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True Stories by Steve Keely
Sea to Ocean
“There’s a rumor among the people of an old caballero (gentleman’s) trail that
reaches the Ocean from the Sea,” an old man rasps. “Keep the sun on your left
cheek.” That’s all I’m going on.
I park at a Mexican rancho near Puertacitos on the Sea of Cortez and start at midday. The arroyo climb is sandy but mountains loom two days off. Baja California is called one of the last desert paradises, a 1000 mi. finger hanging from California, and certainly this is true for the hiker. I must develop a way west one with a gallon of milk strapped to a hand, a gallon of water to the other. The arroyo narrows at sunset into the Matoni canyon, and I sleep where the sleeping bag lands.
The second day of the proposed ten-day journey is gorgeous in all desert ways, sunny and warm, but the up-slope is sandy still. Saguaro cactus show, the way broadens into foothills, and later canyon shadows darken turns. I nose the compass, a GPS, and now instinct. The goal is a dot on the map called Matoni, possibly a settlement, ranch or town.
I rise on the third day and resume the westward plod, quickly picking up a trail of two wild horses, and hurry for company. After twenty minutes, I pivot to walk backwards to ease the front leg muscles and discover the two horses, a large brown and smaller paint, following me. I chuckle dryly at the tracking, and continue, as they peel off to graze.
Suddenly ahead there’s a form on an outcrop– Matoni. It’s a ramshackle house of adobe and wood roof from another era, now abandoned. However, a cold stream tickles the arroyo wall and is sweet after a day without water. There are some old potatoes and onions in a hanging wire basket, I rustle some vegetable oil, and make a fire of down-wood and dry cow puckies. Sleep comes easily inside the adobe.
Day four is a boulder-hopping trial up the fifty-meter wide canyon. Palms line the gorge, and of course the good water. After four hours of punching, I sit and think. Two gained two miles, a dozen leg spines, and almost plummeted once. This isn’t failure any more than a mistake is a stepping stone forward. I turn around.
It’s said the explorer differs from the adventurer by preparation. The explorer marches forth by pre-arrangement; the adventurer must risk. I’m more the latter and I think survive by re-figuring probabilities at each footstep.
Back at the rancho ghosto, I fall into a troubled delirium from the unfiltered water, my own fault, and sleep into the next day. There’s a drone down-canyon and I rise… A cherry dune-buggy with a stout driver approaches like a specter. He pulls into the corral and we exchange waves.
“Canadian?” I ask.
“Yah. Here for a picnic.”
I buck atop the buggy for traction, ducking branches clear to the arroyo mouth that was the beginning. The rumor of an old caballero trail is put to rest.
“Yah, and there’s only one way from the Sea to the Ocean, and that’s through the mountains via Canyon Diablo,” claims my rescuer who knows the peninsula well. He points the way a hundred kilometers to the north, and that’s where I drive.
The new route’s firmer than a rumor, enough to walk on.
This short adventure comes to you from the sleepy port of San Felipe on the Sea of Cortez. It’s little changed from the days of Jack Kerouac, except this Cyber Café. I’ve eaten steadily for two days, discovered tonight is New Year’s eve, and shall begin anew tomorrow for the ocean at Canyon Diablo. You probably hope to hear from me on the other side.
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