Finding the Ocean – Chapter 9

On September 1, 2017, I did something a little crazy. (Again.) On a complete and utter whim, I took off on a 4,700 mile road trip to go find the ocean. Just me… and the dog.

Continue along on my healing and soul-inspiring journey below, or start from the beginning

 


It was Monday, September 4, 2017 – Labor Day.

By 4:30 AM, I was wide awake and ready to hit the road again. It was dark and I knew the sun wouldn’t be up for another two hours, but I couldn’t lie there anymore.  I pulled the plugs on my self-inflating air mattresses, rolled them up, and put them back in their storage bags. Good riddance. As happy as I was to have them, I never wanted to see them again… at least not for the remainder of this trip. Something had snapped in me the night before, and I’d decided I was done living like a homeless person. It was time to start enjoying this vacation.

The Donner Pass rest area was packed-full of vehicles of all shapes and sizes. Cars, vans, trucks, campers, semis. People had been coming and going all night, and I was grateful to see I hadn’t been blocked-in by some yahoo who had just pulled in during the wee hours and parked all kittywampus.

I moved Zoey into the front seat so I could reorganize my traveling homeless camp. I put all the seats back into their upright positions and immediately felt better about life. I folded my blanket and put it into a neat pile on one of the middle bucket seats, along with my pillow and tightly-rolled air mattresses. Next, I moved my suitcase to the other bucket seat and positioned it so I could easily access it from the back passenger-side door.

I noticed my grocery bag poking out beneath a pair of haphazardly-tossed hiking shoes. I grabbed it and took a quick inventory of my food situation. Yuck. I threw away anything I was sick of eating… which was pretty much everything. Wheat Thins, gone. Scrunched and dented bread, gone. Raisins, gone. I hung on to the peanut butter, my half-eaten bag of Tostitos, and my one remaining jar of homemade salsa.

Next I checked the cooler situation. I pulled out the hummus container and an empty Ziploc bag. My once-frozen strawberries and peaches had leaked into a soupy mess on the bottom of the YETI bag… gross. I tossed them all. I fumbled around and found a roll of paper towels in the seat pocket behind my driver’s seat and cleaned out the cooler as best I could. By the time all was said and done, I was left with two yogurts, a bag of unopened goose jerky, and two slimy ice packs we’d probably acquired from my husband’s knee surgery a year earlier. Classy.

I shook the dog hair off Zoey’s hammock seat cover and re-positioned it over the far backseat. Such a brilliant contraption… I wish I had invented it. “Here Zo-Zo!” My sweet, patient, forgiving black lab bounded back to me and settled into her nice, clean, organized spot. Even she seemed happier about life. Next, I grabbed my freebie toiletry bag out of my suitcase, locked the doors, and went into the Donner Pass rest area to work some miracles.

Good Lord, where to start.

I washed my face and brushed my teeth, then got down to business with some wet wipes, eye drops, and dry shampoo. I put my hair in a pony tail, applied some deodorant, and called it good. Well, good enough anyway.

On to the ocean!

I took Zoey for a quick walk, then loaded her up and hit the road. It was still dark, and I was grateful to have gotten a little sleep before trying to maneuver this mountain pass in the middle of the night.

Donner Pass sits atop the Sierra Nevada mountain range at an elevation of 7,056 feet. I found out later it was named after an ill-fated party of pioneers who were trying to reach California in November of 1846. When they arrived at present day Donner Lake, they found the pass completely blocked by snow, so the settlers were forced to spend the winter there. The conditions were harsh, and when the settlers began dying of starvation, they eventually resorted to cannibalism to survive. Of the original 83 members of the Donner Party, only 45 eventually made it to California. Most of them were women and children.

Around 7:30 AM, I was starving and refused to eat any more yogurt (or goose jerky or Tostitos) for breakfast. I spotted a blue freeway sign that told me there was a Starbucks coming up, so I veered right at the next exit and was soon enjoying a grande latte and a blueberry muffin while Zoey enjoyed her bowlful of Iams.

 

I was at the Starbucks on Pinole Valley Road in Pinole, CA. According to the GPS, I was only about 30 minutes away from San Francisco, and I was all caffeined-up and ready to go. Zoey and I took a short stroll around the beautifully-landscaped parking lot of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Office, then we were on our way. San Francisco or bust!

Less than 15 minutes later, I passed a little brown sign off to my right. “McLaughlin Eastshore State Park. Next exit.” It was my first hint of the ocean, and what luck! A state park! Maybe they had a nice campground where Zoey and I could stay. Even though the thought of sleeping in my car one more night was more than I could process at the moment, the thought of falling asleep to crashing waves and waking up to a beautiful sunrise made it sound all the more appealing.

Just a short distance later, I noticed that this was also the exit for the University of California Berkeley. Oh how fun! First, I would go dip my toes in the ocean, and then, I would go explore the campus of UC Berkeley. (Just look at me being all pre-planny. Such good, solid logic here.)

I pulled off I-80 at Exit 11 and got a glimpse of something I’d never seen before… a homeless camp. At the bottom of the cloverleaf, just before the entrance of McLaughlin Eastshore State Park, was a makeshift camp of some sort, with tarps and pieces of cardboard tented around the base of a tree. It was surrounded by piles and piles of stuff, most of it garbage.

How bizarre. Didn’t this city have any restrictions against this sort of thing? Especially right here, outside the entrance of a state park? My P.R. brain immediately thought of the poor soul who was responsible for promoting this beautiful oceanfront state park, while at the same time, my Journalism brain immediately wanted to park the car and go knock on that tarp. Who lived there? Maybe it was because I felt a certain kinship to these people, now that I’d been living like a homeless person myself for the past four days. Seriously though, I couldn’t help but wonder what drove someone to live like this. What was their story?

Curiosity aside, I decided to stay focused and stick with my quest to go find the ocean. I pulled into the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park and couldn’t wait to stroll along the beach and see the look on Zoey’s face when she lapped up some of that salty water.

I pulled into the park and prepared myself for something wonderful. The first thing I noticed was a sign for a restaurant named “Hs Lordships” that was located somewhere to my left. Cool! A mimosa sounded pretty good at that moment. I wondered what time they opened. But… as I glanced around… my happy thoughts started to turn progressively south.

There was a long pier that went out over the bay, but on closer inspection, it looked a little sketchy. A locked gate blocked my admittance, and just beyond that, a cement building near the entrance was covered in graffiti. Hmm.

I surveyed the parking lot and was shocked to see several cars, vans and RVs with coverings over their windows, and garbage piled outside. Was this another homeless camp?? I took a photo of one of the cars, but immediately got a little paranoid wondering if anyone was watching me. Maybe they thought I was taking pictures of their license plates. What if there were criminals here? I quit taking pictures.

My hinky alert was going off at full tilt. Suddenly, all thoughts of dipping my toes in the ocean or enjoying a mimosa at Hs Lordships were replaced by concerns over my safety. It was about 8:15 AM and I was ready to get the heck out of there. I was curious about the restaurant though. I wondered if it was closed down and boarded up. Seriously, how could it remain open when its parking lot had been taken over by homeless squatters? I decided to go check it out.

As I drove past the restaurant, I could see it had been beautiful once. I imagined weddings and events that had taken place there over the years, with guests enjoying beautiful views of the bay and the San Francisco skyline. How crazy that this entire beautiful place was now in such disrepair. Could it ever be saved and revitalized? Was anyone even trying?

(UPDATE: As it turns out, the historic Hs Lordships closed its doors less than one year later, on July 1, 2018, after nearly 50 years in business. Here’s an article about the closure, along with several photos of the restaurant. Within days, the city of Berkeley evicted everyone at the Hs Lordships homeless camp. Their displacement did not even begin to solve the problem though. It’s a complex issue that Berkeley is working hard to address.)

Before leaving the park, I decided to throw caution to the wind and walk around a bit. This WAS, after all, my first glimpse of the ocean since I’d started my trip, and I wanted to get a picture of it. I decided to leave Zoey in the car for fear of her racing into the water or diving into someone’s pile of treasured garbage. Instead, I walked along the edge of Hs Lordships, and imagined what this beautiful place used to be like back in its heyday. I snapped the following picture as the sun was coming up across the bay, looking toward Northwest Berkeley.

You might notice that the sun looks a little hazy, and I’ll get to that later. For now though, here’s a video of Zoey and me, back in the car, crossing the bay into San Francisco, and going over what I THOUGHT was the Golden Gate Bridge.

Holy mother of pearl, I’m such a dork.

Next time… more signs of Jacob and a perfectly-timed parking ticket…

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