I received some good news at work this week, so Leah and I decided to have a celebratory dinner on Friday night. We bought a nice bottle of wine, two pounds of Prime New York Strips, a lobster tail, and several sea scallops. It was to be a relaxing evening and the perfect start to my favorite kind of weekend – one in which we sit around the house, watch some golf, discuss the option of cleaning the apartment, and do as little actual activity as possible. But then my friend called and guilted me into coming out to a local bar. I have always been antisocial, but the coming of Henry has driven me to forgo my relatively infrequent nights out on the town.
I put Leah and Henry to bed and his girlfriend picked me up. Mind you, it was about 8:30 at this point, and my friends had probably been there a few hours. Over the next few hours I had a drink or two and we had a good time. Then up came the topic I had been rattling around in my head for a while:
I wanted to walk to Nava, Coahuila, Mexico. Nava is a very small town of only a few thousand in which it is purported that a major cartel leader would hide his head at various safe houses for many years before his capture. I am intrigued by the idea of such a town. The theory goes that either the people are so shut-off from society that they did not know who he was or the five million dollar reward his capture represented, or that they were so terrified of the mass murderer that the risk was not worth the reward. I believe it is probably the latter.
Nava is about thirty miles from the border crossing at Piedras Negras. There is no safe way to travel into Mexico along the border. More specifically, there is absolutely no safe way to travel into Mexico from South Texas. If you drive in, you might as well turn your vehicle over to the cartel as you won’t make it more than a few miles before being carjacked. Motorcycles and bikes have value as well.
This led to my declaration that the only way to get to Nava and have a chance is by dressing like a homeless man and walking there. My declaration was followed by laughter and comments about my current lacking physical prowess. My pride attacked, I declared I would have no issue walking the thirty miles. A challenge ensued:
Walk from La Posada Hotel at the Mexican Border to the milemarker 29 IH-35 checkpoint in under twelve hours after finishing my drink. Further, the challenge had to be completed the next day.
I finished my drink and got a ride back to our apartment. The first thing I did was to begin drinking water – lots of it. Next, I went in to see Leah and tell her that I was in trouble. She disagreed, said I’d be fine, and went back to sleep. Third, I called Jason for some tips. Not only is Jason a complete psychopath, but he has more experience with long distance adventures than anyone I care to know. Last week, he and his concubine Niki, completed the John Muir trail in nine days. With a length of approximately 230 miles and harsh elevation that culminates with a summit of Mt. Whitney, such an effort is flat-out lunacy. A few years ago he participated in the Gobi Desert Challenge. In that, you and your fellow competitors walk across the entire Gobi Desert. It’s more than a hundred miles through some of the most desolate areas on the globe. He won.
Jason offered a few words of advice:
1. Eat only carbs for the entire day before the event
2. Under no circumstance should I eat steak
3. Under no circumstance should I consume alcohol
4. Drink tons of water to the point where my “urine is clearer than gin”
5. Carefully plan out my route
6. Do my best to get a good night’s sleep
I was in trouble. I just ate a little over a pound of steak, had very few carbs, had consumed alcohol, and it was already 10:30. I tried to follow the advice that I could – I chugged 5-7 large glasses of water and tried to go to sleep. I got up four times in the middle of the night to use the facilities. Number 4., drinking lots of water, does not help in your effort to complete Number 6, getting a good night’s sleep.
I spent the night considering excuses and whether I would be able to live with myself if I wiggled out of the challenge. I considered the fact that Henry could be sick, the cat’s needed affection, or that Saturday was the day that I washed my curly locks. I changed the time on my alarm clock several times, beginning at 6 am, ranging until 8 am, and concluding somewhere around 7 am. I don’t know why I set it at all as Henry would be up and about sometime between 5 and 6 for a snack.
He woke up at 5:25. With Leah’s encouragement I took a shower, got dressed, applied sun block, and got my “gear” together. I was equipped with a small backpack, a water bladder, some cliff bars, sunglasses and an Ipod. I knew that if I didn’t get started by 7 am I would never finish. The Laredo sun can be brutal in the late afternoon. With a little planning, this adventure should have started by 4 am.
After I paced around watching Leah nurse, brush her teeth, apply makeup, eat breakfast, etc., I stirred in frustration. One may suggest I should have spent this time stretching or determining my route. One would have been right, and one would have been a lot smarter than me.
We arrived at La Posada a few minutes before 7, snapped a quick picture and I got moving. I called my friend to tell him the adventure had begun. I believe I woke him, but I have no sympathy. I started well, probably moving at about five miles per hour through town. I wanted to get through the civilized portion of Laredo and make it to IH-35 as quickly as possible to limit my sun exposure. I got less than half a mile in and my great momentum was halted. The infamous train was stopped on the tracks and I was forced to pace around waiting for the stupid thing to start moving again. This was not good. I needed to get my momentum back.
It was a beautiful Laredo morning and the sun was just coming up. I made it past the Siesta motel, where Leah and I spent our first romantic night in Laredo. Her $25 rooms and questionably maintained beds would sound like the lap of luxury in a few hours. Leah and Henry went ahead to determine if entry to the IH-35 access road was possible off of the Bob Bullock Loop. She came back with bad news; it wasn’t.
I made it to the Shiloh building (6-7 miles) a little before 9 am. I had to figure out a way to get to the IH-35 access road. I knew that the railroad tracks went all along IH-35 so I went through some brush and located them. I walked along the tracks for about twenty minutes and made it to the access road. This was probably the most dangerous portion of the journey – I spent much of the time dodging large rocks which screamed the promise of a twisted ankle and an end to my journey. I did my best to walk on the railroad planks.
When I got to the access road I started seeing milemarkers that were not encouraging. I was at about milemarker nine. The inevitable began to occur. I was not thinking about how far I had come, but how far I had to go. When I was at 10 miles, I had only made it a third of the way, I had nineteen miles to go. When I was at 14 miles, I still had not even made it half way. It was a mental hurdle that was difficult to get over.
Leah brought me a vitamin water and some energy tablets. I made it to the Pilot gas station at milemarker 13 and picked up beef jerky, pringles, and a gatorade. I was not feeling well at this point. If I realized then how much further I had to go, I don’t know if I would have continued on. Jason insisted I eat a lot of salt, even to the point of consuming straight table salt to replenish what I lost in sweat. Though I bought them, I just could not bring myself to eat the pringles. It seems crazy to eat chips while engaged in an athletic event.
Several people came by to taunt me as I continued to walk. One told me he was off to get a massage. Another said he had called pro-8 news and told them that Jim Hepburn had pledged to walk across Texas until the great state legalized gay marriage. Another friend came to just keep me company for several miles.
It was a great day by Laredo standards to take on this challenge. Slightly overcast, or at the very least cloudy, I doubt it hit much more than 95 degrees. My blisters got pretty bad by mile 15, and one of the hardest parts was dealing with the continual heat coming up through the concrete. I was forced to walk on the road, moving to the side occasionally to avoid becoming roadkill. I could feel the heat from the cement on my legs, and even through my thick rubber-soled sneakers. I had no choice, the only other option was to walk in knee-high brush. Not that that was possible, but I had further motivation to avoid that given the number of snakes I had heard and even seen.
I began limping around mile 16 I think. I played numerous scenarios in my head. I told myself that Henry and Leah were in trouble at the checkpoint and I had to save them. As the Schindler’s List soundtrack came on my Ipod, I concluded that if millions of refuges could walk through the snow in the dead of a European winter while avoiding starvation and murder, I could manage a day’s walk supplied with continual sustenance. I thought of Stephen King’s great novel, The Long Walk, in which competitors take part in what was effectively a reality tv game show (before those existed) in which they had to maintain a pace of 3-4 miles per hour in order to avoid being shot. I’m quite certain the writer of Hunger Games stole much of this plot. It follows similar themes, and the winner gets eternal glory, all other, get dead. I wanted eternal glory.
Several more “friends” passed by with “encouragement,” both in positive and negative form. Both work for me. At this state there was nothing worse than thinking I had hit mile 21, and then seeing milemarker 20 approach. It really saps your spirits. I began to feel my blisters popping.
Leah came back at around mile 25 and I stopped to poor cold water over my head and add more to my bladder. When I stopped for only a few seconds I felt the most awful spasm occur in my feet. It felt as though my toes were being ripped apart and had no intention of coming back.
The next few miles were hard. I stared at the pavement mostly. At mile 27, pro 8 news arrived and started filming me. Oddly bloated and in no mood for pictures, I was not exactly warm and endearing with them. They asked if I would stop for an interview and I declined. I began to get worried about what my friend had told me about the phone call and the walk for gay marriage. Funny or not, I could be in trouble supporting, or advocating against, such a controversial topic given my current government position. I decided if they called me back I would have to come up with a cause. Perhaps I was raising much-needed awareness for September 11. Perhaps I was trying to get a better feel for the plight of drug/alien traffickers who attempt this kind of journey each and every day. I would have to come up with something.
I learned later that it was Leah who called with an anonymous tip. Reinvigorated with a surge of energy, I made it to the checkpoint. It took about nine hours, but who is counting. I had no delusions of an impressive time. I am well aware that there are millions of people who could have met this challenge; they could have made it to the checkpoint, had a 5 course meal, and toasted to my arrival at dessert. I am completely out of shape, and I hate aerobic exercise. That said, half my age ago, I was in excellent shape. I have lost that, but have maintained my ego and hard-headedness. Combine those things with a few drinks and I am bound to get myself in trouble.
Luckily I have an amazing wife and son who stand by me through even my stupidest decisions. Ok, well, Henry doesn’t stand, he attempts to sit while maintaining head control and exclaiming “aaahgoo!”
I made it.
And rest assured, family, I learned one thing – I will not be walking to Nava.