Section 4: Nogales to Douglas

 

Day 45

14 miles

 

  

  

We love hiking! Today was a great day full of trails, people and beautiful mountains. We started off on our ridge from the night before and followed it for several miles in the cool morning sun before descending back below the tree line. The oak trees thickened until we were almost convinced we were in an old growth forest. Pines and juniper contributed to the diversity. A chain fence to our right enclosed a rectangular area about 40ft x 30ft, recently mowed and perfectly manicured. No explanation of what it could be except a sign labeled Stan’s Fence in official letters. Nearby was a structure that looked exactly like cell tower except we had zero service. One unexplained thing after another, as per usual. We noticed a new Border Patrol apparatus for wiping the roads clean, this one looked like a giant rake made of four inch pieces of rebar welded onto a bar every three or so inches.

Is this because the roads are rocky rather than sandy and the tire chain we’d seen before does little to flatten rocks?

Further down the road a giant, brown Forest Service sign indicated Double Tanks, a survey area and that’s it, nothing else, no explanation.

 

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As we neared the bottom of a dip we noticed a bright yellow bus parked on the side of the road covered in all sorts of stickers and logos.

 

A fellow traveler?

A guy poked his head out of the open door and called out a greeting and we started up a conversation. His name was Jax Austin and he’d been driving all over the western US for the last year and a half! His goal: to travel to every state in America and document his journey via GoPro, camera and drone, which he then compiles into YouTube videos for a travel channel that he hosts.  Within two minutes our backpacks were off and a tour of one of the neatest vehicles out there began.

 
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First, the outdoor shower, installed at the back and connected to a liquid propane tank that can heat the water in seconds. He offered us a hot shower, probably after catching a big whiff of that hiker stink, but we regretfully declined knowing we’d be in town soon. The roof (his porch) was covered in astroturf with a large solar panel growing out of it. The exterior of the bus was covered in large flashy words and logos advertising some of the sponsors he’s had, like Virgin Airlines.

We continued inside and wow which way to look? He had installed hardwood floors - holy shit! And a repurposed barn panel for a counter, a sink, bed, toilet, and dresser.

We ooooed and awwwed at everything. It took him four months to complete the interior with what sounded like lots of help. We were totally impressed and had a ton of questions. He was also really interested in our project and asked if he could film us for his channel. We stumbled through an interview (posted on YouTube!) and just couldn’t stop chatting with him, a really interesting guy with great positive energy.

 

Jax is definitely social media savvy, which is not a skill that comes easily to either of us. He had a ton of tips about voice to text, interview techniques, and seizing the chance to visit others (he was heading to a van-life gathering in Quartzsite, AZ and possibly agreed to meet us later!) But what resonated most of all was his advice to document everything. In the end it’s always, always better to have too much than too little.

This is common debate we have, whether we write too much? Reach out to too many? Better to have high quality or high quantity?

Jax said he tries for one video a day and while it's exhausting he regrets every day he misses. It’s more intimate and less removed from the moment when you document in real time. We related this to our blogs and how frustratingly time-consuming they can be. He added the word accountable - by documenting you’re holding yourself accountable and being thankful for each day. Ah yes. Okay fine we’ll keep it up.

  

  

 

Jax inspired us. We made it a mile or two down the road before stopping. We needed a break to debrief what had just happened. At this point in our journey we’re feeling detached. Our outreach is at a low and we haven’t spoken to a borderlands organization in awhile, other than through email. Connection to others is extremely important and at the same time maintaining connection and communication is exhausting on top of a 15 + mile day. We may only have strength for personal education which is okay. But post Jax we had energy. We rested under the shade of a gamble oak tree and munched on snacks, discussing how to reach people and relay information. How to engage as many people as possible with conversations about our border. We went over old conversations, how to add our voice without speaking louder than people in the area. How being women makes a difference in this project. And on and on. So thank you Jax for the stimulation, it was energizing and very important to us.

 

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Water! We crossed three bridges with flowing water beneath. Creeks that gushed over rocks and swirled into side eddies. The trees were massive and reached over our path with shade. Our legs are finally reaching “hiker status”, it takes about 500 miles to reach adequate, enjoyable shape on long distance trails.  We were propelled forward with thought and strength.

 

 
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On the Arizona trail angels website we found Jon. The upcoming section is flat, exposed, and mostly private property, which means we’ll need to access a hotel as a home base. We hoped Jon would provide some options and he overwhelmingly did. Multiple times he offered to shuttle us, despite living more than an hour north. He suggested points of interest, the local Buffalo Soldier Museum and Carmen de Boquillas in Texas, he told us of the replicas of conquistador gear at the Coronado Visitor Center. Thanks Jon!

 

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Just after hanging up with Jon, an older man with hiking poles and a backpack came trucking by from the direction of the Arizona Trail. We waved and asked about his hike which he responded to by offering, "a thermos full of tea?"

Chuck knew an incredible amount about the area and we were soon nodding our heads at each new tidbit he offered. From a an old route smugglers took up through Bisbee, to copper mining in Arizona, and geological formations east of us that we should check out (dinosaur tracks in sandstone!) Chuck also answered our question from two days ago, about how much the blimp and local law enforcement overlap. The blimp is owned by the federal government, which has separate jurisdiction from local enforcement. However, sometimes police will intentionally chase their targets into Fort Huachuca territory so that federal jurisdiction applies and the blimp surveillance can be used.

 

 
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We said goodbye to Chuck and walked for a mile along the AZT and then another trail down to the Coronado National Memorial Visitors Center. Unfortunately we’d gabbed to long and everything was closed. As we lay slumped around a picnic table at the Ranger Station, a couple wandered over. Maria and Edgar were looking for a nearby cave and since we had appeared straight out of the bush, they figured we might have some insight. We weren’t much help but we did strike up a great conversation. Both of them work as high school teachers at a pilot school in inner city LA and were on vacation traveling to parks across the country.

We’re both pretty unanimous that teachers are the true heroes of the world. How many stories are you willing to tell us? It's inspiring! 

Edgar shared that some of his kids have no energy for grades or education because they’re facing so many stressful conditions at home. A big part of his job is helping his students just get to a point where they can show up for class, some don’t have regular access to food or clothing, a couple are in and out of jail. They were open about how difficult their work could be, but Edgar and Maria still seemed to have so much enthusiasm for and intention in what they do. Truly thank you guys. You work every day to make this world a better place and you reminded us that exhaustion isn’t a reason to stop caring.