Naked In Gualala

by Cody Hoover, June 8, 2011

A week after my van broke down I had a nude modeling gig at a figure drawing class in Gualala. I was living on Signal Ridge at the time. I walked down the hill and turned left at Philo Greenwood Road toward the coast. I walked mile after mile past vineyards and vistas, over the tops of the hills. I started to see green water tanks next to sheds that said “Elk Fire Department Use Only.” I left many hours earlier than I had to be at the Gualala Arts Center at 2:30pm, so this cross-country travel delay had been factored in. I held up my “Elk” sign for the sparse traffic until a man with a truckload of firewood stopped. I helped him move some logs into the back from the passenger seat and I sat with my feet atop some more. He was nearly 50 years old, nice man. Told me he once hitchhiked all the way down the East coast.

“We really threw our asses in the wind, put a lot of crazy trust in people. A man gave us a ride in a box truck, put us in the back and shut the door. He could have taken us anywhere. But when we got to where we wanted to go he came around and opened the door and it was alright.”

We talked about how much motion, action, and change happens along the coastlines. The land is eroding, shaking loose, the ocean is eating away at the crumbling edges of continents. So naturally human action and culture follow the same lines as geographic action.

He dropped me off in Elk, I thanked him and he headed north and I headed south, high above the rock monuments off Greenwood Beach. The sun was hitting the coast in a good way, the water and the sky were blue. My feet hit the asphalt of California Highway One. On the other side of my cardboard “Elk” sign I had written “Gualala.” I turned it around and held it up to passing cars and the third one to approach stopped on a gravel turn-off beside the ocean. I ran to the car and saw a very old woman inside who cleaned her seat off and flashed me a smile. I got in and we introduced ourselves. She was driving from her home in Comptche to a cobbler in Gualala to pick up a shoe she was having them work on. She was very sweet, told me she used to live in Geneva, Switzerland with her late husband who was apparently a powerful man. She worked on a cruise ship for years, traveled to every continent under extremely classy conditions.

“The problem is I don't remember any of it. I look at old photos and postcards and I see me and I see my writing and I know I did it. I just can't remember.” But she wasn't complaining, she was happy to have experienced it anyway, even without the memories. Her birthday was the next day; she was turning 80, but when she spoke of being young, or a subject that truly tickled her spirit, she flashed a smile of youth across the small car. She told me she bought herself a new hip but it left her with one leg shorter than the other. The ankle of the shorter leg had started to bother her badly so she rigged her flip-flop to sit higher on that side. It worked, no more ankle pains, but she didn't trust herself to modify her leather dress shoes. She drove to the cobbler in Gualala that sunny day on the Mendocino Coast to pick them up. She was a strong supporter of veteran's rights, went to meetings and held fundraisers. Told me it was horrible the way the United States government discards its war veterans.

We rolled slowly right on through Manchester and Point Arena. She told me the only thing that eased the pain when her ankle hurt was booze and weed. She enjoyed the coastal drive, it was a big outing for her. We got to Gualala an hour before I had to take off my clothes and model for artists in need of an anatomically correct reference. I thanked the dear woman who let me out in front of Bones restaurant and bar. I walked through town and bought a taco at a small Mexican restaurant and sat on an abandoned refrigerator at the edge of a bluff and ate it. I looked out at an old wooden windmill in the shape of a plane on a pole near the mouth of the Gualala River, and watched waves abuse the sliver of sandy beach. A sailboat without a sail sat in the high grass near the edge of the bluff. It was almost time for the figure drawing class to start.

I found the Gualala Arts Center back in the woods away from the ocean. A fancy wooden building with a lot of windows and metal sculptures out front. I walked inside, a room to my right was bustling with some sort of banquet preparations. I asked a woman sitting behind a window where the figure drawing class met, and before she could answer I heard a man say from the grand staircase behind me say, “It's up here.” I walked up the stairs and we shook hands and I followed him through double doors into a large room. Inside there was a U shaped table formation. There were windows lining the back wall, a canvas of living redwoods out back. In the center of the table U was a small stage covered in plush white fabric and pillows. A bizarre assortment of coastal artists got their supplies and work areas ready. The instructor told me,

“Here's the bathroom right here, or you can just undress and sit your cloths up front.” I went into the bathroom and collected myself. I could hear acoustic new age world music playing in the drawing room. I walked back out and took my clothes off in the front of the room and folded them next to my backpack. I was completely naked now. I walked onto the fabric-covered stage. The instructor suggested I use the wooden pole sitting on floor next to the stage as a prop to assist me in my poses. With all eyes on me I picked up the stick for the first set of short poses, three minutes each. For the first pose I pretended the wooden stick was a hoe, and I was plowing a field the old fashioned way. The artists started their sketches, furiously drawing and coloring my posed body. As the three minutes passed I thought of my next pose. “Let's do a little tug of war.” I said, holding the wooden stick as if it was a rope and I was trying to pull my opponents into a pool of mud. I received some chuckles from the artists. For the next pose I pretended the stick was a shovel.

Before the last pose I said, “Let's do some baseball,” and I held the stick like I was up to bat. Next we did longer poses, which were less creative and more comfortable. Between poses I would take small breaks and walk around the room and look at what the artist had drawn; most were very good. After three hours we finished up, the instructor told me I was a natural, that I should call the Mendocino Arts Center and pose for their figure drawing class. He paid me and I left the arts center and walked back to downtown Gualala. I bought a sandwich and ate it on the bluffs behind the grocery store. It was after 6pm; it would be dark before too long so I left Gualala on foot heading north on Highway One.

A young girl from Annapolis (just over the Mendo line in Sonoma County) stopped for me outside of the town limits across the street from Gualala Nursery's metal dinosaur sculptures. She was heading to Point Arena. She told me I would not be able to get a ride back into Anderson Valley that night. She said she would drop me off in Point Arena, advised me to get a hotel room for the night at the Sea Shell Inn, the seedy hotel downtown. “There are some rough characters there,” she said, then turned her head, looked me up and down, “You look like you can handle it.” She dropped me off near two churches and told me the nuns inside were very nice. She told me again that I would be better off staying in Point Arena for the night, that it would be way easier to get a ride there than in Manchester, even though Manchester was closer to my final destination. I thanked her and she drove back towards downtown. I walked out of Point Arena north on Highway One towards Manchester, against the kind girl's advice. It was getting dark, but as I have said before, I can't stand still and wait when I am hitchhiking. I must keep moving closer to my final destination until it's seemingly impossible, then I will try again. I walked past the Point Arena police station that looks like a retired VFW hall and abandoned bowling alley near the Pirate’s Cove restaurant on the edge of town. I did not have a cardboard sign for my return trip, so I attempted to thumb it as I walked. I passed the turn to the Point Arena lighthouse and walked down the coil of road into the Stornetta farm valley between Point Arena and Manchester. By the time I reached the valley floor it was completely dark. To my left I heard the ominous roar of the unseen Pacific. To my right I heard coyotes screaming in the foothills. I put my hand on my knife and kept it there until I walked past the long row of eucalyptus and arrived at Mountain View Road that runs back over the hill to Anderson Valley.

I made a “Boonville” sign with a pen and notebook, held the sheet up with a flashlight to it every time a car turned from Highway One onto Mountain View Road. Cars and trucks turning into the mountains from the coast seemed to speed up at the sight of me in the dark holding a flashlight to an unreadable sign. “Everyone thinks I'm a serial killer,” I thought.

I stood at the dark crossroads for an hour, watching for headlights down in the Stornetta farm valley. One car stopped and the woman driving said she could take me one of the 27 miles back to Anderson Valley. I politely declined. I realized quickly there was no getting back to the Valley that night, but I had a plan to stay at the Manchester Beach KOA campground until morning. I walked the two miles north on Highway One, through downtown Manchester, and took a left towards the beach and the KOA. It had gotten cold and the rain wasn't far behind. I called the numbers on the office bulletin board, tacked up for late night arrivals, but there was no answer. I found the night manager's doublewide parked permanently in a corner of the grounds. No one answered; the campground was dark and devoid of waking souls. I tried to curl up and get comfortable in the yellow, plastic tube sliding board attached to a jungle-jim, but I kept sliding to the bottom. The rain started and the cold continued. I remembered from the time I stayed there a month before that the bathrooms were never locked. I walked inside the dark men's room and saw the fiery glow coming from beneath a wall furnace. It was warm and dry. I entered a stall and put both toilet lids down, sat and laid my head against the metal stall divider and fell into a light sleep. I was not afraid of someone coming in and catching me; I wanted to be found so I could rent a tiny cabin. A couple times through the night the fluorescent lights on the restroom ceiling would kick on and a camper would piss or have a bowel movement then leave, turning the lights off behind him, letting me fall back asleep in the dark.

I awoke at 6:30am, disoriented, a tumultuous thunderstorm was brewing on the coast. It had been less than a week since the earthquakes and tsunamis hit Northern Japan on the other side of the Pacific. The sound of the wind and thunder was so intense I considered for a moment, in my discombobulated state, that there was a tsunami happening and the KOA had been evacuated as I slept in the bathroom stall. I went outside to investigate, see if it was daylight yet. But when I went outside it was still dark and raining, storming badly. I walked back into the campground bathroom and fell into the deepest sleep I had on the coast that night. At 7:30am I woke again when a man turned on the fluorescent lights and entered a stall. I left the KOA bathroom and walked out into the morning gloom feeling half alive and craving coffee. I walked back to downtown Manchester and bought a low quality but satisfying coffee from the overpriced market and hardware store. I walked south of town, back to Mountain View Road.

In the daylight I saw the cemetery and gun club I had stood near the night before as I attempted to get a ride into the hills at the Highway One and Mountain View crossroads. In a field by the gun club was a sign that said, “Notice: use only shotguns — members and guests only.” I walked on. Ahead of me the road shot drastically upward from the headlands. At the bottom were twisted horned pigmy goats with long beards, eating from low lying branches. As I walked higher above sea level, I turned around to see the Pacific now visible beyond the miles of headlands. To the left was Point Arena lighthouse, white as a pillar of salt in the sea, to the right were miniature automobiles tearing across Highway One from Elk. I accidentally scared a herd of white and black sheep grazing in the foothills. They ran away in the panorama with the mathematically perfect ocean horizon line behind them dividing the sky and ocean.

As I climbed higher I approached the Manchester-Point Arena Rancheria, sovereign Pomo tribal land. There was a sign near the entrance road; “NOTICE. No Trespassing U.S. Gov. Trust Lands Bureau of Indian Affairs.” Below was a space for a telephone number that had worn off long ago. Hardly any vehicles drove past, but I had no time constraints, so I just kept walking deeper into the hills until I couldn't see the ocean anymore. I pushed into the woods mile after mile. I found a water logged, Spanish porno magazine crumbling along the side Mountain View Road. I was reminded of a transsexual Porno DVD I found spooled onto a twig of a fallen branch while hitchhiking along Highway 128 in the redwoods.

Soon a Mercedes that had passed driving from the coast turned around and the young man inside asked me where I was going. I told him Boonville would be fine and he told me to get in. He was a very kind coastal farm boy who grew up in Elk. He was coming from his parents’ farm, checking on the cows, and returning to his and his girlfriend's home in Ukiah. Highway 128 was closed because of flooding so he had to take Mountain View Road. We talked about the differences between the East Coast and the West Coast. How several individuals on the East Coast will be a straight up, honest asshole to your face, yet have your back in the end. And we spoke of the many West Coast individuals who will appear nice and down-to-earth to your face, one hand giving a peace sign, the other pushing a knife into your back.

We passed Faulkner Park and Waste Management of Willits Boonville Transfer Station, beginning our descent to the Anderson Valley floor. Through the trees I could see the foggy hills and farms below. The Elk farm boy driving me home said he would hook me up with some farm work. Before he let me out of his car in downtown Boonville he said, “I'm not like those other people on the West Coast who say one thing and do another. I'll take your number and call you. I'll help you.” I got out of his Mercedes and put my backpack on and thanked him. I never did hear from him.

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