My Solo 50-Mile Walk Benefiting 6 Great Charities, California Coast
At first, I thought this entry was so difficult to write because my 50-mile walk was so spiritual, meaningful, and personal. I now realize it was that ... and, it's the LAST Follow Me To 50 experience to post! Though in a state of denial, here it goes ... (Get comfy, this is LONG - 50 miles long!)
THE OVERVIEW: In 3 days, I walked 50 miles along the California coastline from Ventura to Santa Barbara raising money and increasing awareness for 6 amazing charities (see below) -- ALONE
THE PREP: A walk like this requires a lot of planning. First, I had to find a destination that would lend itself to a safe and manageable 50-mile walk. I did not want to hike mountains or to be without creature comforts. I did want good weather and a place I had never been before. I did want my walk to be a challenge but not so much that it took away from my enjoyment. After some research, the dart landed on Santa Barbara and boy was it a bullseye! Now, with the location picked, I had to chart my route, find places to sleep, and figure out how to get me and my stuff there! Thankfully, John who is better at using maps, helped to plot my course using bike trails along the Pacific Coastal Highway (PCH). To get my stuff to each hotel pit stop, I planned to drive up the coast to my furthest destination (hotel #3), leave a small overnight bag and then turn around to do the same thing at hotel #2 before settling into Ventura where I would start my solo adventure and spend the evening at a local comedy show.
THE EXPERIENCE: Mind blowing. Unforgettable. Something I must do again ...
The summer had been a busy mix of festive celebration and struggle. In the months leading up to my walk, I helped nurse my parents back from a horrific car accident. This left little time to focus on the walk or even to get excited. I just wanted to know that I could go and that everyone I was leaving would be in a good place. In the few days before my trip, I allowed myself time to transition. In those days, my body started to sense the adventure - even before my brain did. The best way to describe how I felt was giddy. I felt light, unencumbered, and tingly. Giddy is more than merely being happy. I was thrilled, elated, and eager for what was to come. When since having children more than 20 years ago was I not beholden to someone else? When could I navigate 4 straight days using only MY compass of needs and wants? There would be no compromising, balancing, or doing for others -- Just ME! For 4 days, I would do only what I wanted, when I wanted, and how I wanted! This giddiness, I soon recognized, was the feeling of true liberation and freedom. If this feeling could be bottled, I'd buy it by the gallon!
My arrival in California went exactly as planned, though I admit feeling apprehensive as I drove north on 101 from Ventura to Santa Barbara to deposit my bags. It looked so far! Concern turned to shear excitement as I started to visualize the breadth of this challenge. Hotel desk clerks greeted me like a rock star and I knew my family was behind me. (Sarah sent me with a goodie bag filled with with my favorite treats and labeled with inspiring notes.) I had this and this!
Then, as if in a video game (thanks for putting a name to this, Rachel), I was off for 3 days and 50 miles with new and unknown 'screens' ahead of me. I loved NOT knowing what was ahead or around the corner and this is not typical of me. How bad could it really be though? It was sunny California after all! I arrived at the Ventura Pier where I was reminded of what a small world it is. The woman ahead of me in line for the restroom (where all great journeys begin - lol) was headed to Gaithersburg, MD of all places the next day to visit an old friend (my hometown)! As my world was feeling bigger, it also stayed familiar.
DAY ONE: This leg was the hardest, but also the best because everything was new and I was full of adrenaline to enjoy it most. It started on the Ventura Promenade where I then connected to a bike path that soon paralleled the PCH. These are the tales and lessons of Day 1: (1) A picture paints a thousand words but nothing substitutes for seeing it in real life. The walk was designed to largely be along the water except when a physical barrier prevented safe passage. On this leg, it appeared there was a barrier, a train trestle, that would require me to venture inland to avoid. I chuckled when I approached the area because this 'treacherous barrier' was off the path and simply required me to step over some tracks - even Klutzy Amy could do that! Lesson #1 - It's great to make a Plan B, but use it only when you know Plan A can't work! (2) Speaking of tracks , railroads and tracks were a constant companion to me throughout my walk. At all times, there were tracks to my left or to my right. I hadn't realized how prominent trains were along the coastline. When the first train passed, I rushed to grab my camera thinking it was a rare sighting. I missed the shot but had dozens of other opportunities. (3) As the bike trail met the PCH, there was an interesting mile marker where people stopped to look at. I was asked to photograph a couple who proudly shared that they were riding their bikes to Rincon Point, over 13 miles away. I smiled and said, "See you there!" They looked at me, on foot, and almost dismissively, said, "Have a nice day." Twelve miles and hours later (and I mean hours), I noticed the couple riding back towards me, returning from the Point. It slowly registered to them who I was and where they last saw me. "You weren't kidding; you really were walking to Rincon Point," they cried. Nope, I wasn't kidding! It was fun to see people's reactions when I shared what I was doing. I kept forgetting how outrageous it could sound. (4) There was a stretch this leg where I was surrounded only by just ocean and highway. There were no bathrooms, no charging stations, and no 'outs' - it was just me, walking typically without seeing anyone else. Though I could have used a bathroom and a charging station, I again had to laugh because all along, I had reassured my worried parents and children by saying if I ever grew tired or needed an out, I would just call an Uber. There would be no Uber pick ups here! Luckily, my loved ones likely already knew I would have been too stubborn to use one anyway! (5) Regrettably. I turned down John's last minute offer to get me a charging block for my phone. I wanted to travel light and was confident I'd have multiple opportunities to charge my phone. This wasn't so, not this leg anyway! A bad phone battery, however, gave me numerous opportunities to 'meet the locals' to get directions and ask about pit stops. Shortly after I passed Rincon Point, I had a complete technology breakdown and my tired legs were starting to break down as well. Right when Google directed me inland to reach my hotel, my phone went dark and the map was unreadable. The couple I flagged down suggested I walk down and along the beach and then up the bluff trail to a road that would lead to my Carpenteria hotel. They sold it as being simpler and more direct but they, of course, had no idea that I had already walked more than 15 miles and that my leg was starting to tighten. Though unsure about this detour, I really wanted to stop walking and reach my hotel, so I went for it. The first concern was would I find the bluff trail and, if so, would Klutzy Amy be able to climb it? Second, was it unsafe for a woman (without a phone) to be on a remote beach by herself as the sun was looking to set? Both answers were no's but I kept walking. Before reaching the last group of people on the beach (my safety net), I asked a couple to confirm what I thought was the bluff trail ahead and if it was passable. Yes, it was passable, they confirmed, "if you time the tides right." If I time the tides right???!!! Remember, I didn't want to go too far out of my comfort zone! Wasn't 50 miles enough? Still with concern, but too tired to add mileage back tracking, I continued toward the bluff. Remember Lesson #1? Here is Lesson #2: Don't fret something until you really need to! There were no big tides crashing against the rocks as I imagined. There was really nothing at all to 'time.' I simply needed to cross when my shoes would get the least wet. Up the bluff trail I went (pretty proud of myself I'll add) but I couldn't find the road leading to the hotel. I followed a family back to their campsite, charged my phone, and continued on. Though the town of Carpinteria looked like a place I would have loved to explore, all I could muster was the strength to get a glass of wine from the hotel bar, eat jelly beans from my goodie bag, and crawl into bed. Day 1 was complete, it was successful, and it pushed me ahead with more mileage than I had intended - 18.5 miles.
DAY 2: Lesson #3: You never know, unless you try. This was what I told myself as I laid in bed wondering how badly my legs would hurt when I got up! Surprisingly, it wasn't so bad. Leaving my bag at the front desk, I limped out the door and I was off on Day 2 headed to Santa Barbara! This leg was certainly the most scenic as it was filled with beautiful multi-million dollar oceanfront homes, plush landscapes, and enchanting towns like Summerland and Monticeto. It was also the leg where I reaffirmed my dream to become a California Girl - or at least a bi-coastal gal. I'm serious! In addition to the great scenery, the path and sites were the most diverse. I walked on a paved bike path, the shoulder of a road, a horse trail, and a beach promenade. I passed horses and talkative birds outside of a bird sanctuary. It was a mix of residential, business, and good ole beach town. It was this leg that also reminded me of the natural dangers of California. I saw many signs of the community's gratitude for local firefighters. This too is California! As I walked, I took picture after picture, waved to every bicycle pack, and soaked it all in. (I soaked in a bit more as I also treated myself to a mimosa in Summerland and a margarita in Monticeto. Don't judge -- I wasn't driving!) The highlight of Day 2, however, was definitely when I 'happened upon' The Sacred Space. I truly mean 'happened upon' it as I only found it because it was directly on my route and stood out from its surroundings. I wasn't even sure if it was open to the public but my California curiosity caused me to wander in, thankfully. The Sacred Space is an oasis of retreat, art, spirituality, hospitality, and shopping of course! Though Buddhist in design and influence, it is filled with exotic treasures from around the world. It hosts a prayer room, reflective outdoor spaces, lush gardens, statues, and true rarity. It was by far the best pit stop I had. I was warmly welcomed to enjoy tea in the garden on a cushioned daybed and enjoyed the best bathroom of the trip as well. From the pictures arranged on the wall, it appeared that lots of Hollywood's biggest and best had also 'happened upon' this place too! Guess I'm in good company. Rested and refreshed, I hit the road once again and soon arrived in Santa Barbara, which greeted me like Oz did to Dorothy. Here, the flowers were redder, the contrast in typography was dramatic, and the architecture was united in colors and theme. People actively rode surreys and roller blades and enjoyed the beach and lively skateboard park. Anxious to settle into this new place, I deviated from my planned course and walked directly to my hotel. Here, I was greeted by a cheerful staff, beautiful grounds, a cute bungalow, room, and special treats arranged for by dear Debbie. Needing more miles for the day, I walked around town following dinner actively window shopping and people watching. I loved this Inn and was happy to extend an additional night so that John could enjoy it with me the next evening. I ended the night outside talking with a great older couple who were interested in my story and who shared some Santa Barbara history with me. Day 2 yielded 15.5 miles for a 2-day total of 34 miles.
DAY 3: This day was more spontaneous in that I wanted to incorporate some of the sites the couple at the Inn suggested I see, as well as walk through areas I missed yesterday when I went to the hotel early. It as also unique because, for the first time, I was going to start and end at the same place. This meant I could lighten my daypack, but it also meant some of my walking would be repetitive. I had been told why and how Santa Barbara looked the way it did. After the 1925 earthquake, the City had to rebuild entirely and decided to unite around a common Spanish/Mediterranean architecture. I loved the white buildings, terra cotta roofs, and mosaics that fill this beautiful city. I ventured to see the courthouse, take in views from the clock tower, photograph the largest area fig tree, and walk the wharf. I then continued up the coast exploring every day parks and neighborhoods. I even stopped in a few Open Houses to check out real estate prices (and charge my phone!). When my phone indicated I was nearing 16 miles, I met John in the courtyard of our Inn where he greeted me with a big hug and a bottle of wine. This may have been one of our best hugs in the 32+ years we've been together! He was so happy to see me and I was so happy to see him!!
John and I spent three nights together in California after my walk was complete to celebrate. We explored parts of the city I had not seen like the Art/Funk Zone, Wine Trail, and visited Goleta where we relocated hotels. Once there, my only walk was to the pool bar. We relaxed, rested, and rejoiced! Though I do love time to myself, I was now very grateful to share my experience and enjoy the city with my best friend! When it was time for me to go home, John stayed on to work. After dropping him off at the office near L.A., I did a bit more exploring before my late-night flight home - shocker, right? Never having been to this area of California, I explored Santa Monica and Venice Beach, on foot - just the way I like it! Of the two areas, I much preferred Venice Beach, mostly because of the outrageous people watching and art. It was there that I met Howard who made me a special memento to remember this tremendous and life-changing adventure (check out my license plate sign posted at the top).
My Takeaways: (1) I am meant to be a California, girl pure and simple! Being outside surrounded by water, mountains (and wine country) makes everything look, taste, sound, smell, and feel better, including ME! I believe I belong somewhere between Ventura and Sonoma. When I share this with my mom, she says she'll stick her head in an oven. I tell her to come with me, there are ovens in California too! (2) Walking is so my thing that I need little else. Though I prepared to listen to podcasts and music throughout the my walk, I didn't plug into anything! It was just me with all of my senses wide open for 8 hours a day. (My mileage each day took about 4-5 hours but eating, resting, and enjoying, added up to about 8.) Had I had headphones on (yes, I still wear those), would I have met that woman at the campsite who told me about the area? Would I have heard the kids rushing out of the surf to watch the train? Though I worry it may be odd that I didn't bore myself after so long, I'm grateful to have been completely present for my 50 miles. The benefits of being in the moment here were the same as during my year of service. Doing each of my 50 projects alone, enriched its value to me. I immersed myself in each new environment without having the familiar crutches or distractions that may have kept me in my own world. I focused on the people I was working with and for and gave myself the opportunity to appreciate where I was. Had I served with a friend or family member, the work product may have been the same, but the process and value would not have been - at least not for me. It would have been too easy to talk about families or home life while serving the meal or stuffing the backpack. Can I do this at home to be more present in my everyday life? Perhaps the location or function of my cell phone will determine that! Since Follow Me To 50 has awakened me and sharpened my senses, why shouldn't I plug into what matters most more? (3) Despite what my kids might say, I loved my selfie stick! I could not have imagined this trip without it! (4) As much as I like to learn something new from someone else, I enjoy teaching someone something too. I'm always grateful when someone tells me they are volunteering because of me or that they donated to a particular charity because of something I wrote or said. Sometimes, it is just getting a reaction from someone by saying something they didn't expect to hear that brings me joy. At The Sacred Space, I was asked at check out how I learned about it - a common sales practice. I replied, "I just passed by." They followed and asked where I was coming from. When I said Ventura, they nodded. When it became clear that I came from Ventura by foot, their faces were priceless. I couldn't believe that I was impressing these cool, hip, California Buddhists! (5) The lessons of this walk: #1 Plan for contingencies but don't use the pull cord on the parachute unnecessarily; #2 Don't fret over something that might happen because it might not happen!; #3 Try before you 'know.' You might be surprised you don't 'know.' I'll add a #4 - Push a little harder than you think you can and be flexible and pragmatic. Then, acknowledge the confidence that comes from doing just that! (6) The giddiness I felt before and during this walk was born out of feelings of freedom, independence, and self reliance. I want to feel that way more often; it shouldn't take walking 50 miles to feel it! Can't that feeling become more accessible to us all? Do we use the demands of life as an excuse not to pursue it? I think there are many more opportunities to exercise free will than we think. We can stay complacent or shake things up to follow our own truths. It's really a choice for each of us. Shaking it up may mean changing careers, partners, or moving. For me, it was pursuing Follow Me To 50, this blog, and my walk. This was my "shake up" and look what happened! I am awake. I am renewed. I have grown. I am GIDDY and I plan on remaining so! Do you want to be giddy? Keep Following ...
Organizations I Wished to Benefit (Please Keep Donating):
Miles 0-10: KindWorks https://www.dokindworks.org
Miles 10-20: Gaithersburg HELP http://www.gaithersburghelp.org
Miles 20-30: Food & Friends https://www.foodandfriends.org
Miles 30-40: Mission Clean Water https://missioncleanwater.org
Miles 40-50: Moms Demand Action https://momsdemandaction.org
In addition: Comfort Cases https://www.comfortcases.org