Footsteps on the Path

It is a source of wonder to me that in a few short months my feet have already taken me on an amazing odyssey across Scotland, southwest England, the French Pyrenees and the breadth of Spain before leading me northwards up the often wild and windswept California Coast.

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Pigeon Point Lighthouse

In my first month in America my pilgrimage has taken me from LA and the epicentre of money, materialism and motorway madness towards the Cathedral of Nature and symbolically from my old turbocharged, high-speed car-worshipping world to a new life as a pilgrim treading more lightly and lovingly upon the Earth.

In many ways the past few days have been pivotal – I’ve completed the final chapter of my book Lost and Found and had the courage to hit the ‘send’ button, consigning it to the loving care and critical appraisal of the Findhorn Press publishers. And each day I’ve found the gift of new hope and optimism in the people I’ve been meeting.

Whenever possible I visit California’s many and varied state parks and lament the fact that a dearth of funds has resulted in closures and cutbacks, although the rich seem to get richer and the Government has always found the billions to support its war efforts. Perhps its time for new priorities!

When I pause at the Andrew Molera State Park to top up with fresh drinking water and rest sore, overheated feet, I’m warmly welcomed by charismatic volunteer Sonia Shields who spends much of her week manning the entrance kiosk or supervising a nearby campsite.

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Sonia Shields

“I was an AT&T telecommunications executive at the time they were closing a number of the Californian parks,” she recalls. “I had it all: the six-figure income, the power-dressing wardrobe, the Lexus and a commute of up to 100 miles a day. I looked at my life and realised it was crazy and simply not sustainable. My husband and I decided there must be something we could do to become part of the solution, rather than the problem.”

Now she has a radically reduced carbon footprint, fewer possessions and lives in a modest mobile home, which she parks for free in exchange for volunteering up to 35 hours a week.

“It’s been a great freedom,” she insists, and says many of her new neighbours are kindred spirits who recognise the need to re-examine their lives and find more caring and sustainable ways to live.

Sonia’s young husband has a rare form of bone cancer and she helps care for him while his social security money pays for their food and fresh vegetables. She says they’ve found a way and a quality of life that makes sense to them.

I always walk facing the oncoming traffic and a few hours later I meet a cyclist pedalling energetically towards me. She’s 74-year-old Ethel MacDonald who’s ridden from her home in Montana to visit friends in San Francisco and
is now extending her cycling adventure.

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Ethel MacDonald

Ethel’s a social and environmental activist who’s vigorously opposing a controversial plan to mine and pipe oil from Canada through pristine areas of the US.

“My issue is justice and peace,” she says, “and part of my mission is to get more people walking and hiking.” Before parting we exchange email addresses and update each other on the route each will encounter in coming hours.

That night I can find nowhere to camp alongside Highway 1 that isn’t private property or regulated by No Trespassing signs. I stagger along exhausted, trying to jump out of the way of oncoming cars that suddenly appear out of an inky blackness compounded by a blanketing sea-mist. The road is perilously narrow and there is no safe space between the barriers and bushes and oncoming cars and my headtorch has mysteriously expired, probably because of a soaking the day before when I trudged along for many hours in the rain.

I hear a car U-turn ahead and it looms out of the gloom with emergency hazard lights flashing, the driver shouting breathlessly: “I nearly drove into you. You must get off the road. I’ll help you.”

Tommy is a rugged 55-year-old extrovert in a hybrid Toyota crammed with three surfboards and boxes of wine. He insists on driving me somewhere safer. “Have you ever heard of a trail angel? That’s me,” he says. “I was in serious trouble while hiking high in the Pyrenees in France when a young couple came to my rescue and now whenever I see somebody in difficulties, I stop immediately to help. It’s my karma to pass it on.”

He repacks his car entirely so I can find a place to squeeze in, insists that I accept packets of nuts, cranberries and a very special slab of chocolate and then drives me several miles out of his way to a remote spot I’d walked past hours earlier, not seeing its potential in the dark.

I roll out my sleeping bag, finally accepting that it is sometimes necessary to break the law. In the mist and dark I wouldn’t have seen the No Camping signs anyway.

Dawn is clear and magnificent and my footprints are the first on the beach where I find a cold, clear stream feeding into the ocean, gratefully splashing my body.

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Patrick Kirchem on his recumbent bike

Later I meet a somewhat eccentric cannabis breeder, Patrick Kirchem, who is a wildly bearded figure recumbent on a low-slung Velomobile bicycle with an electric assist that helps power him up the hills.

One of his passions is developing an organically grown strain of marijuana and providing seeds for other disabled folks like himself, who use the plant to help with pain management.

He’s angrily opposed to the the war mongers and the oil-guzzling world around him. “So many of my friends have come back from the war missing limbs or disabled, and it’s all about securing oilfields for a greedy, consumptive lifestyle.

“I couldn’t with a clear conscience fill up a car with gas knowing the price we pay for it in human suffering,” he laments.

His legs have been badly smashed up in various misadventures and he’s a testament to determination, courage and perseverance, having ridden his human-powered machine 3,120 miles in 28 days on an amazing adventure between Portland in Oregon and Washington DC.

“The electric assist is the best investment I ever made, and it is super-comfy to ride,” he says, heartily recommending the recumbent bike for able-bodied cyclists and others with partial disabilities like himself.

Every so often he needs to recharge the batteries for his electric assist and this leads him to the Pigeon Point Lighthouse and adjoining hostel, named after the wreck of the Carrier Pigeon vessel which ran aground here in 1853.

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Enjoying my magic moments in the hottub

Michael Mendenhall and his family live nearby and run the hostel with great warmth and friendliness, he immediately insisting I celebrate my arrival with a free soak in the hot tub at the base of the lighthouse.

What a gift! The setting is private and spectacular, the tub overlooking waves breaking on the rocks just feet away. It is exactly the inspirational backdrop I need to write the last few paragraphs of my book and I marvel once again at the kindness and generosity of the strangers I’m meeting.

Geoff Dalglish

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