Fogged in Point Reyes was lined with driftwood-covered beaches. Large open pastures ringed by woods of Manzanita. It was known for having large herds of white deer known as a Fallow Deer that a millionaire had imported from Asia Minor and India back in the forties. They were spread all over the 100 square mile area of Point Reyes.
I had read in a guidebook that Point Reyes had a youth hostel, and I was headed there. It was kind of a spooky place between the fog and the large white mammals.
My loneliness increased as my isolation went deeper into the wilds of the peninsula. I was finding the solitude of being immersed in nature a more significant challenge than anticipated. I was no Thoreau. Alone with my thoughts, I was scared of how at the mercy of circumstance I was. I kept going over the mistakes I had made so far on my journey, continuously shaming myself. I was sure that anyone I met could see how desperate and helpless I was.
I thought at a youth hostel that at least I could connect with fellow travelers who were also challenging themselves and unsure of how to proceed.
I was counting on getting lucky again that the universe would point the way and maybe not so subtly.
I arrived at the youth hostel. It was an old Victorian house wholly isolated on a dirt road. A semi-friendly woman handling the front desk who read the hostel’s rules in a perfunctory manner met me. She let me know where I could bunk and drop off my pack.
She said only one other client was staying there right now at the moment. I made my way back to where the bunks were and came across the other soul occupant. He was an English fellow maybe three or four years older than I. Fair-skinned and ginger-haired, he had been badly sunburned from when the sun made its rare appearance the day before. Mad dogs and Englishman in the noonday sun!
He was miserable and in pain.
He rose to say hello, and I got it right away that he was too uncomfortable to chat. I got the feeling that he wouldn’t have been very social even if he was perfectly healthy. He tried to put on a brave face to not come off as such a pill. I left him to his misery and went to smoke a cigarette on the sizeable Victorian porch lined with rocking chairs.
As I passed the woman at the front desk, she smirked at me and said, “Your bunkmates feeling pretty low.” I said, “Yeah is he going to be okay, you think?” “Oh, sure.” She said, “it’s just a little sunburn. I’ve seen worse. By the way, there’s a larger group coming in later today, so it’ll probably be a full house tonight.”
I thought to myself, “Cool” I won’t be stuck alone out here with the fried roommate. I sat on the porch for a while, smoking as a thin mist fell. The hostel was a short walk to the beach, so I strolled over there. I took in the view lighthouse in the distance with its mournful foghorn bleating in the space.
The whole idea of a lighthouse made a lonely situation even lonelier.
The light Housekeeper living in solitude. Was he staring out at sea from his roost, flashing his beacon for the lost sailors? Occasionally resupplied with provisions by boat? That has to be one of the loneliest solitary jobs, along with Sheppard or night watchman.
It was clear to me that I wasn’t cut out for a solitary existence. I was a social creature, and the challenge to be on my own proved much harder than anticipated. I wanted to cut and run back home to my friends and family in the comfort of familiarity, but I was determined to see this to some kind of end. I had to try or return home a failure and always regret not continuing on and wondering what might have been.
I was really in doubt and consumed with an internal struggle that I couldn’t shake. I thought sitting at the beach on my own in the mist was just indulging my loneliness, and it was time to head back and get it together. I sat back down on the porch at the old house and stared out at the road and chain-smoked cigarettes. I only had a few premade Marlboros left, but I had a can of Bugler tobacco as well, and this time I had rolling paper.
Down the road in the distance, I could see a bright yellow school bus approaching. I thought it might be the group the front desk was talking about arriving. I thought this could be cool. Maybe it was one of those converted hippy school buses full of exciting people and young beautiful hippy girls I fantasized about. It was the group headed for the hostel and pulled up right in front of the porch.
The driver stepped out and smiled happily, and said, “We made it! Do you work here?’ at that moment, the girl from the front desk walked out on the porch, and I said, pointing to her, “No, but she does.” As the two of them spoke, the group filed out of the bus, and they were extra gleeful to be there. They squealed like happy little children, but they were adults. I noticed an older, seemingly Latino woman sort of corralling them together. She was in charge, and it occurred to me that this was a special group. It was a field trip for Autistic and special needs adults from a group home in SanFrancisco.
There was s about twelve of them, along with three counselors and the bus driver, who was also a counselor. The group’s ages ran from teenage to some who were in their thirties and forties. They were so thrilled to be there they made all kinds of excited noises. I could tell they were a wide range of disabilities, but they were very high functioning for the most part. There were one of two that had down syndrome but were also high functioning. The counselors were very sweet, patient people who seemed to know their clients really well. Maria was the group leader and quickly set up shop for them. I was absorbed into the group right away. I was given orders and happily dove into the fray of helping out the counselors. They coached me about what to look out for from which client as their behaviors varied so much. Because they lived in a group home, their dynamics were like a family with rivalries and resentments and partnerships. They were sweet and funny and fascinated by me and why I was there.
They sat me down and asked me millions of questions about my family and where I lived, and did I like the Beatles. This would be an essential question and a test. Did I like the Beatles? Of course, I LOVED the Beatles! One of the guys with Down syndrome smiled at me, sat next to me, and held my hand for a long time. The counselors went about feeding them and distributing their box lunches. They argued about who got what and busily ate everything. The front desk lady assigned them bunks and pretty much disappeared after that. There was an old record player in the living room, and the young teenagers set about playing records. It had begun to rain harder and made it impossible for them to go walking on the beach. So they spread out in the large living room and decided to have a “Dance Party”! One of the younger ones manned the turntable and put on an old Beatles record, and they all jumped to their feet started madly dancing. It was fantastic to watch, and I couldn’t help but get caught up in it, and I jumped into it, twisting the day away. It was so joyful that when “I want to hold your hand” finished, they all screamed, “Again! Again!” So on it went. We all laughed hysterically and danced again and again to the same song, and each time we laughed harder at the repartition of it.
It was glorious, and I let go of all my sadness and loneliness, and self-pity. It was just what I needed to take the focus away from my troubles that were so small in comparison. I loved that their counselors were so devoted to them and treated them like family. They fed everybody hot dogs for dinner (including me!) and got them ready for bed. It was about 9:30 in the evening, and they protested a little, but some of them were tuckered out after a long trip from the city went to bed quickly. The counselors sat around a while after they were tucked in, chatted with me, and gave me the info on each client and their particular quirks and backgrounds. It was sweet and sad to hear how difficult their individual circumstances were. They were in many ways so lucky to have such caring people looking after them. I felt terribly guilty that I couldn’t imagine myself being so selfless.
I boarded the bus with them the following day, but only to catch a ride as far as the PCH and head north. It was a sweet farewell with them all waving out the windows of the bus as they pulled away from me after they dropped me on the side of the highway. My heart sank a little. I realized suddenly that I had left my boots back at the hostel, and I was only wearing a spare pair of flimsy moccasins that I had with me. I had put my shoes outside because they smelled so bad. They were Dunham waterproof boots that had cost me over fifty bucks when I repurchased them in Colorado. The salesperson recommended them because I was headed out on the road, and they would serve me well, rain or shine. These boots were the prototype for what later would become Timberland boots. They were very worthy, but the one problem was their waterproofwaterproofness, and lack of breathability made my feet stink to high heaven. I was very self-conscious about them in social situations. People had commented on the awful smell emanating from them, so I was very conscientious about putting them outdoors when I had them off. When I tucked them in at the hostel, I left them outside, and in the confusion of going, I left them on the front porch. No way to turn back now, so I had to make do with the flimsy moccasins. I didn’t have the cash to get new boots.