Only when I had completed a giant loop and returned to Los Angeles and the Wayfarers Chapel in Palos Verdes did my Californian adventure seem complete, as it was here three months earlier that I prayed for safe passage, memorable meetings and wonderful insights.
It was a chance to give grateful thanks and appropriately my great former South African friends Barry and Marianne Winﬁeld were again with me in the magniﬁcent glass and wood church inspired by the towering redwoods.
I can see now that many Americans are fearful as I'd been warned of dangers at every turn, the hazards including rattlesnakes, black bears, mountain lions, murderous motorists, methamphetamine addicts and sinister types who'd shoot and ask questions later.
Instead my Californian pilgrimage introduced me to breathtaking new landscapes, amazing lifeforms from the tiniest hummingbird to the tallest trees, and fascinating people from cannabis farmers to healers, homeless souls, conservationists, vision quest guides, war veterans, peace activists and even a kindly evangelist.
In the beginning when I was unsure of the way ahead, I dialled Barry's number and he harnessed Google Earth to offer directions. Later I navigated by faith, intuition and the suggestions of friendly locals.
In between walking many hundreds of miles I completed my book Lost and Found and also found time to mountain bike, kayak and soak in natural hot springs. What a treat!
Of course, it wasn't always blissful and I was sometimes cold, wet and uncomfortable, my self-inﬂating mattress succumbing to terminal injuries early in the trip. My eyes weeped and watered alternatively at the mercy of pollen allergies or the punishingly dry and dusty desert conditions. Once I developed an ear infection that spread halfway across my face, inducing extreme swelling and discomfort. I ignored it at ﬁrst, dismissing it as a harmless spider bite that would heal itself, until eventually I was forced to make a trip to a rural health clinic where antibiotics were prescribed, banishing the swelling.
Sometimes I questioned whether what I'm doing is the most effective way of making a difference, and I guess that if there is a better way, it will be revealed to me.
Of one thing there is no doubt: I met so many generous and inspiring people, my 'trail angels' always manifesting exactly where and when I needed them.
Many, like solar technology consultant Milton Nogueira, are now ﬁrm friends. He introduced me to Muir Woods, a grove of giant old-growth redwoods near San Francisco, and he and his journalist wife Susan Sharpe opened their home and hearts to me. Fellow campers Kim and William Demus, and their young daughter Lily, made me feel like family at their Lake Tahoe home.
Former Santa Rosa mayor Ritch Burkart showed that one can serve in positions of high ofﬁce or do something community-minded like being a California State Parks' volunteer. Every April he runs the visitors' facility at the end of The Lost Coast hiking trail.
When it was time for me to pick up the pace by hitch-hiking, young marine biologist Erin Vincent not only offered me a lift to Sequoia National Park, but invited me to accompany her to a blues festival in Three Rivers where I forgot about walking, allowing the music to wash over me and touch some deep sentimental places.
The day when I was impossibly hot and tired and sheltered beneath a shady tree opposite the village market in Three Rivers, 86-year-old Meryl Darsey, a former LA and New York photographer and illustrator, insisted I come home with him to meet his charming Swiss-born wife Emmi. My last night on the trail was one of the best!
Saying goodbye is often difﬁcult, although the joy of new friendships is always greater than the pain of parting.
When I left Three Creeks, where I had been a steward of the land for three weeks, it was with the knowledge that Gigi Coyle and her partner Win Phelps and their friend Sierra Silverstone will remain a part of me. I feel sure our paths will cross again.
Both Gigi and Win are vastly experienced vision quest facilitators and in some ways Win's journey reminded me of my own transformation from petrolhead to pilgrim, his path taking him from the glamorous high-pressure world of Hollywood to the peace of the Owens Valley and inspiring presence of the nearby High Sierra mountains.
Win was a ﬁlm and TV director, his CV including time working with Clint Eastwood on The Outlaw Josey Wales, with Al Pacino on And Justice for All, and on movies with legendary French ﬁlmmaker Claude Lelouch.
To heal ourselves, each other and the Earth – these are inseparable.
To care for ourselves, each other and the Earth – these are inseparable.
"I got to play with a lot of high-proﬁle and very talented people but my heart and soul wanted to be in Nature," he recalls. Now instead of trying to dramatise stories for the screen he's intimately involved in the real life stories of vision questers, giving expression to his yearning for a life of spirituality in harmony with Nature. He imparts great wisdom, compassion and humour.
Gigi is probably best known as the person who directed the release of two captive dolphins back into the wild, which was spotlighted in The Journey Home, a National Geographic Explorer documentary.
In recent years she has played many roles ranging from co-director of The Ojai Foundation to emerging as a leading force in the Art of Council which fosters direct and honest communication in a group, providing a ﬁeld in which each voice is respectfully heard and attentive listening is developed. This work takes her all over the planet.
She describes it as "a series of international wilderness journeys bringing together people from different cultures and continents to deepen their relationship to Self, Other and the Earth."
She explains her motivation simply and eloquently: "To heal ourselves, each other and the Earth – these are inseparable. To care for ourselves, each other and the Earth – these are inseparable. To listen, and participate in co-creating the world in which we want to live – this is our work."
Her passion and cheerful exuberance is infectious and she has given me much to think about in the months ahead.