Back to Reality, Back to Battle

FeaturedBack to Reality, Back to Battle

Since my Caliventure experience, it’s taken some time to return to the world of adulthood.

And, spoiler alert, I’m not a fan.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some good moments going on. There are. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t some bumpy moments happening either. And by bumpy moments, I mean a resurfacing of past demons.

On a more physical sense, it took me a couple of days to readjust to the altitude and, more or less, stop suffering from what I presumed to be a mix of jet lag and altitude sickness. I mean driving my own car back in Pennsylvania was enough to make me nauseated. I was ready to give up driving for the rest of my life.

Then some highs and lows hit me.

Randomly. Without warning.

During the teacher in-service week, I recall sitting down at a faculty lunch. When I sat down, I was fine. But, like a switch had been flicked, my mood darkened and the tendrils of depression started gripping me once more. It was so sudden. So unexpected. Crippling. I turned into the cloud at the table. I didn’t interact with people. I don’t think it was noticed much, if at all. To keep it that way, I ended up retreating from the social environment, vanishing into my classroom.

I’m being reminded of just how complex mental health is. Or, maybe, it’s not so much of being reminded as it is continuing to learn what this process is truly like. So many times I think people assume depression and anxiety can be cured like one can cure the flu or the common cold.

“Here, you sad person you, take these pills. In a few days your symptoms will wear off and VIOLA! You’ll be healthier than ever.” #Winning

Except, that’s a mainstream myth that only people who suffer from depression and anxiety realize. The people around them? Well, they can never fully understand that, despite their best intentions. Winning is a daily process with mental health.

As for my highs, I’m so glad to be back with my dog, Logan. I missed him immensely and it means the world to me to be able to curl up on the coach with him once more, using him as my favorite pillow and telling him how much I love him and how much of a good boy he is. I’d be lost without him. I really would. Next time I go on an adventure, I want him to come with me. He’s my sidekick.

I have been happy to be back in the classroom. Frankly, I love my kids. I always have loved the kids I get. This year feels fresh in so many ways because it’s the first year where I can devote the majority of my time into my classroom. I don’t have to worry about the huge demands of directing the drama club productions this year. I can focus on teaching. Focus on my students. Focus on me. I’ll miss drama, but I’m excited to see what this year holds without it.

I’m already having more time to do different things. I was able to put a lot of time (and money I really don’t have) into my classroom. For real, it’s been completely overhauled with cozy lighting, a reading nook, and Marvel decorations. I assigned an array of diverse and powerful Marvel characters to each my classes; characters that are younger, a new generation–characters I want the kids who love Marvel to get to know and explore. I have a Shuri class, the sister of Black Panther (and sometimes Black Panther herself in the comics) and African Princess; there’s an Ironheart class, an intelligent young Black woman named RiRi Williams was a mentee to Tony Stark, a girl who fashioned her own iron suit–fantastic character; I set up a Ms. Marvel class, the first Muslim-American superhero with shapeshifting abilities that pale in comparison to her incredible heart; there’s a Ghost-Spider class (also known as Spider-Gwen), the punky White girl who is an all-out boss with her spider abilities; and then there’s my Spider-Man class fashioned after the Miles Morales version, the middle-school aged bi-racial Black/Puerto Rican boy who has to fill the roles of the iconic Spider-Man after he’s bit by a strange spider.

I know that may not seem like a big deal to you all as my readers. But for me? It’s huge. I want to create a classroom where all are welcome. I want to make sure I’m representing all voices. These characters are a start and for every character, I made sure to buy some of their graphic novels so the kids could get to know them.

It was funny because in my Ironheart class a young boy was heard saying, “Ironheart? Who’s she? And why are we a classroom set up after a girl?”

I smiled and said, “She’s an incredible character. You should be honored! She’s got so much heart and loyalty.”

Another boy was quick to ask, “Mr. H, do you have Ironheart’s graphic novel? I want to know more about her!”

It filled me with joy during the first week, a week I always get anxious and excited over. It’s a week where building relationships is key. I love taking the time getting to know my new students, kids I hope to each and also learn from over the next nine months.

These moments fill me with such joy. I’m teaching lessons with passion. Grading essays with more thought because, yes, I already assigned writing to the poor souls.

But there’s a part of me that still wishes I was on the West Coast, having adventures.

Exploring.

Hiking.

Taking risks.

Seeing the world.

Ignoring adult responsibilities.

As I said in my season finale post, I’ll never forget the lessons California taught me. While my bank account and finances were hit majorly from my trip, I don’t regret what I did. I’d do it again. I learned much about myself. About the world. About nature. It gave me hope. Joy. Happiness.

My return to the adult world has been jarring at times. As I said, I’ve had my ups, but I’m having my lows.

Random bursts where I just lay around and stare at the wall, despite the fact I’m on my anti-depressant medication. And, yes, I Googled whether it was possible for my body to build a tolerance to the meds. And, yes, it’s possible.

I suspect that’s what’s happening and that I might need to talk to my doctor about this. Which, sadly, means more medical bills I can’t pay. A 20 minute session with a doctor costs me almost $100, and that’s with insurance.

It’s getting worse. My mood swings. This past week I spiraled into it a bit more. No motivation. No drive. Last weekend, a friend I work with invited me to her place for a pizza party. I was immobile on my couch, unable to do anything all day, hiding from the world.

Right now, I’m struggling to understand how to prevent myself from self-destructing some friendships that mean a lot to me, from pushing away people I care about. I have a friend who’s done a lot for me, but a friend who doesn’t know how to best support me anymore. So this friend has put up barriers around themself because they don’t want to take on the battle I, myself, have to deal with. While it’s hard to process this friend’s words, I can’t necessarily blame them. This friend is probably right: I have to take care of me. Once I do that, things will fall into place.

I’m trying to grasp and understand it. And I also know that it doesn’t mean I won’t face this mental health issue more in the future. I just have to get better at parrying it, like it’s an epic lightsaber duel on Mustafar between Master and Padawan. Every blow violent and striking, but every swing met with equal resistance. And maybe I’ll stumble here and there because it takes energy to stay on your feet. One wrong step and a mortal wound could slice through you–through me. But, sticking to the analogy, I have to use the Force… use what I know, my weapons, and the strength within to fight back.

It’s not going to be something that permanently goes away. It’ll always be there. Always ready to pounce. Dark vs. Light. Depression vs. Joy.

That’s what it means to be back to reality–to face life head-on. I’m not hiking through the wilderness of California anymore. I’m hiking through the unpredictable forests of life, and I can’t let my guard down. I have to do whatever it takes to take care of myself for myself. For my friends. For my family. For my team. For my students.

I may stumble, like I did on the powerful slopes of Mt. Shasta, but I have to keep going.

And I have to stop using metaphors because, really, how many can I pull out? The answer is… a lot. I mean I am listening to epic instrumental music while writing this, so… are you surprised?

Anyway, life has been interesting since returning. I thought my adventure ended when I left the West Coast. But really? I think that’s where it all began. It’s where my perspective shifted, where I gained back some confidence and willpower, where I overcame fears. And California Josh came back to the East Coast. He’s adjusting. He’s slipping.

But he’s still on an adventure.

Because do adventures ever really end?

Caliventure Chronicles-Episode 10 (Season Finale): Adventures in San Francisco

Caliventure Chronicles-Episode 10 (Season Finale): Adventures in San Francisco

Forgive the delayed response. School is starting back up. I’m back in Pennsylvania. The adventure has ended. But. I have more stories to tell. So… how did my final two days in California go? Well…

I won’t bore you with the details of me driving out of Redding except that I stopped at Dutch Bros one last time.

And ordered two different drinks.

Judge me.

The drive was mostly boring with desert scenery until I drew close to San Bruno. That’s when the traffic started to increase. And when I say traffic, I mean traffic. While I was only 12 miles away from the rental car drop-off point at the San Francisco Airport, my GPS kindly informed me that it would take an hour to reach my destination.

And not just any hour. An hour full of inching in crazed traffic where people make up their own driving rules, making the guy driving a rental car pretty nervous. I mean people would whip around you on the shoulder and weasel their way in front of you and it would all happen so fast that all you could do was stare in both awe and pure anger.

Eventually when you get pushed enough, you push back. Well, some weasel tried to force his way in front of me, but I gunned forward both blocking him and forcing myself into another lane. I felt like a boss–and also a jerk.

San Francisco traffic, y’all!

After a couple hundred years, I was able to return my rental vehicle but then I got lost in the airport. Airports have designated areas for Lyft/Uber drivers to pick you up. I rode a shuttle around the airport, went to a parking garage, ended up on some rooftop and finally admitted defeat and asked somebody for help. Mind you, I’m carrying around a large bag and a carry-on. Not entirely pleasant! Especially for my blistered feet. I finally made it to my Lyft driver, at least.

After I checked in with with my AirBnb hosts, I called a Lyft to drop me off in San Francisco. I had no set plan or agenda so I just had the guy take me to Fisherman’s Wharf. It seemed like a good place to start. This driver, unlike my super friendly prior driver, was as quiet as a rock. He barely said hi and bye. Also? He had no problem zipping through traffic like a madman. Add the steep hills and inclines to the experience, and I was swimming in motion sickness by the time I was dropped off.

I enjoyed just walking around. Me and my little drawstring bag against the piers. I saw the seals (they smell awful), visited a handful of shops, and tried what was labeled “the famous fishwhich.” I ate that fishy boy while I sat on the peer, gazing out at the harbor where boats lazily swayed in the water and daring seagulls and pigeons tried to steal food from unsuspecting tourists.

Don’t worry. I was a suspecting tourist. They dared not draw near to me.

I walked to Pier 39 and during my walk I had a bizarre encounter. It’s San Francisco. No doubt, you expect it to be a fairly progressive place.

I was wearing my Black Lives Matter shirt when a balloon animal vendor smirked and yelled out, “Oi! Black Rifle Lives matter too!”

That should’ve been my first sign to keep walking. Alas, I paused and said, “Huh?”

He repeated it and said, “You know, like guns?”

Bizarre.

“Oh, I thought you were talking about a group or something.” It was my attempt to save face.

Then things got a bit weirder.

He pointed to my shirt and said, “Nah, all lives matter, man. I’m not into that racist shirt you’re wearing.”

I furrowed my brow and said, “Of course all lives matter. However, this is trying to make people aware that certain groups of people are being treated with systemic inequality.”

“Of course, of course, but it’s calling attention to one group–excluding people.”

As a White male myself, I recognized this man’s White privilege showing. I used to have a similar view as him. I would say, “Ahem. All lives matter in response to Black Lives Matter.” That was before I became educated on the matter, did research, and talked to people about the subject. He, like most White people I know, say All Lives Matter to detract from the racial inequality Black people face in a system run primarily by White people. It’s like looking at a burning house and, from inside your own non-burning house, saying, “All houses matter!” However, one house in particular is under fire. At that particular moment, that burning house needs support the most. That’s what Black Lives Matter is trying to say. And this man did not seem to want to understand that.

But wait. He gets even more… uh… well… you be the judge.

Gesturing to my shirt he said, “Black rage. Ever hear of it? It don’t matter what shirt you wear. They’ll kill you all the same.”

Ah, so clearly, in his perspective, all lives mattered, however, he wanted to generalize/associate Blacks with bad behavior. It is probably safe to say my shirt triggered him.

And then he brought the LGBTQ community into the mix. As a gay man myself, I tensed up. Of course, he didn’t know I was gay. I wasn’t sure where he was about to go with this. He said he supports fair treatment for all, but he attacked trans people, declaring that they were messed up and, essentially, disgusting. He focused on the fear-mongering bathroom issue. I did my best to defend the trans community, but it was going nowhere–and he was becoming agitated.

So I said, “Sorry, man. Look I’m a teacher and–”

“I’m busy now,” he snapped, fumbling with a balloon animal even though nobody was approaching the stand.

Interesting. Me being a teacher was a threat to him?

So I said, “That’s okay! I don’t have the time to listen to discrimination. I don’t tolerate that. Have a good day!”

As I walked away, he shouted at my back, ranting against trans people. Loudly.

How is this man allowed to sell balloon animals? Like… seriously.

Anyway, I decided to take an hour and a half cruise around the San Francisco Bay. It was wonderful. I stood at the front of the ship, giving me a great view of the descending sun sprinkling light across the bay waters. I got fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, even going under it. We even got near to Alcatraz, but didn’t go on the island. By the end of the cruise, I found that I was super drowsy. I almost fell asleep leaning on the railing of the ship.

That would’ve been… unpleasant.

So, after buying a frozen coffee drink, I ordered a Lyft to take me to Barnes and Noble because I wanted to buy a book called How To Be An Antiracist (a good read so far, by the way!). As I was nearing my pickup location, a friendly Black man smiled at me and said, “I love your shirt, man! It’s great!”

I had almost forgotten the shirt I was wearing. Like an idiot, I glanced down and said, “Oh! Thanks, man!”

We passed each other and then he shouted, “Hey! Wait! Can… can I get a picture with you? My wife will love this!”

Considering what happened to me earlier, this made up for it. It was a cool moment. I didn’t think to ask for a picture of myself with him, but that’s okay. It wasn’t about that to me.

My Lyft driver, Gloria, was a fantastic woman. Spunky, fun, and a lady who talked to bad drivers as we went along. I found myself liking her even more as I quickly discovered our political views were similar. She was especially concerned about racial issues in our country as she herself is a Black woman. She expressed her disdain for what the president said about Baltimore when he attacked their black leaders and said no human being would ever live there. Heartbreaking.

I felt like I left a friend when she dropped me off as we talked about so much during our 30 minute drive. Gloria, if you’re reading this, keep being you because you’re awesome!

This pretty much concluded my day. I went home, thought about writing a blog post and/or reading my new book, but I passed out at 9:30 PM.

The next day was the day I was looking forward to. A lot. Why? Because whales, that’s why.

Thursday, August 15th saw me waking up fairly early to get a Lyft to the Golden Gate Bridge. With much fervor, I began to march across the bridge, snapping beautiful pictures of the sun rising above the bay. Pedestrians and fellow tourists walked and/or ran along the bridge, while bikers zoomed by. If I lived here, this would be a morning routine for me. It was beautiful, exciting, and powerful. I mean you could literally feel the bridge hum beneath your feet with the traffic.

Far below, waves crashed against rocks. I could see dark spots of seaweed bob on the surface of the deep waters and boats dart along the water. I even saw some surfers riding the waves far below. Like…. far below.

I made it to the other side in about 45 minutes and realized, perhaps, the biggest mistake I’d made for this day.

Wearing flip flops.

Look, don’t cross the Golden Gate Bridge in flip flops. I had the mindset that my feet would be happy to be open and free from the blistering confines of my hiking shoes. They were not. While my ankles and blistered toes seemed moderately okay, the bottoms of me feet screamed with fire. And I still had to walk back across the bridge.

I took a 20 minute rest, drinking in the scenery, before I hauled my angry feet back across the bridge. I debated on buying shoes and tossing my flip flops. If the opportunity arose, I was going to do it.

For now, I called a Lyft and visited the Palace of Fine Arts. It was absolutely gorgeous. Lush green grass and trees framed colossal structures next to a gentle pond. Sure, it meant more walking, but the sights were worth it. When I stepped into the dome structure, I felt like a tiny human. It was massive. As you can see below, I had some fun taking pictures!

I had two hours before my whale watching tour was to begin. I started walking toward Fisherman’s Wharf–a 45-minute walk according to my phone, when I stumbled across a tourist bike rental station.

My feet demanded I take advantage.

I did not deny them. I rented an electric bike for the day. I was going to get around town much, much faster now. I biked up winding pavement in a nice park, out onto a pier (where I totally ran into the back of my foot with a pedal–ow!), and then decided I was going to check out the famous twisting Lombard road.

Worst. Idea. Ever.

I followed the map and quickly realized that biking on the roads in San Francisco is pure torture. Even with an electric bike, it’s extremely tough to bike up the hill. When I realized my attempts were futile, I hopped off my bike, pushed it onto the sidewalk, and walked it up the hill. Within 30 seconds, I was dripping with sweat and panting with exhaustion.

And I still had more steep hills to push my bike up.

I was near death when I finally made it to Lombard street. And by the time I arrived, I really didn’t care too much about the street because, well, there was no way I was riding my bike down that death road. So, I decided to walked along the sidewalk that ran parallel to the road, going down.

A sidewalk that had stairs.

Listen, this was a moment where I should’ve hung a flashing neon sign around my neck that read, “STUPID TOURIST! RIGHT NOW! ABSOLUTE AMATEUR! WHAT A FOOL! LOOK AT THIS GUY! HE SUCKS!”

I had to walk that electric bike down the step steps. I was already exhausted. I was soaked with sweat. Luckily, a nice man walking behind me helped me by picking up the back of the bike, while I carried the front.

I decided that if I ever saw Lombard street again, it would be too soon.

To forget that torture, I biked my way to Fisherman’s Wharf, parked the bike, grabbed some food, and got in line for the whale watching tour.

I. Was. First. In. Line.

This made me so happy. It didn’t seem to make the lady who appeared .2 seconds after me happy. In time, we actually had friendly conversation–once she stopped staring at me with her dagger eyes. Can it be known that people, mainly tourists, do not seem to understand how lines work? I felt like I worked for the whale tour because when people would bunch up near me in the front of the line I’d be like, “Are you here for the tour?”

“Yes!”

“Nice. Well, there’s a line.” And I’d point to the growing line of people behind me.

Most people awkwardly smiled and walked to the end of the line, entirely disappointed. Hey, not everybody arrives an hour early to a whale tour. Better luck next time, peasants!

Anyway, one group I told simply stared at me as if I were an ant and they were the boot. Like they were challenging my place in line. I repeated myself to them.

They stared.

I was prepared for war. If the gates opened and they tried to steal my spot… somebody was going to end up in jail–and probably not see whales.

Thankfully, it all worked out and I was the first on the boat. I sat in the back corner. On one hand, it gave me a great open view of the ocean. On the other, it also made sure that I was splashed by water enough so that I bought a poncho.

Literally. I was the only one who bought a poncho.

The captain and the two young ladies who worked on the boat carefully explained everything they knew about the wildlife we may see. They talked about humpback whales for the majority of the time since that is what they said we could expect. The tour before us had seen a whale and they were certain we would too.

We got to the spot they’d seen whales earlier, but there was nothing.

The captain said he was pushing us out more. We were over 18 miles from the shore. I couldn’t even see the Golden Gate Bridge anymore or, really, the coast. I could just barely make out the mountains that lined the oceans behind us. In front of us was nothing but blue. I was starting to worry we may not see whales. I mean we were far out there and whales are wild animals. You can’t pay for a whale tour and be guaranteed to see these majestic beasts.

I was on the verge of resignation when a shout went out from the captain of the ship.

In the distance, I saw something I’ve only seen in the movies… a puff of mist and water shooting into the sky. A whale was surfacing to breathe.

And then the body, black against the blue waters, sliced through the waves. I saw a fin. A tail. A humpback whale! I was–

Another shout.

And another.

And more.

Did you know that humpback whales are primarily solitary creatures? They don’t stick together. Well, today was a treat. They were everywhere. In fact, the boat had to slam on the breaks–or whatever it is the boat does to stop suddenly–because a humpback surfaced right before us.

They were surfacing, flopping their fins, their tails, and lunge feeding. It was stunning. Absolutely unbelievable to think we were surrounded by these beautiful sea creatures. I tried my best to capture pictures or footage, but the whales were unpredictable. I do have videos of the whales, but I can’t get them to upload here. Feel free to contact me for them. It’s nothing to0 spectacular, but it makes me smile when I watch them.

The whole way back, I was grinning like an idiot. I couldn’t believe I got to experience that. I told myself that it’s something I want to do again. Except next time I want to see my favorite whales: Orcas.

After I got back, I decided to go through the San Francisco Bay Aquarium. It was nothing special, but after whale watching, it felt right. Hey, I even saw two snakes in the aquarium–and I wasn’t freaked out. Something had happened to me on this trip. If anybody knows me at all, you know I run at the sight of a snake. On this day, I peered into their glass cage and smirked in defiance. Okay… maybe not that dramatic. But I did take a major step.

After I returned my electric bike, I grabbed pizza at a place called Patxi’s Pizza. Deep dish heaven, let me tell you. I sat at the bar alone, drank a beer, and ate half the pizza. However, I had three slices left and, well, since I was to leave early the next day, I didn’t want to waste it.

I explained my dilemma to my waitress who looked at me and said, “Go give it to somebody on the street.”

I nodded. “How will I know who is homeless and who isn’t?”

She laughed. “They sleep on the sidewalks. Any of them will be happy for the pizza.”

So I set out on my mission. I did see one man within two minutes, but he looked like he was on some sort of acid trip. I had a feeling it was best to leave him alone. In hindsight, perhaps the drugged out man would’ve been more sane than what I encountered twenty minutes later.

I approached a man who was curled under a blanket on the sidewalk. His clothes were brown with dirt and grease. His beard was a tangled mess and his eyes looked haunted and broken. He wore a baseball cap over his matted, uncut hair. He was maybe in his late 30s, but the streets had taken their toll on him. The wrinkles and lines on his face made him appear like he was nearing 50.

“Excuse me, sir? Would you like the rest of my pizza? I couldn’t finish it and don’t want to throw it away.”

He sat up, regarding me with fierce skepticism. He narrowed his eyes as he looked from the small box in my hand and then to my face. “Is it poisoned?”

I stopped myself from snorting in amusement. He wasn’t kidding. So, I simply said, “No” and held the box out to him.

Tentatively he grabbed it, but he looked at it as if it were a bomb. “Hmm. Do you have any money so I can buy some marijuana?”

“No,” I lied. “I only have credit cards on me.” Did I feel bad about lying? Yes. But I didn’t think it wise to pull my wallet out. I was getting weird vibes.

“Oh.” He looked at the box, raising his eyebrows. “You’re sure this isn’t poisoned?”

“No,” I assured him. “It’s fresh out of the oven. I just couldn’t finish it.”

“Because the homosexuals are trying to poison me.”

I stared.

He stared.

I stared some more.

“They are always trying to poison me.”

Note to self: do not tell him that I’m gay.

“Oh. That’s… I’m sorry…” I muttered.

“And they are also trying to persecute Christians. All of us.”

This was taking a turn.

“Did you know the homosexuals killed Jesus?”

Didn’t see that coming. I could only widen my eyes and say, “I-I did not know that.” I mean I wanted to correct him and tell him it was the Romans, with the urging of the Jews that killed Jesus. But you don’t argue with a man who thinks you might’ve poisoned the pizza in his hands. You play along.

“Yeah. Homosexuals poison everything. They got me, you know.” He stared at me.

I stared at him.

“They gave me genital warts. They gave it to me bad.”

Lordy. Listen. Clearly this man was… somewhere on some level of something, but those were words I just did not expect to come out of his mouth. I honestly wish I were making this up.

I am not.

So I did what I thought best: I continued to stare and pretend to be shocked-I didn’t need to pretend to be grossed out that a strange man had informed me of his genital warts. Not an image I wanted to have pop into my mind.

“You see they stick it in the pooper.” He demonstrated by putting his index finger into the circle he made with his other finger. “It’s not meant for that. No. It gives you genital warts. It’s how I was poisoned.”

“That is awful. I’m so sorry that happened to you.”

Did you know I was going to wear my pride Pete Buttigieg 2020 shirt that day, but decided against it? Good thing, right?

“So… you’re sure the pizza isn’t poisoned?”

“Yes. I’m so sorry about what happened to you, but I assure you that it’s good pizza.”

He opened the box. “Wow! It’s still warm!”

“Yup! I has pepperoni, black olives, and green papers on it. Just be careful as I don’t know if you’re allergic to anything or not.”

His head snapped up. “It’s not poisoned, is it?”

“Nope.”

“Hmm. I just will take the black olives off.” He looked up at me. “Thank you! Thank you so much. I was starving. Seriously. I was going to go down to Pier 39 later and massacre people for food. Now I don’t have to.”

Welp, that sounded delightful… and terrifying.

“You know, just so many people waste food and it makes me so mad.”

I nodded eagerly. “Yes, yes. Me too. That’s why I couldn’t throw it away! Have a good-”

“It’s really not poisoned? Because I don’t want to die.”

“Not at all.”

“Thank you, man.”

With a final smile and a nod I ran walked away. Had I just saved the world? Did I stop a massacre from happening? Did that encounter really happen? What sorcery just happened?

I needed ice cream. That would make everything better.

And so that’s how I found myself buying an $11 sundae in a ritzy square in San Francisco before I hailed a lift back to my AirBnB.

That is how my night in San Francisco ended. Expensive sundae, a poisoning conversation about genital warts, and an understanding that the world is just full of surprises. Maybe those surprises lurk in your own backyard. Maybe they find you on a self-ordained adventure. Maybe they whisper to you when you least expect it.

But they are out there. It only requires one thing from you.

Step out into the world. Do things. Live. Breathe. Embrace the unknown. Look around you. No, really look around you. See the world. See the people. Appreciate all of it because it’s only then that you can uncover the surprises life offers.

I ran into this trip with arms wide open. I did things I never thought I did. I talked to people I never expected. I overcame some fears. I received inspiration. I was invigorated. What’s more is that I did all of this on the heels of a battle with depression that crippled me for months. A depression that kept me from the surprises of the world.

And, yet, here I was. Ending a grand adventure on the other side of the nation. Exploring. Existing. Adventuring.

It has been a wild ride. It has been something that, while my bank account/credit cards regret it, I never will.

This trip was everything. It was freedom. It was a true adventure.

And I need more.

Until next time.

Caliventure Chronicles-Episode 9: The Mountain, The Journey, and The Creature

Caliventure Chronicles-Episode 9: The Mountain, The Journey, and The Creature

Today was it.

The last day in Redding, CA. The last day to explore the area, to climb the mysterious Mt. Shasta. The grand finale of sorts.

How had time flown by so fast and yet… it feels like I’ve been here for months. I don’t say that in a bad way. I think it’s because so much has happened here.

Because I am not the same Josh leaving Redding, CA as the one who entered it a week ago. I didn’t quite see the change until today. The pieces didn’t quite add up until I was talking to a really good friend as I went on an adventure on Mt. Shasta. It kinda hit me all at once in such an amazing moment.

Let’s back up.

You may be wondering why I didn’t cover the events of Monday, August 12th. Or maybe you’re not wondering, which is fine. I really don’t have anything exciting to report about Monday. I spent the day in two different coffee shops writing Episode 8 and then I returned to my Airbnb where I finished watching the first season of The Boys. Um, if you haven’t watched it yet, what are you even doing with your life? Anyway, there was no need to make a whole episode/blog post about it, if you ask me. And let’s just pretend you did ask me for the sake of making me feel good.

So, Episode 9 will be focused on the events of Tuesday, August 13th.

Last time I went to Mt. Shasta, Panther Meadows was closed. I was pretty sad about that. Thankfully, Panther Meadows opened on Monday so on this day I was going to brave the mountain once again! Panther Meadows takes you high up the mountain. It’s the pathway where the road stops and you can no longer drive up the mountain. It’s about 7,000 or so feet in elevation.

Behold. The Bob
Behold. The Bob.

After ordering a drink called The Bob at Dutch Bros (because why wouldn’t you order a drink called The Bob–Dark Chocolate, Banana, and Coconut coffee), I was on my way. I wasn’t feeling super well the whole ride. I woke up feeling weird–woozy. (I had some suspicions it was my talking crystal because sorcery). This weird feeling stayed with me until I made it to Panther Meadows. I drove up to the highest point I could, hopped out of my car, and the adventure began full of wonderful sights.

It was a rocky hike to start. I came across two other hikers as I wound my way closer to the jutting rocks and blankets of snow. They informed me that breathing would get harder the higher I go and, as a result, snakes and other dangerous wildlife were probably not going to be found. That made me feel more confident so away I went!

I could probably spend pages and pages describing the mountainside. It was a magical journey to put it simply. Imagine walking up rocky earth and without warning BAM! lush green grasses roll up the hills. It was like I’d stepped into another dimension. But little did I know how amazing things would get.

I heard a slight roar. No, not a creature. The roar of water. As I continued to move, I came across a beautiful area where a small mountain stream bubbled over the rocks. Butterflies glided all around me, one landing on my shoe. Patches of flowers reached for the sun. I was in complete and utter awe. I stood grinning like an idiot. Mystified.

Behind me rolled the mountains, covered in tall trees. I planted my butt on the ground, touched the ice-cold waters, and marveled at how beautiful this place was. No joke, there was a fierce energy about that place. Call it what you will, but it was powerful. It was something I’d never experienced before. It was then where I’d realized something in me had shifted.

I was no longer somebody afraid to hike in the woods, on the mountains. I’d done the unthinkable. I had the urge to rush into this adventure to California all by myself. I’d propelled myself out of my comfort zone, took a leap of faith, and here I was…. standing in a magical, astonishing place on a mountain full of myths and legends. It was liberating. As if the bubbling water was a symbol of a new chapter of my life, flowing over rocks of the past, feeding new bursts of life and energy.

And so I stood. Grinning. Like an idiot. I will never be ashamed of it. The pictures truly do not do it justice.

After I marveled for a good twenty minutes or so, I continued my hike with more pep in my step, brandishing my walking stick like a magic wand. I continued to grin as I found more water, more greenery. I still smiled when that all vanished into rocks and actual patches of snow even though it was sixty degrees where I was.

I climbed up a mountainside on all fours, using my stick for balance. I seriously felt like I was in Middle-Earth, carrying the One Ring to the fires of Mordor myself. If there were snakes in the rocks, I didn’t care. They weren’t going to stop my magical journey. If I saw one, I might even have said, “Hey there, buddy. I’m just passing by. Carry on being a demon and all. Peace.”

I climbed until I reach 9,207 feet. Can you believe that this entire time there was complete silence save for the whisper of a breeze and the tiny buzzing of insects? It was as if the world had been put on mute as I sat gazing far below the mountain.

After some time just sitting and staring at the beauty of creation, I made my descent down the mountain. It was just as mystical–minus the part where I actually fall down a steep decline. I caught myself on the back of my leg where I have a nasty looking scar. Did that ruin my joy? Nope. I just shook my head muttering, “Classic Josh.”

After I made it back to my car, I drove to the actual Panther Meadows. This was a place with a lot of superstition behind it. It was here where people claimed to see faeries and gnomes and tall people from the mountain. While I sadly didn’t see any of that, I honestly can see why people may have said this. Large trees rose on either side of the path. There was an open grass meadow with a cool, refreshing stream snaking its way through it. It was a place so pure, you could feel it in your bones. To highlight this even more, clouds of butterflies swarmed the place, completely unalarmed by me and the other hikers I came across. If faeries were to live anywhere, it would certainly be here.

I ran into a female couple, huffing and puffing. One of them asked me if I was okay. I nodded with a smile and decided to take a break. We had a nice conversation about how fascinating and wonderful the wilderness is. How life-changing and mystical and therapeutic it was. The other woman said, “You don’t get this in the city. People are so consumed by their electronics, always looking down, and they miss all this. And here when you come across people, they look each other in the eye and say hi and it’s just genuine.”

And she was right. Nature returns us to our roots, to a time without technology and the busyness of life. It makes us happier, if you ask me. It truly was exciting to see other people and greet them only to have them respond warmly. It was like the nature around us connected us all together in a great web or, dare I say, circle of life?

The rest of the day wasn’t too crazy. I grabbed lunch, had an orange-mango milkshake, and I stopped to see some mini-waterfalls on the way home, able to get up close to one of them. I could’ve stood under the water, but there were too many people around. Besides, I still had to pack and get ready to leave the next day. And, to be honest, my feet were killing me. I had a fresh wave of new blisters and they were not as magical as my hike was.

Despite that, I drove into town to visit Barnes and Noble (where they totally did not have the book I wanted), swung by Best Buy to buy Avengers: Endgame, and then back to the place to pack.

That evening, I decided to go eat at a place called Mosaic. It sat near the Sacramento River, nestled very close to the Sundial Bridge I talked about in a prior episode. I decided to sit at the bar. The only seat open was one in the corner, next to a couple that insisted on flirting with one another in an annoying fashion. Oh well. I ordered a mojito, a burger, and enjoyed my last meal in Redding.

But what’s a last night in Redding without a little excitement?

I decided to go see the Sundial Bridge lit up at night. As I was walking next to the little forest near the bridge, I heard something large lumbering through the foliage. There was a shadow passing by and, fearing I’d be eaten by a mountain lion on my last night in California, I put a little pep in my step, shooting frantic looks at the dark forest. There were certainly other people around, but still. Mountain lions.

When I turned the corner and saw the magnificent bridge in the night, there was another thundering crash because clearly the mountain lion was hunting me.

Alas, out of the shadows of the forest pranced a young buck with pretty antlers. He briefly stared at me, looked around, and just started cruising through the mini-parking lot like he owned the joint. Silly buck! He had me fooled he was a carnivorous mountain lion.

And then I saw more movement out of the corner of my eyes.

It was small. Close to the ground. Black. White stripes. Thirty feet away.

A SKUNK!

Having never seen one in the wild, I wasn’t sure what the social expectations were when you see a skunk scuttling across a parking lot. I mean people were around. Would the skunk run away? Clearly, Skunky wouldn’t approach human life willingly. I glanced at the guy sitting on the bench nearby, watching the bridge. I glanced back at Skunky. He was sniffing the tire of a car. I glanced back at the man. He looked like he wanted to be left alone.

Figuring it wasn’t a big deal, that Skunky was too preoccupied with the tire (and hoping he wouldn’t get run over), I started walking back to my car.

Terrified screams erupted behind me. Multiple screams. High-pitched.

Probably what you can expect to hear if somebody, oh I don’t know, unexpectedly came across a skunk in the night.

Wide-eyed and wondering what smelly fate I doomed fellow humans to, I jumped into my car. Admittedly, I was chuckling a little bit because I have no soul. Also, because all I could picture was Skunky chasing terrified humans around the bridge.

What a sight to leave me with on my last night in Redding.

Redding was a fun, adventurous trip. Relaxing, even. I loved my AirBnB. I melted over the views. And I grew into an adventurer, learning things about myself, nature, and the world. Does that sound cheesy and cliche? Yup. But it’s true.

I’d love to come back to explore Mt. Shasta again. Such an amazing place, full of mystery and awe. I only scratched the surface of it–literally.

There’s still much, much more to explore.

It’s been real, Redding. Now it’s time to do some creating for my book because I leave with tons of inspiration–and a talking crystal, of course.

But, wait! The adventure doesn’t quite end yet!

In the next episode, you’ll be able to experience the streets of San Francisco, as well as the Pacific Ocean, with me during my two day stay there.

And trust me… there are some stories to tell. Here’s a sneak peak of what to expect:

  • The woes of traffic and airport confusion
  • The adventures of Pier 39 on Fisherman’s Wharf, including an encounter with a racist
  • Whales. ALL. THE. WHALES.
  • Flip flops vs. The Golden Gate Bridge
  • A fear conquered
  • Conversation with a homeless man that will leave you scratching your head and questioning everything.

The next episode will come either later tonight or tomorrow! See you then!

Caliventure Chronicles-Episode 8: The Power of Shasta and the Talking Crystal

Caliventure Chronicles-Episode 8: The Power of Shasta and the Talking Crystal

The day arrived. The call of Mt. Shasta was upon me. I woke up early, loaded all the necessities into my car, and headed to Dutch Bros Coffee because, well, you need coffee before entering a mystical mountain. Duh.


Naturally, I ordered the Peach Cobbler (thanks, Mom!). It was delightful just as the hour and twenty minute ride to Mt. Shasta was. I traveled on the I-5 Highway which eventually twisted and turned enough so that I could see the stunning snow-capped beast loom on the horizon.

Fun sight: I saw roadkill–a black bear. That was unusual and kinda sad. It’s the closest I’ve come to seeing a bear in the wild. Not sure how I feel about this.

As I drew closer to the mountain, I drove through a misty cloud. Obviously, it’s a totally natural element, but given the nature of Mt. Shasta it created a very mystical atmosphere as I drew closer. It’s almost like I could feel the fierce power of the mountain reaching out, drawing me in.

I drove through a very tiny town at the base of the mountain. It was still asleep as I was passing through about 8:00 in the morning. I made a note to check it out later as I drove past a very small high school. Their mascot? Black bears. I dared not tell them I might’ve seen their mascot dead on the road a few miles back. Poor school.

Anyway, I drove up the side of the mountain, careful to keep my eyes on the road instead of staring at the wondrous sights because, well, one wrong move would probably mean death. So. That was fun. Anyway, I was trying to get to a place called Panther Meadows. Apparently, it’s this place with pure crystalline springs. It’s also deeply revered by Native American tribes with reported sightings of tall people from inside the mountain, faeries, gnomes, and UFOS because obviously. One book I read about this place charged people to not visit this sacred site unless they felt the “spirit” calling them there.

I mean… is research a spirit? Because… I had to see this place. That being said, I was sad to arrive only to find the road to Panther Meadows closed. I guess I wasn’t called! I parked at a camping site at the base of the closed road and decided that I would hike. I came all this way, so might as well explore.

It was in the 40s. Cold. Thankfully, I had my rain jacket from yesterday and my new handy-dandy walking stick. I geared up, grabbed my stick, and ONWARD! I marched confidently up a path, electing to take a route that promised a 2.4 mile hike. There were other people around me, so I didn’t feel isolated as I was hiking. To be safe, however, I shared my GPS location with a group of close friends so they could see where I was at all times. I want you to keep this mind as you continue reading. Write it down if you must. In the parking lot, I was at an elevation of 6,897 feet. Memorize that number. Okay. Let the hike begin…

The trail was beautiful. Towering, ancient trees stood all around me with neon green moss hugging their trunks. A cool mist was receding as the sun continued to rise. Here and there, some of these ancient trees had fallen, broken on the sides of the paths like defeated giants, shattered by an unknown force. The more I hiked, the less people I saw. I did see a cairn, a manmade tower of stones, on my journey. It was a hint at the mysticism I was about to encounter. To be fair, it was hard to not walk this trail and just feel a majestic aura about this place–to marvel at creation all around me.

The trail was marked with pink ribbons tied in bushes and trees. I obediently followed them until suddenly the ribbons stopped. I was a little disheartened because I knew that on the other side of a steep, earthy hill I would see the Mt. Shasta summit. So, I did what any person who wanted adventure would do. I left the trail. Now, before you start preparing a lecture to chastise me, I did cement landmarks in my mind and I used my walking stick to carve symbols in the ground so I could find my way back.

Also, I decided to test my handy dandy bear mace spray. Good news. It worked.

Anyway, I huffed my way up a grassy incline, stepping over rotting tree trunks, and climbing on large rocks. It was deathly silent. Just me and the forest around me. Nothing else. The only sound was my heart pounding in my chest as I drew in deep breaths. I couldn’t shake the feeling that somewhere out of sight something was studying me, watching as a lone hiker traversed wild grounds. But I was here for adventure. And I had bear mace. So, don’t worry.

You might also point yet that snakes should be a huge concern. After all, where did my fear of these reptiles fit into my journey? Well, it was at the back of my mind. However, I figured with the cool forty degree weather, it was unlikely I would encounter Satan’s spawn. I wasn’t sure if they were even this high on the mountain. If they were around, I didn’t expect they’d be super active due to the temperature. Then again, I wasn’t 100% certain of that. Most likely, I was wrong. Regardless, I used my hiking stick to prod rocks and the other side of logs before placing my feet down. Better to be safe than sorry, right? If I were to be bit, there was nobody anywhere near me. I had to be smart even though we all know what I was doing was not smart.

I traveled for miles. The grassy hill turned into a steep incline of dirt and branches before leveling out into a dew-ridden plain of neat looking plants. I pushed on, seeing a crest not too far off where I was certain I’d see Mt. Shasta. The journey led me up into a rocky rise. If there were snakes, certainly they’d be here.

There was a moment in my journey where I hiked into a small green area with twisted tree trunks and weaving leaves. I froze because I was fairly certain I either heard a low growl or the huff of some beast. Instinct told me to leave that area. I decided to take the rocky incline because it did allow me the ability to see all around me whereas where I had heard the noise, my sight was limited. Of course, I’d be in the open so I’d be easy to see too. At least I’d have the chance to prepare for attack in the open–less chance of being taken by surprise.

As I continued, I heard something else.

Voices.

In all reality, these voices were probably other daring hikers. However, I couldn’t see anybody at all. Voices of hikers? Or mysterious beings of the mountain? I’ll let you decide.

I continued my journey. Up. Up. Up. Banging my walking stick on the rocks, loudly announcing my presence to any reptiles that may lie in wait. I figured neither of us wanted to encounter the other. I was doing both the snakes and myself a service by banging my stick around. That or I was calling attention to my location for a hungry bear or mountain lion. But bear mace. I’m good.

Anyway, during this hike I was texting my dearest friend Amanda. She was with me in the cyber world, watching my journey. It was reassuring to know that she was actively monitoring my progress. I was alone, but I also wasn’t. I kept sending her pictures of my journey. At a particular point she texted me saying, “Uh, you know you’re on a ridge, right?”

Nope. I did not know that. However, I could see that ten feet from where I stood was a drop that would mean death. I tried not to think about that as I pressed on, heart catching in my throat a few times as I slid on rocks that weren’t embedded in the ground.

Once, I thought I heard a rattle, but it could’ve been my imagination. Probably. Hopefully. Maybe.

I eventually reached a ledge that I’d set as my goal, hoping to see the peak of Mt. Shasta. It was literally just on the other side of the ridge. But the strangest thing happened. I was encircled by a cool cloud of white. The sun didn’t reach me. My visibility was limited to maybe 30 feet all around me. I was surrounded, my sight obscured. Pure silence.

It was terrifying and amazing all at once. It was as if the mountain had placed me in a prison of mist, deciding what to do with me, watching, waiting. I nervously asked Siri what my elevation was, my voice sounding unnatural in this hazy vortex. Her response? 8,690 ft.

Wow.

If you kept track of that number earlier, you’ll realize this meant that I had gone up nearly 2,000 feet. I would have never thought I’d do this. Ever.

After breathing in this moment just a few more minutes, I began my descent. That posed a whole set of new challenges, forcing myself to test my weight as I danced down stones. A few times I lurched forward, sliding on smooth rocks. I kept my distance from the ledge. Regardless, if I did fall, I’d still rock over sharp rocks. It wouldn’t be pleasant.

When I finally made it back to one of my landmarks, I turned and entered the silent forest once more, climbing down the embankment. It was then that something caught my eye. Blue. Not a blue natural to the forest.

I had to investigate, so I veered in that direction where I found an abandoned blanket, maybe a jacket, and some other clothes. Not too far away was a pillow. I wondered what story this told. Whose was this? What had happened to the owner? Why would they leave this in the middle of the forest? A weird sensation of being watched creeped up my spine once again and I pushed forward.

But, alas, I didn’t quite recall where I was. I mean I knew that going down was good, but was I facing the right way? How was I to know? I was a little turned around. Whispering to myself to not panic I continued moving down until finally I recognized a fallen giant.

Then I came across my crudely drawn symbols in the dirt which led me to the familiar pink ribbons of the trail. I was going to make it. No bear attacks. No mountain lion snacking. No snake bites.

My legs were pure jelly as I walked the trail, smiling a little too happily at hikers passing me. The sights were still bedazzling even on the hike back to my car. I had to have traveled at least 8-10 miles on Mt. Shasta.

I decided it was time to get some food because hiking was draining. On my drive back down the mountain, I turned onto a dirt path to explore a little bit. I came across a woman and an old man. They were performing some sort of ritual, the man lightly banging an erected gong as the woman stared intently into the wilderness until her gaze fell on me. She looked annoyed. I turned the car around and left these people to whatever it was they were doing. I would’ve taken a picture, but I truly didn’t want to be disrespectful to their ritual. I later learned that this is not unnatural to find on the surface of Mt. Shasta.

But if you think that’s weird, wait until we enter the small town of Mt. Shasta.

I need to preface the events you’re about to read with a snippet of my story idea. My story, as you may know, will be tied to Mt. Shasta. In fact, I have plans to have a crystal from the depths of Mt. Shasta play a key role in the origins of my four superheroes/antiheroes because, well, one of the four is a jerk and not a hero type. He’s so much fun to write. Anyway. Crystals. I felt I should buy some kind of crystal from this town for reference.

So after I parked my car I saw a little shop called Crystal Matrix Gallery. Figuring this was a good place to start, I tried to open the door. It was locked despite the fact the store was clearly open. There was a sign saying I should ring a bell as the worker was doing something in the back. Figuring it really wasn’t worth all that trouble, I moved on. Not even ten steps later, the door swung open and a strange old man appeared. There was something quirky about him. Short gray hair, large nose, beady little eyes that seemed to look beyond you. Strange.

Feeling obligated, I entered his shop. It was small and there were so many beautiful crystals. The man, Mazebah (obviously the name of a wizard, if you ask me), went to various crystal conventions/markets and collected crystals and rocks from all over the world. I saw tokens from Australia, Africa, Brazil, Chile, etc. Beautiful things locked behind clear cases. No wonder he kept the front door locked. What made my experience all the more unnerving was the way he constantly studied me as I moved about the store. If I suddenly moved out if his line of sight, he’d shift his body so he could watch me.

It quickly dawned on me that most of the items in this shop were very expensive. I’m talking $60-300 for pieces of crystal and rocks. The other thing that became clear to me was that if I left the store without buying anything, he would certainly put some sort of curse on me. I just knew it. So I began to seek out some cheaper items. I found potential in some black rock of which I can’t recall the name. Pieces ranged from $4-21. This was probably my best best.

Then dazzling green and blue glass rocks called my eye, drawing me near. Turns out they were volcanic rocks from China. They were absolutely stunning. The color was so pure and mystical. I had to have one.

“These are amazing. How much are they?” I asked the beady-eyed man.

“$1 a gram.” He apparated next to me.

Pretending I understood what that meant, I nodded my head. I mean how many grams were these things? I wasn’t about to agree to buying one without knowing. So I asked, “And… how many grams are they?”

“Oh, only about 100 grams.”

Only. Only. He saw the look on my face and smiled before saying, “You have to understand. These are special crystals. If you choose the right one they can elevate you to the Elemental Plane.” He paused. I stared.

“And I happen to be one of the very few people in the world who knows how to get people to that plane.”

OH MY GOSH! HE WAS A WIZARD! I KNEW IT!

The words, “Oh. That’s really… cool” exited my mouth. He snatched up two smaller rocks, one blue and one green. He weighed them. They were about 75 grams–$75. He really wanted me to buy one of these. However, what if he was a dark wizard? I wasn’t taking chances.

So I said, “I’m just gonna buy one of those rocks.” Rocks were safe. He hadn’t offered to transport me anywhere with a rock. So I spent $8 to at least appease the wizard-man in hopes he wouldn’t cast me into another dimension or something weird. As I left the store, I could feel his gaze on me.

I wish I could say things returned to normal from there.

They didn’t.

You have to keep in mind. I’m in the town of Mt. Shasta. This mountain is known for its superstitions, mystical properties, and elevated planes/realms. It’s a holy and sacred site for a ton of people and, as such, it draws a lot of people to it.

I entered the Mt. Shasta visitor center, grabbing some fliers about the area and buying a hiking book and a book on Telos–the lost crystal city inside Mt. Shasta. I also grabbed some pamphlets on the mystical properties in the area. I really need to look at all the things for my book. Tying my story to these elements will only enhance the story, I think.

Anyway, I tried to find a place to eat. As I was walking along, happily studying the very small town I watched a middle-age woman pull out a recently purchased necklace. From a leather band hung a pink crystal that glimmered in the sunlight. To her friend sitting next to her she said, “And this! I bought it and it has been charged full of energy that will let me connect directly to the Lemurians.”

I wish I could tell you she was joking. She was not.

Naturally, what choice did I have but to enter a store called Spiritual Encounters? New Age? Check. Crystals? Check. Weird artifacts? Check. In I went, where I was surprised to see the varied customers inside the store. What I’m about to say, please know I don’t mean it in poor taste. I’m just trying to help paint a picture. Let’s just say there were lots of people who seemed like they would be good buddies with Wizard-Man Mazebah from the crystal shop, people who totally belonged in a store like this. I mean nothing ill by that. Then there were people that appeared normal in every aspect of the word. There was even a young group of fraternity looking guys in the store, one of whom thought it entirely necessary to blow into this tribal horn causing a random unleashed dog to run around the store. Nobody paid the dog any attention, just another normal day in Spiritual Encounters.

Conversations ranged from stars aligning to Lemurians to chakra to visions. It was crazy. The mood was set by ritualistic music over unseen speakers. I stumbled across a set of animal tokens. They looked cool, each token engraved with a golden animal. Lo and behold I found one with a Tyrannosaurus Rex on it. Due to my obsession with the Red Ranger on Power Rangers and his T-Rex zord, I had to buy it. Each animal represented something different. This one meant lizard king. Not sure I’m a lizard king, but I’ll go with it. I also found an orca stone and then a cool-looking unicorn one. Funny. The unicorn stands for individual/unique–kinda like my trip in a nutshell.

IT’S MORPHIN’ TIME!

I also couldn’t resist picking up the cheapest Lemurian crystal I could find. It promised to allow me to connect to the ancient beings in the mountain and bring peace. Apparently, if you walked around sacred sites with the crystal in hand, it’s supposed to do some weird mystical stuff to you. I bought it for research so I can model the crystal in my book after it. Plus, I’ve always been fascinated with Lemurians and Atlantians.

After shopping a bit more, acquiring a cool wolf necklace, I decided to check out. The woman at the register rang out my items. Then she touched my Lemurian Crystal. Out of context, that sounds weird. Good thing you’re reading this in context. I hope.

“Oh. Oh my. This is a great crystal. Powerful. The crystal is speaking,” the woman said in a vibrant voice. “You’re going to have great results with this.”

For the thousandth time, I could only stare dumbly and say, “Oh… that’s cool. Yay.”

Good to know the crystal I have speaks. The moment I hear an other worldly voice coming out of this thing, I’m going to toss if off the nearest cliff face and go into hiding. So if I ever vanish unexpectedly, blame the talking Lemurian crystal.

The thing is, in all seriousness, the people in this area genuinely believe in this stuff. It’s curious. They are very friendly, nice people. I find their beliefs and traditions unique and kind of neat. I personally don’t buy into all that, but if it makes them happy, who am I to impose?

After grabbing some food, I decided to make one more big journey for the day. McCloud Falls, another well-known waterfall location.

Let me say that I know this post is a bit long. But the day was epic. So, if you need a break–go for it. If you’re ready to live in the beautiful falls with me, and encounter the daring thing I did, then read on.

McCloud Falls is known for having three parts: Upper Falls, Middle Falls, and Lower Falls. Each area encourages people to swim in the deep blue river waters. More on that later.

To see all three falls, you’d have to walk three miles. Bring it on! I parked in the parking lot that gave me direct access to the Middle Falls. A viewpoint allowed me to look straight down, maybe 40-50 feet down (I’m honestly bad at guessing distance) to peer at crashing falls and people swimming in the water. It was gorgeous. I had to get down there.

I followed a path that led me along the face of the mountain. On my left were jutting rocks and trees and on my right was a steep drop to the river below. I eyed my left side, suspicious for snakes.

I found the Upper Falls, another beautiful sight. People were swimming below and, again, I had to wonder how they got down there. I couldn’t find a trail that would lead me down there.

I did, however, find a lizard. If this is the only reptile I see on this trip, I’ll be fine.

Deciding I missed a trail somewhere, I started back the way I came. I asked people I passed by on how to get down to the river. One guy informed me that some people seemed to make their own path. By the Upper Falls, I found a steep dirt path that led down to the river. I went halfway down it, but it got too rocky and congested for my tastes. I really didn’t want to chance it with wildlife. I decided to find a way to the Middle Falls instead.

Thankfully, I found a trail that led down to the Middle Falls. Excited, I wound my way down the path until I emerged upon a rocky outcropping that stretched over to the blue pool, glistening water columns feeding it from above. A young lady sat nearby with her dog and I asked her how I could get to the water. She told me I had to climb around the rocks and she assured me there haven’t been any reports of snakes in the rocks.

Excited, I clambered over the rocks. Sliding into crevices, finding footholds, and hoisting myself up until finally I made it. People crowded the rocks in bathing suits. I beheld the sight in awe. In the sunlight, it was amazing. I had to stand in the water and play with my underwater camera some more.

As I took off my shoes and socks, a young man leapt into the water, swimming the twenty feet to the base of the waterfall. He came back with a look of pain, pulling himself out of the water. He growled, “Man, I don’t think I’ll have kids. F**cking cold!” I laughed and slid my feet into the water, staying ankle deep.

It was freezing. He was not lying at all. I took a few pictures before climbing back onto the rocks just to take in the view. The young man returned with the girl I’d talked to earlier; they were a couple. Together, they jumped into the water and I had to smile. She freaked out at the iciness of the water, swam halfway and came back while her boyfriend again swam to the waterfall and back. She got out of the water, hugging a sun-soaked rock and saying, “C-c-can’t b-b-breathe. S-s-s-ooo cold.”

And so I watched, letting my feet dry in the sun, watching some other visitors brave the cold pool.

Oh boy. I began to realize that I’d come all the way to California, to this place, and… well, shouldn’t I make the leap into the water, too? Was putting my feet in enough of an experience? My body told me yes. My heart said otherwise.

I recalled my missed opportunity the other day with Alicia and her invite that I declined and regretted. I didn’t want to relive that regret. I couldn’t.

I was on an adventure. I was doing things I may not normally do. This included jumping into a freezing waterfall pool in Northern California. Even if that meant I had to take off my shirt and show the people around me just what eating a lot of pizza does to your body, especially compared the guys around me who all had abs. Ugh. Oh well.

I asked the couple if they would take my picture saying, “I will regret this, probably. But I have to do it. I came all the way from Pennsylvania.”

The “freezing-my-balls-off” guy said, “Dude! Pennsylvania! Hell yeah! You definitely have to do this. I’ll let my girl take the picture.”

I took my shirt off, stood ankle-deep on a rock that dropped off into the depth of the dark pool, and I contemplated my newest life decision.

This was going to be cold. I mean shouldn’t waters in California be warm? I looked back to the couple, nervous. I counted and then I propelled off the rock.

SPLASH!

I screamed at the frigid touch of the pool. It. Was. BITING. Regardless, I forced myself closer to the waterfall. I was halfway there when I understood just how hard it was to breathe. The cold waters made such a simple function a chore. I wasn’t going to make it to the base of the waterfall. That was okay. I’d done the unthinkable. I’d jumped in the water. I just needed to avoid drowning. I spun around and flailed back to the safety of the rocks, hugging their warmth.

“Y-y-y-ou w-w-weren’t k-k-idding,” I stammered to the guy, who laughed.

But I’d done it. I took the leap. It was a physical leap, but maybe it was also metaphorical of my entire trip. Jumping into the unknown, navigating, propelling myself forward even if it’s hard to digest or breathe at times. It didn’t matter. I was doing it.

I drank in the sun’s warmth on the rock for almost an hour, just watching the falls, addicted to their roar. Such peace. Such tranquility. I watched as a husband and wife (graduates of Ohio State) enjoyed the cold waters with their three little girls. We had friendly conversation and helped each other take pictures in front of the falls. They were such a nice family and I was glad for their company, even if I never got their names.

After my time there, I started my journey to the Lower Falls. It was a bit of a hike through the forest and I started to realize that it was after 6PM. Daylight was fading. I didn’t want to be caught in the darkness on these trails. I walked as fast as I could, making my way to the Lower Falls. I spent less than five minutes there. Enough time to take a few photos so I could hightail it the mile or so back to my car before daylight ran out. I was fine, returning with plenty of time to spare.

The rest of the day was nothing special. I drove back, got a Fire Lizard tea from Dutch Bros (strawberry, banana, orange SO GOOD), tried to go to a bar, but everything was closed, and so I ate leftover pizza and watched two more episodes of The Boys. Such a good show; a very dark take on superheroes. Love it.

This has been a long post, but I feel like this was my favorite day yet. It was ripe with adventure. I’d forced myself to step out of my comfort zone many times from hiking alone in the mountains despite my paralyzing fear of snakes to jumping into frigid waters. The day was full of beauty, wonder, and power. Mt. Shasta did not disappoint. It met my expectations and then some. It was everything and I felt like I conquered so much on both a physical and personal level.

This trip is everything. I’m enjoying it and I’m honestly sad that in less than a week it ends. But, hopefully, this won’t be the last trip like this.

I will return to Mt. Shasta tomorrow (Tuesday). The Panther Meadows will be open then, and I plan to explore its sacred beauty.

Thanks for taking the time to read my adventure. I’m still processing yesterday, adrenaline from the day still racing through my veins.

Until next time…

Caliventure Chronicles-Episode 7: The Falls

Caliventure Chronicles-Episode 7: The Falls

It was Saturday, August 10th after my “Day of Weird.” I was rested and ready to go. The plan was to go to Mt. Shasta and see what this mystery mountain offered. However, due to severe thunderstorms, I played it safe. After all, for a mountain 14,000 ft. high it was probably a bad idea to journey there in the middle of thunder and lightning. Instead, I elected to check out what’s called the McArthur-Burney Falls in Burney, CA. It toted a 129 foot waterfall and, well, yes please.

I began my journey by driving downtown and checking out a coffee shop called Evergreen! I had a fruit waffle and a pina colada coffee. It was fantastic. Delicious. Heavenly.

Also, I bought two Pokemon stickers there because… gotta catch em’ all, right? Right. Anyway, the hour drive began and, well, it was cloudy and rainy. The Burney falls was going to be much wetter than usual.

After almost hitting a gray fox that found it acceptable to dash in front of my rental car (rude!), and a perilous journey where I’m very certain I drove through a raincloud, I made it.

Fun fact: You have to pay $10 to get into the park. Good thing I had cash!

Anyway, I put on my Marvel rain jacket a student gave me and made my journey to the falls.

Listen. I feel like I should have the proper adjectives to describe what awaited me. I am an English teacher, after all. But words simply cannot capture the sight of these falls. Pictures may try. There’s a lot. I have no shame. Love the pictures. Please take note the last one. You can see the falls and a very tiny me. It puts things in perspective, that’s for sure.

There was just something stunningly magical hearing the pounding roar of the falls, watching the white columns of water crash into the blue pool beneath it, feeling the cool mist kiss your face. It was absolutely gorgeous. I couldn’t help but stand there and stare in absolute reverence. Again, how is California this beautiful?

Surprising myself, I climbed down at least 20 feet of rocks to get close to the freezing water. I mean, obviously I had to have a selfie in front of the falls. When a kind stranger offered to take my picture from afar, I was happy to race back down the rocks to pose. Could there have been snakes under the rocks? Probably. However, I’m trying not to let my fear of these legless demons control my experience. I am, after all, on an adventure.

This adventure also tempted me to play with the waterproof features of my camera and some of the macro settings too. Check out my experiments with foliage and pictures taken under water. Pretty nifty, if you ask me. You probably didn’t, but too bad. You’re getting the pictures anyway.

Once I was done admiring the falls, I walked the trail all around the falls. I paused at one point to try my hand at sketching the falls in my travel journal. An elderly woman sauntered up to me and said, “Oh! You’re sketching? Let me see.”

Ashamed, I said, “Well, I’m trying. I’m really not an artist. Like, at all.”

Nevertheless, she peered at my sketch. Her smile faltered and she said, “Oh, okay.” That was the last I ever heard from her. As I said, I’m no artist.

Anyway, the trail was beautiful, even though a lot of it evidenced storm damage. Actually, one path was closed to erosion and damage. Interesting, right?

I pushed myself to journey off trail for a little bit. Not too much, but enough to push past my fear of snakes. Yeah, I know. You’re probably reading this and muttering, “Uh, Josh, you should probably be more afraid of the mountain lions and the bears.” I mean you wouldn’t be wrong, I guess.

Yeah… you’re getting a lot of pictures in this post. That’s not likely to change anytime soon!

Anyway, once I completed my beautiful hike, I stopped at the visitor center and bought a hiking stick (which will make a guest appearance in Episode 8!).

The rest of the day hit another weird spot. I was literally super exhausted on the hour drive home. I drove through yet another rain cloud, which is not fun on twisty roads, might I add. I had to wonder if the waterfall put a sleeping spell on me. I was unexpectedly tired to the point where I was really struggling to stay awake while driving. It’s a miracle I made it back okay.

I’m not sure what hit me, but I told myself I was going to take a 2-3 hour nap and then go to a brewery.

I slept until 6AM the next day. Between my previous day and this unexpected sleepiness, I’m not sure what’s going on with my body. Let’s hope it’s done playing these tricks on me because, thanks, I hate it.

Well, next episode (which I hope to post later tonight/early tomorrow morning) will finally tell the tale of my first visit to Mt. Shasta (with my walking stick!). I don’t mean to overhype or anything, but I simply cannot wait for you all to read Episode 8. It. Is. Awesome.

Until then…

Caliventure Chronicles Episode 6: The Day of Weird

Caliventure Chronicles Episode 6: The Day of Weird

Yesterday was a strange day.

If you’ve been following my daily adventures, you already know why based off yesterday’s post. If you haven’t been following my daily adventures, you can click here to get caught up: https://hortonhearswhos.com/travel-adventures-2019/

Most of my day yesterday was entirely uneventful. I’ve been receiving a lot of encouragement from friends that it was entirely okay that I had a day with little to no adventure. Part of me agrees. Another part of me starts to get anxious because time is ticking and I have yet to do some of the bigger things I want to do. For the record, as I type this, thunderstorms are my main obstacle. But that is a story for another day–like tomorrow. Yesterday went like this:

  • Wake up at 9 AM
  • Ugh.
  • Fall back asleep.
  • Wake up at a random time. Ow, my head hurts.
  • Fall back asleep
  • Wake up at 1 PM
  • Eat leftover Mexican food
  • Kill some tiny bugs who infiltrated my Airbnb. They stood no chance.
  • Write a blog post
  • Kill a lone tiny bug. He thought I wouldn’t notice. I did.
  • Edit blog post
  • Update travel journal
  • Contemplate what to do
  • Shower

You kinda see how my day was lazy. The true excitement was wiping little insects off the face of the planet. I eventually decided to find a coffee shop to sit down at and sort through my life. I selected a coffee shop called The Stirring because it looked really cool and Yelp said it was open until 10PM. I got ready at 5PM, donned my new Black Lives Matter shirt, and went forth into the world.

But first? I had to stop and get a Dutch Bros Coffee. Specifically the mysterious and alluring Dragon Slayer per Emma’s suggestion. Who knew something so simple would become so complicated?

I pulled up to the window and greeted the friendly cashier, proudly declaring, “I’d like a medium Dragon Slayer tea please!” I was excited. The picture on the website made it look super cool. It was a raspberry and blue raspberry drink with a red blackberry drizzle. Essentially it looked like tendrils of blood reaching into the depths of a purple vortex. Epic.

"So you want the rebel?" asked the friendly cashier. 
"Uh, the what?" was my lame response.
"Well, you see, the Dragon Slayer is normally a rebel."
I stared dumbly.
"Right. Okay. So the rebel is our energy drink mix. Of course we can make the Dragon Slayer as a lemonade, tea, or soda. However, rebel is the norm. So... rebel?"
I was not up for being rebellious. In fact, I have a personal vendetta against energy drinks. I've boycotted them strongly for nearly ten years. So I smiled and said, "I shall have the Dragon Slayer as a tea, please."
"Why, of course! I'll get that in! Any fun plans tonight?"
I mumbled something about doing something, pretty excited for my pretty drink.

The moment came. She reached around a corner and pulled out….

Well, to say I was underwhelmed is an understatement at best.

I mean. Where was the blackberry drizzle? WHERE WAS THE DRAGON BLOOD?!

So, I drove away, sipping the drink that looked nothing like the promoted picture and cursed myself. I mean maybe if I had agreed to the energy drink, things would’ve been different. Maybe I would have dragon blood. Defeated, I followed my GPS as it barked orders to The Stirring. I sipped the drink, which was actually really good, but there was a particular lack of dragon essence if you ask me. Don’t ask me how I know that. Some things are better left secret.

And then it happened.

Not even a mile down the road another Dutch Bros Coffee came into view.

I looked at my empty drink. Yes, I drink things fast.

I looked at the Dutch Bros Coffee.

I told my GPS to shut its heinous robotic mouth, lurched into the drive thru line of Dutch Bros Coffee, and resolved to order the Dragon Slayer right. It was a big moment. I was about to break my boycott of energy drinks in hopes of drinking the true form of the Dragon Slayer. Adrenaline coursed through my veins. All these years. I was about to ruin it in the name of dragons. As if to intensify this moment further, the hit song “Everybody-Backstreet’s Back” by the Backstreet Boys serenaded me from the Dutch Bros outside speakers.

Yes, Backstreet Boys. I was coming back to the energy drinks. Thanks for noticing.

The cashier was full of bubbles. She was dancing and grooving to the song. I made it a point to praise the music choice. I mean, you cannot go wrong with 90s music, especially Backstreet Boys. This ensured she continued singing the song as I ordered.

Am I sexual?” sang the cashier.

“Um, I’ll take the Dragon Slayer, please.”

Yeaaaaahhh.”

I smiled at her as she tapped in my order, grooving to the beat.

“Wait. Is that the rebel then?” I frantically asked. No room for a second mistake, folks.

“Yes. That it’s normal form. You can also order it as…”

I decided to keep it as the energy drink and then tacked on a quick Passion Water soda order. It’s passionfruit and watermelon made as sparkling water. Hey, I have a limited time here. I have to try all the things.

Absolutely certain I’d remedied my prior mistake, I pulled up to the pickup window, leaving my Backstreet Boys backup dancer to her funk. You go, girl!

The moment came. They handed me the drink.

And I stared like one betrayed by the universe.

You may be like: What am I looking at here? Also, that’s a lot of fluids.

You wouldn’t be wrong. Here is what you’re seeing. At the very top is the failed Dragon Slayer tea with no notable dragon blood drizzle. The little cup is my Passion Water drink. Listen, there was no time for a picture of it. That baby was gone in .5 seconds due to sheer deliciousness.

I have no regrets.

That last cup? That’s the Dragon Slayer in its natural form. If you look closely you’ll notice that there is NO DRAGON BLOOD DRIZZLE! I felt betrayed, confused, isolated, unworthy of all dragons–you get the point. And not only that but I broke my energy drink boycott for nothing. And I’ll have you know, it was not a pleasant taste or feeling. Energy drinks are gross. This was no exception.

Sad, alone in a world without genuine dragon blood drinks, I urged my rental car forward to The Stirring.

To my horror, The Stirring, despite Yelp’s proclamation of it being open until 10 PM, was closed. CLOSED AT 6PM. I mean… coffee shops that close at 6PM should be ashamed of themselves, just saying. Interestingly, this coffee shop was connected to a church. Upon further reading, it is owned by the church but also works as a public business. Also, I’m going to guess me and my shirt wouldn’t have been entirely welcomed there. Based on my personal experiences, churches seem to scoff at the Black Lives Matter movement saying “Well, all lives matter.” Which, of course they do! But the whole point is that Black lives are still being treated unfairly through systemic racism, police brutality, and racial profiling. The Jim Crow laws are still embedded in a system set up by White people. Black Lives Matter is a movement that is speaking up against racism. It shouldn’t be so easily dismissed. Okay, that was a little political. Actually, no. That was not political–that was about social justice. Anyway, I recently wrote a 14 page research paper on racial hierarchy and how messed up and racist the system is. You’ll find I’m very passionate on that topic. If anybody is interested in reading it, let me know!

But back to our adventure where I was not going into the church-owned coffee shop with my Black Lives Matter shirt. They were closed. I was shut out.

So I decided to visit a place called T4: Tea for U. Once there I ordered a wintermelon milk tea with passion fruit bubbles and something called egg puffs.

I thought wintermelon would be green and, well, something to do with melons. As you can see it was brown and had nothing to do with melons if my taste buds were correct. It wasn’t a bad drink. I enjoyed it well enough, but it followed the trend of breaking expectations. The egg puffs were great. Think soft fortune cookies. It was so delicious that I ended up knocking my fork off the table halfway through my consumption and had to eat the rest of it with my hands as I didn’t want to shame myself by asking for a new fork.

I sat there for at least two hours updating my travel journal, researching some events I can do with my remaining time, and even writing a few paragraphs in my story. Nothing too crazy though. It was a neat little place that had board games and an Xbox in one corner of the room. Pretty relaxed place, but also got pretty loud at times.

I left from there to go home, use the restroom, change into a dress shirt, and go to a hipster brewery called The Dip. However, I wasn’t feeling so good. I still had the remnants of the migraine. I was also lightheaded and woozy. Maybe it was just the lazy day. Maybe it was the energy drink sugar spike. Maybe it was just a sign I was not to go to The Dip that night.

So, deciding to play it safe, I elected to order pizza from a place called Round Table Pizza which literally is themed after King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. And, of course, I needed a drink to go with it so I visited Dutch Bros Coffee. Again. This time?

The Dutch Mojito which consists of lime, coconut, and creme de menthe. It was heavenly and delicious and I loved it. I spent the rest of the night eating pizza, drinking magic, and watching another episode of The Boys as a rare thing happened outside.

Severe thunderstorms shook the walls. Bright scathes of lightning. Torrential rain. For a city known for primarily sunshine, this was rare weather. Sadly, it’s still a thing today. But I’m going to continue to adventure.

So, until we meet again!

Caliventure Chronicles-Episode 5: Cave Adventures and Horse Whispering

Caliventure Chronicles-Episode 5: Cave Adventures and Horse Whispering

I’m still trying to process yesterday. It’s now in the afternoon on my third full day here and I haven’t left my Airbnb. I have a bit of a migraine, and I slept in until 1PM. Let’s rewind, shall we?

Yesterday, I woke up with two and a half hours of sleep at most. When last we talked, I had raved about the Dutch Bros Coffee drink. Let it be known that I consumed the delicious Kicker drink at 9pm at night. Did I mention it was a large? Well, it was. As such, I was unable to sleep until 3 AM. I spent the night updating my travel journal, doing some research on the area, and tossing and turning. Then I woke up at 5:30 AM and decided it was a great idea to go through my cell phone pictures from the past couple of years and do some cleanup. I went from 5,400 pictures to 2,500 pictures.

And then I rolled out of bed, showered, and made my way to the Lake Shasta Caverns. Well, first I stopped at Dutch Bros Coffee and grabbed an iced Amaretto Latte. It was perfect and needed as I began my 20 minute drive toward my spelunking adventure.

This goes without saying, but I will never get over the sights as I drive through Northern California. I have to remind myself to watch the road as I drive through lush mountainsides, pass glittering bodies of water, and revere the powerful Mt. Shasta that looms over it all. The trip to the Lake Shasta Caverns led me through scary winding roads (again!) where I had to stop the car at one point to allow baby deer to scatter safely. They did not desire to be photographed. Also, I wasn’t risking photographs on such narrow roads.

Upon arrival to the Lake Shasta Caverns, I was filled with awe. Between jagged mountains of green was the mighty Lake Shasta, sparkling in the radiating sunlight. I purchased my ticket, the first of the tour, and eventually walked down a long path to dock onto a boat.

Yes, a boat.



Here’s the thing. The cave I was about to explore is only reachable by boating across Lake Shasta. There’s absolutely no other way there. I was greeted by the driver of the boat who was impressed that I’d come all the way from PA. Remember how I said I was going to work on being better at telling people I was here due to writing a book?

Yeah. I failed. I also didn’t feel particularly social on this day–I blame lack of sleep. I was shortly joined by 8 other people: a young solo woman, a son with his elderly mother, three local sisters, and a traveling RV couple from NYC. We were a motley bunch, unlikely that we would ever be seen together in a different setting. I wish I’d known their names, but that’s one thing I never got, despite having broken conversations with these people here and there. Maybe that’s part of the adventure though. Nine people riding across an entrancing lake together where we would soon enter the depths of a cave–yet no names were given. Our tour guide, a young man named Austin, was eccentric and knowledgable as he explained elements about the area.

The journey across the lake was not even ten minutes, but it was glorious. We traveled across piercing green waters that ranged from 400-600 feet deep. The water levels were higher than normal due to a recent increase in rainy weather in the area. All around the lake you could see red shores–iron oxide–closely embraced by green trees. Ducks and their spawn flitted on the surface of the lake. It was tranquil, despite the roaring boat engine and the rippling, white waves.



We docked on the other side of the lake and then had to board a small bus. Here’s where it got really interesting. The bus was to drive us up a narrow, dirt path 800 feet up the mountain. No, you didn’t read that wrong. This is exactly how we would get to the cave.

The sights on the way up were dazzling, but looking out the windows and seeing that the tires of the bus were literally inches away from sliding down the green and rocky mountainside? Terrifying. Our entire trust was placed in the hands of our experienced bus driver who navigates this path multiple times a day.

Hard to see due to the sun, but that’s an 800 foot drop. Notice how close to the edge we are.

Once we made it to the top, and breathed a sigh of relief for our survival, we entered the depths of the Lake Shasta Caverns. I tried to jot down all the details Austin gave us as we entered the cool confines of the caves. If my information recording was correct, the cave was discovered in 1877 by a native of the Wintu tribe. Recall that the Wintu tribe is also known for their deep reverence of Mt. Shasta. Sensing a pattern here!

However, the credit of the cave’s discovery actually went to a white explorer named James A. Richardson who wrote his name on the cavern walls on November 11, 1878. What’s interesting is that I cannot find the name of the young Wintu man who discovered the tribe online, even though Austin told us his name was Charles M (I didn’t catch the last name). All the credit goes to a white explorer, but none that I can find credits the Indian man who discovered it first. Perhaps I misheard our tour guide, but given the history of a nation that places Whites above all other races time and time again, I took it as another sign of oppression. That was unfortunate and I don’t feel James Richardson deserves the praise and fame when it should go to the Wintu native. Just another sliver of evidence that shows how systemic racism is in the USA. But, alas, enough of my political soapbox.

The caves were made by water, the rocky formations made up of limestone. It is said that the caves can be dated back to 200 million years ago. There are still rooms being discovered in the caverns today. It was certainly a sight to behold. The nine of us, plus our tour guide, traveled up and down narrow stairs, saw a bat or two, and entered various rooms such as The Crystal Room and the Cathedral Room. It was beautiful, claustrophobic, and mystifying all at once. We were even introduced to Phil, a lone piece of green somehow growing in the depths of the cave. How that is possible, I have no idea.

Exiting the cavern, we had to journey down 250 septs on the exotic mountainside. The views stole my breath yet again. Honestly, I’m going to need an oxygen mask for the rest of this trip if my breath keeps being snatched away by these sights.

On our journey down I met a lizard named Alexander. He may or may not have agreed to his name and I may or may not have assumed his gender. But… no big deal.

Alexander just being Alexander. Or maybe Alexandra?

We journeyed back down the deathly mountain, boated across the lake, and the tour was over. I said goodbye to the young mother who was having her own adventure as she journeyed along the coast to pick up her daughter in Southern California. I parted ways with the older couple and a former teacher from NYC who started RV-ing across the country in 2008–and are still doing it. Honestly, I think I have a new goal in life. I waved to the three spunky sisters. And I gave a “goodbye” smile and nod to the man with his 83 year-old mom who was a total beast as she conquered all the stairs we had to climb in the caverns.

I don’t know their names, any of their names, but we were unified in a great adventure.

As I drove back towards Redding, I decided upon a little pit stop to see the Shasta Dam, a wonder in and of itself. The Shasta Dam embraces the monstrous Lake Shasta and it provides power for hundreds and hundreds of miles in California. In fact, the Shasta Dam (which stands at 602 feet high and the 8th tallest in the USA) is third on the terrorist watch list. I discovered this by talking to a security guard after I walked across the damn. He explained to me that if this massive damn ever broke, the entire city of Redding would be wiped off the map. Nearby towns would suffer the same fate and power would be lost to a major chunk of California.

Naturally, this gave me an idea for a dramatic event in my book. There will be a grand monster fight and/or threat to the Shasta Dam in my novel. I made sure to explain to the security guard that my probes into the damage the dam would cause was due to my superhero book idea. Thankfully, he didn’t call in a SWAT team or anything, finding it cool that I was writing a book set in this area. Two fun facts from the security guard:

  • Mountain lions were very active in this area. The other night he watched a large mountain lion kill a deer and drag the body to its den. He pointed the rough location of the den out to me. With some binoculars, I tried to locate it from the safety of the top of the damn. Alas, I couldn’t find it. Plus, they aren’t as active during the day.
  • He says that while he has never seen the rattlesnakes, he’s heard stories and says that are absolutely nasty creatures. I mean, he didn’t have to convince me of that, but it made me a little more nervous about hiking alone.

Since my camera was about dead, due to taking distant pictures of Mt. Shasta looming over the lake, I decided to head back to my Airbnb. I was very exhausted. Also? I was burned. Despite having bought sunscreen, I didn’t apply it. I have a great tan line now, as you could probably guess from the shirt I’m wearing in the picture above.

I managed to grab a two hour nap before I journeyed out to NorCal Trail Rides where I was destined to meet my horse pal and take a ride through the wilderness along with our fearless guide, Alicia.

I met my horse, Reggie, and we became fast friends. We had a connection. You cannot tell me otherwise. Reggie was the man. I was last in the line of horses, a mother and daughter ahead of me, and a mother and son ahead of them. Alicia led us along the trails, her rescue dogs roaming the wilderness around us and guiding the way.

For somebody who doesn’t ride horses, I found it relaxing to adapt. I leaned back when we went downhill and leaned forward when going uphill, per Alicia’s instructions. Every so often Reggie would whip his head down to the ground and tear a greedy amount of plants and grass up, happily munching on the snack as he carried me through thick foliage and open plains. A few times, in order to stay with the group, I denied his attempts at grabbing plants. He would dramatically neigh, but oblige. Once or twice he decided to surprise me with a quick trot. I tugged on the reigns and squeaked out, “Whoa!” It’s like I could almost sense Reggie’s amusement as he snorted and slowed his trot down, happy to give me some adventure.

Every so often, I’d reach down and pat the side of his neck while we traipsed along the trail. I really enjoyed Reggie. After we got back, I dismounted him and held his rope while Alicia boarded the other horses. I used the time to snap quick selfies of Reggie and myself. At one point, Reggie turned his head toward me and tried to nuzzle against my chest. I’m not sure what such an action meant from a majestic beast, but I’d like to believe it meant he liked me. Staring into his big brown eyes was like staring into the eyes of a wise, loyal creature. I felt connected and was was truly sad to say goodbye to Reggie. I know I’ll probably never meet him again, but I have a deep respect for horses after my time with Reggie.

It was a great time. Beyond that, Alicia was an amazing person. She and her wife own a farm with lots of horses, a few dogs, and some chickens that I could see. Alicia is a teacher who trains students in horseback riding, but she gives tours as well. I got to talk to her a little more in depth as I rode with her, six horses in tow in a trailer, to our riding spot three miles from the farm. Alicia thought it was great that I was a teacher and we talked about my solo adventure, gun reform, and her career. She was down to earth and just a really cool person. I wish I’d gotten to know her and her wife, who is from Venezuela, better. I had a chance to. After the ride, she invited me to stick around and have a beer. At the time I didn’t understand the context of the offer, but it was after I politely declined the offer wherein I learned she had a wife.

I’ll be honest. My entire ride back home, I was beating myself up. Alicia had understood I was on a solo adventure. She respected that and admired it. Besides giving me great recommendations on things to do, she offered me an olive branch to spend my adventure getting to know herself and her wife. This whole trip for me has been about doing what I normally may not do. Stepping outside my comfort zone. This would’ve been a great chance to do that. I should’ve said yes. I really, really should have. It was a friendly gesture and I admired that she had a wife. If I had accepted the chance to grab a beer with them, she and her wife would’ve found we all had something in common in terms of sexuality. It would’ve been cool to get an idea on what our community was like in this area. Oh well. Live and learn, right? I’ll try to be better about this in the future. Really bummed I missed that chance last night.

I wish I could tell you that the rest of my night was exciting. It wasn’t. I came home, showered, grabbed some food at a local taco place, and elected to try the Eclipse (Passion Fruit and Peach) lemonade from Dutch Bros Coffee.

It was as delicious as it sounds. Truly amazing.

Back at my Airbnb, I watched the first episode of The Boys while I ate before climbing into bed where I spent the night having super weird dreams about Mt. Shasta. I mean super weird. I’m talking people in white robes chanting, and strange lights, and crystals… probably just my creative mind at work.

Probably.

Hopefully.

At the time of this posting, I have done nothing exciting to date. I woke up at nine this morning super exhausted and with a migraine. I slept until 1PM, ate leftovers, and decided to update my blog. I feel like I’ve wasted my day here. But I’ve been so exhausted. Maybe it’s good I took today to be lazy. Maybe I wasted the chance at adventure. Again. I hope not.

I tell myself I’m on vacation, so it’s okay to not always be running about. That it’s okay to relax. Alas, I’m feeling a little down from both last night and that I’ve done nothing all day except write this post. Gotta bounce back!

So, I’m not sure what the rest of the day holds for me. I think I might visit The Dip, a local brewery tonight. I plan to get another drink at Dutch Bros Coffee. Per a suggestion from Emma on my last post, I’m going to try Dragon Slayer and make sure real dragon blood isn’t in the mix as she suspects!

Beyond that, I don’t know. Tomorrow (Saturday) I plan to explore Mt. Shasta. I’m ready to embrace the geography that drew me here, to bask in its presence. Hopefully, though, the mountain doesn’t claim me like it is rumored to have done to others.

On that uplifting note, I’m signing off for now.

Next time on Caliventure Chronicles…. well, I don’t know. Consider it suspense. Hopefully, the rest of the day offers something blog-post worthy!