March 20, 2016
The city line of Santa Rosa was palpable; The police line where a shooting had taken place cordoned off an entire corner near a union building. We treked west to the tracks through Coffey Park, a subdivision with creative street names like Espresso, Perk, Arabica and Mocha. Once we got to the tracks and began heading north, the character of our trek changed drastically.
Leaving Santa Rosa, we were able to see the expansion of the urban environment first hand as we passed dozens of old homesteads being ripped apart for what will obviously be the next subdivision. Gutted houses waiting to be torn down, with miles of sewer pipe stacked in yards and ripped up old roads. This is what we are trying to get away from. The mindless, planless growth, focused only on property values, not community of sustainability.
The tracks were amazing, with an eastern vista of the Northern Coast ranges and the rails themselves shaded gently by a variety of trees that could only be found in developed land. Roads slipped from every half mile to every mile and we found ourselves flanked on each side by dry vineyard and horse corrals. Even the tracks took on a more subdued feel, overgrown with light grass with strudy bridges over gentle streams.
Compared to the kid we saw racing the school bus home on his dirt bike in Santa Rosa, it was idyllic. Our solitude was only interrupted by other rail travelers, migrants and homeless. One such traveller, seeing me finishing the rolling of a small cigarette stopped to ask where we were going in very broken english.
“Ah, work!” he exlaimed, his face breaking in a broad smile as he pumped his fist
“You sleep on tracks?” he asked gesturing North.
“Ah, tobacco!” He exclaimed, laughing again. “You like marijuana?”
“Mui poquito mota!” I laughed back,
“Mui poquito!” He nearly cheered, still laughing as he hopped on his bike and proceeded to wobble southbound.
Downtown Windsor had the polished suburban old town feel. One that hinted at real estate development paving over what was once probably an authentic and natural city center. As the first Friday of our trip we were taken by surprise that it also happened to be St. Patrick’s Day. Swarms of people crowded into a corner bar for the advertised “Guiness Fest” Hoping for a hot meal, we were turned away for our packs, as it was too crowded, but the doorman suggested we head to the downtown grill, a place that had no less than four signs on their ‘Cluttered Americana’ decor that read, “Hippies, use side door.”
I’m not sure if it was the owner or manager of the restuarant, be she practically exploded in glee when she saw our packs and shouted “BACKPACKERS!”
The clientele was homogenized whitebread. All beached air and alabaster skin occasionally tinted by the obvious spray tan. Every little boy had an identical haircut, doted over by trophy moms. The bleach white was jarring to me. No asians, hispanics, blacks or even the simple shock of a weird kid with blue hair. Wholesome. Too wholesome, reminding me of sundown towns during my trips through the south, where I was protected by a high and tight and an army rucksack.
The menu featured their take on the French Dip: “Freedom Dip: A patriotic version of the original without the attitude!”
I certainly don’t think there was any bit of racism inherent in the community or the restaurant, it was merely a sight I hadn’t seen in a very long time. We were treated amazingly by the staff, who’s hospitality was genuine and welcoming. I was fascinated by the palm pilots strapped to their wrists with which they took orders. I ordered a Rueben, happy it wasn’t called “Rick – A cracker ass version of the original Ruben but without a lazy latin name.” I was a bit put off by the Freedom Dip.
After our meal, we were sitting outside looking at our maps, trying to figure out how to get as far away from the impending and inevitable 2 am drunkard explosion of a Friday night St. Patrick’s Day. [Note, I have encountered few things in all my travels as dangerous as drunken youth. Never camp near bars on weekends.] The former manager came out and we discussed backpacking and her daughter’s trip. We slipped into the topic of the military, “I rebelled by joining the Army” I joked as we slipped into our first war talk of the trip. Her views were remarkably similar to ours, that our kids shouldn’t be out there in Iraq and Afghanistan, but she later expressed pride in writing the menu. Seriously? Freedom Dip?
When we told her we were hiking the rails, she asked if we were bothered by the immigrants who also traveled them. When Ryan nailed it and explained that we were travelling just like them, and I explained that they were as friendly as she was, often cheering us on, she was surprised but dismissive.
We struggled to figure out where to go to set up camp as we discovered that our planned campground was ANOTHER DAMNED RV PARK! As the manager tried to talk us over directions, one of her regulars came out and offered to drive us.
Bill was a nice guy, having moved to Windsor about 2 years prior. “3 years ago, you couldn’t give this place away. Now there’s no way you can afford it.” Judging by the pile of signs he arranged out of the way in his trunk, Bill was a realtor, though he later said he had applied for a front desk position at the holiday inn he had suggested. It seems no one can afford it.