Statement of Purpose and Intent

On March 12th, 2011 I began a 400 mile trek along the Arizona-Mexico border from Agua Prieta to San Luis Rio Colorado, an adventure with a purpose I am calling BorderVenture.

Through BorderVenture I hope to raise awareness of border issues, expose exaggeration of border violence, combat the racial profiling, discrimination, and often outright racism that seems prevalent of late, and to record and recount personal stories of people living near or trying to cross the border. I will record my experiences and stories in this blog, and hope to have them further covered by supportive media, organizations, and other websites and blogs. I plan to aggressively publish my experiences through media outlets, interested groups, the Internet, and through whatever other avenues I am able. I will write tirelessly and advocate my findings to all who will listen, publish, and share them.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Some Reflections

I've obviously had some difficulties and encountered some significant obstacles so far.  I have also had the luxury of being able to bail out when things got rough, I've had the emotional support, advice, and input of many friends, colleagues, and generally experienced people, I have several hundred dollars of sophisticated technology, gear, and clothing, I'm an experienced outdoorsperson, and an athlete with the advantage of countless hours of training.  Yet despite all this, BorderVenture has been extremely challenging and has denied me twice now.  I think this should say something about those that migrate here, or attempt to do so, through the desert. 

The "gear" and clothing they have to complete their journey would be equivalent to someone giving you 20 dollars to go to Walmart and prepare for a 40 to 80 mile, multi-day journey through the Sonoran Desert.  They carry a couple children's school bags, sometimes just grocery bags, and I've even found a brief case in a desert canyon.  Any free hand carries a gallon jug of water.  Many bring canned tuna and other preserved meats.  The more knowledgeable ones bring an electrolyte drink too, often Pedialyte or other similar products.  Most of these people come from towns or cities, many have little experience hiking and surviving in the desert, and a lot of them aren't even necessarily in good shape.  As maybe you've seen from my experiences, it is almost impossible to carry enough water to last you for more than two days in the desert, and a migrant's journey is often much longer than this.  They need to refill their water jugs.  They don't have a fancy $100 water filter or iodine tablets to purify their water, they often end up drinking from cattle tanks and small desert pools- sources that will almost certainly make you sick if untreated. 

And we haven't even addressed the absolutely crushing uncertainty of the journey.  If you have a Coyote (human smuggler) or some other hired guide, you know that there is no way to know whether you will be abandoned in the middle of the desert or taken for all you're worth.  If you don't have a Coyote, you probably don't really know where you're going, and even with their guidance, there's still a great chance that you'll be spotted by Border Patrol, jailed for several months, and deported.  Either way, there is no guarantee that you'll even survive the attempt to cross the border lands, or that you'll ever see your family again.  And there is no bail-out option like I've had the luxury of- the journey is utterly committing, and the desert is starkly uncompromising.  But the risk is worth it, because there is promise of a better wage and a better life for you and your family on the other side. 

These people risk everything in this journey of unfathomable challenges,confronting immense adversity in an incredibly harsh landscape.  What they face goes eternities beyond what words like discomfort, pain, trial, sorrow, and tragedy are intended to describe.  The sheer determination, strength, and fortitude of these people should serve as a testament to the greatness humans are capable of.  Those that complete, or attempt to complete, this journey of Biblical proportions should be welcomed as heroes, for they have demonstrated that which is best in us- altruism, love, willpower, faith, courage, devotion to family, strength in the face of great adversity- the list goes on.  These people would be entrepreneurs, community leaders, pillars of our society.  Instead, when they finally arrive here in the United States, they are forced into a life of poverty, fear, discrimination, racism.  Something is wrong here.

Friday, March 25, 2011

West of Nogales

Another picture-heavy post, this one documenting my most recent trip into the mountains west of Nogales

On the outskirts of Nogales, headed west.  The bright lights up ahead are Border patrol lights for monitoring the border at night

The perils of hiking in the desert at night.  Those took a while to pluck out when I stopped hiking for the night

 The first water source I used the next day.  It tasted...interesting.  And minutes later I found a much cleaner little pool. 

An idea of the terrain that occupied a good portion of the day's traveling

Quite beautiful, really.  I think I will this region will be one of my new favorite non-summer hiking destinations

Some valleys/washes, many of which had large cottonwood trees.  I was able to find water relatively frequently, especially in some of the deeper and more narrow valleys. 

If you look closely you can see one of the better-defined migrant paths that I walked on that day, going up the far mountain side.  Shortly after cresting that next mountain I ran into a group of four migrants.  I saw the four men first, resting in the shade of some trees.  When I announced my presence with "Hola, soy un amigo", they immediately took off running, leaving all their things behind.  I tried yelling after them to stop them from running with no luck.  I certainly can't blame them- most of the gringos they might run into out there are the kind that are going to throw you in prison and deport you.  No one should have to live in that kind of fear.  And I won't lie, it was a bit nerve-wracking approaching a group of men (who could be drug smugglers, potentially carrying weapons) in the middle of nowhere.  So I'm sure they had similar concerns when I approached them.

This is my short Water in the Desert series.  It may not look like much to you, but finding these small pools of water out there was down right miraculous for me.  The last one, immediately above, is a deer carcass- likely taken by a mountain lion (nom noms).  Life, and death, in the desert revolves around these small water sources. 

This was after having crested the tallest of the mountains, entering a lower, more arid, and more rugged landscape.

Entering the canyon that would become my travel-corridor for a couple hours.  You can see a "window" through the rock formation there- the canyon walls and the surrounding mountains were quite spectacular, reminiscent of Sedona.

Some pictures more of the canyon.  There were a few points that it got really narrow and I was concerned about getting cliffed out (didn't bring my rope), but it quickly grew in size.  I believe this was Sycamore Canyon (haha), there were lots of big Sycamore trees, plentiful water (sometimes even with surface flow!).  Pretty spectacular (the pictures don't do it justice), but the meanders of the canyon and the difficulty of walking and running on cobble slowed travel greatly.  I filled my water containers and I bailed out of the canyon shortly after it took a decidedly southward turn, and entered a much more arid landscape.  Had I enough food for 2 or 3 more days of travel, I would have just stayed in the canyon and enjoyed hiking a leisurely pace in a pleasant canyon until I reached a road or some other form of civilization.  There was heavy trailing from migrant use, and I saw many migrant camps, so it certainly would have been interesting to stay in the canyon for longer.  I don't have any pictures after this one because it was getting late and I was focusing on just covering ground (with much difficulty), and I hiked and ran until dark (when it then proceeded to rain on and off for several hours).  Brrr.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


So I'm back in Flagstaff again.  Water is tenuous in the Sonora, and the desert is a very serious, desolate, vibrant, lovely, and lonely place.  I suppose I am perhaps not "hard core" enough, but I ended up bailing to the town of Arivaca rather than finishing the leg connecting Nogales to Sasabe.  The day started out great, I felt great, and it is beautiful out there.  It was slow going because of the off-trail hiking and running over mountains and through valleys and canyons, but I was able to find water relatively often in the larger valley bottoms, and I often found myself using migrant trails to ease travel.  However, after cresting the highest of the mountain ridges, I found myself looking down on a much drier and more rugged landscape.  These lower elevation mountains were characterized by steep rocky cliffs and deep canyons- difficult terrain to move through.  I chose a route that I thought best and seemed to follow the border relatively closely, and eventually ended up in large, steep-walled canyon.  Though the canyon was generally headed west and water was very plentiful there, it took me approximately 2 hours to travel only about a mile as the crow flies when I actually likely traveled more like 6 miles due to the winding nature of the canyon.  When I was able to leave the canyon out of another side canyon, I was traveling cross country again but without the benefit of migrant trails anymore, and the much drier landscape was not providing water where I was hoping to find it.  As evening quickly approached, I headed north for some easier terrain, and found myself upon a Forest Service dirt road.  I hiked into the night until I came to an intersection in the road.  I had approximately 2.5 liters of water, and had to decide whether I would continue west toward Sasabe with the hope of finding water at one of the cattle tanks I had spotted using satellite imagery, or if I would head north on the Forest Service road toward Arivaca.  It had taken me 13 hours to move 14 miles (as the crow flies), when I had realistically ran and hiked more than 35 miles.  If it was going to be that difficult to move the remaining 20 miles or so to Sasabe, it was going to take me 2 more days.  I only had enough food for 1 more day, and I had enough water to last me until maybe noon.  So when I was eating "breakfast" and heard a truck coming down the road at 5:30am, I made the choice to flag him down and caught a ride back into Arivaca.  In retrospect, I probably could have made it to Sasabe a little hungry but fine, but at the time I wasn't willing to take the risk.

I'm not done with BorderVenture despite the second setback.  What I am opting to do instead, and what I think might be more productive in terms of telling the story properly, is to finish BorderVenture in pieces on the weekends.  The next step will be to go to Sasabe, a place I've been told is a staging area for a lot of immigrants and has some issues with cartels, and just spend a day talking to people there.  I will also look into setting up more caches for the 90 miles or so west of Sasabe, where water looks to be scarce, or potentially revising the route northward a bit to utilize some other roads.  The following weekend would be running from Sasabe to Lukeville/Sonoyta, and the weekend after that would conclude BorderVenture by running from Lukeville/Sonoyta to Yuma.  That's the plan right now, though plans don't seem to mean much of anything so far.  Thanks for following along so far, and sorry for the let down and change in plans.  Perhaps less epic this way, but hopefully a better way to tell the story (and perhaps a little easier for me to do so).  I'll try to do another post soon about my time and experiences in the mountains west of Nogales.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Back to the Border

Mostly healed up, made some shoe modifications, and headed back to the border now.  Be sure to follow along via the SPOT beacon shared page (click on the SPOT image/link to the right to follow my location live), and I'll try to update the page whenever I can.  Don't forget to "Like" the Facebook page (link also on the right)! Many thanks for the continued interest and support, and please share this with your friends!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

So what's in the pack???

I wish Border Patrol could just look at this for reference when I cross at the Ports of Entry!  So here is what I've packed for BorderVenture- life on the run, in a backpack.

Read the picture like a book:
Backpack - Deuter 30L, pretty nice pack
Waterproof stuff sack
MSR 2L hydration bladder (2L of water in it)
Sleeping bag: 40 degree synthetic LaFuma bag
MSR 2L water bladder (with 1L of water in it)
(2) 0.6L water bottles (full, use these for electrolyte drinks)
SPOT beacon and carrying case
Toilet Paper
(4) aluminum tent stakes and parachute-cord (In case I need to make a shelter)
Journal and pocket Spanish book (the book isn't very good, I don't really recommend it)
Katadyn water filter and water-purifying tablets
Electronics goodies on top of waterproof sack: iPod Touch, (4) AAA batteries, (2) AA batteries, Phone charger cord, camera and case, headphones (in case I'm losing my mind), Camera battery charger
To the right of the waterproof sack: lighter, sharpie marker, mechanical pencil, spork, toothpaste, Dr. Bronner's biodegradable soap
Adventure Medical Ultralight Waterproof kit
(1) pair synthetic underwear
(1) pair cotton underwear
(1) pair synthetic superlight weight long underwear (warmth at night)
(1) "Buff"- pretty neat thing, new to me, light and can make it into hat, headband, protection over face, etc
The ole wide-brimmed hat- an instant classic, great looks and great sun protection in a lightweight and breathable package
Lightweight waterproof tarp
Lightweight fleece jacket
Cotton t-shirt with custom "Hombre de Paz - BorderVenture" logo- having people sign this through the trip
(1) short sleeve synthetic running shirt
Teeny tiny running shorts
(3) pairs of socks
(1) pair of lightweight, synthetic hiking pants
(1) long sleeve synthetic running shirt

Missing from picture: GPS, iPod charger cord, cell phone, toothbrush, and food

 All packed up with room to spare!  It will actually be a little less full because I'll be wearing some of the clothes in there, and then the remaining space will be filled with food.  I eat a lot.

 And there she is in business form.  I wish I had a scale to weigh it, but I've cut down weight a good bit from what it was the first few days- dropped the rain jacket, a running hat, a warm hat, a couple small things I can't remember now, and a couple liters of water.  Doing this a little smarter the second time around I hope.  A true minimalist would probably laugh at this assemblage of items.  The electronics certainly add a bit of weight, but I need them to document this properly, update along the way, and navigate (not that a GPS is necessary, but I don't have any good maps really, so this is the replacement).  There are some other things I could drop, but I'm keeping them as (very small) measures of comfort and cleanliness.  I don't want to be a total dirtbag when I'm trying to talk to or stay with people in border towns.  Well, that's that.  I'm still planning on starting again tomorrow morning- the achilles isn't quite 100% yet, but it is much better, and I think I've removed the original source of the problem by changing shoes.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Picture Post

 Frantic preparations wreaked a bit of havoc on the room...

 Day 2 of BorderVenture (no pictures from Day 1 because the camera got a bunch of sand in it and wouldn't work).  I was staring at that mountain range for most of the day (the southern end of the Huachuca's, I believe), knowing that I would eventually have to go through them.

 A transition in the wall material and construction, getting closer to the San Pedro River

 Finally arrived at the San Pedro River.  It was a distant green band through a much drier landscape for quite a while.   Thankfully they only extended vehicle barriers through the riparian area rather than the full wall.  Not that the wall would have been able to stand for very long in the river without some serious engineering anyway.

Though it may appear to be a small stream to anyone coming from a place that has water, this is certainly a river by Sonoran standards, and I'm sure is quite impressive when a monsoon storm unleashes.  I spent a good 30 minutes here, not wanting to leave the shade of the mesquite and cottonwood trees and the cool water.

 A beautiful landscape to behold on the other side

 And behold the sweet irony of the border wall.  If for some reason you couldn't climb it (damn near anyone could), you can just walk right around it- though you might have to lift your leg about knee height here.  Finally getting into the mountains here, where it likely became too difficult and expensive to continue the wall.  Shortly after this the vehicle barrier stopped and the border was demarcated only by a barbed wire fence.

 Just a particularly pretty tree on the mountainside.

 A small barricade built under a tree, likely used by both migrants and drug smugglers to hide from observers in helicopters.  I saw many of these scattered all over the mountainside, under trees, in washes, under large boulders, etc.  Often there were many water bottles, miscellaneous other containers, clothing, and other items left behind by people passing through.

 After bailing down off the side of the first mountain to get water from a horse pasture in Mexico, I found myself onto what was obviously a migrant path.  I walked for a couple more hours through dusk and into the night, and eventually came upon this memorial to some who had died attempting to cross the desert.  The candles inside were all lit, and near the memorial there was over a hundred spent candles.  Someone still cares greatly for these people- this was as close to the middle of nowhere as you can get these days.  The border militarization is killing people. 

Day 3 of BorderVenture.  No more wall, just vehicle barriers and fencing.  Many fewer Border Patrol agents in this region, only saw three the entire day.  This was a very large basin of high elevation prairie.  Quite beautiful, though a little hot and dry. 

Rolling hills, open prairie, big trees and draws, isolation, and achilles pain were the name of the game this day.

Some of the biggest Cottonwood trees I've ever seen, just inside the "town" of Lochiel.  It was a Port of Entry until about 30 years ago, and my guess is that it had a little more traffic and people back in those days.  I didn't see anyone when I passed the dozen or so homes collected there, but it was obvious that people still live there.  I can't tell you how isolated this place is.  The nearest town is Nogales, connected by about a 40 mile dirt road that crosses through a rugged mountain range.

A view of Nogales from the family's house I stayed at for two evenings.  I crossed the mountains on the Mexican side of the border because there was a "highway" (dirt road) that allowed more direct and easy travel than bushwhacking my way there, but I ended up hitchhiking the last 15 or so miles to town due to achilles pain.  The fourth person to pass picked me up, and refused to take any money when they stopped.  They certainly wouldn't have had similar experience were they in my situation on the U.S. side of the border, even if they were legal citizens.  I was overwhelmed by kindness while in Nogales.

El Zanka, the street cart run by Rosie and her family.  If you're ever in Nogales, make sure to stop by and order one of the legendary Choriquesadillas.  They are only a few blocks south of the Port of Entry, but most of their business seems to come from locals working in the area.  Since the border became so much more of a hassle to cross and gross exaggerations of violence were echoed through the U.S. media, the businesses here get little of the tourism that many had come to depend on for income.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Minor Setback

I've decided I need to take a few days off.  I started walking out Nogales around 5am, and after walking for a couple hours, the pain in my right achilles tendon is as bad or worse than before.  I am quite torn about this decision, but I called and talked with a good friend, and what he said echoed the more sensible and logical parts of my conscience.  It might have been fine to keep going, but the next two days to Sasabe are the most rugged of the trip and very remote- through desert mountains and canyons without roads or trails.  So the two items of concern are 1) it becoming a more serious injury that might require rescue, and 2) It is making me move more slowly and awkwardly, increasing the likelihood of other injuries and overuse due to overcompensation, and 3) it is making me take longer to get to water sources.  Water sources that might not be there at all.  So there's the rub.  And I'm pretty sure it is literally rubbing causing my injury, the back of the shoe rubbing on my achilles where it attaches to the heel.  It is a newbie mistake to start a long hike with new shoes, but I was hoping it would be fine because I've never had foot or achilles problems, and I love my old pair of Salomon's.  But these are a different model, and apparently don't fit quite the same way.  So here I sit, typing in Tucson.  When I can get my car keys back tomorrow I'll drive to Flagstaff and either grab a different pair of shoes or buy something entirely different. Best case scenario, I'll be back on the border by Saturday, but it may take longer.  Sorry for the let down.  If I could do it any other way I certainly would.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011



Rough Start

So I started BorderVenture with a mild cold and possibly a sinus infection.  Likely a side-effect of the long days, little sleep, and the stress of preparing for the venture.  It made the 23ish miles from Douglas/Agua Prieta feel very long, and it certainly took longer than expected.  I took with me a pocket Spanish book, so I´ve been working on my Español a bit when the walking is easy, and I did a fair bit of that on the first day.  I definitely didn´t drink or eat enough my first day, and not really for any good reason other than that I knew I could buy a big meal at the end of the day.

The border wall is continuous from Douglas all the way to the mountains about 15 miles west of Naco, making approximately 40 miles of wasted resources.  An enormous amount of resources.  The wall through there is secured in the ground by cement, and varies in form from 18ft tall round steel poles to solid steel and heavy-gauge mesh panels.  One bonus of the wall is that it provides great shade if you´re walking on the U.S. side.  If this wall was truly built with the intent to stop people, it utterly fails.  I could easily climb over the wall in most places, and saw tracks in the dirt demonstrating that others had already done so that day.  Some research is being done as to who received the government contracts to build a lot of the wall, and apparently its some of the same companies building the apartheid wall in Israel.  Great people, eh?  Someone made a lot of money off of this wall. 

On the other side of those mountains, the border wall becomes 30 miles of vehicle barrier (look like tank traps, appear to be made from old railroad tracks) and a 5-strand barbed wire fence.  Basically not stopping anyone, in fact, I crossed it myself several times.  Border Patrol is also much more dispersed here, although there are still around 300 agents (number given by a Border Patrol agent) working in the large basin region between the two mountain ranges west of Naco and east of Nogales. 

Enough about that, more about the rough start.  Like I said, started with a sinus infection.  Toward the end of the first day I developed some mild pain in my right achilles tendon.  Could be overuse from running and hiking with a heavy pack, could be the new shoes I´ve only worn once before begining BorderVenture, could be something else entirely.  The second day went slowly also because I started late (because of an interview with the Sierra Vista Herald), because my achilles hurt, and because I had to carry a lot more water.  I´m trying to be self-sufficient with water, but I´ve needed to drink a lot more than I was hoping to need, making me dependent on water sources that can´t be depended upon (water is tenuous at best in the desert).  This is an unfortunate turn of events, and could make upcoming sections of the journey much more difficult than I was expecting.  No reason to worry for me, I´m not going to endanger myself, but it is just going to be harder.  And thats with the assumption that my achilles injury will heal itself or can be ignored.  Right now I have a healthy portion of pain just walking around town, and because of the achilles pain I ashamedly ended up hitchhiking the last 15 miles into Nogales yesterday .  In Mexico.  Kind of ironic that only the fourth Mexicano truck to pass stopped an picked up a Gringo just south of the border, no questions asked.  A Mexicano certainly wouldn´t get the same treatment just north of the border. 

I think that is all I have time for now, I´ll try to post again soon about some of my experiences and the poeple I´ve met, but I just wanted to give an update where things are at the moment.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Made it to Naco! Today on the border I saw 24 Border Patrol trucks and 4 people taken into custody. I (being white) was only stopped once for conversation.

Monday, March 7, 2011

BorderVenture Updates

So just a quick update on everything.  I still plan to start on March 12th, but I'll be going down to San Luis Rio Colorado two days early to leave some food and water stashes (must-stashes, if I may) for the last few legs of the journey.  I must apologize for the recent lack of posts here, I've been busy with preparations and meetings, etc to organize BorderVenture and spread the word.  I have mapped the approximate route out Google Earth and will try to get the route up and public in the next day or two so that you can follow along a bit better.  This week is the big push, so please share this blog and the Facebook page with your friends, and if you happen to have media contacts, please let them know if you think BorderVenture should be their next story.

If you've followed on the Facebook page at all, you probably saw that I've picked up some local Flagstaff sponsors:  Run Flagstaff, Peace Surplus, and Aspen Sports, all of whom made generous donations of much-needed gear, food, and supplies to the cause, so big thanks to them!  Another exciting piece of news: at the behest and purchasing of friends, I will now be traveling with a SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger.  For those of you who don't know what that means, it is a small GPS-like device that uses a satellite connection to alert people of your location and your status, and can also be used to alert emergency personnel when you have the "uh oh" feeling that you might be in a bit of trouble.  Mine (affectionately named "Spotnik"- thanks Dave) will be set up to contact several friends, to send updates to the BorderVenture Facebook page, and will also update a map with my check-in locations as I go on my SPOT Shared Page.  I'll put up the link in the blog sidebar to the right when I have everything set up and working, and you'll be able to follow along with live progress updates from the border.  Unfortunately it only allows for one pre-programmed check-in message, but I'll be able to give more thorough updates on goings-on via text when service is available (this is the real test, Verizon!) and wireless internet if available in border towns.  I think this is pretty exciting, and it will certainly add to the whole personal safety side of things, so thanks friends!  And an additional thanks to the folks at Pauli! Inc., whose generous donation made it possible to purchase the satellite service plan necessary to use the SPOT device.

Many thanks for the continued interest and support!