10 shirts. 5 pairs of shorts. 2 pairs of jeans. 2 sweatshirts. 2 bathing suits. 1 brush. 1 toothbrush. 1 bag. 18 days.
I went down the “Travel Checklist” that my mom handed out to each member of my family and made sure I had everything—or as much as I could fit into that small duffel bag. For the next three weeks I would be on the opposite coast, as far from home as I’ve ever been. I could have never imagined the extent to which that trip would change me.
Traveling the entire coast of California, I was exposed to both ends of the spectrum of site-seeing, although I went there only expecting to see one. You know—the “Hollywood” sign, Disney Land, Napa Valley, fresh seafood, San Francisco, horseback riding on the beach—the glitz and glamour of the west coast. However, these were not the elements that had the most impact on me. It was when I discovered the opposite end of the spectrum that I realized that this state was more than the home of most Hollywood actors.
I can still remember the looks and comments we received as our family of six walked through the desolate town of Fort Bragg, California. One man yelled out his window, “You guys must be from San Francisco—you look clueless!” And that we were. We looked around the small, dicey town, and glanced at my father who promised we would get our money’s worth there. As usual, he was right.
We boarded the old and rickety “Skunk” train and began our journey through the Redwood Forrest. Never have I ever seen anything more beautiful or astounding. The trees were so high that it was nearly impossible to see their tops from where we stood. It wasn’t the trees, however, that was the most fascinating part.
About two hours into the train ride, the train began to slow down, and then stopped. There were no stops anywhere near us, and the sky was darkening. Suddenly, a small barefoot girl with messy hair and dirt-covered clothes popped out from behind a tree. She reached her hands up towards the train and the conductor lowered building supplies into her arms. I looked to my mother, expecting an explanation, but only received the same clueless glance.
One passenger explained to us that families living in the middle of the forest are delivered goods weekly from the train, as the walk to the closest town is too long to manage. I watched as more of the girl’s family walked up, barefoot and dirt-strewn, reach up for more supplies. They stood in silence and watched as the train once again picked up speed and traveled on. The train continued on its path and small houses flew by with little children waving through the front windows at the passengers of the train. For the first time in my life, I realized that California had much more than Hollywood within its borders; it had a unique and hidden history that seemed untouched and unreal within the redwoods.
As we traveled along the twists and turns of the treacherous, yet stunning, Pacific Coast Highway on our two hour journey “back to civilization,” as my mom phrased it, my mind began to wander. I began to realize that my travels to California, as well as North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Florida, Canada, Pennsylvania, and New York, were trips that shaped and altered my character. We are such a unique country with a distinctive history and an enormous variety of cultures blended into one. We live in the melting pot of the world, which makes our citizens unique as we blend.
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