ways in the early morning, the girls having left the day before, he had to shoot to school and I still had some shit to sort out before I could leave town. Will certainly be hitting him up next time I am in the area, and those of you on couch surfing should do the same (hopefully he wont kill me for saying that)

Having got myself to the on-ramp for the 101 (leads to the hwy coastal route 1) by about 11am, stupid straw hat fully equipped to deal with the sun I got myself a ride in about 10 minutes. I literally had put my bag down when Mike pulled up. His words 'I saw you, and didn't even have time to really think, so - yeah why not, I hope he doesn't smell'. I personally think the hat did it. Mike is from the Santa Barbara area and is on his way to visit his parents a few towns up the highway (Morro Bay). I try to maintain some semblance of intelligent conversation whilst repeatedly being AMAZED by the quality of the views and scenery in this area. The time I spent in SA and this drive is really drilling home to me that I am going to have to spend at least a year or 2 living in this area at some point in order to really get to grips with it. And to surf.

Coming out of Morro Bay I decide against sitting waiting for a ride, its a beautiful day and I fancy walking for a bit. So I stroll along the hard shoulder of the highway, throwing my thumb up whenever I hear traffic approaching from behind. Completely illegal, if a cop sees me I am likely to get a ticket. Cant be thinking about that though, I am still completely enthralled by the area and the constantly beautiful weather (during my stay in Santa Barbara the weather was perfect consistently). I get a few short rides this way which get me as far as Ragged point. 

View Larger Map

From Ragged Point I started walking again, its like 3.30 or something by this point, so I figure I wont make it much further. I get picked up after like 20 minutes or something, the car literally stopping the in the middle or the road as there is no hard shoulder, cliff on one side, ocean on the other, bear in mind by this point I am seeing a car every 7-10 minutes, very light traffic by highway standards. The 2 kids that pick me up are super cool and pass me a beer within 5 minutes of being in the car. A note about the car - this is a very small hatchback, with no back seat. I am currently sitting on my backpack and sharing the space with the dog. They tell me that they plan on only going a few more miles up the road before hiking in a little way, then having a BBQ. I decide to join them. We hike for maybe 40 minutes up a creek bed from a small campsite before running back down which is seriously exhilarating, even if I am risking a twisted ankle or worse. The land here is almost beyond description, but I shall try. A tiny creek is flowing down this valley, strewn with huge boulders, some approaching the size of an average semi detached house, around all of which there are these huge conifers growing, Red Woods and Douglas Firs are my guess. Amongst all of this poison oak is very prevalent. Apparently mountain lions are rare, but seen in this area as well as rattlesnakes. 

After returning to the small campsites the guys set up their grill and crack out some pork chops and sausage. They brought spare so welcome me to join them. Having not eaten since that morning - I am well in on that. Whilst waiting for the meat to cook we smoke a little pot, drink some more beer and generally just chat shit. The food is excellent, and with the sun rapidly disappearing behind the sea we part ways. I quickly find myself a spot to camp, and stare at the millions of stars I can see through the gaps in the tree canopy. There is very little light pollution in this area so it really is a view. After seeing a couple of shooting stars and determining that the noise is the creek and not a mountain lion behind me, I go to sleep.

Back on the road I end up walking for maybe 2 hours  - traffic is still very light, and not really any space for people to stop. I sit down in the shade of a nearby tree to catch my breath and drink a little water after having hiked up a particularly steep hill, and as I sit down I see an old Volkswagen van coming up the brow of the hill, I can almost feel that this one will stop. It does. Clint and Ellie are very recently married, and are spending a few months driving around this part of America before heading off to Hawaii, and eventually India. They brought the van in Oklahoma and hope to sell it for the same money in Seattle. 

We spend the day together, I am in no rush, they are eager to explore the Big Sur region, its almost perfect. We hike up a trail way into the hills to a small waterfall. By small I mean the size of the stream, the water is falling at least 40 feet. Again surrounded by these amazing trees and rocks... my mind is blown for probably the third time that day. Walking out we decide to check out the "valley view trail'. From the top of one of these hills we can see an amazing vista of endless trees with the ocean sounds behind them. Driving out of Big Sur and towards Monterrey we stop on a beach to check out the surf. Clint spent years in Hawaii and is a bit of a surfer - he reckons the waves to be around 12-15ft face. In layman's terms, freaking huge. Even I manage to resist the urge to go swimming at this point. 

Clint and Ellie drop me off in Monterey as the sun goes down, and I call my latest couch surf for a place to stay. the 2 days I spent in Big Sur were no where near enough, and I will 100% be headed back there sometime shortly (I hope).

Friday, October 29, 2010


October 24th


Made it to California! Spent the last 2 days hanging out with an old friend of mine and his girlfriend. It has been really good to hang out with an Englishman from my generation. As great as Americans are they just don't seem to grasp the finer points of some things:- like marmite on toast, or the vibe Christmas has in England.

Ironically my first night in Cali was spent celebrating Oktoberfest in a large German bar. Aside from the facts that I am drinking Muller beer, and that the women are actually attractive, I could almost be at home. Sam introduces me to an American drink by the name of Four Loko. At 12%, and rocking more caffeine per m/l then Red Bull, its a party in an over sized can. After drinking 2 of those (huge cans, bigger then a pint), combined with gratuitous amounts of beer, my recollection of the evening is hazy. I do recall someone climbing on top of an RV for no apparent reason though.

Note :- I am writing this on the Amtrak train and we just passed through Fullerton!
That was Saturday night, Sunday was spent on Huntington Beach smoking pot and recovering from the mother of all hangovers. Whilst chilling out conversation turns to my next plan. having been so set on making it to California up until this point, I have no real idea what I want to do next. In our (slightly) stoned brains, the idea to walk up the coast to Santa Barbara to meet Sam there for the next weekend's Halloween celebration sounds like an awesome idea. I decide to set out tomorrow morning, with no preparation other then to buy a map of the Western States in a local gas station. (Such a map is near useless for what I planned on doing, as it is scaled for people driving across states, not idiots walking along the coast)

27th October

Made it! Ended up using public transit out to Santa Monica beach for $2 and then I started walking. On the first day I walked along the coast - literally on the beach for allot of the way, and the Pacific Coast Highway when not possible. As I got to the west side of Malibu the sun was starting to set, I found myself a small alcove on a private beach (probably slightly illegal) to sleep in. The waterline from the last high tide was about 15ft from where I rolled out my sleeping bag, and it looked like the weather was going to be good - had been a completely clear day so far. I had a stack of rocks to climb out of where I was with some ease. So if I had misjudged the situation, worst case scenario was I would get wet. I lay back and watched the sun set over the Californian coast line. Absolutely beautiful. I was completely exhausted from hauling my pack all day and fell asleep pretty much as soon as it was dark.

I woke up a few hours later to the sound of the waves crashing onto the sand and rocks a meters away from me. the moon was very big and very bright, making it easy to see on this completely clear night. I watched the ocean breaking so close I could almost touch it until I fell asleep again.

Woke up at around 5.30am just in time to watch the sun rise. After consulting my map and realising that it was going to take forever to walk to Santa Barbara I decide to go and climb in the foothills along the beach in the state park. I reach the top of my chosen mountain (probably nothing more then a small hill but shh) at around 1pm. In the baking heat atop this hill  I can see for miles in either direction along the coast, miles of rich blue-green ocean crashing against the jagged rocks and hills typical of this region. I stop for a while to meditate, absorb the moment, and smoke a little joint before beginning the walk back down the hill.

Back on the highway I walk in the right direction with my thumb stuck out, figure if I cant catch a ride I will walk, but I may as well try to catch one! Before to long a Mexican construction worker who calls himself Pedro stops to pick me up, and gets me as far as Oxnard.

Hiking out of Oxnard along the railway track that evening I pass by some strawberry fields next to the tracks. I snag a few for breakfast and set up camp amongst the lemon trees in the next field over. Again I fall asleep very quickly after sunset being completely exhausted from walking and heat, feeling slightly sunburned, and incredibly happy.

From my camping spot I could see the Highway a couple of fields over, so after a breakfast of strawberries I quickly pack up my things and start walking along the highway in the direction of the next exit, and its inevitable gas station primarily to catch a ride, but also to use the bathroom there! Brett picks me up fairly quickly in his black 4x4 once I get myself set up on the ramp. He is from LA originally, and is working there currently. He spends most of the year however in Idaho for the snowboarding and mountain biking. Brett is headed to Capinteria for a meeting. Capintera is about 15 miles east of Santa Barbara, I can walk the rest.

In Santa Barbara Brett takes me out for breakfast of bacon with fried eggs, potatoes and orange juice.  I am in heaven as it is the first real meal I have had in a few days. Over breakfast Brett tells me that he will be driving back to Idaho in a few weeks time, and if I want to, i am welcome to come with. He will sort me out with cold weather clothing so  I experience the winter sports in the Idaho mountains before I head home. Sounds VERY tempting.

I give him my email and he hands me a card as he heads off. I start to walk towards the beach to chill out for a bit. I don't have a place to sleep tonight, but I really cant be bothered to worry about that right now.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

New Orleans -> Arse End Of Nowhere

Monday 11th October

I left New Orleans early, catching a ride with Jerry back onto the I10. As he drops me off he wishes me the best of luck, the past 5 days have been full of alcohol fueled debauchery but its time to get on the move again.

Its 8.30am and the wind has put enough of a chill on the air for me to actually wear a hoodie for the first time since I got to the USA. After about 90 minutes my frustration and lack of sleep get the better of me, and I retreat to the shade of the overpass to nap for a short while, maybe sitting up all night talking about philosophy women and religion has had an adverse effect on my ability to stay positive in the face of this crappy ramp. That or the wine hangover I'm nursing. I return to the ramp after dozing for about 40 minutes feeling allot better about my lot in life, it  helps that the weather has changed for the better, I hope to quickly catch a ride and get on my way to Houston.

2 hours still not getting even close to a ride I decide to walk the 2 miles down the interstate to the next exit, by this point the heat has increased to such a point that I am sweating buckets hiking along the hard shoulder with no shirt on. Fortunately the next on ramp has a flyover to provide me with some shade. Its now 1pm and 4.5 hours have passed since I got dropped off, I make a mental note that hitch hiking out of New Orleans fucking sucks. Then I find out out why, my first real run in with the cops here. turns out that hitch hiking in the state of Louisiana is completely illegal - oops. Manage to talk my way out of a ticket, I think my accent and English ID help somewhat, however he tells me that if he sees me trying to signal for rides again he will arrest me, but I am apparently allowed to sit by the road. Stupid and idiotic is what I call it.

Half an hour or so later David and Jeff pick me up in their pickup full of what looks like trash, they are only going an hour down the road, and Houston is 10 hours away, but I need to get the hell out of this city before I get myself arrested. Jeff explains how he is in the scrap business - I guessed that from the busted fridge on his trailer. We discuss how society's obsessions with the acquisition of currency with currency will eventually be its downfall; finding people that agree with me is actually alarming. The guys feed me a couple of Tangerines and an apple, first thing I have eaten that day. They drop me on a scorching ramp somewhere in the arse end of Louisiana. With my new found knowledge of the illegality of what I am doing I am more cautious and decide not to fly a sign. Relying on my thumb instead.

I get a ride in an hour or so, Joe isn't going far, but I already gave up on making Houston tonight anyway. He drops me me at a truck stop just outside Port Allen, a shitty industrial town halfway across Louisiana. There is no where good to catch a ride out of here. Not that I have a choice though, make myself a sign - maybe a little reckless- and sit at the exit to the truck stop. In the rain. This really sucks. After an hour, and next to no traffic I retreat to the cover of the nearby waffle house awning to sit and read and hopefully wait the rain out, as it has got pretty intense.

Once the rain stops I go back to the road feeling slightly better and with new found resolve. My ride will come, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but it will come. 2 more hours and the light is fading so I decide to spend a few of my last dollars in the waffle house and get a decent meal as it looks like I will be camping tonight, and there certainly isn't going to be any dry firewood anywhere nearby.

I end up chatting with the guys working there extensively, for about 3 hours, something about my current lifestyle seems to really interest people. After bullshitting with Francis and Ian, a plan is born. They will both quit their jobs, they hate it anyway. Then we will pool our funds and drive to California, between us we have $600, what could possibly go wrong! Francis owns a slightly beat up jeep which needs some new brakes, so he will get that sorted tomorrow and we will leave Wednesday - the day after tomorrow.

Here I am sat on the counter of Waffle House writing and reading Orwell's "Down and Out in Paris and London" ($3 - Maple Street Books, NOLA), and I feel that there is something strangely beautiful about my situation, and although I don't really believe that the guys are actually going to leave with me, their enthusiasm for the potential adventure (and a huge amount of food) has completely revitalized me. Plus I have a place to crash for a few days; and if they don't end up leaving I can always get a bus to Houston after dicking around here for a few days. I'm in no rush.

Post Script - It is now the day after I wrote this, they both quit at the end of that shift, and Francis is off fixing his brakes now after dropping me off at the library to write this. looks like I am going to be in Cali within a week. This changes everything, again.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

4 States, 1 day

Tallahassee, FL

Nathan (my couch surf in Tallahassee) arranged for his roommate Ian to drop me off on the interstate on his way to work, this one was lucky enough to have a barrier for me to sit on! I was there for maybe 90 minutes before Rex picked me up in his silver Toyota Camry. We were headed west, and he could take me as far as Pensacola, right on the Florida / Alabama state border, which suited me just fine.

Turns out that Rex is a retired drug smuggler who has in recent years turned to selling different metal compounds to various military divisions across 7 states to keep his income legitimate and the feds happy. Apparently driving across the Mexican border with tens of thousands of Valium and similar pills annoys the border control somewhat, who knew? We go on to discuss the recent developments in US drug laws, more specifically the recent ruling that decriminalizes Cannabis for recreational use in California, literally passed the day before. We both express our hope that such a movement continues across the states much like the medical legalization did before! As we cruise along the I10 at about 90mph Rex pulls out his glass pipe and some amazing homegrown which he tells me comes from a buddy of his who grows it in Georgia. Gets me buzzed for the 3 hour trip to Pensacola, so suits me just fine.

As Rex has an extra hour to go before his next appointment he agrees to drive me to the first exit out the west side of Pensacola, just inside the Alabama border, before he turns around and heads back for his meetings, gives me his card and tells me to call him if I am still stuck that evening, as he will be going to Mobil.


After having spent my last 4 dollars on some MTN Dew, batteries for the camera, and some candy for breakfast I set myself up on the on ramp and hope I get a ride pretty quick, the wind is blowing up some heavy dust. Trey picks me up after about an hour, hes only going as far as Mobil, but I'm desperate to get off this ramp and the dust storm I am sat in, so take the offer. Fairly uneventful ride, Trey tells me he is a Christian, who feels the need to pick up hitchhikers and help them out as part of gods work - despite the fact that his Mothers first husband was killed by a hitchhiker in the 40's! He gives me a kick down of $20 as he drops me off on the west side of Mobil; I might be in the middle of nowhere, but at least I can eat tonight.


At this point I was stood on the side of the interstate, somewhere in either Alabama or Mississippi with no real place to catch a ride out from (it is illegal to hitch on the interstate, you have to be on an on-ramp). I consult my map and come to the conclusion that the 4 miles to the next exit shouldn't take me to long, and it only being 3pm I should still be able to make New Orleans before it gets dark. BAD MOVE. Number one - walking/skating on the hard shoulder of the interstate SUCKS. Huge lorries racing past at 80mph cause huge waves of wind/air pressure to constantly buffet you, making skating a really bad idea, as it feels like you are going to get either pulled into the road, or pushed off it constantly. Small stones are frequently kicked up by the vehicles and get thrown into you at stupid speeds. 

Then come bridges. I encountered one, it had no hard shoulder, and was to long to try and leg it during a traffic gap, plus it was over a river, so not like there was a way I could go around it. So as a result I ended up walking nearly a mile down the river and then a mile back again. Through overgrown thorns and all kinds of other shitty plants that hacked my legs to shit. I was of course wearing shorts and vans, its still hot here. Oh and I had run out of water by this point. 

After the debacle with the bridge (and cutting my hand jumping a fence to get back on the interstate) I could see a sign for the next exit, it was only a mile away! I got to the exit at around 5.45, figuring there to be an hour or so of daylight left, I knew I had to get a ride fast. 

After 45 minutes or so I had just about given up on New Orleans, it was about to get dark and I was committed to the idea of sleeping by the side of the interstate and trying again tomorrow. At that very point Chris (I have actually forgotten his name, oops) picks me up. And thank god - he is headed to New Orleans! The drive to New Orleans (or New Orlins to the locals) takes about 2 hours, during the time Chris tells me about his 2 kids, a daughter (6) and his son (3) and his apparently beautiful wife. this ride lands me another $20 kick down, and Chris shows me around the French Quarter of New Orleans, buying me my first Hurricane; its a kind of fruit punch - rum - cocktail thing sold by the litre, and its awesome, and generally giving me a feel for the city before he heads off to meet his business partner. I think I have a tendency to meet drug smugglers, who meets a business partner at 10pm? 


I call my couch surf in New Orleans to let them know I made it, and whilst waiting for them to pick me up I meet Joseph the Hobo outside the casino. He sings me a song he wrote about Katrina, someone should find this guy and give him a record deal. Seriously.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

First couchsurf, first hitching experiance, first ride in an 18 wheeler! (Part 2)

(short entry, just finishing up where I left off yesterday!\)

Lee is a 34 year young man from South Georgia, and talks with the typical southern twang that every country singer seems to be blessed/cursed with. He told me about his kids (2 girls 1 boy), his relationship with his first and second wife, and about his recent jail time. Everything he tells me reinforces my understanding about the freedom man is gifted with, that we then continue to give up in the name of security, be that the security of constant income, living quaters, or relationships. We also talk about trucking regulations.

The ride is fairly uneventfull, and once I have gotten over the inital excitement of riding in a really big truck, I try my best to take in some of the country side as we pass through it during lulls in the conversation. First thing I notice, florida has a lot of swamp. Roughly 2 hours and 120 miles later (with one stop, thanks for the Mtn Dew Lee!) we arrive in Gainesville. Lee drops me off on the exit ramp from the interstate as he is continueing on up into Georgia. From there I call my second couch surf, and skate into the sunset to meet him.

Thats a story for another day though.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

First couchsurf, first hitching experiance, first ride in an 18 wheeler! (Part 1)

So the last 24 hours have been pretty crazy, finally left the comfort of staying with people I know and actually took the plunge that I have been preparing for these last 6 months or so.  Hanging out with Mette and Nick in Palm Harbor has been awesome fun, and I met alot of really cool people in Clearwater and Dunedin, but this is why I came to America! To do something stupid!

First Couchsurf

  Amanda and Abby had just messaged me out of blue on, asking if I wanted to hang out and maybe grab a beer as they saw I was travelling and in the Tampa area. We exchanged a few messages, and it turned out I actually needed to stay in Tampa to make it Gainsville in the time period I had set for this leg of my trip. So I sent them a message asking if it would be possible for me to crash at their place, and a date was set!

Nick dropped me off where I thought I was ment to be 2 days later, and I call Amanda, turns out im on the wrong street, but hey gives me an excuse to skate a bit! We get up to the appartment and I meet Abby. We proceed to hang out a bit, get to know each other, you know basic stuff; where are you going where are you from ectect. As we talk I notice that there is some rather interesting glasswork on the corner table, and the Bob Marley posters start to make sense. The 3 of us are smoking and talking in the kitchen, whilst Amanda is cooking dinner, very relaxed, got some nice music in the background (some indy/hiphop mix CD I think, odd mix, but it works).

As we eat the conversation really starts to flow, talking about the meaning and the circumstances of our various tattoos, family backgrounds, favorite tv shows, you know, the important stuff. I think we ended up talking until around 1am, probably something to do with the fact that we started talking politics, and those discussions are NEVER short. At that point Abby declares her tiredness, and I realise im actually completely knackered, I just had not noticed as the conversation had been so stimulating. Abby hand me some blankets and a pillow, and I set my self up on the couch. Pretty comfy. Awesome night.

Hitchhiking out of Tampa

Everything I had read about hitching in florida had prepared me for how much it was going to suck, 8+hour long waits, random downpours, crazy people picking you up, getting ditched in the middle of nowhere, I was ready mentally to deal with all this; worst I had to deal with is some sunburn, and casual racism.

Time - 8.30am

Abby dropped me off at the exit ramp to the I275 in Tampa. I skate around until I find a likely looking dumpster and fish out some cardboard to make a sign. "GAINESVILLE PLEASE :)" Then I roll back over to the on ramp and set myself up to try and hitch a ride. The ramp is a long one, with some grass on the right side with a small amount of hardshoulder for people to pull up to, figure I should be fine. 30 minutes later I'm a bit less sure of myself. 1 hour later Im telling myself I have all day its no biggy. 1 hours 15 minutes later Willy picks me up! Yay! He takes me about 5 miles up the interstate to where he thinks there is a better on ramp to catch out from, I agree, simply because I was sick of that one. Willy dosent really talk much, other then asking me why I dont have a job. I tell him of my plans, and he seems to accept that I'm young and stupid enough to get away with it. 

Next on ramp, 5 miles down the road. I set up on the edge of the concrete barrier here, faithfully holding my sign out to the 2 lanes of on coming traffic, not much hard shoulder here, hopefully it will be ok. After about an hour I see a guy about my age start walking up the on ramp to come talk to me. After talking to me for a little while, he says that he will be driving up to Gainesville tomorrow night, so if Im still stuck, he will give me a ride. Safety blanket aquired. Another hour or so of waiting sees a pickup truck with 2 hispanic guys in front. They offer to take me a few miles up the road, I take the ride, not from any practical point, but beacuse I want to ride in the back of a pickup. Yeah I'm lame. 

Next on ramp is the worst yet. Plenty of hard shoulder, plenty of grass to sit/stand on. But no bloody traffic. Honestly at this point I was starting to feel like i was never going to make it to Gainesville, and I was going to have to call Austin to give me a ride the next day. However I stuck it out, and maybe 90 minutes after I arrive I get picked up again, by another pickup. This time I get to ride up front though. My driver this time around is a middleclass business owner, I forget the guys name, and to be honest all i can really remeber is how hideously racist he was. Everything wrong with America was the fault of minorities and immigrants in his eyes. I tried to introduce him to some alternate ideas in that field, he wasnt exactly having any of it, and I didnt really want to force the issue (hey I was in his car, and had seen his gun!) He drops me next to a truck stop on the edge of Tampa, and my energy for hitchhiking is renewed, from a truckstop, my next ride was certainly going to get me to Gainesville! 

Got about half a litre of water left, should be fine despite the heat

Damn its hot.

Got maybe 2 swigs of water left. When it runs out I have problems in this heat.

Water just about gone, time to head to a cafe or something and fill my bottle up.

Lee picks me up in his truck!

To be continued...