Join sea kayaker Ginni Callahan as she makes her 15th annual migration from the Pacific Northwest to Baja, Mexico to guide, teach and “just breathe.”
We load a blue Ford F150 to the gills, kiss the farm goodbye and make tracks toward the Mexican border. Plans are illusions, I’m reminded, something we believe in to give this part of our journey a bearing.
It is the nature of dreams to pull us onward. It is the nature of life to be an adventure we never planned.
We stop in Portland the next morning where I join Laura Jackson in a tandem kayak to Row for the Cure. Oh, it feels good to reach out and power that hull through the water with another likeminded gal! And to do it for a cause. As a five-year breast cancer survivor, I’m thankful for the tremendous efforts of others to raise money and awareness. For me, cancer was a short chapter whose pages turned long ago. Meanwhile, life rolls joyously onward – even more joyously with the perspective of that history.
Did this make our trip a failure? Did it negate everything we’d experienced in the previous eleven months? Of course not.
The discrepancy between the path we map out and what actually happens leaves some with a feeling of failure. Others turn to faith in Someone who controls our fate. That our plans are merely fictitious constructs by which we steer is met by some with acceptance, humor, and a sense of wonder.
South of Sacramento, we visit our third Les Schwab Tire Center of the trip to see if they can’t stop the vibration that threatens to shake us to bits at highway speeds. In Chico, a friend suggests a dip in the creek at 1-Mile Park, so he, Henrick and I jump together. C-c-cold! We sprint across and back in about a minute, giggling as we shiver our way back to his house.
Unplanned adventure applies to all aspects. Relationship, family, career, health, investment, creativity, vacations, and particularly journeys. This truth applies so well to journeys, in fact, that they are metaphors for the rest.
In ’92 I bicycled across the country with my new (now former) spouse. We’d planned to pedal a giant W – riding down the east coast, back up through the heartland for the summer, south again as the weather cooled, and then up the West Coast to our home. We rode for 11 months, covered over 4,000 miles, worked in three different states to support our trip, met generous and genuine people, weathered storms and hills, got giddy on the scent of springtime honeysuckle in Mississippi, learned much, and never completed the final leg up the West Coast. Did this make our trip a failure? Did it negate everything we’d experienced in the previous eleven months? Of course not.
Life is like going the wrong way down a one-way street. You can only read the signs once you pass them – and you have to look back to do it.
In ’98 I met a kayak guide riding his Dancer in the surf. I was trying to board surf and had never thought of being a kayak guide. (That brief stint as a canoe trip leader at summer camp was too fun to consider real life.) Yet I accepted his whimsical invitation to learn to kayak, drove him to Mexico and tagged along for a few paddling trips.
Life turns left. Look back at the big sign on that corner.
I stumbled into a guiding job when I returned home the following spring, and I’ve been guiding and returning to Baja ever since. For the first ten years I guided for a successful tour company, Sea Kayak Adventures, in the Loreto National Marine Park islands. I eventually worked my way up to lead guide, then to training the local guides. Steady streams of clients arrived from the North week after week for choreographed, no-experience-necessary trips. It was a noble service, showing folks a good time and making food.
But sometimes the frustration of holding back far outweighs the fear of going forward, and you just go for it. What do you have to lose but everything?
Meanwhile, I spent the summers in the Pacific Northwest training sea kayakers in ever higher performance craft, first for a local paddle center, and then on my own as Columbia River Kayaking. I traveled to the UK to upgrade my leadership and coaching qualifications. Clients up north wanted Baja trips in performance kayaks – trips to challenge their skill levels.
“I will never be a lead guide,” I’d said years earlier after watching the fickle Baja winds toy with kayak guides and their itineraries. And after watching my boss climb the office walls: “I never want to own my own company.” And after watching my boss in Baja tied in knots with Mexican red tape: “I really never want to own a company in Mexico!”
But sometimes the frustration of holding back far outweighs the fear of going forward, and you just go for it. What do you have to lose but everything? And once you lose everything, you’re just left with you and your spirit. Which is all you ever started with. And so you start again. We are not possessions or accomplishments, but spirit.
In 2007, after five years of false starts, I teamed up with Ivette Grenados of Loreto to start Sea Kayak Baja Mexico.
It is the nature of life to be an adventure we never planned. The only unassailable human freedom, I believe, is the freedom to choose one’s response.
The annual Baja migration provides an opportunity to appreciate the unexpected adventures of travel. My last pickup, Ol’ Blue, was my faithful companion for 14 migrations and the source of many unexpected adventures. There was the alternator that left me stuck in a surf camp for a few extra days. Not the worst place to spend some extra time! There have been the requisite flat tires too – almost always the front right. Some fuel line issue in Todos Santos resolved itself after a couple of days spent hanging out with a really cool family and pondering the basis of “security.” And of course the 24-hour El Rosario drama starring Big Andres and Little Andres in amazing feats of automotive creativity, accompanied by some new Spanish vocabulary: el clutch.
With over 220,000 miles to its credit, Ol’ Blue finally retired to Mexico last year. What did I do but turn around and buy the same truck all over again? Same year, same model, same short bed, same manual transmission.
And so we start anew with only 67,000 miles, the open road and untold adventures to unravel.