It is no secret around here that I enjoy a little bike touring. Sometimes it is on the road but most of the time it’s on the trail. For me, it’s about taking only what you need, lashing it to your bike, and setting off on a ride. Everything is streamlined and focused on the sole purpose of getting out there. Out there where water, daylight, and calories become the only concerns. I live for it.
I have shared some great trips with you. From the Yucatan to the southern California desert to stuff right in my back yard. But for every one I share, there are probably three that I don’t. In a time where bikepacking is becoming increasingly popular and people are doing more and more amazing things, my wanderings just don’t compare.
I have always just called them long rides. I was doing them way before I started writing here and I will keep doing them until I can no longer turn the pedals. They are my meditation, my time to think. Sometimes I think about heavy shit. The loss of a friend, a break up, or money problems. But more often than not, I wander through the desert and just think about random stuff. Stuff that isn’t particularly important, like how awesome Black Sabbath is, how many different plants I can see in 100 miles, or what would make the perfect mash for my whiskey still. But last week I went on a ride for educational purposes. I went south.
Way back in 1854 the US government drew a line in the sand that is now our current border with Mexico. There has always been some kind of fence along the line but it was mostly to keep our cattle herds separated. Over time there has been various attempts at making bigger walls and fences. But in 2006 a huge push was made to secure the entire border, all 1,969 miles of it. It is now a wall of steel stretching to the horizon and only interrupted in places where it is too rugged and too remote for modern machinery to easily build it. I understand the reasons why it is there, and I am not here to argue politics, but I hate that wall. Every time I cross the border, whether it be Tijuana, San Louis, Lukeville, Nogales, or Juarez it is there staring at me. I have never been able to put my feelings about the wall into words. So I did the only thing I knew how. I went for a ride…along the wall
I decided that riding for a couple days in the more remote sections of the border might do me some good. Maybe I would be able to find those words I have been looking for somewhere out there amongst the Mesquite and sand.
My journey started with with my fat bike and a bus ride to the border town of Nogales, AZ. I didn’t have much of a plan or even a good route, all I wanted to do was wander and learn. I had a compass, a big ugly wall on my right, 3 days worth of food, and 2 days worth of water. Let’s point it east and see what happens.
I got off the bus and headed straight to the wall just past the port of entry. I was quickly met by a Border Patrol agent advising me to move to the outskirts of town before meeting up with the wall. I took his advice and hopped on the service road a couple miles outside of town. I covered a lot of ground in a hurry on this road thanks to a killer tail wind. My biggest observation from this stretch was that there was a door in the fence every few miles. Now why would a fence which is designed to keep people out of our country have a door in it? Granted it was secured with a giant steel beam, but was this some kind of sick joke?
After a while, the buff service road that parallels the border just stopped and was replaced with some giant steel saw horses. It reminded me of pictures I have seen from the beaches of Normandy, or war footage from Afghanistan. What is this for? To stop the tanks?
This seemed like a good place to stop and have some lunch and as I sat there using re-purposed railroad steel as a back rest, I realized that there is nothing keeping me from being in Mexico right now. So I hopped the little barbed wire fence and went to Mexico. I did a little dance, threw some middle fingers in the air, and hoped that some eye-in-the-sky was watching me do it. Maybe some poor bastard in a command center somewhere was getting a good laugh out of it.
At this point the road went away and was replaced by a faint doubletrack made by ATV’s. I rode that for quite some time, always staying as close to the border as possible. Going got incredibly tough and I eventually ended up bush whacking. I stood on a fence post and glassed the horizon to see if there was any reprieve in sight. There wasn’t, so I made the decision to turn back and make a new plan. I got back to the road about an hour later and was greeted by the Border Patrol and we had an interesting conversation:
Border Patrol (BP): Where ya headed?
DB: Trying to get to Bisbee in a couple days by following the border.
BP: Well, you aren’t going to be able to get there along the line, it’s some pretty rough country. It’s gonna be dark soon and you don’t want to head up into the mountains. I suggest you just turn around and head on back to Nogales.
DB: Well sir, I have a bunch of food and 2 gallons of water so I think I will just see what I can see around here for now.
BP: I knew you would be OK, I could tell by the way you are dressed. It’s the boys we see down here in the spandex that we worry about. You armed?
DB: Yes sir.
BP: Good. You have a nice night.
Well, I came here to learn and I have never been one for listening to authority, so I ignored the warning and headed up into the mountains. I zig-zagged around the desert for a while following every piece of trail or dirt road I could find. Most trails were made by human feet and were littered with empty tin cans and water bottles. They headed north into valleys and washes, staying low to avoid detection. When they went too far off my route I turned around and headed back to the nearest dirt road. The roads always seemed to dead end at either a corral or some kind of old farm structure. I finally made camp around 9pm and settled in for the night.
I camped in plain view and Border Patrol made plenty of visits throughout the night. They educated me about the abnormal sounds I was hearing which were actually look-outs in the hills who were signaling border crossers all night long. I woke up dozens of times paranoid that somebody was in my camp, waking up in a panic but never actually seeing anyone. Come daybreak I realized that my paranoia was actually warranted because there were some new footprints in the sand over mine, and I was now missing a water bottle. It’s silly, but the first thing I thought was they should have just woke me up. I would have given them the bottle with the CarboRocket in it.
I decided that one night out was enough, and I pointed it north. I could probably make Tucson in 10-12 hours by way of Patagonia. The rolling hills went on forever and I decided to explore every side road I saw as long as it was pointing in the direction I needed to go. I had an amazing time riding through this high desert, taking in all the enormous views, and seeing more wildlife that I ever could have imagined.
I went to the border looking for words and trying to find some answers. After two days of travel through this breathtaking countryside, I went home with even more questions. I guess that is the sign of a good teacher, and I guess this lesson is to be continued. Thanks for reading.
Keep it dirty…by