Signs were out that things were looking up. A guitarist – a high school aged boy – twanged acoustic riffs in the nearly empty bus. At Jenner, a second guitarist got on and they jammed together. The bus filled up as it stopped along the winding road, taking in breathtaking views above the foggy coast. We arrived in Santa Rosa at midday.
Santa Rosa was the biggest city I had been in since leaving Victoria in September. The bus stand area crawled with transients. One gave me an evil looking grin as I disembarked the bus with wide eyes. I caught a second bus to REI, where the helpful staff looked after my problem swiftly, swapping tent pole sections. I chatted with several of them for some time about my trip; they were suitably impressed.
With half the day to go, I considered my options. I could take the bus back to Gualala at 4. I could spend the night in Santa Rosa. Or I could find a way to Harbin Hot Springs, a place I had heard about several times in the past few weeks, including from the girl at the concert last night. After a moment’s reflection, I decided to go to Harbin.
I was impatient to get there so I decided to hitchhike. I walked 3 or 4 miles towards the highway with my thumb out before finally getting a short ride 2 miles or so with a house painter. At the junction road towards Calistoga, I pulled out my frisbee and juggled it between hands, trying to attract the attention of a passing hippie. After an hour, a guy in a beat up Acura pulled a U-Turn. ”Got any weed?”, he asked me. I told him that I did. ”I’ll trade you some for a ride.” I threw my bag in the back. As he drove up the windy road, I watched cellphone videos of him doing parking lot 180s and 360s in his car, and I silently prayed to get there in one piece. When I grabbed a handful of pot to give to him, he asked me for more.
It was past nightfall when I arrived in Calistoga. I walked down the main drag past groups of tourists from the city. Under a streetlight at the end of town, I pulled out the frisbee again and sang Beatles songs offkey into the night. Couples cast disapproving glances as they walked by. I waited for more than an hour and the only offer I received was a proposition from a man in a big red pickup truck. I resigned myself to spending the night in town, but when I walked back to a locals bar, I found a couple who were going ”over the hill” to Middletown.
It had been such a long couple of days. I was impatient to arrive and frustrated with their refusal to drive me the final few miles. I set off up the dark road under a starry sky. Several cars passed before a pickup finally stopped to offer a ride on the final leg. At the entrance gate, a bearded man checked me in and explained the rules. My eyes widened at the most relevant one: no cameras. I signed my consent and walked a half mile along the river to set up my tent. After a day spent in vehicles, I welcomed the sudden stillness. I entered the unisex changeroom, took off my clothes, and sat in the silent meditation pool. Nude bodies wandered in and out of the various pools, barely concealed behind the rising steam. Beside me, a couple caressed each other under a handwritten sign forbidding conversation and sexual activity. I leaned my head back and looked up into the night..