Knock, knock, knockin’ on Heaven’s door… the words of the Bob Dylan song drift across to me from a passing motorhome and I smile at the sentiment and the choice of music.
California’s famous Highway 1 through the Big Sur is a motorist’s heaven. And it’s no less inspiring for this crazy pilgrim who’s chosen to walk north into nature starting from the epicentre of car culture and the concrete and asphalt nightmare that is LA’s highway system.
After the big city frenzy this is a celebration of the road-builder’s art and arguably one of the greatest scenic drives on the planet, Highway 1 providing a grandstand view of towering headlands that plunge precipitously into the Pacific Ocean.
The speed limit is 55 miles an hour and it’s a bonus that I’m enjoying it all for so much longer at pilgrim pace.
Joy bubbles up within me and I marvel at what the change in scenery and dramatic reduction in traffic densities have done for my mood and everybody else’s. Just days earlier I’d slipped into a dark place when I grew weary with being buffeted by a lemming-like migration of speeding motorists staring fixedly ahead and never ever acknowledging me with a smile or a wave.
For a while I found myself gloomily judging America as the most wasteful, resource-hungry and regulated society I’d encountered, its citizens having forfeited their freedoms to the giant corporations that control their destiny.
I decided that although the message ‘In God we Trust’ is enshrined in the constitution and memorialised on dollar bills, most put their faith in money, materialism and the quest for ever more, the bigger the better. Hey Pilgrim, don’t go down that negative road.
A pilgrim’s job is to rouse people from apathy and make them think, but how do you do that when they’re seemingly oblivious to your existence?
But something wonderful was happening here. The fact that like energy attracts like energy was playing out before my eyes as I suddenly found myself among so many people rejoicing in nature’s bounty, instead of simply hustling along to who know’s where.
As I hummed a happy little tune I realised that a dramatic shift had taken place. People are now waving and smiling. A woman pulls over and says she’s seen me walking northwards on three consecutive days. “Thank you for what you’re doing for humanity.” Wow, I feel quite moved.
Another driver jumps out of his 4×4 and thrusts some snacks into my grateful hands. I’m touched that he’s thought of my needs in a remote area where there are no shops to re-supply a hungry pilgrim.
At a section of road construction where a new bridge is taking shape and a one-way system is being enforced, the traffic controller admits: “I don’t know what to do. We’ve never had a hiker through here before. I’ll have to check with my supervisor.”
She arrives and announces that when the line of oncoming cars has passed, the truck near me will be first into the construction area. “Please follow that vehicle and walk as quickly as possible.” I have a quiet chuckle. Do I look like Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, the fastest man on Earth?
I give it my best shot and an elderly motorist at a viewpoint says: “You’re in great shape. How old are you? Sixty three? You’re a kid, I’m 82!” We laugh about that.
Life is good and I start ticking off my many blessings. A stay at Cambria’s Bridge Street Inn is my first experience of a hostel in the US and it is wonderfully welcoming with such lovely staff and guests. I like them so much I deviate from my relentless routine and stay a second night.
I follow up with a couple of nights sleeping under the stars in my bivvy bag and wonder how I could ever have felt so pessimistic.
So many lovely people I’ve met really care about this beautiful Earth and there are numerous unsung heroes like California State Parks official Janet Anderson, who I find sorting rubbish for recycling.
She loves her job and cherishes her role as a custodian.
“It’s a brave new world,” she declares optimistically, “and you are part of it.” I thank her for caring so much about the things that really matter.