Rainbow network full circles


Wow, wow, wow.

This is a long one. (“Strap in tight, ’cause it’s a long, sweet ride!”)

It’s been a little more than two weeks since my last post, and I can’t believe how much has happened between then and now.

When we left off, at the end of February, I was just finishing up a sit in Mission Bay, near the beach. After that, I headed up north of LA, where a sit in Burbank was waiting for me. But first, I stayed with two wonderful Host a Sister women, one in Moorpark and one in Northridge. On my way up to Moorpark from San Diego, though, I found myself in a transportational pickle.

Having seen that the Amtrak Surfliner train was still running its “bus bridge” between Oceanside and Irvine, I decided instead to bike from Mission Bay to the Old Town Transit Center to catch the Coaster train, to take it to Oceanside and then transfer to the LA-area Metrolink train up to Moorpark.

Once I arrived at the transit center, though, I discovered that the Coaster was not running that weekend.


I managed to find that Greyhound had a bus departing that transit center for Oceanside within about an hour, though, so I breathed a sigh of relief, although I would have much preferred to take a train than a Greyhound, especially a $6.50 train vs. a $15.98 Greyhound.

But I dutifully made my way over to the stop, on the side of the street. I bought a ticket through the Greyhound app. I debated whether I should add a $19.99 ticket(!) for “bulky baggage.” I was quite certain that my trailer, and possibly also my bike, would qualify as checkable baggage that should be paid for. I also knew, however, that most Greyhound drivers don’t seem to care about such things. But I fretted that I had already hit one transportation snag in the day, and I feared what might happen if the driver somehow did decide to bar me from boarding. Reluctantly, I parted with the extra $19.99 for the baggage.

The bus arrived 40 minutes late. By then it had started to rain, and our stop was uncovered. Luckily, we didn’t have to stand there long enough to get drenched, but the raindrops did take a further edge off an already tricky day.

To add to this, I found that my $19.99 had indeed been wasted: after loading all my own baggage while the driver was checking in other passengers, I went to him to scan my ticket. He looked at me quizzically. “Why do you have two tickets?”


Oh well. On the bus, on our way!

When we arrived at Oceanside, I wheeled over to the Metrolink train stop to wait. Soon, a transit center employee came out to tell me (and the family also waiting for the train, who had just spent $60 on all their tickets) that the Metrolink was not running that day.

Apparently that whole section of track was being worked on, so that’s why there was no rail service along that stretch.

But… seriously??

OK, what to do next?

I wanted to save my money by using the Amtrak gift card a generous friend had recently given me, so I preferred to take Amtrak rather than another Greyhound. I decided to book that “bus bridge” ticket after all, from Oceanside to Irvine, and then transfer to the Surfliner train for the rest of the ride to Moorpark.

All went well with the bus bridge, although after disembarking I did have to wait nearly an hour in Irvine for the Surfliner train to arrive. Fortunately, the rain mostly held off during that time.

But when I got on the train, I received a stern lecture from an exasperated conductor, shunting me to a different car specifically for bikes, and yelling that “bike trailers are not allowed on this train! It’s right there in the rules!”

I was flabbergasted.

Bike trailers not allowed on the Surfliner??

I had managed to board and stow it myself on the trip down from LA in February; I guess a conductor never saw it that time. It had never occurred to me that trailers might not be allowed.

Grateful to be aboard and on my way, I was still quite rattled. I hate breaking rules and upsetting people, and I also hate the idea that I can’t take the Surfliner anymore. It is a beautiful route, along the ocean rather than the freeway, and it is the primary way to get between LA and San Diego by rail. But the conductor kept yelling, “For future reference! For future reference!” so I don’t think I can chance running into him again with the rig. Guess it was fun while it lasted…

I set aside my worries for the time, and did my best to enjoy the ride. When I disembarked in Moorpark, I did see that some other bicyclists had joined the car, and indeed the space was filling up, so I could appreciate the reasoning behind the ban. But Amtrak needs to figure out a solution for this. Multimodal travel is important.

My friends Dave and Melissa met me at the train platform, and we stopped at Moorpark’s only vegan restaurant—Vegiterranean Kitchen—which I had sadly missed visiting on my last trip to Moorpark because of my soggy shoes. We picked up some food to go, and went back to enjoy it at their house while we caught up on our lives.

The visit was brief, though, because I needed to get to my new host Patricia’s place. As it turned out, she lived only about a mile away from Dave and Melissa. Dave gave me a ride over, and those two met and chatted about vegan potlucks and neighborhood things. I love it when I can facilitate people meeting each other; it’s a big part of what my life and travels are about!

Patricia was a warm and gracious host, with a cute Siamese kitty named Teddy. Patricia and I had some great conversations, and she even introduced me to some of her friends at a brunch meeting the next day.

When it came time for me to go to my next host’s house—Janeece, in Northridge—Patricia kindly offered me a ride, which I appreciated because I was now skittish about boarding the Metrolink train. (What if they also claimed I wasn’t allowed onboard? How would I then get back to San Diego?)

When we arrived in Northridge, Patricia and Janeece got to talking, and it looks like those two might begin a friendship as well! It felt cool to be a part of that possibility.

Janeece and I also had some juicy conversations. She is interested in becoming nomadic with her van, so it was cool to talk about life, aging with grace, traveling solo as women, etc. She also told me about a nearby Japanese garden, which I was happy to bicycle over to see while I was there.

The following day, when I was planning to bicycle 20 miles to my cat sit in Burbank, the forecast was looking foreboding, and Janeece happened to have a doctor’s appointment in Burbank. She gave me a ride, which I appreciated more than most rides I have ever received: the sky absolutely dumped, for the entire ride and then some.

She dropped me off at Kari’s apartment, where I was to spend one night as a guest, then take care of her two cats, Flash and Cali, for the next week. Kari and I had a lot in common, and we ended up talking for seven hours straight!

During that time, she told me about an amazing woman, Alex, who reminded her a lot of me. She had been the other applicant for that cat sitting gig. She is also a car-free full-time pet sitter, but currently based in LA. I recognized a great potential magical meeting, and asked Kari for an introduction.

Sure enough, a couple days later, Alex took three buses from Pasadena, while I took three buses from Burbank, so that we could meet up in person at the Griffith Observatory. Alex had been there before, of course, but I never had; in all the times I had visited LA over the years, I had never seemed to be able to find a way to visit there.

I’m so glad we did! The building was beautiful, and so were the views, and we had a wonderful in-person magical meeting, talking about the TV screenplay Alex has devoted her life to developing over the past two and a half years. She has been shopping it around, and from what she told me about the concept, I think she will find a way to make it a reality. I’m so excited for that! (Dear reader, if you have any Hollywood connections, feel free to reach out if you think you could help!)

When it was time to leave Burbank and return to San Diego, I wasn’t sure how to do it. No Surfliner, obviously. Could I take the Metrolink to the Coaster? What if one or both weren’t running?

I ended up deciding to take the Flixbus. They had one running from downtown LA—a 12-mile bike ride from Kari’s place—straight to Balboa Park, just a few blocks from where I would be staying with my next hosts, Lynne and John. I had heard about Flixbus, a German company, when they first arrived here in the US a few years ago. I had always been curious to try riding. They recently acquired Greyhound, too, so it was easy to book the bus from the Greyhound app.

After my recent experience with the Greyhound driver’s apathy about extra fees for baggage, I thought I would try my luck just boarding with a ticket for myself. I figured I could load my own bags, and no one would care. I even checked the app for the fullness of the bus; it looked to be only about half booked, so I estimated that there would be plenty of space underneath for the bike and trailer.

The bike ride to the Flixbus lot was mostly quite pleasant, mostly along a car-free bike path along the LA River. One stretch along that path was pretty awful, though: first, it was harrowing to cross a major four-way street with no crosswalk or light, to get onto the path. When a kind driver stopped for me and helped me to cross, that’s when I saw that the bike path itself was barricaded by a chain-link gate. It was padlocked shut.


What was I supposed to do?

Just then, a French-accented gent on the other side of the gate stopped and picked up his bike, carrying it through a huge hole in the fence, which only then became apparent to me. I asked him if the path was open on the other side, where he had come from, and he assured me it was.

Thank goodness.

But getting through that hole meant I had to take apart the whole rig, and carry it piece by piece through the opening, with a big wire cable running diagonally through it.

Folded bike through? Check. Empied trailer through? Check. Bags through? OK. Now to reassemble it all…

And I was on my way. But on a couple of occasions, I saw cars driving on this very-obviously-car-free path.

Oh, Los Angeles.

I arrived at the Flixbus lot, and waited in the designated area with a group of people, some of whom, I later learned, would be boarding another Flixbus all the way to Las Vegas.

When my bus pulled up, and the cargo hold door opened (remotely!) I started loading my things, even though the trailer is quite heavy and bulky and awkward to load. Hardly anyone else was loading any bags, so my plan seemed to be working perfectly.

And then the yelling and waving of hands began.

“You! With the bike! Take that out of there! We don’t take bikes on this bus!”

I was dumbstruck.

What?? This progressive, German bus company was telling me bikes can’t go in their buses?

“And that cart! That’s way over the dimensions! We don’t take those either! Get ‘em out, get ‘em out!”

I found myself on the verge of helpless-rage tears. How was I supposed to get to San Diego?

Eventually, after much back-and-forth, one of the staffers was kind enough to go inside the building and return with a garbage bag. He put the folded bike into the bag, then insisted I take the wheels off the trailer and put them into the garbage bag as well. I did so as carefully as I could—fearing damage to either the bike or wheels—but the driver was yelling for me to hurry the whole time, that I was holding up the departure. I shoved everything into the cargo hold—giving myself a nasty bruise on my thigh and a small abrasion on my knee—and boarded the bus, thanking the driver and other employee profusely while the driver continued to glare at me.

We took off, and were on our way.

At the stop before Balboa Park—and then again when he dropped me off in the park—the driver took the opportunity for further “explanations” and complaints about the fact that I was on the bus with prohibited items. He kept talking about liability. I kept thinking that Greyhound has never had an issue with anything like this, and the buses are the same.

Finally, the nightmare was over, and I emerged—bruised in more ways than one—into the gentle sunshine of the park.

Now the magic could start flowing again!

A little backstory:

Twelve years ago, I first visited San Diego on a “scouting trip.” I had begun making an escape plan from Portland’s winters, having sloshed through 22 of them at that point, and having been about ready to be done with them after the first ten. My plan was that someday, somehow, I could spend about four months a year—December through March—in San Diego, with the remainder in Portland. My vision at this point is a bit more flexible, and geographically farther-reaching… but it was a cool plan at the time, and honestly, if I were able to manifest it long-term, I think I’d still be pretty happy.

On that first scouting trip, back in 2012, I visited Balboa Park for the first time. My friend Ember had said to me with a knowing smile, “Oh, you would love Balboa Park, Maren!” She was so right. I clearly remember walking along Upas Street on that first trip… specifically the segment between Park Boulevard and the canyon just to the west of there… and thinking, “Wow. How amazing would it be to live in one of these houses? I wonder if there could be some way that I could bring that about… some magic…”

I hadn’t thought much about that since. For most of the times that I’ve visited this area, I’ve made a point to find an AirBnb not too far from there, roughly around Florida and University. It’s been close enough for my purposes.

And now with cat sitting, of course, I’ve been taking the sits wherever I can find them: University Heights, Mission Bay, South Park, Pacific Beach…

But I needed a couple of days of fill-in before my current South Park sit began, so I looked on the Servas website.

And what should I see, but a house just about two blocks away from that tiny, specific segment of Upas Street that I had dreamed about all those years ago!

I reached out to Lynne, and she graciously confirmed that I could stay in their backyard AirBnb suite for the two nights of a traditional Servas stay. She and her husband John were quite busy during that time, so we wouldn’t be able to spend much time together, but she invited me to join them for breakfast both mornings, and I did. It was great to connect with them, and talk about travel and life, as we Servas folks always do.

And being in that lovely space in their backyard for two days felt like a dream come true. It even occurred to me that my initial dream—“living” in one of those houses—might have been overkill. Was more than two nights really necessary? In that one full day in between, I was able to appreciate the closeness to the park that had drawn me in all those years ago.

The second part of the magic happened during that full day.

You may recall that almost exactly five years ago, I had a life-changing epiphany in a little “spur” of Balboa Park that I had never visited before. That was when the “rainbow network” became a part of my consciousness—a part that has guided my life ever since, and that I believe will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

That little spur of the park is just a few blocks away from their house. After I was returning “home” after a few errands, I decided to ride a couple of blocks out of the way, to see if it was possible to enter that part of the park from the neighborhood to the east of it, rather than from the north, as I had originally done.

It was.

Looking carefully, I spotted what appeared to be an enchanted staircase descending from the residential neighborhood.

I hesitated for a moment; it looked like it might be private property.

But then I realized that if it were, there would be a sign to that effect.

So I locked up my bike on a nearby signpost, and began to descend the staircase.

Within a few steps, I found myself within an enchanted world, even beyond what I had hoped to find. When I had had the epiphany five years ago, the park felt otherworldly, but not especially beautiful, in the January gray drizzle.

But now, it felt like a scene out of Heidi, in the Swiss Alps. Trees were newly green with spring growth, flowers were blooming bright yellow and purple, and sunlight was dappling it all.

I stood in that first shady spot, and drank it in for about five minutes.

When I emerged into the sunshine a few steps later, things looked and felt a lot more ordinary. But as I continued to walk with a sense of wonder, more beauty seemed to spring up all around me.

After a few more steps, I gasped as I found myself at the “intersection” in the path where that initial vision of myself as a glowing green Christmas light had appeared. And as I retraced my steps and came back around the way I initially had, I reached the spot where the whole rainbow-network vision came to me.

As with the first time, I stood there for several minutes, just soaking it all in.

When I returned to the house that evening, I felt that I had completed both a 12-year and 5-year cycle by being there. It felt so powerful.

Earlier that day, I had had another cool connecting-with-the-past moment: I had walked over to the main part of the park, in the northern part by the Lions Optometric Vision Clinic, in search of a bench to sit and relax upon. Just as I found one, I saw a sign nearby: Blind Community Center Pollinator Garden.

This reminded me of Ellen Starr, the amazing woman in Princeton, Illinois with whom I had a very serendipitous meeting on my way out of town about a year and a half ago, and who had then told me that her goal was to make Princeton the “pollinator capital of the United States.”

So I had to text this photo to her!

She replied quickly, enjoying the sign, and told me that she had recently met someone who reminded her of me! Of course I asked for an introduction to this woman, named Hope (I love it!) and our magical meeting is now pending. I’m looking forward to meeting her!

This blog post is incredibly long. I will sign off here shortly. But first, I want to make an update to acknowledge the incredible kindness and generosity of two parties—one individual and one couple—whom I won’t mention by name since I assume they would prefer that, but who made some very generous gifts to me after reading about my recent financial struggles. If you are reading this now, thank you again; your gifts have helped me to breathe a little easier!

Also in that vein, offers for paid cat sits have been coming to me pretty regularly now, for this summer in Portland. I now have possibly up to six paid sits waiting for me when I return, which feels amazing after doing mostly unpaid ones for the past year and a half. Perhaps the tide is turning for me…?

And still, there are always more opportunities to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” such as discovering that I may owe a few thousand dollars in taxes for last year—oof!!—and also having my lodging for this next week fall through, so that in this moment I’m not sure where I will be sleeping tomorrow night, nor for the following five nights.

But I’m smiling! This life is an adventure, and for all the challenges, there is tremendous beauty and magic around every turn.

Thank you, as ever, for following along with me.

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