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Baja Adventurers
 
Stories of those driven to find adventure in Baja California
 
 

Baja California with its spectacularly beautiful stretches of isolated coastline and desert has long exerted a powerful spell on those inclined to escape from the dull certainties and comforts of modern life.

 

Over the years I've offered advice to a number of such folks, insisting they begin their adventures with eyes wide open, fully aware of the dangers and difficulties before them... especially those who claim my writings in any way inspired their quest. Few are deterred.

 

Whether by boat, bike, burro, or with just boots and backpack, most trips don't go according to plan. And all have the potential to end badly. One can try to minimize the risks but there are no guarantees; the drama is real.

 

The stories of some of these adventurers will be told here.

 

Matthew Sokalski

 

I begin with Matthew Sokalski who as I write this – June 2012 – is about to embark on a sweltering solo trip down the length of the Sea of Cortez on a Zodiac inflatable.

 
 
 
Matthew Sokalski and his Zodiac
 
 
The Schedule
 
Departing June 9, 2012 from either El Golfo de Santa Clara or San Felipe at the head of the Gulf of California. Running close to shore along the Baja Peninsula, and if time and weather permits, visiting some of the Gulf islands south of Loreto. Hoping to finish in Cabo San Lucas July 2-4, 2012, where his wife and brother will be waiting for him.
 
 
The Boat
 
A 14-foot white Zodiac inflatable with a fiberglass bottom. Powered by a 40 HP Tohatsu motor.
 
 
Supplies and Equipment
 

DeLorme Earthmate  PN-60w GPS  paired with an inReach two way satellite communicator to send and receive email messages.

40 gallons of gas and 14 gallons of water.
 
 
Baja Experience
 
Matthew Sokalski has been visiting Baja since the early 1980s and is a veteran of dozens of excursions below the border. Bought the Zodiac in 1997 and among his many trips he has circumnavigated Isla Angel de la Guarda and explored the coast beween Bahia San Luis Gonzaga and San Francisquito. Has long dreamed of making the run to Cabo San Lucas.
 
 
The Man and the Motivation
 
Age 51, born in Poland, worked as a medical technician and a long distance trucker. While driving his big rig across Indiana in 2003, he was involved in a deadly freeway collision when another big rig suddenly veered across the median at 70 mph and smashed head-on into his rig. The other driver was killed. Matthew suffered extensive head and bodily injuries and for a while seemed like he wouldn't survive. After numerous surgeries and years of rehabilitation he is determined to take back his life and follow his dreams.
 
Since the accident he has gained his license as a helicopter pilot and recently qualified as a helicopter pilot instructor.
 
 

                                       

 

 

THE OUTCOME

 

Matthew first tried to launch at El Golfo, gave up on that, towed the Zodiac to San Felipe where he spent the night in the harbor. He left early Sunday morning, June 9

Following his satellite tracking information, I could see that by 10 AM he was south of Puertecitos heading for the Enchanted Islands and Gonzaga Bay. And at one point he pulled on to shore close to the village of Huerfanito, probably taking a midday break.

Then he set off again and was passing Isla San Luis at 1:30 PM. By 3 PM he was on the beach at Alphonsinas and all looked well after a very credible first day’s run.

Unfortunately, however, the inflatable sustained damage which couldn’t be easily repaired and he had to abandon the attempt. As he put it, “The tube had unglued along a 5 foot stretch.”

Terribly disappointed, he left the Zodiac in Gonzaga Bay, secured a ride to San Diego where his wife met him and took him home to the LA area. Then they both headed back to Baja with the trailer to take the boat home and return it to the "shop" for assessment and repair.

If the repair holds up during a series of sea trials, Matthew is determined to try again when he has the opportunity...

 

 Loaded Zodiac on the beach at Puertecitos
 
 
May 2013.
 
Matthew had a window of oppportunity to try again. Zodiac checked and tested, his brother flew in from Europe to act as support crew. On May 11, the two of them trailered the boat down from Orange County to La Paz.

Matthew planned on heading north this time. If all went well his goal was to reach Bahia de los Angeles.
 
 
              
Departing from San Evaristo
 
 
 
             
Close encounter with a whale shark
 
 
After overnight stops at San Evaristo, Puerto Escondido, Bahia Concepcion, and a few delays meeting up with his brother and dealing with strong tail winds south of Mulege, he was forced to abandon the LA Bay goal. He made it as far as Santa Rosalia, and from there they trailered the boat back to the border.
 
Matthew is not finished...  the coast from Santa Rosalia to Bahia de los Angeles beckons.
 
And then he wants to do it all again... with no schedule and all the time in the world to camp, explore and enjoy the Sea of Cortez.
 



 
 
Mike Younghusband
 
Tecate to Cabo San Lucas with a burro and two dogs. 2010-11
 
 
          
Mike Younghusband
 

When 61-year-old El Cajon native Mike Younghusband contacted me in 2009 saying he’d read all my Baja books and was planning a 1500-mile walk with a burro from the US border at Tecate to the tip of the peninsula taking along two diminutive dogs, I was dubious at first.

When he added that he had high blood pressure, back problems, and gout and would need to take medication, I could be forgiven for thinking that this journey might not get too far.

Yet as I watched this ex-Navy Vietnam vet and former policeman diligently prepare for almost a year I realized how focused and serious he was. The dream had taken over his life: training hikes with his dogs—8-year-old Max, a Chihuahua-dachshund mix, and Rusty, a feisty 4-year-old Jack Russell—reading and researching, buying gear and making runs down the peninsula to cache food, water, and whisky in 25 key locations...

He paid $750 for a photogenic white burro—a strong, sedate, trained pack animal which he named Don-Kay. It wasn’t his first pick… that turned out to be pregnant female that needed to be replaced.

He spent more than $1,000 to outfit both himself and his burro with the high quality equipment he was going to need.

His plans involved living off the sea and the desert if necessary. He had a slingshot, a BB pellet rifle for hunting quail or other birds and small animals, and fishing gear to catch dinner from shore.

And in what turned out to be a smart move, he carried a SPOT satellite GPS messenger so friends and family would always know his exact location. He also signed up for an optional Search and Rescue and extraction insurance feature.

After scores of training hikes and bonding sessions with Don-Kay, he set off October 1, 2010 from Rancho Ojai just east of Tecate. His goal was to reach Cabo San Lucas before the worst of the summer heat kicked in.

The trip was his personal indulgence, undertaken just for himself, having tired of a life of work and sinking in front of the TV every evening. Come the day of departure he declared, “I’ve done my duty to God, my family and my country. Now it’s time for grandpa to go out and have fun.”

Having been a frequent visitor to Baja since trips with his father when he was 8 or 9, he added “I want all Americans to see that you can come to Baja, be a tourist and be safe.”

Carrying 50 pounds on his back and with Don-Kay shouldering four times that load, and with storm clouds billowed in the east and the sound of thunder filling the air, he bade an emotional farewell to friends and family and the media, then boldly led his animal entourage into the unknown.

“Hell Week” was an apt description of what he experienced in the first few days as the donkey and the dogs expressed their doubts by taking every opportunity to head back the way they came. He fell and fractured his right elbow and discovered how difficult it was for a one-armed man to deal with all the trail and camp chores, especially packing and unloading the burro. And just as he felt things might be improving, he was shaken awake, finding himself at the epicenter of an earthquake.

Mike was having trouble keeping Rusty and Max safe from traffic; it seemed just a matter of time before one of them would come to grief. And on the fourth day of the trip a stray dog, a white female border collie mix, hooked up with them and refused to leave. Mike didn’t have food or water for this new addition and he did everything he could to drive her away. But she refused to leave and marched along, settling in front of Mike’s tent when he retired inside with Max and Rusty. Mike’s attitude changed when she chased away a car load of drunks late one night.

He named her Solo. She stayed loyally with him until the end. Each night, she scraped out a bed and settled down protectively in front of Mike’s tent, chasing away coyotes and other creatures from the camp. She was friendly with everyone she met—except the bad guys. She didn’t run off or chase vehicles in traffic. For the next 1000 miles she didn’t put a paw wrong and followed along, sticking to Mike and Don-Kay like glue, winning hearts at every turn.

 

             

                            Los Tres Amigos Blancos: Don-Kay, Mike Younghusband, and Solo

 

I met up with Mike on a remote mountain road a month into the trip, brought a few supplies, shared a few campfires and ended up taking Max and Rusty home. They had a wonderful adventure, but Max was getting a little tired. Even so it was a tough decision for Mike and sad to see how frantic they were to carry on.

 

                               Max, Mike, Rusty, and Solo: time to send the little guys home

After a shaky start Don-Kay also proved to be a dependable loyal burro. He got loose a couple of times, but never wandered away. Approaching Guerrero Negro, he went lame but some ranchers came to his aid and re-shod him. A few days later he was as good as new.

“I never thought about quitting, never, not one time,” he said. “I really didn’t want it to end. I was loving setting up camp every day. Several times I’d set up camp, take the day off and just explore. I’d sit with Don-Kay and Solo on the beach and watch them tumble and play. Solo would jump on Don-Kay when he was rolling around on the ground, and Don-Kay would get up and chase Solo. I’d sit there watching them, enjoying the moment.”

His journey was being followed by Baja aficionados on the website forum  bajanomad.com. "Nomads" and forum visitors offered invaluable help along the way, and came to his aid when he activated his emergency beacon after running out of water and getting stuck along an impossibly rugged, roadless stretch of the remote Pacific coast. 

It was possible to follow Mike’s progress through daily updates from his SPOT device. Nomad David Keir updated a map daily to plot his route and show exactly where he was at all times.

At Lopez Mateos, near Magdalena Bay, the town turned out to welcome him. And he was roped in to addressing the local school kids. As the trip progressed most of the equipment wore out. His tent zipper broke, his boots split, and the majority of his buried caches were unearthed by coyotes. "The water and whisky are all that they didn't get." 

All the time he was constantly lightening the burro's load. Most everyone he met was incredibly kind and generous, but he was robbed of $600 by a Mexican who was a fugitive from the police in the U.S.

On March 18, 2011, five-and-a-half months and 1,147 miles after he began, he ended his adventure at the police station in Cabo San Lucas. Two of his three daughters and several grandchildren were there to greet him and share his final steps. Local television stations were eager to interview him. He had walked the length of the peninsula, lost 43 pounds, and was never sick once on the journey.

 

                                                             Mike and Don-Kay ready for the trail

A fantastic achievement. Mike Younghusband, Don-Kay and Solo—Los Tres Amigos Blancos—had written another memorable chapter in the book of Baja adventure.

Mike now lives in Loreto with all his dogs, Don-Kay, and new mule amiga Mula-Hey