Monday, October 19, 2009

Into Baja!

Oct 15. Rancho Santa Inez, CataviƱa, Baja!

We started this morning under a crescent moon and Venus in the dawning sky. Crossed the border at Tecate mostly uneventfully (only lost one small piece off my trailer and lost John once, but he circled back).

I worried a lot today, about the truck, our progress, our safety on the road… then stopped to remind myself that worrying doesn’t help anything. Enjoy the ride. Take what comes. It will be OK.

The music, the passing hills and plants-- cirio, agave, cholla, cardon cacti, all old friends. The act of driving all day. The delicious solitude of driving alone in my truck with thoughts, memories, feelings all my own.

The warm glow of late evening painted itself on the curious round boulders of the CataviƱa landscape as we drove south this evening. Tan boulders high as a cardon’s belly button. Rosy mountains to the east. The shadow of my truck with its kayak top hat and trailer drove through boulders and cacti like a ghost.

I set out my sleeping bag under a spectacular ceiling of stars. Not just individual stars, but the swath of Milky Way, clear as a trail in the wilderness. A trail with distinct puddles of galactic light to skip through.

A couple days ago we did the importation dance. This is necessary to use kayaks for business in Mexico. We crossed the equipment into Mexico through an import broker, met the gear there and got the all-important green documents with which we can bring the kayaks in & out of the country. We hauled them back to the US to load our personal gear, and would resume migration the next morning. As we waited in line to cross back to the US, three cameras in each lane studied drivers from various angles. John explained how biometric technology recognizes points of people’s faces—tip of nose, cheek bones, other unchangeables. Here in Baja, the points are light. The points of a friend’s face. Cassiopia. Cygnus. Delphinus. Recognition, and the warmth it kindles.

I migrate for work. I can make a better winter living as a Baja guide than I can in WA. I migrate for sun. Solar heating. I migrate for Baja. Its landscape, starscape, seas; its people; the energy of the place. I migrate back for trees, the garden, the community of farmers paddlers and friends, and summer work.

All manner of insects are attracted to my headlamp. An iridescent moth lands on my pen and rides for a few words. An orange termite-creature squeaks every time it crash-lands on the paper, my hand, the sand, my face. It whines pathetically when I hold it still to see it better.

For the first time in over a week, I am not sleeping between kayaks at Aqua Adventures, however pleasant that was. I am sleeping between a trailer full of kayaks and a mesquite tree under the stars, to a chorus of crickets, the flatulence of distant truck brakes, and the sound of some large ungulate chewing and digesting indiscreetly in the nearby shrubbery.

Lights come on in the house of the ranching family who runs the campground. John rustles in the tent on the other side of the truck. It’s time to move again. I hold the naked morning to me for one last snuggle, then get up to pack my sleeping bag.

Oct 16.
Landscape from San Ignacio down has been incredibly green! I crested a rise in the road to catch a glimpse of a hand walking across the pavement. No, it was too hairy. A tarantula, silhouetted for a moment against the sky, legs outstretched in an inspired gallop. How had it just missed the 18-wheeler coming the other direction? I straddled it with my tires and sent it a wish to miss John’s tires behind me.

Tarantulas migrate. Follow some irrepressible calling to move in a direction despite perils. Do they ever weigh the relative merits of just staying home this year? Or is it then no longer home if you belong in another place at that time? Does some inner voice just say Move and they do? Does a tarantula pontificate on the risks of travel? Can the chunky little arachnid hear the soundtrack of freedom as it struts through an ever-changing landscape? Does its heart sing as it passes a familiar landmark? Should we consider it lucky, brave, or ignorant as it sets out on its journey? Do I follow a voice any different from that spider, or a gray whale, or an elegant tern?

Migration is a temporary unleashing of the creative mind and heart from the daily duties of running a kayak company, a farm, and a symposium. Those are creative, too, but in a more structured way. My only mandate now is to go south. Be open to the journey. Open the senses. Open the heart. Breathe. Some people take vacations. I migrate.

South of Loreto. Home beach. Sound of wavelets, crickets. Starlight reflecting on water. Bulk of mountains, dark on dark. Comforting and familiar are the bumps and dips on the rough dirt road to get here, augmented by the recent hurricane. New and obnoxious - the glow from Ensenada Blanca development. Comforting and familiar - faithful plants waiting exactly where they were last spring. Reassuring - the lack of any improvement right here on this beach.

How lucky and precious and rare to find this on the shore of anywhere, let alone in the perfect kayak training ground. In So Cal I couldn’t find a parking spot anywhere near the sea to go swimming. Here in “my” spot I can’t find a trace of humanity other than a few rocks I moved to surround some young lomboy plants last winter and the makeshift paddle varnishing rack I found nailed to the mesquite tree, utilized and left.

It’s good to be home again.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

You’re not going to believe this.

Starbucks, El Cajon, CA. Waiting for John to return from towing his trailer back to Aqua Adventures and come take me and my trailer back to Ford to wait for Ol’ Blue to get fixed. Again.

I was up at 4am this morning to load the last boxes, send the last emails, and be on the road by 5. Interstate 5 south, east on Hwy 94 towards Tecate, a mellower border crossing than Tijuana. Then Ol’ Blue started sputtering again. Nah, it was a bump in the road. Keep driving. No, it really is the engine. See if it keeps doing it. … Some miles later, the answer is yes. Turn around head back towards the Ford dealership. Thirty miles from San Diego, and it dies at a stoplight in a busy intersection. Refuses to start. A friendly motorist in a pickup truck older than mine drags the truck and trailer out of the intersection while hurrying commuters fly around the scene on both sides, turning left from right-hand lanes and almost bisecting the tow.

An hour later, a AAA tow truck shows up to haul the beast back to the Ford dealership who won’t commit to looking at it without the $98 “look at it” fee, even though the very same thing that they supposedly fixed is happening again.

But, there is a spacious parking lot to shuffle boats and vehicles. A Burger King has a handy rest room. The payphone doesn’t work, but thankfully John’s cell does. There are palm trees, including a fake that is actually a cell phone tower. Best of all, there is a Starbucks with internet access and good snacks.

So, maybe John will get to surf his little kayak in San Diego today, and I will get in another swim. Two days ago I swam from beach to cove and back in La Jolla, which is a 2 mile round trip. It felt great!

I had a funny feeling that today wasn’t a Baja day. Hard to explain these feelings, but they end up being right a little too often. Maybe instead of just listening to these feelings, I could envision things happening how I’d like to see them go, and influence the direction of events. Ok, then. The truck’s problem will be a faulty hall effect sensor, which is the part they installed last week. They will replace it at no charge, and Ol Blue will be healed. We will swim and surf this evening in celebration, and cross the border tomorrow morning past good-natured inspection officers who either wave us through or are satisfied by looking briefly at the paperwork and kayaks. The road will unfold gently before us in scenic and uneventful undulation.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Demo Paddle of a SEDA Ikkuma

Snort! A big wet head popped out of the water just a couple meters from my kayak with a fish flopping in its jaws. The male sea lion and I scared each other about equally. He recovered and chewed his fish to bits among a chorus of gulls.

I watched him over my shoulder, then paddled on south toward Point Loma and the entrance to San Diego Bay. I’d left from Mission Bay a couple of hours before and explored the cliffs along the way. One cave had an open ceiling and a shaft of California sunlight angling in. Another was a tunnel I could paddle through. Along the coast, swells arched up over shallow reefs, but not with enough enthusiasm to break. Most of the time.

Off Point Loma, with San Diego in view, swells broke inconsistently on a reef in a spot called Ralph’s. I didn’t get past here because the little waves were too much fun. A paddle-boarder came through while I played. Skimmed by standing on his board, caught a few small waves inside of me, holding his long paddle horizontal while he surfed. Then he glided away looking tall and elegant.

I sat outside of the break waiting for the perfect bigger set like I’d seen come through when I was too close to shore to ride it. Just one big one, then I’ll head back, I said to myself. Then a boatload of rude young men motored by just outside of me. First someone shouted what a stupid kayaker I was because there was no swell out here. I ignored them. Then they proceeded to practice their best obscene vocabulary words at high decibels, and I admired the gentle sway of kelp in the water. I knew there was no swell in sight, but fantasized about luring them closer to shore by engaging them in conversation. I would be facing the sea, of course, and they would be facing their vocabulary target. I would let the wind and swell gently take me in closer to the point while they laughed and jeered. I would smile, tease, and lead them on a little with my stupidity. Just as the first big swell towered over the broadside of their boat, I would jet my kayak over it and away from the carnage that would ensue. But would I really just paddle away and leave the poor sodden, misguided youth sputtering in the breakers? Well, at least the water’s warm.

Finally they ran out of words and moved away. And the swell came. I rode a nice unbroken shoulder about as high as my head for 50 yards or so. Satisfied and grinning, I began the paddle north. In exactly 2 hours, I was back at the Aqua Adventures dock in my borrowed Seda Ikkuma. Nice boat, really. Only lacks torpedoes.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Lucky 13, or “It’s not always the adventure we planned on.”

On October 6, 2009, Ol’ Blue my trusty pickup truck, turns 200,000 miles on a CA highway en route to Mexico. Within 300 miles, it breaks down in a rest area 45 miles north of San Diego.

Although this is trip #13 to Baja, this situation is not as unlucky as it sounds. Quite fortunate, really. The rest area where we broke down was ocean front with palm trees. Some people pay lots of money to hang out in such a place! Plus it had functioning payphones.

I called my mechanic back home to trouble-shoot and get advice. I called AAA. I called my friend Jen’s kayak shop, Aqua Adventures, who I was planning on visiting anyway. AAA covered the towing fee for Ol’ Blue to a Ford dealership a few miles from the kayak shop. Jen's partner Jake came through rush hour traffic to get me and the trailer.

John is the husband of a kayaking client of mine. He volunteered to help me drive 6 new sit-on-tops to Mexico. This may have been more adventure than he signed up for, but he took it in stride. During our wait time, we unloaded the boats from his trailer, stuck names and numbers on them, and photographed them. We were just reloading when Jake arrived.

The importation of kayaks and gear to Mexico is taking longer than the truck took to repair, so the truck didn’t cost us any time, just $530. Some people pay a lot more than that for an adventure!

Meanwhile, Jen took us to dinner at an amazing sushi buffet, loaned me a truck to get around, and set me up with internet access and office space. She helped John and me get on the water to explore. So we’ve been generously cared for! All of this underscores to me that flexibility and friendship is at least as valuable as planning. Of course luck, or divine providence, doesn’t hurt either.