First up, the latest on Einstein. Well, by all reports the splendid street dog is making good progress under the care of the Kiy family. Eating more, no longer limping and generally getting his mojo back.
Over the last few days I have been doing some agonising over my floppy-eared, wise-eyed friend. He is the best of travelling companions and one of the loveliest dogs I’ve ever known and I’m grateful to Colitas Felices in Juarez for introducing us.
That said, he is very different to Pancho, the other Juarez street dog I did a marathon walk with along the US-Mex border several years ago. If I was to use a word to describe Pancho, other than loveable, it would be ‘boisterous’ or, to use more words, ‘full of beans,’ whereas Einstein, though he can be animated, is more ‘gentle’ and ‘mellow’.
I’ve been wrestling with the Einstein equation (and Albert thought he had it tough with E=MC squared!) about what’s best to do. Over the last days I’ve realised the terrain I have to cover over the next weeks – California, Arizona, New Mexico – will be some of the toughest of the trip, shifting from desert to mountain, with long gaps between communities.
Walking with a big dog like Einstein, I need to carry all his kit, food and water, when in truth, if I have another day like Friday, (description later) it is tricky simply to carry enough water for myself – and I don’t want to jeopardise the poor hound again. In retrospect, I was optimistic and a bit naïve to think I could cross all America unsupported with a big dog like him.
Einstein, the Kiy family and I agree, is a physically less robust dog than Pancho. Einstein passed all his medical tests to travel from Mexico to America but the fact he has had Giardia, something not clocked before the start of the journey, has not helped. He is also naturally skinny and doesn’t gain weight easily. I’m not sure he’ll enjoy winter on the road much.
For this reason, with a heavy heart, I have decided not to hike on with Einstein. I was always the one who had to walk every step of the way, not him. It was my intention to walk with him to New York but, that said, my main aim was always to find him a good, loving home.
The wonderful news is that this has already happened, the Kiy family fell for Einstein the moment he entered their house, especially their son, Danny, who bonded with Einstein from the go, and vice versa.
I know the Kiys will do everything to give Einstein the best possible life – and so, even though I’d like to keep him for selfish reasons, this is the best fairy tale ending for Einstein.
I’ll miss you, my hairy friend, but you will have a terrific life and I hope I’ll see you for the last leg of my walk in three plus years when I return to America! Thank you for those first unforgettable days, you’ve been a star.
Once I am through the more geographically gnarly regions and back into more populated areas, I would like to get another street dog. Preferably one from a rescue home or a stray one who simply follows me, probably a much smaller one, and one that I could carry on my cart when needed. Watch this space.
I’m on a rest Sunday. This has included: Einstein decisions, journal updates, contacting loved ones, kit sorting before the desert proper and with the help of my web guru friend, Sean, tweaking the website and synching my GPS and maps (I can be traced to the nearest 12 metres apparently, scary!) Oh, and eating burgers the size of my shoes.
To save waffling more, I’m going to copy and paste my last few Instagram posts (I do a daily Instagram post but know many of you don’t use it – I only started a few weeks ago on the advice of my savvy daughter, Eliza: “Facebook is only for old people Dad – like you!”).
If you want to check it out, I’m under Tom Fremantle – and there’s lots of photos of Einstein. I’m going to miss him so much; he even tolerated my singing old Madness, Prefab Sprout and Bruce Springsteen songs, and that’s a first.
A cloud-busting sign reading Foolish Pleasure Road (see photo). How could I resist…
Spent last night camping in wild Oak Grove campsite, which I had all to myself, bar the cicadas and clucks from a faraway chicken farm. Top, star-spangled spot, for about a fiver.
After a day of downhill yesterday, today was mostly up, 18 miles, slow, steady and scenic. Passed tiny Aguanga, pronounced Awanga, (have to be careful with this, sniggered a local), then hit the road to Anza.
About 8 miles along, having seen no stores all day, I came across a revelation: a tiny shed selling iced coffee and donuts. I honestly thought I was hallucinating. If I was ever to see a mirage, this would be it. Thank you Jenny (photo) for serving my dream snack in the middle of nowhere. Finally reached Anza about 6pm looking for somewhere to camp.
Thomas, the manager of Cahuilla Mountain Market, which includes a cafe, bar and a sodding great 10ft high wooden bear watching over everyone, said I was welcome to crash out there.
The one proviso, it is karaoke night, and I need to sing for my supper. He might regret that when he hears me blast forth: ‘Regrets, I’ve had a few, and so I face the final…’ See photo with the lovely cafe team, Holly, Thomas and JB. Ok, better go and warm up the voice…
Thank you all so much for your support, it’s really meant a lot, especially after the blow of temporarily losing Einstein. The good news, he is slowly rallying.
Another campsite all to myself! This time amongst the strikingly named Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains. Einstein, who continues to strengthen, would love it here.
Very different to last night when I crashed out in my sleeping bag on a karaoke stage at the Cahuilla Mountain Market (see photo). The manager, Thomas, just said I had to wait till the last song was over at around 10pm.
This was no hardship. The singing was blow-your-socks-off brilliant. One local girl, Karen, a lively lass with purple hair, had a vocal range that covered everything from Karen Carpenter to Meatloaf.
It was misty when I surfaced, the coldest night since March according to local news. I even put on a beanie. But after walking for a couple of hours, the sun was up and fire risk warnings displayed. Such is the ever shifting high desert: more faces than a pair of dice, say the locals.
Covered another 18 miles, hiking swirly, undulating roads. Tomorrow I am striding out on a trail path heading north to Cathedral City. Just hope I don’t see any shot up No Trespassing signs this time.
Day four without a shower now. The last camp grounds, though in beautifully wild locations, only had water taps and long-drop loos: no bathrooms.
One thing I love about walking daily in the boondocks, though, is that normal routine things come to mean so much – a hot shower, an iced drink, a friendly honk from a passing car, a blood red dawn or a full moon…
Oh, hang on, it now seems I am no longer alone in the campground; from my tent I have just heard a guitar strumming.
Uh oh, the singing has started too. Unlike yesterday’s soaring, Siren-like melodies, this chap sounds like a lovesick coyote and his girl like she’s swallowed a flagon of helium. Where are those earplugs?
A full on, thrilling day traversing the mountains between Pinyon Pines (tent photo) and Cathedral City.
Met only one person at the start of the trail, a wise, twinkly, old timer called Jerry – think Yoda meets Jeff Bridges.
When I told him my plans to hike the Dunn Road Trail, he shook his head and said one word: ‘gnarly’. I love this word but not so much when it describes my route for the day. He then used some other suitably gnarly words, including ‘mountain lions’, ‘bobcats’ and ‘rattlers’.
I’ve heard so much about these fabled beasts along the road I’m actually looking forward to spotting one; well, from a healthy distance.
Jerry did know his stuff though, and gave me detailed and invaluable instructions about the trail. Thank you, Sir.
First up was a gate, which prohibited vehicles, but gave hikers only a small hobbit-sized hole to squeeze through, meaning I had to dismantle my trailer and shunt it over. Also, a No Dogs sign, which would not have pleased Einstein.
The trail was indeed gnarly, steep and sizzling: at times hard to follow, at times blocked by fallen rocks, which I scrambled over. But it was also spectacular and soul charging and after 20 badass miles I trundled (after squeezing through another locked gate) into the Cathedral City suburbs in a state of exhausted ecstasy.
Rest day today. Hot shower. Tick. Write journal. Tick. Haircut. If in walking distance. Remove black toenails (photo, sorry couldn’t resist!). Working on it.
Will give full Facebook update later, including about dear old Einstein, who is still happy resting up with the Kiy family: tough decisions loom.
Thanks so much to you all for your support to date.
Miles covered this week:
Sept 29 – 27 miles Julian to RD’s Log Cabin (with two backtracks)
Sept 30 – 10 miles RD’s Log Cabin to Warner Springs
Oct 2 – 15 miles Warner Springs to Oak Grove Campsite
Oct 3 – 18 miles Oak Grove Campsite to Cahuilla Mountain Market
Oct 4 – 18 miles CMM to Pinyon Pines Flat Campground
Oct 5 – 21 miles Pinyon Pines Camp to Cathedral City
PS. Anyone who loves dogs and has been following Einstein’s progress, please remember one of the charities I am walking for is Medical Detection Dogs which does superb work using highly trained dogs (who have a sense of smell several thousand times better than ours) to sniff out diseases at the early intervention stage, especially prostate cancer and diabetes, but with potential for many more, including Alzheimers.
They also train support dogs to help alert people with diabetes when their medication is needed. I actually think Einstein would make a great Medical Detection Dog, he’s certainly smart enough!
The other two charities the walk is raising money for are the wonderful Puzzle Centre and the Alzheimers Society.