Section 1: San Diego to Calexico
Not our best night of sleep on the trail. The sound of traffic was unceasing, and we felt exposed on the one route possible through the brush.
Around 4am, Claire heard the unmistakable scuff of shoes on pavement, passing by our spot. Who's there?
Most people moving through this area at night are even more anxious to avoid detection than we are, but it feels very vulnerable to be blind and helpless in the tent. We’re gonna have to figure out a better system for choosing a camping spot.
Despite the poor sleep, we packed up quickly and made it to the Barrett Junction Cafe, our next stop for water. And the trail provided! We were way too early to get food, but the kind folks who run the place had a hose outside and a sign inviting construction workers to use as needed. Sometimes, it’s easy to find the good in our world. We treated ourselves to whatever we could cook in our food bags, trying to psyche ourselves up for the long, uphill roadwalk that lay ahead. We didn’t get to sample what promised to be the “Best Fish Fry” in the world, but we have only good things to say about the little cafe in the middle of nowhere. If you ever find yourself on a long drive along Highway 94, check out the Barrett Junction Cafe & Mercantile. We got a good vibe.
The less said about the next 4 hours the better. Let’s just say it was a valuable lesson in what kind of route we need to avoid in the next several months. Hiking along a narrow and twisty highway, with no shoulder, and a high number of semis, would grate on even the most adventurous.
When there was a shoulder the cars took advantage and used it as another lane. Is it unreasonable to walk on the shoulder?
The answer is yes, there will most assuredly be a car screaming straight toward you. At one point, we hopped the guardrail and balanced on a foot and a half wide lip that dropped to a gully fifty feet below. Our feet scrambled over loose rock while we clung to the rail and inched onward. Meanwhile, every one of the thousand people that passed (and their mother) wondered what in the heck we were doing. It was not safe for us, or for the cars, and we’re just grateful nothing bad happened.
After a brutal road walk, we made it to Tecate (Tecate, CA not to be confused with Tecate, Mexico). It was small, just a block or two of businesses oriented around the border crossing. At this point, we felt so buffeted by the constant exposure that we just wanted to be invisible for a bit. We found a tiny patch of shade under an awning and chugged liters of cold water, Gatorade and soda. Morale was low.
As it got later and later in the day, we knew we had to get our butts in gear. We couldn’t stay where we were and the only way was forward. We switched to border patrol roads running along the fence, still exposed but empty of any kind of traffic.
We had our one requisite conversation with a Border Patrol agent, who asked, "where are you going"? And then relayed it to his colleagues.
It’s a strange feeling to be out on the roads next to the border wall, you can’t see a single person but you know that you’re being monitored constantly. And for all we know, not just from the American side but from the Mexican side as well. The ability to remain anonymous, to disappear into a crowd, isn’t something we always think of as a privilege, but it's absolutely exhausting to feel constantly on display. A good lesson to learn for us both.
Despite the feeling of being watched, it is infinitely better to be alone on the roads walking through some pretty epic terrain. We’re far enough out of San Diego now that the wall is just a single layer, maybe 15 feet tall, of rust-colored metal, with a wide enough gap to stick your arm through. It also disappeared for the first time entirely and then intermittently after, usually along the edge of a hill. Again, we’re surprised to see how quickly Mexico starts on the other side, with roads and houses, and businesses mere feet from the divider. It’s in sharp contrast to the American side, which is practically empty. So far, it’s been rare to find houses on the American side right up against the border, and we’re curious to see if this will remain consistent throughout our trip.
It’s starting to get dark and we’re still a couple miles away from the campground we had planned on stopping at for the night. A border patrol agent came hurtling after us right at dusk, only to joke that he thought he had an easy catch when he saw us. When he heard what campsite we were headed for, he looked skeptical and claimed it was super sketchy and full of meth-heads. Great. Just what we hoped to hear. We picked up the pace and made it to the campsite about half an hour after dark (keep in mind, dusk is around 4:30 these days. One of the downsides to hiking in the winter).
Like our earlier roadwalk, the less said about the campsite the better. We knew we’d be out of our comfort zone with this trip, and it’s a hard to navigate the fine line between acceptable adventure and possible danger. When we were checking in, the campground owner, Rambo joked that he knew we were coming, and that he’d already heard our descriptions and knew who was hiking in front.
Presumably Border Patrol called ahead?
Or at least we chose to believe he had a reputable source. We’ll have to figure out how to manage this feeling of being highly visible. It’s just not a feeling either of us are comfortable with