This story isn’t about prisons, it’s just a taste of what it’s like to be hitchhiking in a Northern California winter:
I am a ball of rubber wrapped in plastic.
me, hiding in plastic
Inside my shoes it looks like an artistically-challenged four-year-old attempted to shape a pile of mashed turnips into feet.
The rain won’t stop. My flesh is rotting.
And that’s what this story is all about: What it’s like to rot.
But let me back-up.
I left San Francisco last week on a bus.
My plan was to hitchhike to Pelican Bay State Prison just shy of the Oregon border. I was using the bus like a slingshot, firing myself 50 miles clear of the urban environment.
After sunset, Greyhound dropped me at a McDonalds in the town of Willits.
Welcome to Willits!
A man offered me a free Big Mac while I was pulling cardboard from a dumpster. This was both endearing and depressing.
Just beyond Willits’ streetlights, I scrambled up a roadside muddy hill.
Two trees were just far enough apart for my Hennessey Hammock.1
My Hennessey Hammock (design stolen from ‘Flight of the Navigator’)
I set up camp and climbed in. But the sound of tractor trailer truck jake breaks kept me awake.
Then, around two or three am, it began.
Little drops at first, pitter-pattering on my rain fly’s back – soothing, almost pleasant.
But the drops came faster, then faster.
It was around 4:30am that they first hit my face.
My eyes snapped open.
Confused. Alarmed. Could it be? Yes.
Water was pooling beneath my back. It was splashing against my forehead. It was filling my sleeping bag.
At 5am my skin entered a period of clamminess that would persist for several days.
By 7:30am I was lying in a pool of failure and feeling sorry for myself.
Then I traveled north.
In the rain, hitchhiking is the worst.
First off, you’re soaking wet.
Second, you look like a psycho.
Third, even if someone can see beyond your Unabomber-esque characteristics, they’re not going to want your wet ass on their seat.
It took two days and six rides to make it to Crescent City (home of Pelican Bay State Prison), which juts from California’s coast and sits in the Pacific.
Here, the ocean defines everything.
In the summer, it’s beautiful. In winter, giant cold and salty clouds drift in. They sit in the streets, heavy and dark, drowning the oxygen and rusting the door hinges.
Even when it’s not raining, it’s raining.
But you know what? In odd ways, this climate is beginning to inspire me.
Last night, I was walking by the beach and the ocean howled at my face.
The scent of salt punched my nostrils and the rain slapped my cheeks.
I stopped and squinted into the sea – a swirling mass of dark energy crashing against the land – and, suddenly, I realized its appeal.
The ocean signifies the end of what we can control.
It is both a gateway to infinite inspiration and a reminder of ultimate insignificance.
And in this sense, looking out into the ocean at night is like looking out into God.
So I walked into the wet sand. And I howled back.
This is what it looked like: