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.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

West of Sasabe, Day 1 (Day 6 of BorderVenture)

I returned to Sasabe the evening of Friday, April 1st to continue the BorderVenture.  I got in much later than planned, thanks to a scenic detour inspired by an accident blocking both southbound lanes of I-17.  Apparently a semi truck transporting cattle somehow inverted itself on the highway and spewed mutilated cows all over the asphalt.  Never a dull moment in Arizona.  So I'd been hoping to cross the border that evening and stay with Miguel and Gloria again, but the Sasabe Port of Entry closes from 8pm to 8am everyday because it is used so little (most other Ports of Entry are open 24/7 as far as I know).  With all the businesses also closed by the time I got to the U.S. Sasabe, I was forced to car camp near the town.  I found a pullout for a dirt road and just reclined the front seat, accepting that I would only get around 5 hours of sleep anyway- no point in getting too comfortable.  I was awoken shortly after by Border Patrol headlights piercing through my car.  I of course suspected this would happen at least once.  After a short conversation, the somewhat bemused but friendly agent recommended that I go through the gate and drive a ways up the dirt road in front of me, saying that I'd be less likely to be bothered by other Border Patrol agents if I went that way.  He also said he'd radio ahead to tell others I checked out ok.  I was awoken five more times that night by Border Patrol.  After a while it was just kind of comical, and I certainly don't blame them- they're just doing their jobs in the end.  The last one to wake me up had to actually come and knock on my window, the headlights and spotlight no longer enough to wrench me from slumber, and then proceeded to engage me in a 10 minute conversation about hiking in the area, trying to convince me to hike up to the saddle of Boboquivari Peak (see below), an impressive looking mountain to the North, rather than hike along the border.  Certainly tempting.  But that is all to say that I wasn't exactly feeling fresh the next morning.

I struggled out from my car around 6:15 that next morning and began stuffing my face and my pack with an assortment of food I'd bought from the Flagstaff Safeway on the way out of town.  I was feeling a little disgruntled about the whole 'dead cows obstructing traffic thing' throwing a wrench into my plans and preventing my from buying some of those salty peanuts 'con limon' that I'd grown to love so much over the past weeks.  They have a harsh bite, but they're delicious and wildly addictive.  All packed up, I drove the car into the U.S. Sasasbe and parked it in a church parking lot with a prominent note on the dashboard, in English and Spanish, saying I was hiking, when I would return, and asking the reader to please not damage or take my vehicle.  Just hopin' for the best there...

By about 7am I had begun the ole run-walk routine along that all-too-familiar metal and concrete monstrosity we call the border fence.  

Maybe 3 or 4 miles west of town, the border started making its way up into the mountains and the fence abruptly ended once more.   Funny thing that is.

And once more I was hiking cross-country through the mountains without a trail.  Not ten minutes later, as I was hiking quickly up hill and struggling to dodge the many flesh-rending plants of the Sonora, my peripheral vision caught something different, maybe something worth looking more closely at, and I did so just in time.  My first rattle snake of BorderVenture!  Barely avoided stepping on the damn thing, and it was kind enough to give me the warning rattle what would have been several seconds too late had I not seen it when I did.  It seemed this was going to be an interesting day.  (see my friend below).

Upon reaching the top of that first hill (mountain), I was afforded a better view of the surrounding landscape, and was able to spot a ridge line headed in a westerly direction that I was hoping would offer some easier cross-country travel.  A quick traverse around another mountain and I arrived on the ridge, and sure enough, there was a beautiful little migrant trail.  This thing looked like the Forest Service maintained it (they don't, I assure you).  I call it beautiful in part because it was headed mostly in the direction I needed to go, and any trail greatly eases travel and reduces the likelihood of you losing flesh to the murderous vegetation surrounding you.  The trail soon brought me to what appeared to be a heavily used migrant camp pictured below.

After a brief food-stop at this camp, I kept on trucking down that glorious path.  Not more than 10 minutes later, I looked up (my eyes are often transfixed on the ground in front of me when I'm trying run so as to not break an ankle) and saw several men standing in the shade of some mesquite trees.  I stopped, and with my heart pounding, announced I was a friend and was there in peace, showing both hands and waving with one.  I could see tension in their bodies and doubt in their faces, but only for a moment, because seconds later they realized that I really was just some dumb white boy in the desert alone.  One of them waved back, still appearing a little mystified, and as I walked up, one of them asked (in Spanish) what the hell I was doing out there (in so many words).  With a stupid grin and broken Spanish I explained what I was doing and why, and after a little more conversation, all were laughing and joking (I of course only understanding maybe a quarter of what was being said).  It was this time that I leaned on what I perceived to be a tree trunk without really looking at it, but it was very quickly made clear that it was indeed not a tree trunk but a large Saguaro cactus.  Ouchies.  I explained that I was headed first to Sonoyta and then to San Luis, and one remarked in a somewhat concerned tone, "that's a long way," but after asking where they were headed, I told them that they had much further to go than I.  They were headed to Tennessee.  They had some friends and family there that had work on a farm for them, and were traveling there to work for about two years to save some money and subsequently return to their families in Mexico.  Their first stop was to be Arivaca, a town at least 40 miles away through rugged mountains and open desert with no reliable water sources.  I asked them if they needed anything- water, food, medical supplies, anything- they said no.  I told them that I was going to keep following that same path for a while, as long as it was headed west anyway, but one of them hurriedly remarked that there were bad people, mafia (cartel), if I kept going down that path, and that they could kill me.  This was obviously concerning news, and I asked some awkwardly formulated questions to clarify where they were and they anxiously talked amongst themselves.  After a few minutes of confusion, we clarified that I could take the path around the next mountain but no further, I would just need to head north from there.  They told me I would see more immigrants that way (I didn't ask how many, though in retrospect I probably should have) and said that they should get moving.  They wished me safe travels and I wished them good luck and urged them to be careful, and we parted ways.

Maybe 20 minutes later I broke off from the eastward path, greatly appreciative of the advice I'd just received, and headed north toward a small pass between two mountains on another well-defined path. I reached the top of the pass and my jaw dropped; ahead was a "train" of maybe 25 people hiking north on the same path I was following.
 After the recent news I'd received, I was a little concerned with who this people might be.  I studied them closely (as closely as my vision would allow), and saw nothing suspicious- no large backpacks that might be stuffed full of drugs, no guns, and no one that seemed particularly fit or well prepared for a desert trek.  So they were probably not with a cartel- they were probably just the immigrants the other group had said I would encounter.  I decided to hang back regardless about what I had surmised simply because it was such a large group, and I watched them for several minutes until disappear over another hill.  Continuing on, I realized they had headed up another valley that was to the northeast, so when I found another path that was headed more to the north I veered that direction.  This way I wouldn't keep running into that group.  Not ten minutes later, I saw another group of people standing in the shade of some more mesquite trees, and all around in the surrounding valley I started to see "structures", branches of trees and cacti piled in small tent formations to give shade.

I could see more people hanging around, and one man walking alone.  They appeared to be immigrants, but again considering the advice I'd been given, I decided to avoid them if I could.  I kept my head down and walked quickly and concertedly, figuring that running might inspire some concern in anyone that saw me.  After a few moments it became clear that the man walking alone had seen me- he was now walking in a direction so as to intercept my path.  This was concerning behavior- most immigrants wouldn't go out of their way to greet a stranger, especially one with a large backpack like mine, in the middle of the desert.  It was dangerous business.  But maybe you wouldn't be concerned if you thought you had the upper hand in such an encounter.  But I watched him as he approached- he was a little overweight, he had no backpack on, nothing in his hands, and no gun that I could see.  I figured if nothing else, I could outrun him if I had to.  As we neared one another, I waved at him and he waved back in a casual but friendly manner.  I took this as a good sign.  He stopped where he was and I walked over, eyes searching the surroundings for anything suspicious.  The decidedly jovial man greeted me, erasing most of my suspicions.  Just a big, friendly, curious guy in the desert, who I will call Carlos here.  Conversation (involving my awkward Spanish) ensued; he was headed to California for work- he had a brother there that would help him, he was with a group of about six other men that had hired a guide to get them through.  I told him my story- Carlos was impressed with my undertaking, saying it was a noble cause.  After about ten minutes we wished one another luck and parted ways.  Strangely enough, this was not the last time I would see Carlos.

I soon cleared the next hill and I could see in the distance the familiar crosses of steel that form the vehicle barriers of the border.  When I reached the border I saw that I had just intersected eastern most section of the barrier and road on the western side of the mountain range- a fortunate encounter, as travel would be much easier and quicker now.  I was making good time, it was only 10:30 am, and I was already through the major barrier of the day.  "It should be smooth sailing from here," I thought to myself.  Silly thought that was.  I've since realized that there really is no such thing as "smooth sailing" in the Sonoran Desert.  But the road did allow me to move much more quickly and efficiently, and I was now entering the Tohono O'odham Reservation. 

Maybe an hour of running later, I ran into (not literally) a functioning windmill that was pumping water into a large storage tank.  Happy to find a sign of civilization out there (though the cattle were much less happy to see me), I took the opportunity to chug some water and top off my water bladder.  I could tell that others had filled their water bottles here as well.  If only someone had strategically placed one of these every 15 miles along the border...
Moving on, I could tell in my GPS that I was getting close to the first "town" I would encounter on the reservation, and sure enough, I soon could make out a water tower on the horizon.  An hour later, noon now, I walked up toward the first house I came too.  They had a couple dogs that sure barked a lot, but were kind enough not to bite me.  The owners were not home, so I figured they wouldn't mind if I used the spigot on the side of their house to top off my water again.  It was getting hot, definitely in the 90's just like NOAA had said.  This was one time that I had really been hoping the weatherman would be wrong.  My water was refilled, but at this point I was really hoping to get some conversation, advice, a shady place to take a siesta, and maybe even a bit of food for lunch.

So I went to the other houses.  There were probably only eight or so there anyway, but no one seemed to be home.  Finally, the last house I approached I found people.  A teenage boy was on the porch with his dog.  I waved and approached casually and he called inside his house.  His mother came outside and asked, "what are you doing here?"  I explained I was hiking and was just hoping to get some water and maybe some food.  She said that would be alright.  It was an awkward time, but I waited on the porch, talking a bit with her three teenage boys and she made me a couple ham sandwiches.  I explained what I was doing out there, and they didn't seem to care too much either way, but I was just happy to be getting some real food.

They sent me off with two ham and cheese sandwiches, a popsicle, and two bottles of water.  Incredibly generous treatment of a white guy that probably shouldn't be where he was.  I ran along, excitedly eating my popsicle as I went.  As I left town I saw this sign along the road , and I couldn't help but find some ironic humor in it all.  I kept running along the border road until about 1pm, and having eaten both ham sandwiches as I ran, I stopped in the shade of some mesquite trees on the side of the road for a siesta.

While I tried to catch some Z's and avoid the hottest part of the day, I saw three Border Patrol agents and met two.  The first agent came rolling up maybe 15 minutes after I'd settled in (I'd even set up my tarp for some extra shade).  He was...enthusiastic? about my plans to run across the desert.  He kept saying, "you're crazy man", and remarking on how he couldn't believe I was out there alone, asking if I was scared, etc.  Nice guy though.  The next Border Patrol agent rolled up maybe an hour later in one of their paramedic trucks.  Also a nice guy, he was a bit more curious as to my motivation to be doing what I was doing, so I told him my intent to raise awareness for deaths and social injustices of the border.  He was good at staying impartial, and he commented on the fact that a lot of groups like No Mas Muertes come down and place water, but he said that someone should be teaching the immigrants how to properly sterilize water they find in the desert.  He said that most of the rescues and recoveries he had done were because the person had become sick from drinking contaminated water.  He said that many try to "ceviche" the bad water by squeezing lime juice into it.  While I can imagine this might kill some of the bugs, you definitely need something stronger to make the water safe.  The last Border Patrol agent came by just as I was packing up to start running again, and he either had heard I was there and didn't feel the need to stop, or just didn't see me, because he just blew right on by.

By the time I got moving again, some light cloud cover had started to build and was kind enough to give me some respite from the sun.  It was still pretty damn hot though, and just like my previous days on the border, the late afternoon was certainly the most challenging part of the day in regard to my mental and emotional state.  I blame mostly biological reasons- mild dehydration, insufficient electrolytes and calories, oppressive heat and sun, basically the body is stressed and wants you to stop- but the afternoons were the hardest.  I always found myself wanting to quit, thinking about how easy it would be to just tell the next Border Patrol agent that I was done, that I didn't feel well and needed to get out of there.  But I didn't.  I always managed to find a grin when I encountered someone, just a little something to convince them and myself that I actually did feel fine and was not in a dire situation. 

Anyway, as the day wore on, I realized three things: I was feeling much better as it was getting cooler, that I still had to go over or around a mountain that day, and that there wasn't a border fence or road that went over it like I had thought.  Mixed bag.  At this point, I wasn't really looking forward to more bushwhacking through rough terrain- it had already been a long day.  But trudge along I did.  As I neared the mountain I could see there was a farm just south of the border fence in Mexico, and there was a functioning windmill.  "Bonus!", I thought, I can refill water there before going through the mountains- it should get me all the way to the next town with a comfortable amount of extra water should any problems arise.  So I hopped the fence (quite easy to do here).  It turned out that, though the windmill was a-turnin', it wasn't bringing up any water, and there wasn't anyone around.  I hung out in front of the house for a bit while I took down some calories.  The house was obviously not lived in anymore, so I felt it was ok to use one of their old metal chairs to rest my tired legs a while.  Lightly refreshed though wanting more water, I hopped back over the fence and continued on.

I soon saw something strange on a hilltop in the distance, lying just before the mountain-obstacle.  It sort of looked like a cross on top of the hill.  Though it was a little out of the way to the north, I couldn't help but go see what it was.  As I drew nearer, I could see a faint road leading to a Border Patrol truck on top the hill. I thought, "maybe while I check out what is up on that hill, I can get some water from the Border Patrol agent too".  It turned out that cross-looking thing was actually another Border Patrol truck, but it was one of their camera/surveillance trucks, which can apparently detect heat signatures of people crossing the border from quite far away.

He had quite the vantage from his hilltop position too, but when I said he must obviously have detected me, he responded in an almost ashamed manner, "It is kind of windy today, it doesn't work so well when it is windy.  Once it dies down at night though it works pretty well."  I thought it was kind of funny that I was able to walk right up to this fancy surveillance truck and not be detected until I waved at him from 15 feet away.  We talked for a good while as I filled my water bladder and bottles from an extra gallon jug of water he had in his truck, making idle conversation and learning about his job a bit.  I asked, "Someone must need to be at this truck all the time, huh?", and he replied, "Yeah, they don't like when one of these trucks gets damaged, especially since they cost about $900,000 a piece."  "$900,000?!", I exclaimed, "How many of these truck are there?"  He answered, "Well, all of the border districts have one, and there is one just on the other side of this mountain."  I think he said that his district had six of them.  That is a lot of money for something with marginal functionality.  Anyway, I queried him a bit about the mountain I was to be negotiating pretty soon- with evening rapidly approaching, I wanted to figure out the easiest and fastest way to the other side.  He wasn't sure whether it would be faster to go over the shoulder of the mountain to the south or to traverse around the mountain to the north.  I had my suspicions that it would  probably be easier over the shoulder, but since I had already cut north a bit to check out the hilltop mystery, I decided to go around to the north.  I would soon realize my mistake- the north side of the mountain was much "bigger" than it had looked- it extended much further than I could at first see, and was heavily featured with steep gullies and pointy plants (surprise, surprise).

Finding myself alone again, but more alone in the sense that there was no longer a road or trail to follow, I decided to take advantage of my waning cell phone reception and call a good friend and my family before I lost reception completely.  It was interesting to navigate the gullies and pointy plants with a large pack while talking on a cell phone, but I proved to myself once more that I can indeed multi-task when necessary, and it was revitalizing to talk with friends and family.  The sun was setting in a rather spectacular fashion, but that also meant darkness was rapidly approaching and I was still a long ways from any road.

After a while I was quite happy I had a compass, and after losing quite a bit of flesh to the Sonoran vegetation, I found myself back on a dirt road that was headed south toward the border road.  I came upon a Border Patrol truck with no one in or around it, and assuming that this must be the truck of the guy manning the other surveillance truck on this side of the mountain, I called out for a minute.  I figured he would have seen me already since the wind had died down and it was night again, but I got no response, and after another hour or so of hiking with no Border Patrol trucks searching for me, I'm pretty sure he just didn't see me.  Funny thing that is.  I even had my headlamp on. No matter, on I went.  Once I reached the border road again I could see a truck and hear voices just south of the border in Mexico.  Seeing that it was dark and not necessarily an ideal time for cattle ranching, I speculated it was likely either immigrants or drug smugglers getting dropped off near the border.  I was kind of expecting there to be a Border Patrol truck waiting just on the other side, but no one seemed to care too much.  When I ran into another agent a little later, I asked about the truck and he didn't seem too concerned about it.  He was nice enough to force three bottles of Gatorade on me though.

The desert night is incredible, the stars spectacular, and I felt particularly inspired that evening, so I kept running until about 10:30pm.  The cool night air gave me some renewed energy, and the vivid stars gave distraction for the mind and enough light that I could run on the road without a headlamp.  I didn't see anyone else that night.  When I did finally stop, I threw down my tarp and sleeping bag on a small, open hilltop between two washes.  I put on a dry shirt, my fleece, and some fresh socks, I stuffed my face with some dry Ramen noodles (quite good really if you mash up the noodles and sprinkle the seasoning over them in the bag) and a protein bar, chugged some water and gatorade, and crawled into my sleeping bag.  I was only able to watch the stars for a few minutes before consciousness rapidly took its leave.  I don't think anything could have awoken me that night.

Stay tuned for Day 7!

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Trip to Sasabe

This post is admittedly a little late in coming, a picture recounting of my first trip to Sasabe on March 27th.  Like I mentioned before, I was overwhelmed with kindness and generosity from people already living in decidedly difficult times.  

I drove into Sasabe, Sonora after a lively border inspection (they are quite thorough at the Sasabe Port of Entry...) and eventually came upon this small store.  I was greeted inside by Miguel, a friendly man with a generous smile who helps his wife Gloria run the store and the other businesses she owns.  Miguel is from Puerto Vallarta, and though he is happy to live and work here with Gloria, he would much rather be in Vallarta and near the ocean again.  After some conversation I asked if there was anyone around that spoke English, and it just so happened that Gloria was at their house next door and speaks English perfectly; she was raised in the U.S. and is a naturalized citizen, and taught at a school in the U.S. Sasabe for many years.  Gloria owns the store pictured above, a Casa de Huespedes behind the store (basically a hostel), her house next to the store, another store, and a restaurant just down the street.  The other store and the restaurant have been closed for a while due to lack of business, but she hopes to reopen them when things get better.  She chooses to live in Sasabe despite having family in Tucson, AZ because she prefers living there.  She likes the slower, quieter way of life, the people, and the sense of community in Sasabe and in Mexico in general.  This was a sentiment I have heard amongst many Mexicanos, even as they were headed to cross the border into the U.S.  They only wanted to go and work for a while, make some money, and return to their family, friends, and communities in Mexico.

A lazy afternoon on the porch and an enthralling game of dominoes.  I actually never knew how to play, but I think I've got it figured out now after watching these guys play for a couple hours (haha).

My room at the Casa de Huespedes that Gloria owns.  She said migrants often rent rooms here and at other similar establishments before they leave to cross the border.  She also said that this is the nicest of the rooms because it actually has bed frames; the others just have mattresses on the floor.  I was plenty happy to have the room.  It might look a little rough but it was safe, the sheets were clean, and there was a bathroom.  I've come to know these items as luxury. 
Gloria was kind enough to take me on a Tour de Sasabe in her truck.  Sasabe is a very small town that has fallen on some very hard times.  There is Mexican military stationed in the town as part of an effort by the government to combat the cartels.  Though the townspeople I think are a little resentful of having them stationed there, they said the military men in town were good people, and that they help to keep the town safe.  Apparently at one point a cartel had moved into town and was trying to "take over", but they made themselves scarce once the military showed up. 

This picture is from the back of Gloria's truck on our way to her ranch the next morning.  You can see another military hummer in the background.  The town is quite safe- children play in the streets relatively unsupervised, people walk freely about, there are soccer and basketball games, and other community gatherings often- but the cartel controls both of the roads that lead to Sasabe from the South.  People are a little curious as to why there is plenty of military in town but they don't do anything about the roads to the south.  On the road directly to the south that connects Sasabe and Altar, the cartel charges migrants to pass through to Sasabe.  In Altar I was told that they generally charge Mexicans around 1000 pesos (approx. $100 USD), but charge people from other Central and South American countries much more.  Luckily, locals can usually pass through for free or for a small charge.  No one was quite sure what they would charge me (being from the U.S.), or how they would feel about me passing through from Altar to Sasabe like I planned to do later on my way back to my car.  The road to the southeast is another story.  It used to be passable similar to the road to Altar, but Gloria said that recently a group of four people left town traveling on that road and disappeared, never to be seen again.  Apparently that area to the north of that road, the region between Sasabe and Nogales, is a major area for the cartel's drug smuggling, and the road is the "launching area" for their operation- the reason they seem to be so terribly guarding of the road.  They don't want anyone interfering with the operations or any migrants passing through the area and drawing more attention to what they are doing on the border.

The quaint downtown of Sasabe.  Not as busy as it used to be, apparently, with many fewer people passing through now that the cartel controls the access from the south and Border Patrol controls the access from the north.  Sasabe just got its first two sections of concrete road pavement in town and a couple miles of asphalt leading into town from the south- a modest gift from the Mexican government after many years of neglect.  The rest of the towns roads are dirt.  

Gloria and Miguel's adorable daughter, on a quick trip to the ranch in the morning before going to school.  Sasabe doesn't have a high school.  Children can attend school through the 8th grade if they and their parents wish it so, and most do, but if they want education beyond that they must move to the city of Caborca, around 2 hours away to the southwest of Sasabe.  Some do so, but many others start working instead, with adobe-making an occupation for many Sasabe residents.

Driving out of Sasabe south to the ranch.  Gloria joked that sometime in the next two years Sasabe might have its first real, functioning gas station.  Residents otherwise buy it from a small station on the U.S. side of the border or from town residents that have large tanks they sell from.  Many Sasabe residents ride horses as their main form of transportation around town and to work.  It certainly gives Sasabe that good ole wild west feeling.

These are some badass cows (excuse the language).  They survive in the desert (of course with some help on the water side of things), their noses often covered in cacti from their attempts at grazing.  Gloria raises them to sell for their meat, but always keeps a couple cows for fresh milk for the family. 

Del Fino roping up a cow to be milked, and a calf getting in the way.  Del Fino was a great guy, great sense of humor, and we worked on learning one another's languages together a bit.  He had lived and worked in California for a bit, and he expressed concern about how similar the words "beach" and "b#tch" sounded to him, unsure of which one was which.  We worked that one out.  He said that he came to Sasabe to work on the ranch and has been there for several years, but the town is a bit small and isolated for him. 

A delicacy:  Milk, fresh and warm from the utter mixed with sugar, chocolate, and Don Pedro.  Absolutely delicious, and an excellent excuse to get a buzz on well before noon.  BorderVenture isn't just suffering in the desert, you know, there can be enjoyment too.

 A worker at one of the adobe manufacturing areas- you can see the freshly formed bricks in the background.  They take the "soil", wet it, form it into bricks, allow it to dry, and then fire it in an oven like the one pictured below.

The adobe bricks are mostly exported, often to Tucson to build fancy homes, sometimes south into Mexico, and sometimes used to build homes in town.

 Another recent gift from the government, a pleasant park on the northern end of Sasabe.  I watch a group of children play around it late into the evening.  It is obviously appreciated, but I got the sense from some townspeople that the money could have been spent better in another area to make a better park.

A look back on the town of Sasabe.

Taken in front of Gloria's store shortly after we returned from the ranch, and just before I left to return to Flagstaff.  Sasabe is a small town chock-full of great people with a strong sense of community, caught in between a rock and a hard place.  Despite the adversity these people face on a daily basis, there is a generally cheery atmosphere around town, the kind of feeling you get when people are content with themselves, where they are, and what they are doing.  I think you'd be hard-pressed to find hardier, nicer, and more welcoming people anywhere. 

Sorry for the lateness and extensive length of this post, and thanks for reading!

Monday, April 11, 2011


 My undying gratitude, I am forever indebted to:

Friends and Family  (for support, love, encouragement, discouragement, advice, criticism, cautionary words, beers, a couple hangovers, personal connections, a SPOT beacon, for following along, for rides, places to stay, for promoting BorderVenture, for answering frantic phone calls, for talking with me through the rough spots and hard times, for guidance, for food, for being wonderful people, for tolerating my ridiculousness)

All the generous and wonderful people I met along the way (for the support, encouragement, food, water, for sharing a bit of your lives with me, for great conversation, for places to stay, and for everything else- all of which you did for some dumb Gringo you didn't even know)

Run Flagstaff  (for supplying much of my nutritional needs, water bottles, an awesome shirt, some new shoes, encouragement, and for being all-around awesome)

Peace Surplus  (for making my drinking water safe, for meeting some of my nutritional needs-Luna bars are delish!- and for protecting my noggin from harmful UV rays)

Aspen Sports of Flagstaff  (for providing a means of conveying food to my mouth and for lighting my way through my darkest hours (most literally-a headlamp))

Team Run Flagstaff  (for advice, excellent training workouts, and the positive vibes of a great community of runners)

Tohono O'odham Police Department (for allowing me to stay on the reservation despite my failure to obtain proper permitting)

U.S. Border Patrol Agents of the Arizona Border that I met along the way (for directions, water, food, Gatorade, rides, conversation, etc, all in the middle of nowhere, and for generally being good people doing a difficult job honorably)

The vast network of buses and shuttle vans that make up Mexico's public transportation system (for giving me an affordable way to get around Mexico)

The Sonoran Desert (for ever so generously deciding to not kill me)

Everyone else that I'm forgetting to mention (and there definitely are some, please forgive my forgetfulness, and know that I truly value any support and assistance you provided along the way- I truly could not have done what I did without all of the help I received)

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Well, I'm done running along the Arizona-Mexico border (for now at least).  As you may have noticed, I skipped a big section at the end here.  The reasons were many, and I don't feel the need to explain myself necessarily, but mostly I just didn't want to run along a somewhat busy, shoulder-less highway through the desert alone for another 3 or 4 days.  This is regrettable in a sense, but I feel that through BorderVenture I have accomplished what I set out to do- create some attention around border issues, gain personal insight, and to learn- without abusing myself for another three days (on a highway).

I walked and ran for about 10 miles down Highway 2 in Mexico west of Sonoyta before I decided to go back to Sonoyta and catch a bus to San Luis.  I finished the border run by running from San Luis to Yuma, AZ yesterday, approximately 26 miles all said and done.  I waited in a line for over an hour to cross the border into the U.S., surrounded by people crossing to go to work, some to school, some just for a day trip.  Apparently if you are in a vehicle, and depending on the time of day, you often wait in line for two hours to cross back into Arizona because of the much more strict inspection policies in place now.  It was a beautiful day, and by beautiful in Yuma I mean that there were storm clouds in the sky (and I even felt a few drops of rain!).  I'm not keen on road running (as you might surmise from the previous paragraph) but the familiarity of everything made the road, the vehicles, the houses, the stores, the sprawl, the hyperconsumerism all very welcome sights.  I kept my mind busy for a while practicing rolling my "rr's", which I'm apparently still awful at, with the familiar phrase "el burro sabe mas que tu," and the perhaps less familiar but classic, "mi perro tiene cajones grandes".  Despite some rather severe tightness and discomfort in my hips and pain in my feet, I found myself running with anything from a half-grin to a full-on stupid, giddy smile. 

Twice I laughed aloud extensively.  The first was upon seeing a Sonic, thinking about ordering a Cherry-Limeade to go, picturing myself stopping at every fast food place I saw the rest of the way into Yuma, and then laughing uncontrollable at myself and how ridiculous it was that the sight of a fast food restaurant made me so happy.   The second was just after I almost face-planted from tripping on my own shoelace (the sweet irony it would have been to sustain my most serious injury of the trip running on a sidewalk...) and I knelt down to retie my shoe in the grassy front lawn of an apartment complex.  It was so gloriously green, soft, forgiving, and familiar.  I had the impulse to take my shoes and socks completely off and just prance about for a while, but out of the want to just reach my destination I resisted and settled for a transition from kneeling and tying my shoe into a slow crawl on my hands and knees, kneading the grass with my fingers and laughing the whole way.  I can almost guarantee that YOU, the reader, right now, are taking grassy lawns for granted.  When you go outside next, appreciate that next grassy lawn you come upon for all of its luxuriousness. 

That's all to say that one of the things I've become most brutally aware of is how easy, comfortable, and complacent our lives are.  And how much we truly take for granted as we float along in our little boxes, mostly unaware and uncaring of what goes on outside of our daily lives.  Generally speaking, we rarely have to make difficult choices (real choices, I'm not talking about whether you should buy a new or used car, or whether you'll order a cappuccino or a latte), we are rarely faced with anything more than mild discomfort in our daily lives, and we can live pretty damn comfortably with even the most modest of wages. 

I have a lot to write about from BorderVenture- I've hardly talked about any of the experiences and the people I've met along the way, and I've done that somewhat intentionally.  And I'm going to continue to write about border issues, current events, etc long after I run out of things to say about the BorderVenture itself.  BorderVenture was my "grand gesture", my action, to draw attention to the issues, and in that I would say that it has been marginally successful so far.  I want to reach a bigger audience, and I will continue to work hard to do so.  And I plan to continue to use "adventures" as learning experiences and to draw attention to the issues.  I'm considering biking the 100 or so miles I skipped between San Luis and Sonoyta.  I'm also considering hiking the "Devil's Highway", an immigration corridor  that goes North between these two cities that is heavily used and notoriously deadly, in order to directly recount what an immigrant would experience when doing this.  Maybe try to do it on an immigrant's budget too.  Just a couple things I'm considering for now.  First I have to recover my car from Sasabe which will involve a somewhat extensive series of buses and shuttle vans through Northern Mexico.  I'll then drive back through Mexico starting in Nogales and ending once more in San Luis in order to thank those who helped me along the way, to recover some of the stashes I skipped (and ensure those I left them with that the Gringo Loco didn't die on the way), and then go home to Flagstaff.  This might take a couple days...  Hasta pronto!

Many thanks for your support, comments, advice, insights, criticism, and continued interest.  I hope that you'll continue reading-- even if it is less interesting now that my life is not in immediate peril (haha...)


Friday, April 1, 2011

Another Piece of the Arizona-Mexico Border

I'm headed back down to Sasabe today to start running again tomorrow. This is the leg connecting Sasabe and Sonoyta/Lukeville. I'll be traveling through the Tohono O'odham reservation on dirt roads for the most part, and there are houses at fair intervals so I'm hoping I'll be okay with water despite the heat. 90 miles in 90 degrees! I might run at night if I need to. Thanks for the continued interest and support, and don't forget to share this with your friends (and media contacts)! I'll have the SPOT beacon up and running again so you will be able to follow my progress live (link is the spot icon in the sidebar on the right). See you on the other side!