James and I took a weekend trip up to visit our new friends Monika and Roderick in Belgrave, a beautiful forest town just an hour outside of Melbourne by train.
After traveling for 18 months in New Zealand, Southeast Asia, and Australia, I was feeling pretty homesick, so I went back to visit to my favorite town in the world, Santa Barbara, California. Reuniting with my family and friends after missing two Christmases and two birthdays has made me appreciate how lucky I am to have such a strong support net.
A lot of my friends moved up north, so I decided to take a few weeks to visit them – I checked out Mammoth, Lake Tahoe, Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz.
After skiing with my dad at Mammoth Mountain, I tried to continue on alone to Lake Tahoe, where I had never been before… but my car broke down! Luckily it only took two days to fix, and I had a nice time in the little town of Mammoth. It was snowing, and being from Southern California I never get to spend much time in the snow. When it stopped raining and snowing I bought some roller blades at the thrift store and skated around the scenic bike path that circles the town.
Zigzagging up the narrow mountain roads on the way to Tahoe, I was glad that it wasn’t snowing! Maybe it was fate that my car broke down, because otherwise I would have been driving those steep and dangerous roads in the snow. Once there, I couchsurfed with an amazing girl named Kymber for a few days, she took me to open mic nights and we even got to go zooming around the lake on her friends’ boat!
After Tahoe, I headed to Berkeley, where I stayed with a high-school buddy Skyler at the Wolf Co-Op. Even though I like the concept of communal living, it was so dirty that I couldn’t see myself living there. The next day we wrote a silly song for Mother’s Day that you can watch here, if you like.
I spent the next night with my college friend Shani, and we went balkan dancing – which is really difficult by the way! The counts of the dance are all on threes, fives, and sevens, and I’m used to swing dancing – which is more based on twos and fours.
I checked out the Berkeley Farm Occupation with my old friend Yassi. A vacant lot owned by the UC is one of the last remaining in the area with good soil, and the university plans to convert it into a parking lot. Berkeley students and community members camped out and converted it into a farm over three days. I was lucky enough to help out while they tilled and planted. This DIY farm is an example of community action in motion. Police and the UC system present an obstacle, with loudspeakers blasting “You are violating the law. Cease and desist!” while farm workers sing to counter the negative noise. Keep informed about the fate of this lot via the link above.
Next I saw another childhood friend, Nathan, who is currently working on a big sculpture for Burning Man – check out his stuff here. He received a grant from Burning Man to create an interactive giant pendulum which participants can ride on.
Miraculously I navigated the freeways of San Francisco to find my friend Emily from junior high school, who is studying to be a speech pathologist at San Francisco State University. After a day helping her study for finals and pack up her stuff, I drove down Highway 1 to Santa Cruz, where I graduated from a year and a half ago. There I climbed trees and played frisbee, just like old times.
Finally, my mom took the train from Santa Barbara to Salinas, and I picked her up there. We spent the next two nights driving down the coast, reveling in the sights of Big Sur.
Going on a road trip (mostly) by myself was very empowering, as traveling alone always is. I’d recommend it to anyone. I’m proud of myself for navigating the highways armed only with a map – no smartphone or GPS. I only got lost once in Sacramento. Planning and coordinating with people to arrange a place to stay can take time, but it’s definitely worth the hassle when you get there! Thanks to everyone who let me stay with them!
I recently wrote a story about volunteering abroad, and it’s now the featured story on StartBackpacking.com! To read it click the link below:
Also, I updated my “volunteering” page with lots of photos. You can click here to find it, or find it under the ‘advice’ column up top.
Bonus photo: some happy farm animals near Riverton, New Zealand.