To me, the remote and wild places are the most beautiful. They are the places that haunt us and call to us. The mission trail was a road untraveled and unblemished.

Knowing the trail was untraveled and overgrown with cactus made it more exciting, not less. Wilderness is invigorating. A Jesuit missionary observed, “Difficulty itself inflames the desire of an undertaking.”

I was undeterred. Whatever might come, I would not turn back. The old mission trail was my Mecca, my Jerusalem, and my Canterbury.

I did not know who my next vaquero would be, or where we would meet up. I did not know where my next mule would come from. Living with late-stage cancer is living a life of unknowns, and I had become quite comfortable with not knowing. It kept me aware and paying attention. I didn’t take anything for granted. Out here I lived the same way.

This was wilderness. This was the West of myth and legend, of mystery and poetry. It may be disappearing in California, but not here.

A stumble or slip on a rock, or a branch hitting my face or neck, could mean death.

We all live closer to death than we think.

Death can come suddenly in the Sierras. A mule slips. A man falls. One never knows the hour when God calls. At such a time, it might be tempting to ask, Why am I doing this? I never asked. I knew why: I would rather kill myself on a mule than let cancer kill me.

I was in God’s hands. He had gotten me through cancer. I trusted He would get me through this.

I knew that having a purpose was as necessary to life as breathing, and that nothing is more exhilarating than pursuing an improbable goal without regard to consequences.

Life can be bittersweet, even brutal; nonetheless, it is a beautiful gift, and the long mission walk was allowing me to unwrap it slowly, one soul-felt step at a time.

The only time I feel truly alive is when I’m outside walking with God along the old mission trail.


EXCERPTS: (click to view)

Fools and Children – Page 126

No Turning Back – Page 127

Why? – Page 153

Rich in Spirit – Page 185

Forsaken – Page 194

Burros – Page 195

Reflections – Page 198

Cenovio – Page 203

Water - Page 207

The Lady From Tombstone – Page 210

Queso – Page 211

Tomas - Page 212