March 16, 2016
Yesterday, we woke up under our little tree and walked about a mile towards Petaluma before encountering the worst bridge crossing yet, an impassable two rails over a flooded basin of agricultural run off. Turned around and started across a muddy dairy pasture. As our boots became mud laden, we were approached by the owner in his truck.
“Sorry for being on your land, the bridge about a mile north is out, and we’re walking to Petaluma.”
“I saw you two last night, and wondered what you’d do when you got to that bridge.”
His name was Tom, and he mentioned he had to drive up to the auction yard anyways, and expressed worry of us walking up the 101 in the rain, as the shoulder was almost non existent, so he offered us a ride into town. During our drive, he spoke about the loss of the rural community around him as everyone sold their farms to be turned into suburban developments. The back of his truck had a couple of bull calves, and Ryan got a bit of baby bull shit on her pack. We both had to chuckle a bit about that.
He let us off at the auction yard, and we soon found Pete’s Henney Penny. I think I might have frightened the waitress with the volume of my appetite.
We then hiked 7-8 miles towards our friend’s family homestead. Along the way curious cows would herd up against fences and follow us across their fields as we hiked past.
By the time we got to Stoney Point and Robler, the rain was torrential vertical sheets, punctuated by semi trucks blasting past and further drenching us in road spray. We stopped at The Washoe House for a chance to dry off, and have a beer and shot to cut the chill.
The Washhoe house used to be a hitching post & inn, the last stop on the trail to Santa Rosa. At the time people would tack dollar bills on the ceiling in case they ran out of money in Santa Rosa. Now, 140 years later, the ceiling is covered in dollar bills stapled, nailed and tacked beneath business cards, family photos, junior college IDs and simple hand written notes.
The lunch rush emptied as we sipped our beer, and the bartender, a lovely woman with sparkle makeup named Robbie asked us about our packs. The customary talk arose, and we found that Tom, the dairy farmer that drove us to town had been friends with her mother. She told us about her place, a nice one bedroom with a jacuzzi and said that if we ever needed a place to crash that we should stop by.
It was about another 4 uphill miles to the homestead, and we had gone maybe four hundred yards before our friend’s mother drove past and gave us better directions. She had no room for us, as the car was comepletely and curiously packed full of bagels.
When we finally made it to the homestead after an interesting run past a filed full of tanks and into a well labeled quarantine zone we later discovered to be an industrial chicken farm, we were greeted by four enormous cows that looked more like buffalo with their impressive girth and long shaggy coats, which remained puffy despite the rain. This bovine quartet, we would discover, were the recipients of the car full of bagels.
When we arrived at the house on top of the hill, Bruce was comforting his grandson, Sam, who had recently fallen ill with a cough and fever, while their dogs rolled around nipping at each other on the floor. Bruce and Helene live on 168 acres of mountainous pasture shared with the rest of their family. with their Daughter’s family living a quarter mile down the driveway in an handmade straw bale house.
We spent the early evening in the strawbale, catching up with the Dan and checking out his handy work on his handmade home and talking about the natural curiosity of his son.
We then stayed up until about 10 talking with Bruce and Helene about farms, family, travelling and sharing the novelty of a freeze dried shepard’s pie from our pack. Freeze dried mashed potatoes with shredded reconsitituted beef jerky and veggies.
We slept like logs as the rain continued into the morning and woke to the start of a tremendous blue sky day, the kind that only happens after the rain seems to rinse the dust from the sky an our senses.
Tom, the Dairy farmer had talked about the high property tax rate and his increasing inability to compete with the commercial central valley dairies, while developers continually tried to buy his land. Helene discussed a quarry they were attempting to place near their land which would dig up an old landfill, potentially polluting their well and air. It seems that our struggle to find a piece of land is not enough. Even once you find a space, you must work even harder to keep it and your community alive.
Now we’re pausing briefly at a laundrette on the north side of Santa Rosa, hoping to make it in the four hours left until sundown. Laundry’s done. Time to run.