Air, Land and Sea

This last trip was difficult. I'm home and happy to be home for a little while. Getting back and enjoying Thanksgiving with friends and family was all i wanted after a little bit of a scare in the Northeast.

This was the first "big" trip i had taken with my new van; used, but new to me. Before taking off I had a friend with me and they mentioned they could smell fumes and exhaust as we were driving. I couldn't detect it really and i almost always have my windows down anyway. I should have taken it in to be looked over but threw caution to the wind, anxious to leave. If you've followed me over the last couple of years maybe you have picked up that very often i am only home for a couple/few weeks before leaving on some other month long excursion. I had been home for 3+ months this time and could hear the road calling.

In order to get to Newfoundland (by car) you have to put it on a ferry in Nova Scotia and go across the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which is essentially the open Atlantic Ocean. I get motion sickness sometimes, and on boats always i guess (Truth be known on the way back i had to hug the toilet for the 6.5 hour ride, my ribs are still sore). Anyway, i guess the van didn't take it very well either. Once driving off the ferry onto Newfoundland soil i couldn't get it to go more than 10mph for the first hour or so. I was worried of course, so far from home, potentially stuck in a tiny port town. Port-aux-basques is a beautiful place and i did find that there was a mechanic there that could help, and the ubiquitous pride of Canada Tim Horton's, but the van worked its kinks out by morning and i felt comfortable continuing north to Gros Morne National Park.

I have a drop desk and extra vehicle battery for power in my van. It makes it easy to keep laptops and cameras powered and some light at night without worrying the van will be out of juice in the morning. I can't be gone these long periods without doing work and i'm thankful that that fuels and keeps me able to do these ventures.
It was cold. On average the temps were in the teens at night and that's even too cold for me to have the windows down. I do have a tiny heater but it burns up my battery in about an hour of continuous use, so i had to keep the van running, not only to keep the rest of the electrical system working but to augment the heater with the heater of the van.

You probably see where this is going... it took me some days to figure out, i guess i'm slow. Or, the toxins weren't helping my brain to figure out i was giving myself carbon monoxide poisoning. I'd be sitting there trying to draw or edit and the dull headaches, lightheadedness i was just blaming on travel fatigue and nausea that i could blame from being residual sickness from that awful ferry ride would creep in. I'd get to the point where i was practically passing out at the computer and shut everything down and crawl into the sleeping bag for the night. 
Writing now, i realize how possibly very close i came from not surviving this one. Had i chose to leave the van running at night for heat with the windows up....
What was the worst of it, but what did finally make myself question there was something else going on, was the paranoia. Carbon Monoxide poisoning, one of the symptoms is paranoia. I had talked myself into believing i had a terminal disease over these few days too. This really threw my trip into a tailspin. The thought lodged itself and i obsessed over it for the next several days, completely unable to enjoy and take in where i was or concentrate on making images. Just the ever pervasive "you're at the end, you messed up, you don't have insurance and this illness is going to take you down".
Everything bad you can think of. 
I'm dying,
I'm losing my job,
Everyone hates me,
Dark nights of the soul brought to you by carbon monoxide.

A long hike brought me out of it. The weather cleared one day and i got to get out of the van and wander around St. Johns, but more importantly i got to detox. After getting out eventually that lingering nausea went away and my head cleared and i got to think rationally about what was happening. 
I'm not sure if the boat ride knocked something loose from all those crashing waves or i was getting it all along and it took going somewhere really cold to close up the compartment and have it build up....
I looked at google and it said 48hrs from St. John's back to St. Louis. I just took it slow, kept the windows down when i could. Stopped often to walk around and eventually made it home.

I'm writing all this because it really is what it's called; the silent killer. As we are getting into winter watch you are getting proper ventilation. CO detectors are cheap, like less than $10 at Walmart cheap. Stay safe everyone.

Borders

I made it home. This is a photo of how the wall ends in the Pacific Ocean, south of San Diego and north of Tijuana. I had seen a photo on what was a much calmer ocean day. The photo made it look like it could be swam around, at least take a small boat around it. This day the waves were slamming into it and any thought of trying to circumvent the thing seemed like a death wish.
 

This photo also represents the end-cap of the project. I had only mentioned it once i think before leaving and maybe I didn't really spell out what i was down south doing. I wanted to travel the length of the Mexican American border form Gulf to Pacific.

i took a little over 5 weeks to driving as close to the border as possible, exploring as much of the land within 50 miles of the wall as i could. And most photos that have been shown are from inside that with a few exceptions. 90% would be within 80miles of the border with only a couple around 100 miles away. Some places were too enticing to pass up. If i was showing the land and an interesting opportunity was right there, it was too hard to pass up (White Sands New Mexico)

I crossed the border a good 15 times always at a border town but did most of my traveling north of the wall in the United States.

 

There was a period of a couple weeks in western Texas, New Mexico and America where the only people i was talking to were border guards. All of whom being very nice.

Even when i was pulled over for looking suspicious, and i understood that i did look suspicious... (Big white van from states away; longer hair, beardy, derelict looking guy coming out of dirt roads near the border) usually after a couple minutes of talking they were making recommendations for places to see that i possibly didn't know about, not highlights on my map.

It was a given, every time i was entering back into America my van was getting thoroughly searched, many times x-rayed as i was put with guards who continued to question what i was up to. Other than that, another 25-30 times of just being pulled over to see if i was carrying anything illegal either in the form of people or goods. Sometime with dogs, sometimes without.

I play by the rules when out on these trips, so to their dismay, there was never anything to find and i would be sent on my way.


One day when coming out of Native American lands, i didn't know i was in them because i was actually sent there as a recommendation from a border guard. A series of backroads to take to see some petroglyphs got me turned around and on these roads that crossed ravines and got me stuck in sand. It was getting late, the sun had set and i did think i was getting out of there until things became full dark of night. I figured my bearings and was able to get to a more major paved road with little light left only to be instantly pulled over by 4 border patrol vehicles.

All i can assume is they had been watching me fumble around back there for a bit and had talked themselves into believing i was up to no good and pumped their adrenaline up to 100 in preparation for what would be the bust of the year or something.

"Sir, how are you this evening. Do you have anything in here you should declare. Please exit the vehicle. Stand over there sir..." They really were polite... 
They continued to tear my van apart including separating the internal walls and insulation from the metal frame in search of my contraband. I made small talk, none of em would really have it this time and just asked me to continue standing over there and please be patient. Finally when it was clear there was nothing illegal going on they started admitting to me they were a little let down. How they really thought they had a big one, but then ultimately accepting that they wouldn't be spending the rest of the night booking me and being fine with avoiding all the paperwork that would have followed. They asked me where i was planning on going and they escorted me to the next gas station explaining i had been in one of the most used corridors for trafficking along the whole border. I get it.

 

I don't have the statistics yet. How many people are actually employed to be border guards. The percentage that have military training, if that's a prerequisite. I was hardly ever out of vision of one. The entire time. It was impressive. So many hiding behind bushes, so many posted up in obvious places like hilltops. So many cruising the roads there close to the wall. I don't know how anyone ever gets through. From what i can tell the wall travels the entire distance of New Mexico west of Juarez/El Paso, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. But there are many places in Texas it doesn't exist at all, or would be there for a series of miles and then a gap. I saw places where there would be gaps and dirt roads from fields that were obviously being farmed by the same people on either side. There are places without wall that would require a pretty grueling walk through formidable land where America has white flags on poles attached to water barrels if you are in need.
I saw towns where there would be a little bit of town on both sides of the fence and people obviously going home from their day of work in America and crossing over to go home in Mexico. I saw towns that were barely there on the American side but had a decent population on the Mexican side with every box store and fast food restaurant you can imagine (Walmart, Target, McDonalds, Wendy's...) lined up against the border and people carrying bags and bags and sometimes shopping carts full of goods back over to Mexico. (Douglas, Arizona / Calexico, California)

All these people and this wall from what i can figure is a visual representation of our efforts on the War on Drugs. Something we all know doesn't work, the cartels have found other ways. This notion of keeping hoards of people coming over to take jobs. By and large the people that are over here illegally are here by overstaying visas and didn't make this death-defying journey through the desert.... While i'm still processing my fuller thoughts on the subject i can say i've settled my mind on the wall being a ridiculous notion, unneeded, ineffective symbol that can compared to a scarecrow and as a fuck you to some people in some serious need. It only breed contempt. I think it needs to go away.

When Trump was campaigning, his first figures, that he said boastfully because after all he is a good business man and savvy dealer, were that he could build the entire wall for 4 billion dollars. As time went on his speech changed to 6 million, 10 million, 12 million etc. 
Now they are figuring the wall would cost approximately 1 billion dollars per mile. The infrastructure that would need to be made to get the equipment and people out to the remote lands is the most expensive element, not the materials for the wall itself.

 

Like i said, i'm still processing things. Among them this fear i had about border towns before going down there. All we ever hear is horror stories... X amount of heads found in ditches. Families kidnapped etc... I was driving through Missouri and saw a sign saying buckle up: more than 600 deaths on this road last year. By the same logic why am i not deathly afraid to be on this road. I think there has been some good negative PR and demonizing of our brothers to the south. As of now i am looking forward to spending more time down there. 

I took a billion pictures, and am inching towards saying there will probably be a book in the works with some of the billion photos and a few words from along the way. Thanks to everyone who has been following along, especially the people who have opened conversations on posts that have helped inform me in some way about where i was or what i was getting into.

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Thoughts on Colorado

I have been to Colorado many times. There is something in me that has to see mountains. Every once in a while, when the urge gets too strong - boiling over - I take off across Missouri, Kansas and eastern Colorado before they start looming into view. You come into Denver and there they are... majestic and beckoning you to go further in, to climb and explore. 

I'm going to blame it on the fact that the Rocky Mountain National Park is there just to the north on being why that's where I have always headed that direction; making the drive through Boulder, Loveland or Lyon and the pass up into Estes Park to enter the National Park proper. And it's an incredible drive, so much beauty to see, finally cresting the Continental Divide and further down to Granby and Grand Lake. Truly one of America's treasures.

This time I stayed away from all of that and wanted to explore the southern half of the state. I made a rule to not go any further north than I-70 and stay south of Colorado Springs on the eastern side. This rendered a trip of all new places to see and explore. I knew it would be beautiful but I don't think I was expecting to be that blown away by many of the places encountered. In a lot of ways I don't even know what to write, I guess that's what the sublime can do to you. There were several moments of gaping mouth wide open, laughing all alone, because of the awe-striking vistas that would come into view. I have driven Beartooth Pass outside Yellowstone, Going to the Sun Road in Glacier; the drive north from Durango through Silverton and on to Ouray was just as spectacular. I saw a sign claiming it was "The Switzerland of North America", and i don't think i would argue.

Colorado, I felt like i knew you, but you just showed me a whole another side to what you hold. Anyone who happens to read this and, like me, hasn't taken the time to venture the southern byways connecting so many national forests and wilderness areas, ( to name a few; San Isabel, San Jose, Mesa Verde, Uncompahgre, Gunnison, Black Canyon, Grand Mesa, Colorado National Monument ) next time you are thinking about spending some time in Colorado, spend it on the south side.