The time had finally come. Back in April of 2014, it seemed like it was forever-away, but now the countdown had actually begun. After more than 1 year of planning, mapping, and scouting every inch of the shoreline of Salton Sea it was now “go time”. Oh my God. What have I gotten myself into?
On a cold and rainy day in May of 2015 I unloaded everything from my Jeep I would need to live at Salton Sea for the next several weeks into my North Shore apartment donated to me by Palm Desert Showcase Homes. Just the bare necessities. Two changes of clothes, blow-up bed, 1 chair, AM radio, canned food, snacks, my backpack, walking stick and 6 changes of walking shorts, socks and shirts. For 4-6 days a week for the next 4 weeks I would be doing nothing but walking at Salton Sea and in the surrounding desert, getting acclimated to the heat and humidity, leaving my wife, son, and dog at my home in Rancho Cucamonga to fend for themselves.
The first week at my North Shore apartment was highlighted by the ‘bad’ weather. Rain and temperatures that never reached any higher than 85°F made it pointless for acclimating to heat or humidity as I had planned. I began to worry if I would be ready for the heat, assuming it ever came by June 9 when I would be starting my walk. Then another worry began to creep into my consciousness, something I had not even considered during the past 11 months: What if it rains during my walk?
For the last year I prepared for desert weather and temperatures of 100°F to 120°F. Never once did I consider rain. As I laid on my Aerobed, loaned to me by supporters, I started to fear the worst-case scenario. If it rained, even a little just before, or during my walk, the rivers and canals that flow into Salton Sea would be swollen making them more difficult to cross or even dangerous. But worse than swollen or swiftly running rivers would be my ultimate fear. The fear that was burned deep into my brain by my father at the age of 12. The fear of the one thing that could most likely bring my walk to a halt, or potentially even kill me. Not the heat. Not the humidity.. The mud.
Checking the weather reports on my phone almost obsessively, my fear finally began to subside as warmer, hotter, dryer weather was soon in the forecast. As the temperatures creeped up day by day, I completed the final last-minute scouting missions necessary before I started my walk. The shoreline of Salton Sea is changing fast. The water had receded many feet during the previous year. In some areas, many yards. Sadly, dozens of yards in some places. Areas such as marinas or swamps that I had to walk around during scouting missions previously, I could now walk straight across on dry land. Adjusting for these now-dry areas I was able to cut several miles from my route.
Another last minute route-change was the decision to walk through the two largest rivers, The Alamo and New River, instead of walking around them to the nearest bridge. With the quick purchase of waders to keep my feet dry, and last minute test-walks through both of these rivers, I could now confidently scratch another few miles off the route. My original plan of 116 miles was now cut down to only 102 miles, although at the cost of having to wade through what is still one of the most polluted rivers in the United States – the New River. Although not nearly as polluted as it was 20 years ago, and no longer carrying raw-sewage from Mexicali, the New River still carries dangerously high amounts of agricultural run-off and other chemical pollution. I would close my mouth tightly and walk through it as quickly as I could, hoping that my waders kept me clean, dry, and safe.
As the days went by, getting closer and closer to the start of my walk, I vacillated between thinking “it will be no big deal” and “oh my God, can I do this?” I was in too deep. I could not quit now, I had to stay positive. To keep my mind occupied I walked. I walked from North Shore to Niland Marina. I walked north. I walked south. I walked across the desert near Dos Palmas. I walked to the bat-caves. I walked wherever I could. 10 miles at least, 20 miles at most, every day. I wasn’t going to get in any better physical shape, but I had to keep myself, and my mind, occupied.
Most mornings I woke up early. Much earlier than I planned. The anxiety and worry combined with the non-stop train horns just a few hundred yards away from the apartment made for some restless nights. I planned sunrise-photo trips to kill time, and after walking all day, cooled off in the swimming pool at the apartment.
Day by day the temperatures got warmer. I went over my plan, which plotted my position almost hour-by hour for the entire 6 day walk, with a fine tooth-comb. Eventually, there was nothing left to be done. The plan was finalized. My gear was ready. I was ready. One day to go. This was finally happening.
My last day at the apartment was not easy. My mind raced, full of worry, anxiety, joy, fear, uncertainty, overconfidence, and remorse. Now what? I had dedicated over a year of my life to this. It was all about to happen. Then what? The last few months of planning and training had gone from feeling like a fun-filled adventure to more like the drudgery of a job – and now that job was coming to an end. I hadn’t even started my walk and I was already worrying about “then what?”. I took one last walk to the start/finish line at the North Shore Yacht Club only a few hundred yards from my apartment, camera and tripod in hand, and took one final “pre-walk” photo of myself. This, success or fail, is where it was going to happen.
I packed up my necessities. My Camel-bak, walking stick, two changes of clothes, and 6 days worth of walking shorts, socks, shirts, and my walking shoes. The support team, camera crew and motor home arrived at the Salton Sea State Beach about a mile away and it was time to move in to the motor home.
This was it. At 6AM the next morning, the biggest adventure of my life would begin. Tonight, there would be no rest, only waves of worry interrupted with flashes of excitement.