I was going to hike the length of America.
It was Firefighter Kerry Hamilton’s fault.
He’d been taking a break from the daily slog of rescuing damsels in distress, when he’d wandered up to me in the messroom
of Auckland’s Devonport Fire Station and handed me a book...
“Hey boss, wanna read this? You’re into this kind of stuff.”
Actually, the kind of stuff I was into at that particular moment, was a lump of springy gristle that should have been shot for impersonating a pie rather than to become one.
I reached for the book, running hot gravy up the inside of my uniform shirtsleeve.
Unknown to me, this uncomfortable instant in time was to be the, “starting gun” for a journey that would take me over thousands of kilometres, introducing me to a few more discomforts as well as some unexpected pleasures along the way.
The book was by Englishman Stephen Pern.
Ex-paratrooper and ex-everything else adventurous that you could think of, he had made a journey alone and off-road travelling entirely on foot through wilderness areas and national parks along the Continental Divide trail that stretched from Mexico to Canada.
The more I read, the more I realized just how predictable my life had become.
Here was a guy grabbing it with both hands and going for it...
He wasn’t reading about it, he’d done it!
I put the book down and wondered if I could do it.
Basically, for the past few years, the furthest I’d walked was the odd stroll up to the corner store to get a carton of milk.
With this in mind, I decided to leave my car at home one day and walk the twelve kilometres to work to see if I had the, “Right Stuff” for this type of adventure.
I arrived at work smug in the knowledge that I’d managed to propel myself this vast distance without the aid of mechanical device or bus ticket.
There was however, a major flaw in this triumph - it hadn’t occurred to me that the amazing feat had been accomplished on a pleasant summer’s day, wearing light running shoes and shorts and with nothing more on my back than a T shirt and a warm breeze.
I’d also enjoyed a pleasant stop at the Belmont shopping centre en route, visiting MacDonalds to buy a Coke, hamburger and chips.
This was hardly Nanook of the North stuff.
Nor despite my imagination, even remotely comparable to, “Dangerous Dan McGraw” calling in at a desolate outpost to pick up beans and flour before heading out once more into the blizzard.
Ignorance was bliss though and I’d blissfully convinced myself that there was nothing much at all to this walking business.
Heading off Columbus-like in the direction of the Auckland City Library, I set about investigating a likely route through America.
After being awarded several parking tickets for abandoning my car whilst rummaging around inside for information, then sifting through stuff received from various United States agencies, I finally decided on a 4280km off-road route from Mexico to Canada known as the Pacific Crest Trail.
This trail was further west than the one that Pern had taken and to my mind had a few extra benefits.
One of its advantages was that the logistics of food supply would be easier.
Another was the fact that there was a publication available from an outfit called Wilderness Press that detailed the trail as well as providing all the relevant sections of topographic maps.
The cost of buying the complete set of topographic maps for the entire trek through America would have been astronomical - to someone contemplating becoming an unemployed itinerant, this publication was an excellent option.
The clincher however, was that my Uncle George lived near San Josť, which was at least in the same state as the first part of the trail.
I figured that I could base myself there, practise looking like I knew what I was doing and then when I didn’t look a complete wally, sort of ease myself nonchalantly and unobtrusively off into the unknown.
This western trail, I read, was more remote and less travelled than it’s well known eastern counterpart the Appalachian.
It kept as far as possible from frequented areas, stretching north from the Mexican border (roughly 65 km east of Tijuana) up through the desert areas of southern California, across the western end of the Mojave desert, up into the Sierra Nevada range and then into the Cascade Ranges of Oregon and Washington.
It finally left the US in an area called the Pasayton Wilderness to enter Canada through the Okanogen Forest in British Columbia.
My B Grade Movie imagination had clunked into gear...I was the lean, steely-eyed, cowpoke/trapper/Indian fighter...the quintessential, “man alone” against the wilderness!
Blackie, my long suffering pet moggie, eyed me warily from the corner of the room.
He’d grown used to my bursts of enthusiasm for various projects over the years, but he’d taken to giving me a wide berth on this latest one after I’d greeted him with, “Hasta la vista hombre!” and attempted to lasso him with the video cord...Unless it involves food banditry, the mogster has no imagination.
I sat tall in my lounge chair, squinted into the sun and read on.
The route I’d chosen would take me through a mind-boggling range of terrain.
From near sea level at the Columbia River on the Oregon/Washington border, to 4023m (13,200 ft) at Forester Pass in the snowbound High Sierras.
In total, 40 Wilderness areas, 24 National Forests, 7 National Parks and 3 State Parks would be traversed.
I would cross 19 major canyons, pass by up to 1000 lakes and climb 57 mountain passes - temperatures would range from very hot in the deserts of southern California to below freezing in the mountains of the Sierras and the Cascades.
Pull this one off George I thought, and you will definitely qualify for your, “ Junior Outdoorsman Badge”
Reading on, I found that most people who hiked the trail seemed to only do bits of it, or else hiked sections over a period of years until they had completed the lot.
I figured that as the cost of the air fares was going to leave my bank balance teetering on the brink of death, then I wouldn’t be returning too many times to do, “sections”.
I owed it to my wallet to do the lot in one hit.
In any case, John Wayne wouldn’t have done it in sections.
The problem with this though, was that the journey would have to be completed within a rigorous time frame of six months.
Starting somewhere near the beginning of April and ending around mid-October.
If I left Mexico later than the end of April, then the heat in the desert areas of southern California was going to pose dehydration problems.
If I left much before April, then snow and ice conditions further north in the high Sierras would still be extreme by the time I reached them.
On top of this, no matter what time I left the Mexican border, I would have to reach Canada before mid October when the snow began to fly in earnest, forcing me to bail out or get lost and end up a sad hairy popsicle.
With my route and timetable eventually sorted, I turned my attention to equipment and food.
It was obvious that a small but efficient range of clothing was going to be needed, along with basics of survival such as tent, sleeping bag, stove etc.
It also dawned on me, that as the only available transport was going to be me, then weight was a major consideration if I intended to actually move once I’d managed to pick all this stuff up and get it on my back.
As I agonised over all these details, it occurred to me that none of my western movie heroes had this hassle...they just slapped on a poncho, spat in the dust, and rode off into the sunset with nothing more than a canteen of water and a cheroot clenched in their teeth.
As it turned out my loaded pack, sans cheroots, averaged about 30kg (65lbs) and at one stage reached a totally depressing bone compressing 45kg.(100lbs)
As all my equipment began to pile up around me, I began to realize why long distance hikers are a bit paranoid about weight.
Some are even known to cut down the length of a toothbrush handle in their quest for lightness - Firefighter Finlay, it was happily pointed out, had once even cut off the bristles.
This wasn’t really fair, as Firefighter Finlay probably hadn’t even done much in the way of hiking, let alone molested a toothbrush.
His only crime had been to be born Irish, and the firecrew, not particularly known for political correctness amongst themselves, had leapt at the chance to create an, “Irish” joke.
Now, for an ex Belfast fireman such as Roy, who was no doubt used to dodging exploding shillelaghs, the small-arms fire from the crew’s pathetic sniping was no problem at all, and he had effortlessly put them in their place by throwing back a few jokes of his own.
He had then played his trump card by pointing out that it was an Irishman who had won a final heat in the television programme Mastermind.
This he advised them, was a show designed exclusively for clever buggers. “Take that youse bastards!”
Fire stations are not the place for sensitive souls!
I’d also discovered from my investigations, that some hikers on this trail had eaten over 6000 calories a day from their packs and still managed to lose weight.
So it was with some concern that I prowled around camping stores studying minute tinfoil packets half filled with lighter than air powder proudly proclaiming that they were a, “Hearty Meal For Two”.
Who were they kidding!
I knew of at least two firefighters that could have eaten a carton load of them, then boiled up and eaten their canvas packs and still kept their heads in the trough!
What I needed was jam doughnuts and a Sunday roast, but civilian dehydration technology apparently hadn’t cracked it yet.
With this in mind I contacted the NZ Army for advice.
I figured that these jokers operate in remote locations, carry huge weights around, and presumably still manage to eat enough to give them the strength to cause trouble.
“Try the Air Force”, I was told.
I duly sent off a letter detailing my intentions and concerns, and respectfully requesting nutritional information.
I’m still waiting.
Maybe it’s a secret.
I wrote away to the US and obtained an excellent two volume guide on the PC trail from Wilderness Press.
These included the necessary topographic maps for the entire route, excellent terrain description, and suggestions on where I could have food supplies mailed awaiting pick-up.
Importantly, they also included the locations of reliable water sources - although on at least two occasions, the reliable water was to turn out to be dust and sand. The publication had curled at the edges as an unhappy hiker hurled dehydrated curses at its blameless authors.
I was to develop a deep respect for fresh water and its critical importance.
I found out about a company based in Los Angeles called Trail Foods - this company would mail orders of dehydrated food to any postal agency for the date required.
They proved to be very reliable, and my supply parcel would always be awaiting pick-up when I arrived salivating at one of the small and remote communities.
These pick-up points were usually about 160km apart - the furthest being about 330km.
My method was to work out the distance between supply points, estimate covering 25km a day to see how many days food I needed to carry, and then add one days food as a back-up.
I would have liked to have added a week’s back-up and a couple of pizzas, but the extra weight would have slowed me up a week and made me burn more calories, so it was a catch 22 situation - a couple of sherpas would have been handy.
Having thus worked out my route and supply requirements but still not having done much in the way of hiking before, I disappeared with my pack into the Hunua Ranges south of Auckland for a three day, “dummy run“.
This sowed a few worrisome seeds of apprehension into my plan, as I emerged at the end of it limping, with a sore knee and feet that felt like they’d been interrogated by the gestapo on one of their more pissed off days.
To compound my worries, I was also greeted by a note pinned to my car advising me to contact the local police.
It turned out that someone had spotted my car sitting around for a few days, and had done their civic duty by notifying the constabulary. No problem, except for the knee and foot pain.
The problem with my feet was easily fixed by swapping my boots for a pair one and a half sizes bigger.
The knee was a bit more difficult however, but after peering at x-rays of the offending joint my doctor assured me that if I could put up with the pain, then nothing was going to suddenly go twang and leave me legless.
So, clutching a prescription for carton loads of anti-inflammatory painkillers, along with a cover note for customs officers explaining that I wasn’t an international drug courier, I progressed to the next stage of the expedition, reminding myself that a bit of pain was to be welcomed as being thoroughly character building.
My next obstacle was getting the time off work, and also breaking the news of my pending absence to my girlfriend Sadie.
I was a bit apprehensive about this, as most of the females that I have known, don’t seem to hold Big Adventures in quite the same light as I do - I was pleasantly surprised to discover that she was quite impressed with the idea, and offered no immediate resistance.
I was to discover later on though, that after she’d had time to think about it, she began muttering things about possible chance liaisons with Indian maidens, love-starved cowgirls and attractive mountain sheep.
I found myself in the ludicrous position of having to convince her that most of my time would be spent miles from civilization and therefore temptation, and that there was no way I would have the inclination let alone the stupidity to hazard my important bits engaging in amorous liaisons with the wildlife of North America.
It ain’t easy, this adventuring stuff!
Not wanting to completely sever the umbilical cord from Mother Fire Service, I decided to see if I could at least stretch it a bit by getting a years leave of absence.
This was granted amidst great hilarity from fellow firefighters, who took pleasure in informing me that it was probably only granted on the odds that I’d fall down a ravine or get converted into bear turds.
So much for caring words of farewell!
I was duly presented with a huge, “going-away” card that had been drawn up by the daughter of one of the crew - it depicted a distressed cartoon of myself, loaded down and hobbling on crutches through a bear and reptile infested wilderness.
The stage was set!
All that was missing, was an increasingly nervous actor who didn’t quite know his lines yet.
The BIG DAY finally arrived, and giving what I hoped looked like a devil-may-care slightly buccaneering sort of wave to Sadie and two of my crew who had come to see me off, I disappeared into the departure lounge of the Auckland airport.
I was a bit disappointed to realize that I was already beginning to hyperventilate and as yet there wasn’t a bear or snake in sight - my most traumatic experience so far, was being robbed of $20 departure tax by an unsmiling official.
This first part of my journey was rather blurred.
This was due partly to the free in-flight drinks and partly to the fact that my mind was a cartwheeling mass of information on places, dates, equipment and food requirements, all tangled up with nagging thoughts of self-doubt.
Would I be able to hack it?
Would I get, lost/injured/mugged/murdered/eaten/exhausted/ beamed up by aliens?
Still, I guess that was what it was all about and there was only one way to find out.
The ’plane touched down in Hawaii, and I joined the long queue of disembarking passengers to approach my first US customs officer of the journey.
I’m always vaguely uneasy around the minions of bureaucracy, they stir up mild feelings of aggression in me - I think it’s the no compromise, “I have the power” attitude of their ilk.
This guy seemed friendly enough though.
Despite this, I approached him with the niggling knowledge that I’d pulled a bit of a swifty on his compatriots in the Auckland US embassy.
One of the requirements at that time, was that any visitor to the States was required to prove that they had sufficient funds in their bank account to sustain them for the duration of their stay. I was requesting a reasonably lengthy stay and was a bit concerned that my account might not be up to the standard required by Uncle Sam.
I’d voiced my concern to Dave Quedley, one of the firefighters in my crew.
“No problem mate, I’ll just biff ten grand into your account for a couple of days while you get your visa!”
He did that. I trotted along to the embassy with my new fat bank statement, impressed the man and got my visa.
I looked at the customs man. What if super American technology had accessed my bank status and exposed me for the near pauper that I was?
I put on my friendly face, “G’day!”
“What is the purpose of your visit?”
“I want to do a bit of hiking up through America.”
“Where you goin’?”
“Off road from the Mexican border up to Canada.” (Did I say that?) I already felt like I was an imposter!
There was a long pause as he looked at me.
“So you’re an Outdoorsman huh?”, he said it as though I should have been wearing a coon skin cap and buckskins or something.
I shuffled in what I hoped was an outdoorsman-like manner and muttered, “Yep,” hoping that I looked like Davy Crocket and sounded like John Wayne.
“Well I can’t give you as much time as you’re asking. You’ll have to re-new your permit later on.”
Fair enough I thought, grabbed my passport, and flew on to San Francisco where I disembarked and travelled by bus to nearby Mission San Josť.
It was near here that my Uncle George lived in an isolated trailer home at the foot of the Diablo Range.
Uncle George was a bit of a hero of mine. He’d emigrated to the States from Scotland after his demob from the army in the forties.
He was a grumpy feisty old bastard, his favourite adjective being, “goddam“, and every object within sight was eventually labelled with it.
He was a softy underneath it all though, and he meant a lot to me.
I spent a few weeks with Uncle George, sorting out details and testing my knee on the sunburnt range that stretched out beyond his home. The pain wouldn’t go away, but at least it was bearable.
I borrowed Uncle George’s pick-up and drove to the San Francisco immigration offices to attempt to get an extension on my permit.
It was hopeless.
The immigration waiting rooms were wall to wall with people from every corner of the Earth with a couple of other planets thrown in.
I waited four hours then gave up.
The only fun part of the day had been when I’d driven in to the city - I’d shot across an intersection and found myself heading the wrong way into a one way road system.
Luckily, on the corner to my right, was an abandoned service station. I hung a rapid right, got up over the kerb and was able to boot it into the correct road.
Looking back to make sure that there were no agitated members of the SFPD in pursuit, I was amused to spot a car load of black Americans, stopped and facing the wrong way in the middle of the road. Looking totally bewildered as cars sped down either side of them. They had been behind me at the intersection and must have followed me across into the one way system.
At least I wasn’t the only one who made mistakes.
Sorry about that folks.
I returned to Uncle Georges’s trailer home and tried getting through to immigration by ’phone, but they have this cunning system whereby it’s impossible to actually speak to a living human.
You have to negotiate your way through countless recorded telephone instructions to find the department you want, and then grow old listening to recorded, “hold” music.
One of the more frustrating aspects is that a recorded voice will ask you if you want the instructions in English or Spanish.
Twice I replied with, “English”. Each time I was immediately besieged with a torrent of recorded Spanish.
I thought about this. I was also getting cunning. The computer was obviously programmed to detect American accents.
I tried again.
“Do you want instructions in English or Spanish?”
Putting on my best John Wayne accent I drawled, “English, pilgrim.”
Bingo! It worked, and I had the pleasure of following the instructions until I hit the, “hold” music.
I sat there with the ’phone clutched to my ear. My hair was beginning to fall out, and I was sure I could detect the beginnings of age spots on the backs of my hands...Geese were beginning to fly south.
I gave up trying to speak to someone about an extension and sent them off a letter advising them of my problem and suggesting that if they wanted me, I’d be out in the woods somewhere heading for Canada.
I contacted the Trail Foods company in LA by ’phone, telling them that I was going to travel all the way down to the Mexican border by bus, changing buses at the terminus in downtown LA.
They advised against it.
The bus terminal in LA was too dangerous they reckoned. “You wander around on your own down there with a pack on your back, and them bad guys is gonna think it’s Christmas. Take my advice buddy and catch a ’plane all the way to San Diego.”
They also told me that they were supplying an, “English guy” who was starting off a week before me and also heading for Canada.
I looked forward to maybe meeting up with him.
I had intended travelling by Greyhound bus all the way down to San Diego before catching local transport to the Mexican border.
However, apart from the advice I received from Trail Foods, the bus company was in the throes of a major drivers strike.
The company was using ring-in drivers, and the buses were being picketed and shot at - Welcome to the Wild West!
Deciding that one way or another travelling by bus might be injurious to my health, I flew down to San Diego.
Uncle George had farewelled me from the porch of his trailer home with another bit of advice, “You watch out, this town’s full of goddam crazies!”
I relished this, as he’d not long finished telling me about a couple of backpackers that he’d almost shot to death.
He’d woken up one night and heard some voices alongside his bedroom window. He opened the drawer at his bedside and pulled out his revolver.
It was quite an ancient piece of artillery and had no safety catch. “The goddam thing went off and blew a hole in the side of my goddam trailer.”
The two backpackers, who were lost and had come down out of the hills to get their bearings, had dropped their packs and ran for their lives.
A cop had turned up soon after daylight to retrieve the packs and find out what the story was.
Uncle George explained what had happened and told him that he needed the gun because there were, “So many goddam crazies prowling around here!”
He must have made an impression, because nothing further happened and the cop parted with the advice, “Just remember, if you ever shoot a prowler, make sure you drag him in across the doorway. That way there ain’t gonna be a problem.”
You don’t mess around with Uncle George!
Unfortunately Uncle George is no longer with us. But get this!
He died standing up!
“First one I’ve ever picked up like this”, the undertaker had said.
They’d found him standing, stooped at his wash basin and looking as though he was just about to splash water on his face.
He had not long before celebrated his 80th birthday, and my wife Berneece and I had been lucky enough to be there to get him a cake.
Uncle George was different.
He’ll be missed goddam it!
The expletive had come from the man behind the San Diego domestic air terminal information desk.
Apparently a young marine had asked if he could use the ’phone to call a local taxi, and had then spent half an hour talking to his girlfriend on the other coast - his drill sergeant would have been proud of him, Initiative Training had paid off.
The harassed info man pointed me in the right direction for the bus to El Cajon, and I stepped out into the street and bright sunshine.
It was only a short walk to the bus terminal, and I watched with some professional interest as a San Diego Fire Department truck cruised by.
I also noted that the crew were obviously appreciating the form of a young blonde girl that walked ahead of me.
Ah, well, I thought, different Fire Department, same interests.
The small dusty bus terminal at El Cajon, about twenty five kilometres from San Diego, was my last stop before reaching Campo near the Mexican border.
I saw my first Mexicans there. Four of them stood grouped together looking rather lost and subdued.
What struck me was their size. They were all quite small.
Until then, my only experience of Mexicans had been Hollywood’s grinning but deadly banditos.
Maybe they got bigger and grinningly nastier the further south you went.
A young policeman wandered in and made a beeline for them. They must have been there legally, for after several minutes of questioning them he lost interest and wandered off again.
I mused at the fact that he hadn’t even given this pack carrying alien a glance.
The lady at the ticket counter gave me the time of departure and asked where I was from.
She’d once visited New Zealand, and handed me my ticket with some smiling advice,
“You keep an eye on your pack now and don’t walk away from it, this ain’t Noo Zealand.”
I watched the four Mexicans and was relieved to see that they hadn’t started grinning yet.
My bus was due to leave at 1509, and I watched as a small battered bus pulled in and then left again - I looked at my watch, 1455.
1509 arrived and there were no signs of any other buses.
I dragged my pack over to the ticket counter.
“When’s the bus for Campo get here?”
“Just gone, it was that last one that left.”
“When’s the next one then?”
“Ain’t but one a day. Next one is tomorrow.”
“I thought you said it left at 1509?”
She looked at her watch, “Well I guess they was a bit early. Don’t always stick exactly to the timetable.”
I was worried, the Mexicans had started grinning.
Just then another bus pulled in and the ticket lady spoke to the driver - the driver got on his CB and contacted my bus who waited for me a couple of miles down the road until I was dropped off by the second driver.
I was impressed by the service.
Couple of hours later and I was in Campo, about two and a half kilometres north of the Mexican border and about sixty five kilometres due east of Tijuana.
Campo had a population of around 1100, it consisted of a feed store, grocery store, post office and border patrol station.
Most of the inhabitants appeared to be employed by either the border patrol or sheriff’s office, and as a Kiwi who was used to seeing the average policeman armed with not much more than a pair of handcuffs and a wet bus ticket, the amount of firepower they carried around was quite awesome.
I was relieved to find that the store could supply me with white spirits for my small stove and after inquiring where I could camp for the night, walked to the edge of the settlement and pitched my small one man tent for the first time.
A plaque on the wall of an old unoccupied stone building nearby, informed me that it was the scene of an attack by, “Border raiders” in 1875.
On Dec 4th, 1875, this attack had been the second largest, 'shootout' in the Old West’s history.
The original store had been owned by the brothers, Lumas and Silas Gaskill. Both with a reputation as being hard, tough men.
Bandits, led by Pancho Lopez, had decided to raid them but they had underestimated the Gaskill brothers and along with a couple of the locals who joined in the fray, the desperados were permanently removed from the scene after a furious and bloody gunfight.
I crawled into my tent, hoping for a more peaceful stay.
I was to become an expert at pitching that tent, doing it almost every night for the next five months. To any question on where I was headed, my reply was, “North a bit.”
To say Canada seemed ridiculously ambitious at this stage - it was a bit mind boggling and I didn’t want to think too much about the distance myself.
All the horror stories I’d ever heard about travel in America filtered through my brain as I lay in my tent that first night.
Sleep was fitful as I sub-consciously tuned in for the approaching sounds of Heat Seeking Rattlesnakes, Drug Crazed Vets, Grinning Mexican Banditos On A Border Raid, and Geographically Confused Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ists.
Thankfully, for the moment at least, psychotic bears, carnivorous cougars and sasquatch were off the list.
The next morning I picked up my food supply from the post office and with the advice of, “Watch out for the rattlers, they comin’ out now”, loaded up and began the two and a half kilometre hike south towards Mexico along a hot uneven sandy road.
An open backed truck passed me as it bounced down the road, the half dozen dust covered workers in the back turning to stare impassively.
I felt kind of conspicuous as I staggered along under the unaccustomed load with my pristine untried gear and my pristine untried legs.
Canada!? Who was I trying to kid - and it was bloody HOT!
Sweat ran down my neck in rivulets, and I was soaked within minutes of starting.
The pack straps were dragging on my shoulders, and I was dehydrating under the jacket that I was wearing with the misconception that this would be the easiest way of carrying it.
I reminded myself that I’d just have to get used to it, and miserably pondered the fact that there wasn’t going to be an air-conditioned McDonalds waiting seductively over the hill this time.
I eventually arrived at my initial target - a rusting barbed wire border fence that shimmered into the distance across arid chaparral dotted land.
Just the word, “border” stirs something in me.
I may have read too many adventure books in my younger days, but for some reason I get a real buzz approaching and crossing borders and boundaries - Sigmund Freud work that one out.
Anyhow, here it was at last, The Biggie! The Mexican border!
The start of the Pacific Crest trail was marked by a lonely clump of carved wooden posts - that’s good I thought, so far I wasn’t lost.
I dumped my pack up against the marker and took a ceremonial photograph.
Rather disturbingly nearby, nine unmarked wooden crosses about 5ft in height had been jammed down through the strands of the wire fence.
Later on, I was given two different versions for the reason that they were there.
One was that there’s a fair bit of aggro along the border with drugs and illegal immigrants, and a cross was put up each time there was a death in the vicinity.
The other version was gleefully given, that a cross was put up every time there was a death along the trail.
Eight of the crosses were fairly weathered, although one I noted, looked rather unencouragingly like a recent addition.
Whatever the reason for their existence, these stark reminders of mortality, enhanced by their arid setting, did wonders for my imagination which was by now trampling on top of my brain to scan the horizon for any tell-tale dust clouds set up by the galloping horses of approaching Border Raiders.
Satisfied that the horizon was raiderless, I clambered through the rusting wires to stand on Mexican land.
My intrusion into Mexico was just long enough and far enough to be able to say that I’d been there, and I clambered back again to pick up my pack, take a deep breath and begin my trek north to Canada.
April 20th, 0920 hrs - I’d begun at last!