Corporeal Passage: Chapter 21: Go Alice Go!
by Jeff RandThe sky was clear for three days as the USS Missouri made progress on its eastward journey. However, it required the full attention of the small crew. Keith's plans for working in twelve-hour shifts had to be replaced by a schedule that demanded a duty cycle of twenty hours each day. The crew members were thoroughly exhausted as a storm took shape with fierce winds and strong waves coming from the east. The only option involved letting the storm have its way and resuming travel once it abated.
Wilbur had been awake for two whole days during the brunt of the storm to keep the boilers and generators working, even if they had been drifting further from their destination. Finally, Michaela relieved him when the skies began to clear.
Keith approached the two old men on the bridge. "It looks like we are thoroughly lost now," he said.
"Mike was quick to respond in defending his wiring maze, "Perhaps, but the electrical system is still working."
"That is great. I guess we will just float to Tahiti and spend the rest of our lives there."
"I wish we had spent the time repairing or constructing navigational equipment, as Jeff and I did when we left Magadan, Siberia in a homemade raft," Steve interjected. "I am afraid I lost track of our longitude. But I do believe we have moved further south. If we keep heading east, we can still make it to the Americas."
"Could that mean South America?" asked Keith.
"I don't know. When I left Siberia with Jeff, I relied on his extensive knowledge of world geography. I suspect he could write a novel involving travel to exotic places if he wished. However, now we will have to use our best guess."
Keith turned the ship towards the rising sun. A flock of albatross were momentarily disturbed from their roost on the bow of the ship. Likely these majestic birds had taken shelter there during the storm.
Seeing the birds with their 10-foot wingspans take flight, Mike added his less than infinite wisdom, "Perhaps we can follow these birds."
When Keith observed the albatross flock rise to a height and begin soaring in their characteristic S-shaped pattern, he brought the conversation back to reality, "These birds may be the most efficient fliers and going to the Galapagos Islands, but we are unable to follow."
Keith kept the USS Missouri on an eastern course relying on the sun and the stars for navigation. Several days of good weather enabled them to make steady progress toward one of the continents in the new world. Steve was sure they were still in the northern hemisphere when he determined that the midday sun was in the south, but he kept the information to himself. Although he could not pinpoint their location, he found some navigational maps. With these he noted that the equator ran through South America, allowing the possibility that they could still be in the northern hemisphere, yet reach land far south of San Diego.
Having fully returned to the Gregorian calendar, during the day they believed to be October 9, a thick fog settled over the ocean. Keith continued to head blindly in the same direction, certain that there would be no other vessels in their path. No one was well rested, but Steve took the helm in the middle of the night. After several hours fighting to remain alert, he lost consciousness and fell asleep. Even the loud crash and sudden jerk did not wake him.
Keith felt the abrupt change in motion and sprang from his bed. When he reached the bridge, he found Steve sleeping and the vessel sitting motionless. After waking Steve, they were unable to engage the propellors.
Michaela had been monitoring the boilers during the night and was startled from the crash and sudden shock. She heard the engines change their pitch from a constant hum to a grinding sound before becoming silent. She rushed to wake Wilbur.
Wilbur entered the bridge to find the others. "We've lost our engines," he said. "I think we've run into something."
There was debate about what had happened until Steve suggested they go outside to the bow deck. When they arrived on the deck, the fog was beginning to lift and daylight returning to illuminate the world. Ahead was a cliff and a rocky shore. Two hours later they lowered the ladder for Wilbur to enter the sea.
Wilbur swam along the shoreline until he found a small cove. He walked through the rocks on a narrow beach and onto the bank. As expected, there was no evidence of recent human habitation, but there was a sign. It read 'Revillagigedo Islands - Isla Socorro.'
When Wilbur returned to the USS Missouri, he verified that it had run aground. He joined the others on the bridge. Steve located the appropriate charts to verify that the island was well off the Mexican coast. At the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, Cabo San Lucas was 300 miles to the north.
"I am afraid the Missouri has made its final voyage," Wilbur declared to the others.
"This storied vessel has played a significant role in shaping world events. It is now critical that this last voyage to fulfill its mission to save the world be successful!" challenged Keith.
With that the objective was clear. One of the rescue boats was outfitted and lowered to travel across the uncertain waters to Cabo San Lucas.
Five weary travelers and a dog left the USS Missouri and formally christened the Neptune for the rest of their sea journey. It would require two oarsmen engaged through night and day to row the rescue boat to the Mexican mainland. The boat was supplied with provisions from the Missouri and some fresh fish they caught off the shore of the island. Steve had taken the charts from the big ship to map their course. They would use the sun by day and Polaris by night to keep heading north.
After two days of hard paddling, they reached San Benedicto Island. When Wilbur was about to jump overboard for a swim to the island to investigate a large crater, Michaela grabbed his arm. The waters were teeming with sharks and giant manta rays.
Mike was retching over the side of the boat. It was the sixth night since they had left Socorro Island, and the sea was rough. He and Steve had been rowing for nearly six hours while the others sought to get some rest. "I can't do this anymore," he said to Steve.
Steve dropped his oar to respond, "I agree old man. I will be joining the septuagenarian club with you in a few months. I've had enough too."
After the brief exchange, Mike and Steve informed the others that they would not be able to help with the rowing responsibilities. Wilbur and Michaela were livid, having done more than their share of rowing. However, Keith had to calm the situation. He recognized the significant improvements in Steve's health in the past decade, but knew the limits of the human body. What would be his condition in twenty years? It might take them longer to reach land with fewer oarsmen; yet he promised that they would be seeing their families soon enough.
Mike's illness proved to be more than a bout of sea sickness, having progressed until he entered a state of delirium. Steve had been familiar with this occurrence in years past, and tended to Osvath in the days that followed. Keith was forced to reduce the number of hours for rowing to 18 each day. With that, each of the three remaining paddlers would have to spend 12 hours with an oar. Steve assumed full responsibility as the cook.
When Mike recovered, he stationed himself on the bow to serve as lookout. He had taken a pair of field glasses before leaving the Missouri. As the sun was setting on October 18, Mike saw an object and reflection to the east. "I see land on our starboard," he shouted to the others.
It took three hours to reach the shore. Although a full moon was rising, the crew decided to rest on the Neptune until morning, before conducting any exploration.
The shore stretched far to the north and south. The morning mist was beginning to dissipate as Keith looked across an open desert field. He approached the others who were disembarking from the Neptune. "I think we have reached the Mexican mainland," he said. "And I believe it is the Baja Peninsula."
Michaela and Wilbur set off to explore north, while Keith headed south. Steve and Mike remained to unload their supplies from the Neptune for their anticipated journey across land. Two hours later, Keith returned.
"I was not surprised to find the buildings destroyed," said Keith. "But I did locate a road. I walked along it until I came to a sign lying in the brush. We are just 15 kilometers from Cabo San Lucas."
Steve responded, "That is good news. But there is no need to go there. We need to go north. I suppose it is only about 1,000 miles to San Diego. Perhaps we can find a cart to haul our stuff. In the meantime, I found some poles to make a travois."
"You won't need that," came a shout from the distance. Michaela and Wilbur were approaching. "We found some animals grazing in the field."
"Oxen?" asked Steve.
"You mean you found horses."
"No, better than that."
"Oh. Then you found three-toed sloths," said Steve, knowing a sloth's pace was about six hours per mile. "That should take us only about 6,000 hours."
"We found camels," declared Michaela. "And I remember learning that camel fossils were discovered in San Diego in 2020. Did you know that camels originated in North America?"
Michaela led the others to the camels. About three dozen animals were present in a large desert pasture. Apparently, these adaptive animals survived on their own for the past few years. The ruins of buildings and vehicle carcasses were nearby. Several palm trees still grew among the ruins. When the group investigated, they learned that it was the sight of a significant tour operation offering camel excursions.
On a suggestion from Steve, Wilbur gave Michaela a boost to get some low hanging fruit from one of the date palms. Steve had intended to supplement their diet with some fresh fruit, but Michaela had another idea. She carried the fruit into the pasture near the camels. Rather than run away, the closest animal noticed the treat and approached Michaela. The camel lowered its head and grabbed the bunch of dates from her hand with its large lips.
Wilbur returned to the palms to collect more fruit. When the other camels saw the dates, they approached cautiously, but it was only the one which made physical contact with Michaela. She rubbed its nose and spoke gently to the creature. While she remained non-threatening, the other camels still maintained their distance. Her human companions remained outside the pasture so to not disturb the animals. Michaela stroked the camel for half an hour without incident. Finally, she remembered a cartoon with a camel and calmly spoke the command, "kush." The camel bent its front legs before lowering itself to lie down. Three days later, a camel caravan was loaded for the journey to San Diego.
"Brutus - you are acting like an ass again," spouted Steve, as he was trying to get his camel moving.
Brutus was a large male, who was tame enough to transport a human passenger, but was a bit of a camel dolt. Although he was really a gentle beast, Steve equated his stubbornness with that of a mule.
Keith and Wilbur had to make the journey using their own bipedal locomotion. Michaela, too, became a human pedestrian, as she gave her camel, a female, to the aged Mike Osvath. JoJo was provided a perch on the hump in front of Mike. This friendly camel, who they called 'Alice', and the dog became inseparable friends.
The caravan of two passenger camels, three cargo beasts, and three human pedestrians had travelled for forty days through the states of Baja California Sur and Baja California before they reached the border to another California. Without continued repair, the feeble attempt to build a wall between the United States of America and Estados Unidos Mexicanos was now a proven failure. The group passed easily in a wash through the decaying metal structure.
The caravan veered east from the ocean to the hills overlooking the great harbor. They knew they had arrived in San Diego when amongst the ruins, there were many unusual animals. They were in Balboa Park, once the site of the famous zoo.