Tijuana Mission Trip—Pack Notes (An Appendix)

Hand Sani.  Used pretty much all of my hand sani, from a 2 oz container.  And this is even with using some hand sani from a communal camp wash station supply.  And this is even with washing several times my hands with a greenish bar of Dove soap at said wash station, which was a couple of bins of water (two sets of these, on either side of a wash stand that also had on it two big coolers of water).  One basin said wash, the other said rinse.  The idea was to wet your hands with the wash water, scrub up, dunk again in the wash basin and shake some off then dunk into the rinse basin, repeat the rinse dunks as needed.  Next time I’ll bring five ounces of hand sani.

Van.  The freaking mess that van was in… doing the van return… my stupid big, bloated backpack…

Towels.  I didn’t use or need second towel, not really, or I’d bring two medium towels.  I have the one thin half-towel, an old rag really, from my parents, I love it.  I was taking that with me to dry off after the solar showers, then pinning it to the text loop and leaving it out there to dry in the sun and wind.

Magnets.  Oh, what I thought about bringing, kind of knew deep down I should have brought because I know just how handy they are in a camp setting: rare earth magnets: for pinning a towel around a tent pole; for not having to screw around with a safety pin.  Or for sticking something against one of the vans to dry, or to hang something in the tent.  I could have used 4-6 magnets but not two full towels.  I did use both towels but the second towel, the big one—the Turkish towel a la Karin—I didn’t need all of it because I used it really only to do a final towel-off once I was ready to get out of the trunks I’d showered in, had walked around in in the sun and wind, but which were still a little damp especially in the crotch.  Then I was just stuffing it in my pillowcase.

*  The pillowcase.  I wasn’t happy with the resting place the lumpy pillowcase offered.  It’s not the pillowcase’s fault.  When I woke at night after I got the good air mat from Frank what woke me up was my sleeping mind’s dissatisfaction with the lumpy pillowcase.  It was lumpy, it was damp, it was full of dirty wadded-up clothes or my balled-up second towel.  What ended up working the last night was to stuff just the bottom compartment of my backpack and then put the neck pillow on top of that.  So forget the pillowcase.

* Backpacking airmats.  Completely useless unless I can sleep on my back.  What just gives me an everlasting chuckle is how somewhere during the first night as I was tossing and turning on my mat—and as Graham was tossing and turning on his—I heard him completely let the air out of his mat, like a mat assassination.  I don’t know if that is what he was trying to do, in some sort of “F this mat” move but as the air was going out I thought to myself, “We should probably move on from these mats.”

* ACV.  I was glugging a shot—or two sometimes—before leaving my tent in the morning; did not miss a day.  I’m not sick, never felt a cold coming on, even having a bunch of vodka pre-trip in San Diego; even using outhouses that stank and buzzed below, that dozens of other people who might or might not have been using hand sani were also using.  Kind of amazing.  Had to buy it in SD but I’d do so again.  It’s an essential because if it ain’t broke…

* Sunglasses. They have a small crack in them, left lens.  I wore the heck out of them, my Cruiser B’s.  B found them for me at REI in 2013 or so, they’ve been great.  I would bring a second pair of sunglasses just in case, sometimes I was searching for their whereabouts.

* Tools.  This is a tough one, if I’m flying with them.  I’ll say:  my little hammer was just fine and perhaps preferable for driving roofing nails, e.g. into fireblocks whilst we were securing and stretching the chicken wire.  But I needed a bigger piece of steel to sink 16-penny nails when we were building our wall sections.  The tool I found annoying was my tape measure because on long measurements the tape would twist and seemed unwilling to lay flat and straight.  I should look into upgrading to a good 30′ tape measure.  There’s nothing wrong with the saw.  That’ll rip a 2 x 4 as good as any.  I did not use or see it being used to cut plywood but to have one of my tools requested for a task goes down as one of my little delights of the trip.  Utility knife—good.  I used it only once but Mike M used it and said it was good, so that’s good enough for me.  It’s been the back-up of my two utility knives; it’s been in the boot of the Subaru.  I probably need to bring it out for regular use and take my old one to Farm and leave it there.  Wire cutters: though they were great for snipping chicken wire the bailing wire was perhaps a little thick for them.  Still, they were adequate and remain a nice, light travel option.  Pencil: brought two, lost one, came back with two.  The new one I came back with is marked with a “K”, belonging to whom I am not sure—Frank K?  The red lead pencil I brought, which B bought for me, worked fine.  I noticed how on one of the bird blocks spanning the rafters of one of the city-facing wall sections bore a red pencil mark from me, right side up, of “34 1/4”.  Pretty cool.  I should have brought and will buy a square.  I need to compare a speed square, which is shaped like a triangle, and the other type I saw, shaped like a right angle, which might be called a carpenter’s square.

* Aux cord.  Don’t leave home without it.  I have two extra now; I know how handy they are in cars—rental cars!—but yet I didn’t bring one, nor did anyone else in our van.

(beer break; beer run)  ($10 beer)

* Sunscreen.  I took eight ounces of Banana Boat 50+ SPF, of which I had previously used only a sliver.  I used about half the tube on this trip.  I did not get burned.  My face is red but what’s new?  I did receive some solicitude, especially early, about my red face.  I stated that I did not like to put sunscreen on my face.  At some point this week I did start putting this Banana Boat 50+ on my face and I didn’t have any problems with it running in my eyes.  So this particular sunscreen, which is thicker than most, probably is OK for the face.  It worked.  I believe I did pretty well with reapplications and I thank those of you who kept on me about it.  I’m looking at myself in the mirror and I definitely took some sun but I think much of that landed right when we got to camp on that hard-baked reflective playa late Sunday afternoon, whipped by the wind and the sun as we set up our tents, when I knew nothing and before I got any sunscreen on.

* Water.  I took a Nalgene.  I drank a ton of water.  Amor supplied us with water.  They also sent us to the site with one big cooler of Gatorade.  I was mixing water and Gatorade but the Nalgene doesn’t keep the water from getting warm—sometimes nearly hot—in the sun.  I got to where I was right away drinking what I’d just dispensed from the coolers because otherwise it would quickly heat up, losing its refreshing capacity.  I need a Hydro-flask, something along those lines.  What did work was keeping a carabiner attached to the plastic ring of the Nalgene.  Several times I hooked it onto one of my belt loops, usually when I was moving through the meal line or moving through the sandwich assembly line and I needed every hand free.

* The fanny pack.  How about a round of applause for that fanny pack?  Bury me with it, will you?  I take it with me everywhere I go.

* Drugs.  I was on ibuprofen in San Diego but now that I think of it the foot problems I experienced in San Diego—which had me rather worried—evaporated into that smoky bright air of Tijuana.  How?  I was in my work boots a lot; I walked around camp a lot just in flip flops, not exactly the most robust or supportive foot wear.  Was it just the stress of uncertainty leading up to the trip?  Is it desk-sitting that triggers my left foot irritation?  Interestingly, I’m also now thinking that while I wore those running shoes in San Diego I didn’t once have them on in Mexico.

In Tijuana I took at most four ibuprofen, that first full day after the bad night of sleep the first night.  I took one allergy pill, the first day.  I probably didn’t even need it.  Whatever I was sensing in my sinuses was probably just the trash fire smoke-laden haze that is the air of Tijuana.  I gave one of my tiny red pseudoephedrine pills to Sabrina B, who thought she might be getting a cold but my guess is she was just experiencing a similar reaction to the air-based trash disposal ways of Tijuana’s denizens.  I took half a heartburn pill after the chorizo meal.  I’m just not a chorizo guy.  One morning I popped two generic Excedrin because I wanted a little extra caffeine though not in liquid form.  The baño at the worksite was off-putting.  It was sort of a poorly sealed outhouse/trash can that I imagine everyone in the neighborhood makes use of.  I think there were probably some people in our group who did not use it all week.  I couldn’t make it through the day without using it at least once.  Yeah, how long was our work day?  Eight to four I’d say, pretty solid.

* Work boots.  This pair has been so darn good for me.  They are Thorogood USA-made hiker-style work boots.  I thought about leaving them behind at Amor but their pasture is destined to be that one I know in the Missouri Ozarks…

* My clothes.  As we speak my clothes are a disgusting, desperate heap I don’t want to think about.  But I need to get into and re-order my pack because it has swelled and somehow gained weight since I was last in San Diego a week ago.  I am wearing the memento Amor 2018 shirt everyone in the group will eventually get.  Around Coronado Island today; in the classy, upscale Hotel del Coronado  I was wearing the one-size too small (“You’ll have to wash it in cold water and stretch it out,” Gary told me on Wednesday as he gave me my Secret Pal gift exchange bag.  “Sorry, man, I didn’t know how big you were”) Foghorn Leghorn “That’s a Joke, Son” t-shirt. I was all pitted out with my disgusting ‘I’m tired and still dirty, stressed about parting ways with everyone pit stains’.

The North End of Coronado Island

I had experienced a George Costanza moment where, yeah I took a shower at the Coronado Island community center but “it didn’t take” and then we sat in the sun on the hotel veranda and drank margaritas and we were under a time crunch and they wouldn’t let me pay for anything and Graham was in a fresh change of clothes and I just kind wanted to pass out and then realized I was dropping people off at the airport, talking to Mike Mayer in the van about the washouts of my career(s) as we stop-and-goed across that tremendous bend-wrap of a bridge leaving Coronado Island, downtown San Diego hanging out down along the bay, glimmering, traffic solid to the airport and I had to butt in and cross lanes as Mike asked me, “How many margaritas did you have?”

“Two,” I said,

“Wrong answer!” he exclaimed.  “The correct answer is zero!”

“They weren’t that strong,” I said.

And they weren’t, even though one pitcher of them cost $66.  Hey, I tried to pay.  So did Heather B, 18 years old, to whom I had handed a margarita.  Whoops!  I thought she was a year or two into college.  It was nice sitting there, if we had had a little more time.  Linnea did her impression of a Long Islander, one of a wide range of impressions and accents she can do, it’s really something.

Where the hell was I, this is supposed to be an appendix.  My clothes.  I want to burn them.  My work pants could grow whatever native plants were growing in Tijuana, if only I could tell you what they were.  Or, these linen pants I’ve got on now.  Mike, the same Mike, told me this morning as we passed each other at camp, “Your pants are dirty!”  And I was like, uh, yeah, you’ve seen all the clothes I’ve got, ain’t none of ’em clean.

* Hand wipes.  I used a few.  How about Graham wiping the windshield with hand wipes this morning as we pulled out of camp?  It didn’t work.  We had no washer fluid.  That van was a mess.  Someone left a towel.  There was a whole bag of trash, some empty Nicorette square containers, of course a Starbucks cup (yes, there was a straw in it), loose nails in the trunk (roofing nails by the looks of it), a thing of Banana Boat spray that was mostly full and which I would have taken if I weren’t flying.  I probably refrained from using hand wipes in certain instances because they leave a residue and a scent that I don’t want on my hands if I’m about to eat.  Hand sani works better in that case, for me.  I don’t much like to use them on my face either, they break me out a little.

* Bug spray, deet.  Never used any.  Brought deet lotion and two deet wipes.  There were skeeters out occasionally but I can’t say I’ve got any bites.  If anything was biting me it was a fly, which were bothersome but did not appear to leave a bite mark.

* Trunks.  I used them every day.  They are required in the shower area.  Last night an older guy was buck naked in there.  I probably would’ve dropped trow too, if a sign hadn’t prohibited doing so.  But now while I’m on the subject of trunks I’ve got to observe that I came out here to SD and Baja and darn it I did not get in that ocean.  It’s been years now, what the heck?

*  Books.  Since the flight I haven’t read much. I like to travel with the Sudoku book because it’s kind of my passport stamp section where when I complete a puzzle I also take note of where I am.  That’s often on an airplane.  I read only an hour’s worth of Log from the Sea of Cortez while in Baja, but that was still pretty neat considering there is a map of Baja California on the cover of the book.  And that it’s a travel log.  I read none of the Lorca poems in Mexico.

*  Lip balm.  I took two sticks, both years old.  If I used any it was only once.

*  Soap.  I carried a little egg-shaped bar of Aveda soap I got at the Moonrise Hotel in University City, Missouri in 2016.  It’s good soap, acceptable for use on my face.  I packed it in a small round tin that once held some looseleaf tea my mom put in my stocking this past Christmas.  I dropped the soap several times in the shower.  It’s good soap but hard to handle.  I’ll use it here at the Vagabond and be done with it; the tin, too.

*  Deodorant.  I rotated between rubbing alcohol on a cotton pad applied to my pits and this little travel stick of Native-brand deodorant B received as a sample when she bought some of their regular-sized sticks online.  I swear both the rubbing alcohol on the pad and the deodorant stick make me perspire more underarm than if I applied nothing there at all.  It makes me want to go home and chuck any and all underarm applicants and just apply something once I’m already sweating, or maybe at night only.

*  Rain jacket.  It never rained.  I saw, from the worksite, miles away, rain falling somewhere.  In the mountains to the northeast, up toward where the border drops down, making its way to Arizona.  But I’d pack the jacket again.  It’d be brazen and risky not to do so.

*  Sleeping bag.  It was fine.  At times I was one leg in and one leg out.  It packs up nicely.  I just got up from this page and shook it out in the motel tub.  Plenty of dirt.  Ha!

*  Paracord.  I did run a short clothesline in the tent to hang articles for drying but I didn’t need to bring a long stretch of it.  Ten feet’d a done fine.  I brought about 30 feet.

* Solar shower.  After a couple of fits and starts, a success.  Both of the problems I encountered were because I unwittingly had set the waterbag part of the shower on top of one of two hoses that run in or out of the water compartment.  The hose running from the air-pressurization pedal to the bag will not function if a heavy bag of water is sitting on top of it.  This was the problem I had the first day when I could not get the bag pressurized—the air hose was pinched.  The next day I was getting the bag pressurized plenty but when I depressed the handle on the water spigot I wasn’t getting any water from it.  This is because on this occasion I had pinched the water hose beneath the waterbag.  I lifted the bag up, unkinked the waterline hose and I had a suddenly functional solar shower.  It packed up better in a tighter disc-shaped bundle than I thought but I had to bend these same hoses to make it fit.  When I get home I’ll unpack it and lay it out so it’s happy.  That’ll be one more piece of camping gear unfurled in the attic.

*  Floppy hat.  Love it.  It’s not as cool as Graham’s sombrero but it is very functional and I can bend it this way and that as necessary to pack it.

*  Visine.  Did not use.

*  Lighter.  Used to open beer bottles in San Diego.

* Granola bars.  Gary put these in the Secret Pals bag he gave me.  I am eating one as we speak.  Might be dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow morning!

* Hackey sack.  I never got it out of my pack.  Too hot, too tired, not enough downtime.

*  Headbands and bandana.  I brought two headbands and one bandana.  I used one headband.  It isn’t practicable to wear a headband and the floppy hat at the same time.  The floppy hat fulfilled the sweat-catch function as well as the sunblock function.

* Work gloves.  I certainly used the pair I brought.  Wells Lamont, a Home Depot offering.  And I was not the only person who had this exact pair, causing confusion a couple of times.  I dropped one at one point, retraced my steps, couldn’t find it.  Isabelle had picked it up; she had the same gloves; must’ve realized at some point she had three.  I couldn’t have done without them, right from the first job, when we all lined up and conveyed the twelve-footers out of the church and into piles on the ground outside.

*  Nail pouch.  The experienced crewmembers seemed to prefer belts or just a smaller pouch.  Mine was a larger sort of pouch with a hook for a hammer.  It was alright.  I never liked the sensation of walking around with my hammer swinging all over the place.

*  My downloaded music.  Leading up to the trip I really intended to put together—and download from Spotify onto my phone—a Tijuana-themed music playlist with perhaps a few other of my favorites mixed in.  I never did this.  When the call for someone to play music in the van came, I played from the older music I have saved into my phone via the iTunes app.  That playlist happens to be pretty heavily flavored with German techno music.  Kraftwerk’s “TransEurope Express” came on and quickly crashed a la the Hindenburg.  I was, musically speaking, in the doghouse for a while after that.  As I drove the van back toward the border this morning I decided to give it another go.  I had Brasstronaut downloaded to my Spotify and with it I enjoyed a brief comeback.

*  Bible.  First I was going to take the Bible I have that has my name on it, which I got from my parents when I was confirmed.  I ended up taking one with my wife’s name on it because it was smaller and weighed less.  I listened to Bible verses being read but I never took mine out of the bag.

*  Thick socks.  Never used them.  If I wasn’t going to be wearing them with my workboots, which I never did, the only other time I might’ve needed them was at night, to keep my feet cool, but it never really got that chilly, so this was not a concern.

*  Heavier long-sleeved shirt.  Yes.  This was essential.  Once the sun slipped behind those august mountains it did quickly cool off.  Unless you were right on the fire—and you wouldn’t want to’ve been because mostly we were burning trash wood from Amor’s vast heap—it was a little chilly as we sang; as Graham preached; as we went to small groups.  Somewhere amidst this evening lineup I was making a run to the tent to grab my fleece-style long-sleeved shirt.  It strikes me now that we were bringing back to camp our scrap wood, which as Mike called for, were pieces a foot in length or smaller.  It was often me who was gathering up these pieces from around the site.  Although I did not construct, set or tend to any of our fires—early on it was Jackson and or Dylan who dug out a fire hole and though this never has been my method of making a fire, that little fire hole did work just fine—it was clear to me that we did not have enough decent wood to keep a fire going that did not reek of cardboard smoke.  If I had it to do again I would have grabbed more of the 14″ and 16″ pieces or even taken some 18″ pieces and slyly cut them in two so we had some of the good, leftover construction timber to keep our nightly fires going a bit longer.  Sure, it’s a nice sentiment to be leaving behind our scraps and leftovers for the site family to make use of but yesterday at the site I looked down that hillside and what do you know it’s a bunch of not just our trash but also some of what “they get to keep”.

*  Toothpaste.  If there has not been that communal tube of Arm and Hammer I would have run out of toothpaste.  I was in that Hampton Inn in San Diego and I squeezed my little travel tube and a big bubble of air popped and went out.  I realized there wasn’t nearly as much toothpaste in the tube as I thought.  But there at the washstand someone set a fresh tube of Arm & Hammer and it was just what I needed.  I brushed every night before going to sleep and every morning after coffee.  Which by the way, what a nosedive decline in my coffee intake, if one were to chart it.  I did have a choco-caffeine bar I scarfed one morning, equal to one cup.  I was drinking a lot of coffee as I worked on preparing exterior wall sections of my house for painting in June.  I can probably get away with drinking a lot of coffee when I’m on my own and trying to plow through the St Louis heat and humidity in June.  On a confined worksite on a hillside in Tijuana with 32 other people limiting my caffeine intake was probably the right move.

*  Headlamp.  Certainly I used it.  I did not use the extra batteries but I’d still bring them next time.

*  First aid kit.  I had brought along a pair of tweezers in case of a splinter.  It was certainly possible to have picked up a splinter along the way but I did not.  I used a few band aids and will put on one more this morning to cover this bit of missing skin on the tip of my right index finger.

*  Driver’s license.  I needed it in order to drive the van.  The rental associate scanned it at Enterprise in San Diego before we left for Mexico.  I was glad I did some driving.  I don’t never wanna go up that hill again, that was fun as hell.  I just wish I had had some better music for the uphill.

This stuff!

*  What I saw or didn’t see in the streets of Tijuana.  No one in “traditional” Mexican garb.  No one busking or playing an instrument.  There was that guy in the wheelchair at a prominent intersection closer to the worksite with a cup attached to the end of a long stick.

*  Border line blur.  Men with deformities.  Pan handlers, kids, old folks, wheelchairs, the Word Cup Trophy, crosses and churro sales.

*  Jeopardy dream sequence:

“The corners of which state are essential to the house you’re building?”

I answer, “Baja California.”

“Sorry,” says Alex, “that’s incorrect.”

Someone else chimes in, Alex says, “Judy?”

“What is California?”


“Alex, give me septuagenarians who rock for $1000.”

“And that, Judy, is our daily double….”

I wake with a start back home, in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, dot com…

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