The Tri-Valley has been graced with a visit from California's very own nomad this week, as he treks down to San Diego for his winter migration with a recognizable travel companion.
The name that appears on his official records is John Sears, but he prefers "Mule" or "Monk": "Mule" because he lives with mules and "Monk" because of his solitary, simple, meditative existence.
He's been roaming the West on foot for decades now, full-time for the past 14 years, including a variety of trips through the Tri-Valley. It's part of who he is, and he's made it his mission to oppose urbanization and to ask lawmakers for a country-wide interstate trail system.
"I belong to an ageless, old way of life, a nomadic way of life," Mule said. "We all used to live like this, with our animals, traveling. That's very strong in me, so I gravitated to not lose it."
Mule is originally from around Los Altos and spent 30 years working as a tree-cutter. For a time, he would work during the winters and roam during the summers, until reaching his mid-50s, when he decided to devote himself to the latter full-time.
Over a decade later, he's still walking.
He's brought along furrier, hoofed mules to join him, and help him carry supplies on his journeys up and down the West Coast.
Mules have come and gone over the years, with several having been retired to California ranches. Right now, he's currently traveling with just Little Girl -- a dappled gray 27-year-old who's only been sick once, for about an hour while they were traveling through Nevada.
The animals he brings along forage on grass and plants along the road and in open areas, supplemented by hay, apples and carrots that people bring when they find out the Mules are in town.
Mule himself subsists on vegetables, beans, rice and a whole lot of oatmeal -- he goes through 20 pounds of the grain every month. At night, they rest at various public spaces.
A few years ago, Mule decided he had a mission -- to promote the natural world, in opposition to the expanding concrete jungle he calls the "Megatropolis." And now, his journey is more than just wanderings. He's delivering a "Declaration of Emergency" to every city hall, congressional member office and state capitol by which they pass.
"A most necessary first step is an interstate trail system in this country going in all four directions -- north, south, east and west -- linking all states to all other states passed and funded by Congress with the same energy and effort that was applied to the building of the interstate freeway system, which was built for the exclusive use of automobiles," he said in the declaration.
"Cyclists, pedestrians, equestrians, people in wheelchairs, etc. are being removed from this public thoroughfare simply because there is no room by which to use it alongside motorists," he added.
One of the catalysts for this mission has been his many run-ins with authority, as the presence of mules in urban areas and sleeping in public spaces often collide with legal restrictions. He's been issued citations in a spread of localities, from Thousand Oaks outside Los Angeles to Gilroy, where he was arrested going southbound on Highway 101.
Mule spent the past few days in the San Ramon Valley and is now moving south toward Pleasanton, walking along the Iron Horse Regional Trail and delivering his "Declaration of Emergency" letter to local officials. He expects to reach San Diego by November, and after that, he's not exactly sure where he'll go.
Perhaps he'll travel east, he says, or maybe come back to Northern California. For more information, check his blog at 3mules.com.