Human Journey

1,000 Miles to Blister Town: What is West

Two amigos on a National Geographic Expedition from San Diego to Cabo - one of the planet's longest and most isolated peninsulas.
Two amigos on a National Geographic Expedition from San Diego to Cabo – one of the planet’s longest and most isolated peninsulas.

It always starts with a crazy idea, doesn’t it? Let’s quit our jobs. Then say goodbye to the comforts of home finding new horizons to experience each passing day. It’s a common enough story, but the path chosen to achieve this might be the most interesting detail. The amount of self-inflicted hardship folded into the equation speaks volumes about the constitution of the traveler.

This is a borderline insane adventure by all accounts. Let’s start with the numbers: 1,000 miles down a remote peninsula, traveling a coastline until it ultimately gives way to the sea. That sounds manageable enough, perhaps like a vacation many might be pining to take. Now let’s get into the terrain: mostly desert, covered in cacti and inhabited by more poisons creatures than people. The language: not your own. The method: walk the first half then swap boots for a stand up paddle board going headon into an intolerant and often tempestuous sea.

To track down the two unflappable individuals wild enough to attempt this extreme journey, I rent a car in Phoenix. Of course you never tell the rental agent that you’ll be taking their compact across 2,000 miles of undomesticated bush; it’s a secret they just don’t need to know. The long drive takes a little over 18-hours, a distance that has taken these two men 10-weeks to reach. Now, they’re half way to their goal.

Justin Deshields (left) and Bryan Morales eat surprisingly little, a result of conditioning their bodies to living without large meals during the remote expedition.
Justin Deshields (left) and Bryan Morales eat surprisingly little, a result of conditioning their bodies to living without large meals during the remote expedition.

Justin Deshields and Bryan Morales have selected this path of uncertainty. They wait for me the a dusty forgotten town of Mulegé, Mexico (though I doubt the town was ever known by that many). My lovely girlfriend and I will join the friends as they walk onto their stand up paddle boards for the first time. Up to this point they’d traveled by foot from San Diego, CA. We break into their hotel room after midnight, the friends are quick to wake. Grizzled and happy despite the intrusion, they cheerfully offer a celebratory sip of tequila.

Not only will this be their first time on new boards, it’s their first time trying the sport! Stand up paddle boarding or SUP as its commonly known is a rapidly growing pastime seeing the same commercial growth that sea kayaking witnessed about 10 years ago. Deshields and Morales will attempt to SUP 600-miles along a coastline known for its punishing winds. In a kayak you sit lower to the ground, reducing the drag, and maximizing any kind of gain in a strong headwind. When you’re logging SUP miles without much experience, wind is fatal to progress.

Departing though this sleepy town at dawn, the men epitomize abnormality. Their glitzy boards offer a stark visual contrast to the muted pre-dawn streets. Smiles are exchanged by community members who are unaccustomed to such a site.

Feral dogs prove to be one of the greatest threats during a 600-mile walk down Baja California.
Feral dogs prove to be one of the greatest threats during a 600-mile walk down Baja California.

Ours is a shaky start. Everyone falls off their board as hours pass during a mounting wind storm. High pressure winds blow 30-knots and seas build to 8-feet. Each day is a battle endured with endless smiles. Evenings are spent cooking lobster on the fire and preparing chiviche with rationed limes (seafood the boys caught by hand). We see 100 pelicans for every person, and when the wind dies the warm air wraps around you like a favorite blanket. These are the insights between the hardships. The moments of bliss between the blisters.

Deshields and Morales expedition is sponsored by a grant from National Geographic. Above is a short video introducing the expedition. The boys will produce a documentary film that will highlight the beauty and mystery of Baja. To follow along visit What is West.

NEXTSuburbs to Shantytowns: 1,000-Mile Trek Down Baja Mexico

Justin Deshields and Bryan Morales feel the full force of a Norte wind, Stand Up Paddling the Baja Peninsula.

J.J. Kelley is an Emmy nominated filmmaker and adventurer focusing on issues of conservation and wildlife crime. A producer and director of photography at National Geographic, Kelley’s work has appeared on The National Geographic Channel, NOVA, The New York Times, Outside Television and PBS.

He is also the co-creator of the adventure production company, Dudes on Media. In addition to winning over 40 film festival awards including, Paddler Magazine called his Emmy nominated second film, “Paddle to Seattle” “the best feature film about paddling produced in the past decade.”

Kelley is an Appalachian Trail Thru-hiker, biked across Alaska, kayaked from Alaska to Seattle, and traveled the length of The River Ganges. He regularly stops in the studios as a guest on National Geographic Weekend and recently starred in a television commercial for Nature Valley.

  • Merry Welsh

    These two young men are AMAZING! Adventurous, polite, brave and charming. Your Mother’s must be so proud of both of you! KEEP IT UP GUYS!
    Best Regards,
    Merry & Ed Welsh

  • Merry Welsh

    These two young men are AMAZING! Adventurous, polite, brave and charming. Your Mother’s must be so proud of both of you! KEEP IT UP GUYS!
    Best Regards,
    Merry & Ed Welsh

  • micro job

    Extremely fascinating factors you’ve observed , value it for posting . “The surest method to get rid of a bore is to lend cash to him.” by Paul Louis Courier.

  • micro job

    Extremely fascinating factors you’ve observed , value it for posting . “The surest method to get rid of a bore is to lend cash to him.” by Paul Louis Courier.

  • Mama deshields

    Living his dream…… He never gives up….. Yes this mama is very proud

  • Mama deshields

    Living his dream…… He never gives up….. Yes this mama is very proud

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