Skip to main content

'Alta California' Chronicles Writer's Journey To Rediscover The Golden State

Cover image for podcast episode

Author Nick Neely will be signing copies of and speaking about his new book, "Alta California: From San Diego To San Francisco, A Journey on Foot to Rediscover the Golden State," Thursday at Warwick's in La Jolla.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 And now lets take a trip along the California coast. Over the course of 12 weeks our next guest traveled 650 miles from San Diego to San Francisco on foot.

Speaker 2: 00:11 It was magical. I uh, I got to know California in a way that I never thought I would.

Speaker 1: 00:17 Now Nick Neely sharing his experience in a new book called Alta California, a journey on foot to rediscover the golden state. And Nick joins us now via Skype. Nick, welcome.

Speaker 2: 00:28 Thanks so much for having me.

Speaker 1: 00:29 So where did you get the inspiration to go on such a long hike?

Speaker 2: 00:33 I grew up in a town called Portola Valley in the Bay area and gas bar de Portola was the Spanish captain who led this expedition. And I actually got the idea when I was writing an essay for my first book coast range about the Madrone tree, which is a tree we have up and down post and Debra total expedition named that tree after a similar species that they have in Spain. And I wondered in that moment, what else had the Portola expedition give a name to and the idea for this track really just unfolded for me in that moment.

Speaker 1: 01:07 And your journey actually started here in San Diego. Where did you go from here and what did you see?

Speaker 2: 01:14 I have flew into the San Diego international airport and Watts walked right out of it with my backpack, which after I picked it up at the carousel and that even just getting out of the airport was kind of an adventure. I walked North, uh, in San Diego. It was behind the lagoons in North County. Um, they couldn't walk on the, on the beach. Then there was, there were no roads and they had to go behind the series of, of lagoons in marshes that really define, uh, North San Diego County. One of my biggest adventures, uh, which actually start the book with is I, when I came to the Hollister and coho Alama ranch is in Santa Barbara County at point conception where we're Southern California as it's supposed to turn to Northern. I was denied permission to walk through those ranches. So I decided to take the railroad tracks and the dark and that was a, that was a 20 mile night hike on the tracks. Um, which is one of my more extreme legs. Uh, when I reached big sir, I went inland, uh, up, uh, a Creek called San carpa FORO in the Santa Lucia mountains. And um, there I, I was just following the Creek and suddenly the boulders turned to the size of cars and I found myself scrambling in this remote area and feeling pretty vulnerable. You know, that the book is just full of little anecdotes and stories. That's, those are two of the more dramatic, but there a lot of exciting things did happen.

Speaker 1: 02:38 Wow. Did you ever like have to have a guide as you went along this? I didn't have how

Speaker 2: 02:43 much of a guide other than my, my handy, uh, phone, which was my scout, the, uh, the Portola expedition was sending a, a party of Scouts out every afternoon in advance at the hall, the expedition. I'm moving to make sure that they arrived at appropriate and forge for their, for their ho their horses and mules. They had over a hundred animals. I didn't have a guide for the most part, but I did a, I did have one guy who took me into camp Pendleton, which I otherwise wouldn't have been able to see. And there I, for example, I saw, um, the site of the first baptism in California, which the, the Franciscan Padres on the Portola expedition performed in Christiana does Canyon. And that was a very moving spot.

Speaker 1: 03:31 And you write as much about the human history of the land as well as the natural history. What surprised you about California diverse ecosystem?

Speaker 2: 03:39 Well, it really is one of the richest ecosystems in North America, certainly. And in Southern California especially, I was walking through suburbs through cities. And yet there so much wildlife, so much growth right up to the edge of it and within it. And um, that, that is actually one of the, uh, reasons that this project really appealed to me is that I could, I could write about urban nature and in a way that I think still hasn't really been done enough within the genre of natural history writing. I wanted to push my boundaries and this project and really show how human history and natural history are completely entwined.

Speaker 1: 04:19 Hmm. And after seeing so much of the coast, how would you say the state is doing when it comes to balancing the conflict of preserving land for private versus public use?

Speaker 2: 04:28 That's a complicated question. I'm not sure I have a, you know, a great answer to it. I think it's doing the best, the best they can and it's a process and it is, are happening. The, for example, the Hollister ranch and the coho Helana ranches, which I mentioned. Um, both of those since I went through there under the cover of darkness have started to open up to the public that coho Alama ranches are now, uh, a nature Conservancy preserve. Uh, I believe the biggest in California, which is incredible development and house your ranch. Just, just, uh, just recently Harrison developments there that people will be able to access beaches. But public access is important and, and an ongoing process or a battle. And I am hoping that my book will well in its way, make the case for, for more access.

Speaker 1: 05:18 Did this experience change your view of California? You

Speaker 2: 05:21 know, it, it, uh, I, I haven't lived in this state. I, in fact, since I left for college, I grew up here in Portola Valley and Bay area and then went away. So it was, it was really a incredible, uh, a deeply moving to filling return for me. Um, and as I write in the book, it sort of helps me re rediscover my home and actually learn the history that I should have really learned as a kid. And, um, I hope it will help others do the same thing. But yeah, I mean it's, it's my, uh, it's my love letter to this date. It's a book length portrait of the state and, um, I hope it will hang around. Now that you've accomplished this journey from San Diego to San Francisco, are there other areas of the state or even the country you'd like to explore next? Yeah, it's true.

Speaker 2: 06:08 I, you know, I really just, I did a transect of the state, but it's only, it's only a small portion of it. Uh, it really on the coast, I only two thirds of the way up I would love eventually to do is seek cool. Uh, in Northern California, something called the lost coast. The explores that, that stretch, I'm not sure I'd want to do it on foot, maybe, uh, maybe in different means of transportation. But yeah, no, no plans for another trekking book. Immediately. I've been speaking with Nick Neely, author of Alto, California. Nick, thanks so much for sharing your story with us. Thanks so much for having me on Nick knee. We will be reading from and signing copies of his new book, Alto, California, and Warrick's Thursday at seven 30

Speaker 3: 06:59 [inaudible].

KPBS Midday Edition Segments podcast branding

KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.