Travels with Don-Kay

Mike Younghusband


 

Mike Younghusband

 

Tecate to Cabo San Lucas with a burro and two dogs. 2010-11


 

When 61-year-old El Cajon native Mike Younghusband contacted me in 2009 saying he’d read all my Baja books and was planning a 1500-mile walk with a burro from the US border at Tecate to the tip of the peninsula taking along two diminutive dogs, I was dubious at first.


When he added that he had high blood pressure, back problems, and gout and would need to take medication, I could be forgiven for thinking that this journey might not get too far.


Yet as I watched this ex-Navy Vietnam vet and former policeman diligently prepare for almost a year I realized how focused and serious he was. The dream had taken over his life: training hikes with his dogs—8-year-old Max, a Chihuahua-dachshund mix, and Rusty, a feisty 4-year-old Jack Russell—reading and researching, buying gear and making runs down the peninsula to cache food, water, and whisky in 25 key locations...


He paid $750 for a photogenic white burro—a strong, sedate, trained pack animal which he named Don-Kay. It wasn’t his first pick… that turned out to be pregnant female that needed to be replaced.


He spent more than $1,000 to outfit both himself and his burro with the high quality equipment he was going to need.


His plans involved living off the sea and the desert if necessary. He had a slingshot, a BB pellet rifle for hunting quail or other birds and small animals, and fishing gear to catch dinner from shore.


And in what turned out to be a smart move, he carried a SPOT satellite GPS messenger so friends and family would always know his exact location. He also signed up for an optional Search and Rescue and extraction insurance feature.


After scores of training hikes and bonding sessions with Don-Kay, he set off October 1, 2010 from Rancho Ojai just east of Tecate. His goal was to reach Cabo San Lucas before the worst of the summer heat kicked in.


The trip was his personal indulgence, undertaken just for himself, having tired of a life of work and sinking in front of the TV every evening. Come the day of departure he declared, “I’ve done my duty to God, my family and my country. Now it’s time for grandpa to go out and have fun.”


Having been a frequent visitor to Baja since trips with his father when he was 8 or 9, he added “I want all Americans to see that you can come to Baja, be a tourist and be safe.”


Carrying 50 pounds on his back and with Don-Kay shouldering four times that load, and with storm clouds billowed in the east and the sound of thunder filling the air, he bade an emotional farewell to friends and family and the media, then boldly led his animal entourage into the unknown.


“Hell Week” was an apt description of what he experienced in the first few days as the donkey and the dogs expressed their doubts by taking every opportunity to head back the way they came. He fell and fractured his right elbow and discovered how difficult it was for a one-armed man to deal with all the trail and camp chores, especially packing and unloading the burro. And just as he felt things might be improving, he was shaken awake, finding himself at the epicenter of an earthquake.


Mike was having trouble keeping Rusty and Max safe from traffic; it seemed just a matter of time before one of them would come to grief. And on the fourth day of the trip a stray dog, a white female border collie mix, hooked up with them and refused to leave. Mike didn’t have food or water for this new addition and he did everything he could to drive her away. But she refused to leave and marched along, settling in front of Mike’s tent when he retired inside with Max and Rusty. Mike’s attitude changed when she chased away a car load of drunks late one night.


He named her Solo. She stayed loyally with him until the end. Each night, she scraped out a bed and settled down protectively in front of Mike’s tent, chasing away coyotes and other creatures from the camp. She was friendly with everyone she met—except the bad guys. She didn’t run off or chase vehicles in traffic. For the next 1000 miles she didn’t put a paw wrong and followed along, sticking to Mike and Don-Kay like glue, winning hearts at every turn.


I met up with Mike on a remote mountain road a month into the trip, brought a few supplies, shared a few campfires and ended up taking Max and Rusty home. They had a wonderful adventure, but Max was getting a little tired. Even so it was a tough decision for Mike and sad to see how frantic they were to carry on.


After a shaky start Don-Kay also proved to be a dependable loyal burro. He got loose a couple of times, but never wandered away. Approaching Guerrero Negro, he went lame but some ranchers came to his aid and re-shod him. A few days later he was as good as new.


“I never thought about quitting, never, not one time,” he said. “I really didn’t want it to end. I was loving setting up camp every day. Several times I’d set up camp, take the day off and just explore. I’d sit with Don-Kay and Solo on the beach and watch them tumble and play. Solo would jump on Don-Kay when he was rolling around on the ground, and Don-Kay would get up and chase Solo. I’d sit there watching them, enjoying the moment.”


His journey was being followed by Baja aficionados on the website forum  bajanomad.com. "Nomads" and forum visitors offered invaluable help along the way, and came to his aid when he activated his emergency beacon after running out of water and getting stuck along an impossibly rugged, roadless stretch of the remote Pacific coast. 


It was possible to follow Mike’s progress through daily updates from his SPOT device. Nomad David Keir updated a map daily to plot his route and show exactly where he was at all times.


At Lopez Mateos, near Magdalena Bay, the town turned out to welcome him. And he was roped in to addressing the local school kids. As the trip progressed most of the equipment wore out. His tent zipper broke, his boots split, and the majority of his buried caches were unearthed by coyotes. "The water and whisky are all that they didn't get." 


All the time he was constantly lightening the burro's load. Most everyone he met was incredibly kind and generous, but he was robbed of $600 by a Mexican who was a fugitive from the police in the U.S.


On March 18, 2011, five-and-a-half months and 1,147 miles after he began, he ended his adventure at the police station in Cabo San Lucas. Two of his three daughters and several grandchildren were there to greet him and share his final steps. Local television stations were eager to interview him. He had walked the length of the peninsula, lost 43 pounds, and was never sick once on the journey.


A fantastic achievement. Mike Younghusband, Don-Kay and Solo—Los Tres Amigos Blancos—had written another memorable chapter in the book of Baja adventure.


Mike now lives in Loreto with all his dogs, Don-Kay, and new mule amiga Mula-Hey

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