Ok, so I had been living in the hostel for a wonderful, magical, never repeatable, once in a life time opportunity full of day trip journeys, new friendships and self discovery. I had fallen very hard for a guy traveling from Germany named Peter who had just left the states for Europe to regretfully return to work. He was in America for a few short weeks, we met just days after his arrival. It was a whirlwind of young love and I was convinced that we had set out on our personal paths just to cross here at this hostel. I was desperate to get to Germany and follow my heart.
My hostel-mates Jessie and August had also shown interest in branching off on their own. In early March we reluctantly made the decision to go our inevitable separate ways. I was going to save money and fly to Germany to be with Peter, Jessie was going to continue on to Hawaii, and August was going to go back to Idaho for a little while and then travel to Spain. But just as we were packing our bags and hugging and swearing to meet up every summer no matter what, Jessie got a call from a friend of hers that she used to know back in high school. He was just getting out of the US Marine Corps and was staying in a little beach town called San Clemente, about half way between Los Angeles and San Diego. He knew Jessie was traveling somewhere in California and wanted her to make the trip down to say hi before she took off to Hawaii. Jessie tried to convince us to join her, but August was ready to be done traveling for a while and I really needed to save up some cash. So she suggested the idea that her and I could camp for a couple weeks at San Clemente State Beach, split the $18 a night fee, get temporary jobs at wherever was hiring, and then take off at the end of the month with a little extra money in our pockets. Seemed logical enough to me. So away we went.
Saying goodbye to August was heartbreaking for all of us. I think the fact that Jessie and I were going together and leaving her behind made it harder to swallow. The three of us had grown so incredibly close that the idea of splitting up the pack was gut wrenching. We had our last beer together on the back porch of the hostel. I remember the lattice behind the bench was covered in flowers and although the smell was so beautiful it would knock you off your feet, we constantly had to battle with the bees. Anyway, we cried and drank and hugged and made promises and cried some more. That was the last time I ever saw August.
So Jessie and I drove PCH all the way from San Luis Obispo to San Clemente. In hindsight, we probably could have taken the freeway to make the trip faster but that wasn't what it was about for us. The view was what it was about for us. The trip down was what it was about for us. Driving in Santa Barbara and L.A. traffic on a Friday afternoon was what it was about for us. We wanted to try it all. Good, bad or indifferent, we wanted to try it all.
Hours later, we finally made it to our site, pitched our tiny tent, and made a temporary home for ourselves. The next morning when we awoke to the gorgeous sound of crashing waves, we unzipped the tent, walked outside and looked at our new backyard. The sun was shinning, I swear to god the ocean was transparent, and the palm trees were standing proud. I just remember thinking my god. This is the best decision I have ever made.
That afternoon, after a big breakfast and an even bigger pot of coffee, we went into town to look for Help Wanted signs and immediately found one at the coffee shop right down the street. "Surfin' Donuts" had been a part of San Clemente for years. It was busy, it was friendly, and it had an ocean view. Perfect. We went in, spoke with the manager, explained our "situation" (of course leaving out the part that we were going to split town in 2 weeks) and just like that we had ourselves a couple of legit, on the book jobs. We were to open the shop 5 days a week at 5am. 5am? Really? I don't think he understood how cold 5am was when you're crawling out of a sleeping bag to run across the park in your pajamas, fumbling your quarters to make the pay-only showers warm up before you freeze to death. But ok. 5am it is.
The first week was a nightmare. If getting used to a schedule and sleeping in the cold wasn't bad enough, the California Parks had a 5 day maximum occupancy rule. So every 5 days we had to pack up everything we owned and move it to San Mateo Campgrounds across the freeway. We were exhausted and sick the majority of the time but with no rent to pay, we were starting to really save some money. It wasn't like we were homeless beggars. We lived great, with only what we needed. We ate the best healthy food money could buy, we drank fancy red wine by the campfire and made friends with new neighbors every night. Not a care in the world except enjoying ourselves before we had to say our goodbyes. I had been talking to Peter every day, for at least a couple minutes, and he was over the moon that I was going to be there sooner than later. Jessie had picked out where she was going to stay in Hawaii and couldn't wait to surf and lay on the warm sand.
A few weeks turned into a few more weeks. A few more weeks turned into 3 months. The time had come. We had saved our money, we did what we came there to do, and it was just time for another fork in the road. That last night in our campsite together, Jessie and I were having wine and discussing our individual plans. We both had concerns to express. We had just camped for 3 months and worked our asses off in a minimum wage job to make the few thousand dollars it was going to take for airplane fare to get out of here. When we get there and our money runs out we'll have to start all over again. What was going to happen if Jessie didn't like living in Hawaii or things with Peter didn't go the way I had imagined in my head? I couldn't move to Germany and be away from my family forever. I would have to come home eventually. What would we do when we got back to the states just as broke as before? Was it time for our grand adventure to come to an end? Were we living a teenage fairy tale world that needed to end with us grounded in reality?
We decided in our wine happy haze that we needed a bigger force to help us make a decision that big. We decided that we had our faith in everything happening for a reason, and what was meant to be was meant to be. We had made friends here in this new little town after our 3 months of visiting. It was an absolutely beautiful place to live. Should we put our money into a deposit for an apartment here instead of irresponsibly blowing it on a decision we were so unsure about?
Here was the new plan. We would open up the Sunday paper in the morning and go through the "for rent" postings. If we saw one that was in our price range, had an ocean view and 2 bedrooms we would apply for it. But only one. And that's what we did.
We did find a little 2 bedroom apartment with an ocean view. We rode our bikes over to the address, looked in the windows, and fell in love. It was upstairs, with a giant balcony and a garage. The owner just randomly happened to be inside laying out the new tile. So we poked our heads in.
Hi! We're Krista and Jessie! We really love this apartment and want to be your new tennants! Sure, we'll fill out this application! Do we have full deposit and first months rent? No. But we can make you payments for it! Do we have references in this town? No. But we have a boss that we've worked for the last 3 months and he likes us! Do we have a current address? Yes! State Park site number 175!
This poor lady was just looking at us like we were insane. We explained our story and tried to spin it with as much positive love as we could but it just wasn't going to happen and for understandably good reasoning. We both new it was a stretch.
It was time to say our goodbyes. We started packing our cars, dividing up our things, and wrapping our heads around the end of an era. It was time.
But then Jessie's cell phone rang.
It was Susan, the owner of the apartment. She admitted she was crazy for doing this, but she had a strange feeling about us girls. She said that she couldn't stop thinking about our story and that she felt a force bigger than herself telling her to help us out. "So..." she said (and her pause seemed to go on for hours) "welcome to San Clemente."
I could tell she was smiling and she could tell we were smiling and we were all speechless for a few minutes with happy tears in our eyes. She knew she had just changed our lives. And we were grateful for it.
"You can pick up your key under the mat any time. I'll drop by tomorrow and see if you need any help with anything."
And just like that, we were officially Californians.