I drink. I dance. I report.

Escaping Humbolt


Finding a place to backpack in the redwoods north of San Francisco, within an easy few hours drive, is no easy feat. I googled and read and bought books, and finally, picked a place called Humboldt Redwoods Park.

“Just come on up,” the visitor’s center assured me. “You can go next door and get a backcountry permit, and you’ll be on your way.”

We drove north, for what seemed like hours and hours, stopping to sleep along 101. I knew this area was ravaged by pot grows and shady activity, so felt a little nervous each time a pickup truck roared past.

The next morning, we headed to Garberville for breakfast. I’d always imagined this town would be quaint, nestled in with the gentle giants and alive with art shops, coffee houses, and brewpubs. But no, Garberville looked like a prison yard and a homeless camp in one.

I went into a grocery store to stock up for our backpacking adventure, and all I saw were creepy men. Men wearing NRA shirts. Men with tattoos on their knuckles. Men with tattoos on their necks and faces. And you know what they say about men with tattoos on their faces: Prison Break. I bought my food and did a prison break right out of that store.

What happened to Garberville? The pot industry up here has reached the billions, so a lot of weirdos dubbed “trimmigrants” travel to this heavenly slice of earth to make money picking bud. I know this town has a problem; I’ve heard it from the people who live here, and have even done a story. People inject drugs on street corners, set up encampments, and cause trouble. Some townspeople carry tasers. Others have set up neighborhood patrols. It’s sad that the locals have to deal with such a mess, all from an unregulated pot industry nestled within these beautiful forests.

After our depressing visit to Garberville, we drove north, to Humboldt. Ancient redwoods lined the road, and I breathed in deeply, finally feeling at peace. The redwoods at Humboldt State Park are some of the oldest remaining groves in the world. These magnificent trees used to span the globe, but only a few remain now in California. They were nearly logged from existence, now an endangered species.

We walked into the visitor’s center to see about getting a permit, and an older woman of about 80 smiled at us.

“Permit? You don’t need any permit. Everything here is free!”

I didn’t believe her, so headed to find a ranger at the campground next door.

“Actually, all the backcountry camps are closed this time of year. It’s too wet. You can do a day hike, though.”

I was bummed. We’d driven all the way up here to escape the roads and humans and to get into the depths of nature. Apparently, the visitor’s center at Humboldt doesn’t know what it’s talking about, and I fear its due to budget cuts that have hit all the state parks over recent years and have yet to be restored.

We cut our loses and drove to a short hike among the oldest stand of remaining redwoods in the world. It felt magical within these groves, with the earth soft beneath our feet, and these ancient beings stretching high into the sky. I loved being back amidst the ferns and moss and streams, reminiscent of the temperate rainforests in Oregon.


On our way back to the car, light was fading from the sky, so we opted for the road. Diesel truck after diesel truck spewed exhaust into the air, fishing poles affixed to the front. It felt like odd to be in such a beautiful place with such strange people all around.

At 5pm, we were ready to find a beer, but the only local bar had a bunch of pickup trucks parked out front with a sign in the window that said something about the tea party. We felt a little unsafe in this part of the world, in our hiking gear and Prius. We looked at each other, and decided to drive the four hours home.

I think heading up to the redwoods would be perfect if one had several days to go north of Humboldt State Park, to explore the National Park, Del Norte State Park and Jedediah Smith State Park. But all these are way too far north for a simple weekend trip from the Bay area.

We stopped in Garberville again for gas and snacks, and I refused to get out of the car. Weird men with backpacks and low-slung pants walked past, and I felt a sense of danger and urgency to escape the drug-infested Humboldt County.

I wonder if it will ever get better up there. All I do know, is that I am thankful the ancient redwoods still stand, those pillars of beauty, strength and longevity.





Author: Kristin Hanes

Hi, I'm Kristin! I'm a writer and frugal adventurer who currently lives on a sailboat in the Bay area. Working on a book: Intentionally Homeless, How I Learned to Live with Less Email me: kristin.hanes@gmail.com

5 thoughts on “Escaping Humbolt

  1. Have you checked out the red woods on Mount Tam? It’s not extremely rural, but close to the bay for a short getaway!

  2. Redwood National Park is only like an extra hour and half drive north. Not that far. I think you could camp there in winter. Either from the state park Prairie Creek or the National Park using Tall Trees Grove. But you have to camp on the gravel bar at RNP. But if you use Tall Trees trail, it means your car is safe 7 miles behind a locked gate. At Prairie Creek, parking is in front of the visitor center and ranger station. I drive down from Portland area about every 6 weeks. Not far at all.

    Cheers, M. D. Vaden / http://www.mdvaden.com/redwood_year_discovery.shtml

    • Yeah we wanted to drive up further north, but it was too far of a drive for a weekend trip. I will be back again though to check out those other parks! I want to do the Tall Trees backpack but apparently lots of the bridges are closed in winter 😦 Thanks for the tips!

  3. Read your “intentionally homeless” story on Business Insider, which led me to your blog. Enjoyed several of your posts.

    Most interesting was this Humbolt post, particularly your discomfort in Garberville. It caused me to reflect on my transition, several decades ago, from city life in the northeast, to the rural south. It was a big cultural shift for me. Over the years, I got comfortable with small town, rural people. I actually began to appreciate their values. People in rural places are slower to accept outsiders, but in my experience, are kinder and quicker to do more to help others, even a total stranger, than the average city person.

    Your experience in Garberville has nothing to do with who the people in Garberville are. It about you not being comfortable with people who are different from you. Based on your writing, I imagine you perceive yourself as culturally enlightened. And yet, what you describe in this post is the essence of backward-thinking bigotry.

    Sorry, don’t mean to insult, but it’s what jumped out from this otherwise entertaining post.

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