Mystery Shopper

As the sun was beginning to set, I walked back to the reservoir and then south of it. I needed to see if there were a landing or a piece of embankment I could use to put in again – because now I had a plan evolving.

After dark, I quietly picked my way back towards the eastbound road and relocated the shopping cart I’d seen tossed down the embankment. Should it have all its wheels, it would be perfect for loading the over-sized canoe into and moving everything, lock, stock and barrel to the south side of the dam.

With all the wheels intact, I started back the way I’d come. As I approached the corner to turn north, movement on the ground caught my eye – I damn near stepped on a rattle snake. With a large rock, I invited the dangerous reptile to dinner.

It took me another hour to wrestle the canoe up the rest of the embankment, then into the cart, balancing it on one shoulder so that it would not tip out, and to the other side of the reservoir. I had jus’ unloaded the canoe and slipped it over the embankment when I saw a set of headlight approaching from the east where I found the cart.

I dropped down the embankment and didn’t move until the vehicle drove north on the service road I’d been walking.

It took me a few extra minutes to find a place to build a small fire and begin the job of skinning my meal. I left the canoe further up the siding, upside down, jus’ in case it rained again and before the moon was fully overhead, I was roasting my find and preparing to eat.

In the distant western shies, I could see the clouds beginning to build. I knew a storm was on its way and that I had to eat fast and find my way to my shelter under the canoe. It was only minutes before I heard the first crack of thunder after a finger of lightning danced over the desert.

I fell asleep to the rhythmic beating of rain drops on the canoe bottom and I slept well.

Somewhere in the distance I heard the unmistakable yelps and whines of a pack of coyotes. Their calls woke me to the fact that it was nearly sunrise and that I needed to vacate the piece of real estate I’d encamped on. Within 20 minutes, I had completed my portage and had put out for whatever lay ahead on this ever narrowing river.

Through sunrise, morning and mid morning I continued to paddle then to drift with the river’s current. Come noon, afternoon and evening I had spent my day doing more of the same. I saw very little in the way of wildlife and even less of humans; not even the sound of civilization could be heard above the ever-present gurgling of the water and its lapping at the bow of the canoe. I felt as if I were the last man on earth for a while.

At certain points the river narrows, at others it widens. Some points the water flows quickly, still others, it stands still. These come and go, with no evidence which water course you might find. What is true is that civilization does exist along the river, and Fort Yuma is such a place.

After meandering through long lazy bends that end sharply, I heard more than saw the signs of a man-made life ahead of me. At last, I didn’t allow myself to worry about having come down the river permit-less, I was now in company of a town filled with people, possibly a good meal and an easy rest as they had to have grass some place that I could spread my tired body across.

And I was right. I had not known it at the time, but I had floated the length of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation and never saw a single person since I’d heard the and seen the vehicle approach the Imperial Reservoir. Now, I could hear vehicles and other sounds that I recognized as that of a small city.

Soon I passed beneath a bridge, which sign read ‘Penitentiary Avenue.’ This was quickly followed by a second overpass, much-larger than the last with the name ‘Kimeyaay Highway.’ Beyond that I found a patch of Eden on the eastern side of the river, aptly called, ‘Gateway Park.’ It was here that I put to shore, stowing the canoe in the rocks and bushes and shouldering my rucksack before heading back towards town.

Simply being in proximity to other people felt good. I hadn’t felt this joyful in a long time. I spent the evening, watching, smelling and listening. I even found an open area with live music being played. All to soon though, I had to head back to where I left the canoe and return to my journey’s end.

About 15 minutes down river, I put in again and established a small camp. There was no rain showers this night, so after a large bowl of beans and rice, I rolled out my sleeping bag and slipped into a dreamless state under the now comforting blanket of stars.

Life for town folk doesn’t always begin as early as it does for someone of the heel. But when it does begin, it is far more noisy than one realizes when they’ve been wild-bound for days on end. I think it was the sound of a garbage truck banging a large dumpster that brought me out of my sleep.

After a stretch and yawn, I took a short dip in the river to clean up. In the mean time I’d begun a small campfire and had some coffee brewing. By the time I finished rinsing the soap from my body, it was ready and I sat on the bank, both listening to the river and town, enjoying the coffee’s warmth.

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