It’s 2:15 AM when I finally land in Oakland. The flight was delayed, and it lands two hours late. When the wheels hit the tarmac, I wake with a start. California! I’m in California again!
I get my bag at the baggage claim and call a Lyft. I think I’m going to pass right out on the driver, but he turns out to be very nice, and we chat for the whole ride. When I tell him that I’m from Cincinnati, we start talking about the Bengals almost winning the Super Bowl. Then he tells me what he likes to do around the Bay Area, and I talk about the PCT. It feels like a longer drive than I was expecting, and when we finally get to my friends’ apartment in Walnut Creek, it is 3:30 in the morning and I feel terrible that I have to wake Katie up to let me in. I give her a quick hug and we both stumble into bed.
I sleep late, especially considering I’m still on east coast time, recovering from the ordeal that was the past 11 hours of travel. When I do finally rise from the dead, Katie, Azzi, and I greet each other properly. It’s been five years since the last time I saw them. Five years! That’s longer than people go to college for! That’s a PhD! I can’t believe it. We catch up on work, life, and of course, their wedding plans. The reason I’m here visiting now is that I can’t make it to their wedding in Atlanta this summer. Because, you know, thru-hike. I’m so sad to miss it. But so happy to have this time now.
They’re both technically working today, so I set out to explore. I wind up at the House of Bagels and order a luscious lox bagel, which I devour messily at a table outside while reading. Then I walk farther down the street to the bakery Brioche de Paris for a vanilla chai latte and a chocolate Nutella creation. I’m in heaven.
I have to go back to Katie and Azzi’s place briefly to deal with a work thing and deliver Azzi’s bagel, then I head to the Walnut Creek BART station. I’ve decided to use the rest of the day to explore a little in Berkeley.
The last time I was in the Bay was in 2016. I turned 23 here. I can’t believe that was six years ago now! One day on that trip, my mom and I took the BART from San Jose to Berkeley and spent the day exploring the campus and walking around town. I relive that today, emerging from the station and walking towards the leafy, eucalyptus-scented University of California campus.
I walk up the hill and into the trees, following my nose to the huge grove of eucalyptus behind the Valley Life Sciences building. This is one of my favorite college campuses I’ve seen, and it’s so nice to be here again to explore. I take some deep breaths in the grove and then keep walking up the hill to the Sather Tower, aka the Campanile, and I pay $5 to ride to the top. The view is amazing. I can see the entire campus, the downtown area, Oakland, and across the bay to San Francisco, its buildings pointing up like so many hilly needles beyond the bridges and the water.
After that I stroll through the Sather Gate and down Telegraph Avenue and its smoke shops and record stores and ever-present smell of incense. I spend a long time in Moe’s Books reading the first chapter of The Mushroom at the End of the World, followed by a short spin through Amoeba Music. I’m pretty hungry by now, so I walk towards the downtown and get a waffle and an earl grey latte at a little shop by the BART station. It starts pouring as I walk to the station and take the train back to Walnut Creek.
I walk from the station towards the bar where I’m meeting Katie and Azzi. On the way, I see a huge snail making its way across the sidewalk. Naturally, because I am me, I bend down and talk to it. Then I notice another snail, then another, then I notice that the sidewalk is absolutely covered in them. Is this just a thing in California? Do snails come out when it rains instead of earthworms? It is incredible, although it makes me nervous for the rest of the night that I’m going to step on one accidentally.
Snail freak-out complete, I finish my walk to the bar Retro Junkie. Katie and Azzi decided to come here tonight because they were supposed to have a movie on the lawn followed by live band karaoke, but it’s pouring now so the movie was cancelled. We walk to dinner at a sports bar around the corner, which turns out to have surprisingly good food and a very tasty local hazy IPA, and then we return to Retro Junkie.
I’ve never done karaoke before, let alone live band karaoke, but it’s been on my bucket list. Katie and Azzi both sign up, so I decide to as well. Carpe diem, baby! The band starts with a few songs of their own, and they sound great! A woman goes up and absolutely owns “Hotel California.” The bar goes wild. Katie crushes “Since U Been Gone.” Then it’s my turn to sing (chant?) “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” by Cake. It is so much fun, especially when the trumpet comes in at the end. I’m just up there in my patagonia shorts and PCT hat and hiking shoes in a bar doing my thing.
The band is taking a long time to get through the list, and they play a song in between each karaoke singer. By the time it’s 11, Azzi still hasn’t gone yet, and he’s way down the list. So we decide to head out.
It’s late by the time we get back to their place, but it was worth it. I’m so glad I have this time to celebrate with them! It was a perfect first day in California.