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Texas Reader: The Tecate Journals - Seventy Days on the Rio Grande

Author spins a tale of exploring the border by canoe.

By E. Dan Klepper

"...I felt most at home mid-river, part of neither the U.S. nor Mexico, a citizen of the river rather than of a particular country," author and adventurer Keith Bowden reveals in his Rio Grande memoir The Tecate Journals ~ Seventy Days on the Rio Grande (The Mountaineers Books, 2007). Bowden's sentiment is perhaps shared by many of the folks living along the river corridor, both Texan and Mexican, where provincial, Old World customs and 21st-century realities collide.

Bowden's literary account of his river journey from El Paso to Boca Chica via bike, raft and canoe does a well-crafted job of documenting the complexities inherent in sharing a waterway with another country. More than a good adventure story, The Tecate Journals offers a concise, eyewitness account of the controversial border today. Bowden's goal was simply to traverse the 1,260 miles from the western tip of Texas to the southern seashore and he carried no political agenda with him. Thus, his voice overrides the noise of borderland jingoists with an honest, straightforward and enduring narrative.

The journey is not without peril, both natural and man-made, and for readers who love a good adventure story without all the bravado, Bowden's humility makes the telling most appealing. In addition to dodging boulders and negotiating rapids, Bowden had to cross both Amistad and Falcon lakes, turbulent bodies during routine high winds, in his effort to paddle the entire length of the Texas Rio Grande.

"I spent two hours crossing the wide section," Bowden writes of his Falcon Lake canoe crossing. "Most of the time I was sick with fear. My canoe felt tiny in a sea of water that rolled like an ocean. Land was so distant that I seemed to make no forward progress. I paddled steadily but cautiously, afraid that a more vigorous effort might capsize the boat in the swells."

Bowden's story teems with borderland cultures and their cross-currents, boat-swamping travails, and human sentiment both humble and indifferent. His journey required a remarkable level of physical and emotional endurance, which he somehow managed to maintain across a thousand miles of adversity. It is the good fortune of readers of classic Texas literature that the author has survived the crossing to tell the tale.

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