I used to track animals quite often back in Montana. I would track deer for the pragmatic necessity of the hunt. I would track weasels for the opportunity to hone an archaic and esoteric skill. I would track mountain lions for the adrenalin. On April 1st, I tracked a man for the first time.
We were camping near Todos Santos on a friend’s property near the beach, and we awoke to a scene of dismay. Our traveling companions, Bri and Rob, had their backpack stolen in the night. They were sleeping beneath a palapa, with the bag nearly touching their resting bodies, but a thief walked through the grounds and silently grabbed the bag which contained the $3500 worth of electronics that they were to use on their two year sailing journey through the South Pacific.
Rob, an experienced hunter himself, immediately found a footprint that didn’t match ours, and we sat and studied it carefully before we set off down the trail. For the next few hours we walked slowly in the morning sun picking up the shadows of the tracks as we made our way through the sandy back roads.
Tracking is more than just following footprints though. Our tracking was an effort to recreate the story of what happened the night before in this man’s journey as he moved through and interacted with that desert environment. It is more than just the sand in the road. Rob and I talked the whole time, guessing at his motivations with each step. What was his available cover? Which side streets might he have taken and why? Why did he jump that fence? A trail of tracks leaves us clues, but the true art of the tracker is in retelling an accurate story. If the clues are sufficient and you can get inside their mind, their motivations and reactions, then you have a chance to find the end of the trail: the shoes, the man, the bag of electronics.
The trail we followed ended cold in thin air; good tracking sand extended every direction yet the tracks simply vanished. Our best attempt at closure for the story is that the thief was picked up by an ATV and was driven away in the night.
What we did find at the end of the trail was an RV park run by an interesting old Canadian. His story will unfold in the next chapter…
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