Guest post: New Camaldoli – by Tim Shey

In our latest guest post we have a tale of hitch-hiking in the United States and serendipity on the trail of an author.

Sometimes good things happen to the the positive mind – a theme explored by Tim Shey as he takes us from Nebraska to California via a monastery and a broken leg.

New Camaldoli Hermitage, Santa Lucia Mountains of Big Sur, California, USA - by Tim Shey

Back in April of 1983, I was working on a cattle ranch in western Nebraska.  After a few days on the ranch, I decided to hit the road and head west to California.  I wanted to see a lady who had written a couple of books of poetry.  She lived in Big Sur, California.  We had exchanged a couple of letters and I talked with her on the phone when I was living in Iowa.

I got a couple of rides from Nebraska into western Wyoming on I-80.  It didn’t take long to hitchhike across Utah.  Then I got a ride from the Utah-Nevada State line all the way to Sunnyvale, California.

This car pulled over to where I was standing and this young lady said, “I’m only going to San Francisco.”

So we drove across Nevada and talked about various things.  I slept part of the way to California.  She dropped me off in Sunnyvale; it was around four o’clock in the morning.  I thanked her for the ride and walked down this freeway (I think it was U.S. 101).  I found some bushes to sleep in for a while.

Just before the sun came up, I started walking down the freeway.  I saw this car parked on the shoulder.  I thought it was broke down or abandoned.  As I walked past the car, this guy in the back seat spoke up.  I was surprised to hear someone speaking from the car and I turned and talked with the guy.

“Where you going?” he asked.

“Santa Cruz,” I replied.

“Where you coming from?”

“I just hitchhiked from Nebraska.”

“Sounds like a long trip.”

I looked at his leg–it was in a cast.  “What happened to your leg?” I asked.

“I broke it while surfing.  You’re going to Santa Cruz?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re going in the wrong direction.  You’re going south—you need to go west.  Walk back to the next off ramp and take Highway 17 to Santa Cruz.”

“Hey, thanks.  I hope your leg heals up soon.”

“Me too.”

I don’t remember if his car broke down or ran out of gas.

So I walked back to Highway 17 and hitchhiked to Santa Cruz.  It was Providential that I met that guy with the broken leg.  He pointed me in the right direction.

From Santa Cruz I took a bus to Monterrey and then shared a taxi with a guy to Carmel.  I phoned my poet friend from Carmel.  She and her boyfriend picked me up a while later and drove me to her house overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur.  She told me that it was a miracle that I arrived in Carmel when I did.  Two hours before I phoned her, Highway 1 north of Big Sur had reopened after being shut down for two months because of a mudslide.

I stayed at her house for a few days and then hitchhiked south to this Camaldolese monastery.  It is called New Camaldoli Hermitage; it is in the Santa Lucia Mountains.  As I walked and hitchhiked south on the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1), I met this bicyclist from Austria.

“Can I get through to San Francisco?” he asked.  “I heard that there was a big mudslide south of Big Sur.”

“Yeah,” I replied.  “I just came through there.  I walked across the mudslide no problem.”

“That’s a relief.  I just rode my bike from Belize through Mexico.  I am heading to Canada.”

“Have a good trip.”

I got a ride to Lucia (I am not sure if this town exists anymore) and stopped at New Camaldoli for three nights.  The monks put me up in my own hermit cell. They gave me three meals a day.  Each day I would have fellowship with the younger monks in the chapel.  The older monks (hermits) would stay in their own hermit cells.  The monks I met were very friendly.  It is probably rare for a hitchhiker to stay at their hermitage.  It was a beautiful, quiet place built on the side of this mountain overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Back in 1980, I had been working on a farm in County Carlow in Ireland for a few months.  I met this school teacher while I was there.  She asked me if I had ever heard of a writer named Thomas Merton.  I told her I didn’t.  Thomas Merton had gone to college at Cambridge and Columbia and showed much promise as a writer.  He later joined this Cistercian Monastery in Kentucky.  Eventually I read a couple of his books and thought that maybe I should become a monk.

I visited a couple of monasteries in Ireland and several in the United States.  I thought I should become a monk because I really didn’t blend in well with the world system.  I didn’t blend in well with the world system as a 17-year-old atheist.  I still don’t blend in well with the world system as 51-year-old hitchhiker.  Some people just don’t blend in well.

I remember back in 1982, some people dropped me off at the New Melleray Abbey near Dubuque, Iowa.  I stayed one night to see what it was like.  I talked to a couple of monks about the monastic life.  As I left the monastery the next morning, this older monk smiled at me, opened the door and saw me off.

“Where you off to?” he asked.

“I’m going to hitchhike to Iowa City,” I replied.  “Thanks for letting me stay the night.”

“You’re welcome.  Have a safe trip and God bless you.”

That old monk had such a serene smile.

After I left New Camaldoli, I hitchhiked back north to Big Sur.  I got one ride with this man and woman in a pickup.  They told me that a friend of theirs had a vivid dream of an earthquake that hit California, so she immediately flew to Thailand.  A week after I heard about this earthquake dream, an earthquake hit Coalinga, California.  Things happen for a reason.

Wikipedia:  “The 1983 Coalinga earthquake occurred on May 2, 1983 at exactly 23:42 UTC in Coalinga,California. The earthquake recorded 6.5 on the Richter scale. The earthquake was caused by an unknown fault buried under the surface.”

“This earthquake caused an estimated $10 million in property damage (according to the American Red Cross) and injured 94 people. Damage was most severe in Coalinga, where the 8-block downtown commercial district was almost completely destroyed. Here, buildings having unreinforced brick walls sustained the heaviest damage.”

written by: Tim Shey

I have hitchhiked the United States for most of 16 years. BA in English Literature, Iowa State University, 1995. I have had two books published: “High Plains Drifter:  A Hitchhiking Journey Across America” (2008) and “The First Time I Rode a Freight Train & other hitchhiking stories” (2012); available on Amazon.com.

visit his blog at: hitchhikeamerica.wordpress.com

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