South is done, now east.

Update from the road: Flagstaff, AZ day 20. 

I love Flagstaff! It is one of those towns I consider “home”. I love the earthy pastel palette of the hills and forests around it. There is a gentleness about it. This is not a place to be loud or flamboyant. This is a place to stop and rest, which is exactly what I needed. I have been sleeping some ten to twelve hours a night. Flagstaff is a dark-sky town, meaning there are no streetlights, so there is no pesky neon lights buzzing anywhere, just a wide starry sky above head. It is dark, and it is quiet. At 7,000 feet, sound doesn’t travel so well, and whatever sound could have still found its way around was trapped under a lovely coat of snow the day I arrived. Perfect.

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It’s been pretty intense since I last wrote from Ashland. I drove south just in time to pick up my friend Weathercarrot at the San Francisco airport. This was a sort of small miracle since he had no idea I was traveling south when he booked his flight and I had no idea he was traveling west when I planned my route. But there it was, we found ourselves in the same spot at the same time for the first time since the end of the PCT last year (I don’t count the Kick-Off party because I had to share him with so many people that I might as well have just not seen him). We drove together to Santa Cruz and parked my truck/bedroom for the night in my friend Brian’s driveway. Brian was my best friend in another lifetime and the best man at my wedding. In a surreal moment of schizophrenia Didi and TheBobcat occupied the same chair. Melissa just sat back and watched, amused by the contrast. It is easy to be around Brian, not much phases him. And Weathercarrot knows me so well that I don’t think anything I can do or say could surprise him anymore – Too bad. I enjoyed the shock factor I had when we first met, but I digress … – so it was easy to manage my multiple personalities. 

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Weathercarrot and I spent the next few days in the Redwoods and along the California coast, driving from one breath-taking landscape to another. The three days went by in a blur, and as though I had been teletransported, I suddenly was in Los Angeles. That entire stretch from the Bay area to Los Angeles used to be my stomping ground in the 1990s. Whereas further north (Ashland to Bellingham) I still have fresh and accurate mental maps, in the southern half I feel like I am driving in an extended deja-vu. Everything looks so familiar, yet I have no clue where I am, and if I think I know, you can bet I’m actually completely lost. Thank Heaven for Google Maps (probably not Heaven, but I don’t know who created Google maps, so it will have to do). 

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Once in L.A., the blur sped up. From this cousin’s house to this other cousin’s house to this third cousin’s house, with a visit from a cousin who just flew in from New Caledonia, and a week had passed. Each conversation a precious gem on my learning path. Each encounter a chance to explore not only whom I have become since I have left California, but who my old crew has become, beyond the lens of my memory of them. I was impressed with what I saw. I found super-heroes everywhere I went. The cherry on the cake was a full evening with my friend Shannon. The one, only and original Shannon – my first American friend and soul sister. It had been about fifteen years since we last met. Her daughter, a tiny cutie hanging to Mama’s pants last time I saw her, is now a gorgeous adult about to set off to college. How did THAT happen? We took over her girls’ bedroom and chatted until 2 am. Despite the time and distance, our very different life paths have taken us to the same place. We speak a common language with different words. The underlying love is intact, and I know it is for keeps.

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The overarching theme for my California visit, however, was beyond the people and places I visited. What I took away from this portion of my journey was the surprising discovery that the world I imagined to be an utopia (see If the world was more like the playa) is actually not so far off. In the bay area, I saw entire streets where the majority of cars were electric. One of the houses I visited even had a plug in the street, a gift of convenience to the community (and the first private-public plug in the US) and smart “green” features all over the house – Check out the toilets, there were one of my favorite features: Project Green Home. In Los Angeles, I visited a school that seemed built on the model I described in number 7 of my playa post – voluntary education on a completely new model (see One Spark Academy). The learning is organic, designed to turn the kids’ sparks of passions into full-blown fires, on their own terms. This is just what I envisioned (except I envisioned it free – it’ll come). Not only was I psyched to know that at least some kids are getting tools to usher in a new area, but it really got me thinking about a possible career. I would not want to teach in a traditional top-down curriculum-and-tests-driven school, but I could really shine in a school where knowledge is shared from an equal, fun perspective. I could see myself as class facilitator in a full program involving computer programming, linguistics, acro-yoga, geophysics, glacier travel, writing and hula hooping. Hell, if I don’t teach that class, I want to take it!

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I love what I see happening, World. Keep it up!!

I’ll be in Flagstaff a few days only. Then I have plans for a romantic Thanksgiving by myself in the dunes of White Sand, NM.  I haven’t been by myself in a while, except between destinations. I’m looking forward to Bobcating it to the max. Then, from there, it’s all new territory. Oh boy oh boy oh boy!!! 

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Sam: This is it.
Frodo: This is what?
Sam: If I take one more step, it’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.
Frodo: Come on, Sam. Remember what Bilbo used to say: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

XOX. Until the next update, in Texas or wherever …

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