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Big Bend or Bust! => Your Trip Reports => Topic started by: House Made of Dawn on December 11, 2017, 02:40:52 PM

Title: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 11, 2017, 02:40:52 PM
Round the Bend in 16 days
There and Not-Quite Back Again


The most important thing you need to know about this trip is that I killed a cat in cold blood by the side of the river. That overshadows everything.

But more on that later.


Those of you that have read my earlier trip report, Round the Bend in 14 Days, know that one year ago I returned to Big Bend National Park as a sixty-year-old man, after a long hiatus, to undertake a solo hike clear across Big Bend National Park from the Persimmon Gap entrance in the north to the Mesa de Anguilla trailhead in the southwest. It was to be a fourteen-day, mostly off-trail backpack: carry all my food and find all my water along the way. Things didn’t quite turn out as expected. A bit of bad weather in the Deadhorse Mountains forced me to improvise, and in the end the trip turned out to be far less satisfying than I had hoped.  In my eyes, the trip had been a failure and the failure bugged me to no end. It became, as my grandad used to say, a “bur under my saddle.” I needed to get that bur out of there.

The trick with hiking from one side of the park to the other as a solo backpacker is this: you need to get to the far side before you can hike to the other side.  If you drive yourself, then your vehicle is stuck at your starting point, not at your ending point where you’ll need it when you’re done. The traditional solution for solo hikers is to hire a shuttle service to ferry you to your starting point. You drive your own vehicle to your endpoint and lock it up with an NPS-issued permit on your dashboard so that your vehicle doesn’t get impounded during the days or weeks you’re hiking back. The shuttle driver meets you there at your vehicle, picks you up, drives you and your gear clean across the park to the starting point of your hike, drops you in the middle of nowhere, gives you a thumb up and a few words of encouragement or gallows humor (depending upon the driver) and then roars off into the distance leaving you standing there alone. The rest is then up to you.

The catch is that a shuttle service is not cheap. The round trip can total a hundred, even two hundred or more miles.  The vehicle is usually a large pickup or more likely a van, either of which is a gas hog and gas is not cheap in the remote Bend.  Last year, my ninety-minute shuttle cost the equivalent of a flight to Seattle. Just the nature of the beast. But not a beast I wanted to feed again soon. 

Nevertheless, I knew in my heart that I was going to return to the Bend to try to complete my cross-park hike. That said, I didn’t feel the need to exactly replicate the plan I’d started with last year because that plan had, itself, been a compromise. The Persimmon Gap starting point had been a reluctant solution to my inability to obtain access to my long-preferred starting point: the eastern end of Telephone Canyon, arguably the easternmost practical entrance point to the park. That was the starting point used by Raymond Skiles, the park’s long-serving wildlife biologist, who many years ago had become the first known person to hike entirely across the park.  Raymond’s example had been an inspiration. Like me, he was also a wildlife biologist, one whose work I’d admired for years. I had dabbled in conservation research in the park from time to time and you can’t do much of that without becoming aware of Raymond’s efforts. But as I began to first put together my plans for a cross-park hike, I quickly found that Telephone Canyon was not accessible because all the land to the east of it, just outside the park boundary, had been acquired by the giant Mexican cement company, CEMEX, and public access was completely shut down.  Thus, I wound up beginning last year’s hike at the Persimmon Gap entrance in the north of the park and the rest, as they say, is history. History, though, does NOT have to repeat itself. That is the beauty of self-reflection and the knowledge and wisdom that comes therefrom.

After I returned from my failed trip last year, I almost immediately threw myself at the problem of how to do it again, rightly this time. How to begin at the eastern end of Telephone Canyon? And, by the way, while I'm at it, how to avoid the stratospheric shuttle costs (a shuttle to that impossibly remote spot, even if legal, would cost a fortune). I stared at the park maps and topos for weeks. Being a kayaker, my eyes kept drifting to the river. At the western end of the park, the river ran no more than a mile west of the Mesa de Anguila trailhead, my preferred ending spot. At the eastern end of the park, the Rio Grande passed awfully close to the end of Telephone Canyon where I wanted to begin my hike. I owned my own kayaks. I could float there. But…..then what? What happens to my kayak? It’s the same old problem: you can get yourself to the starting point, but then your vehicle is left there, exactly where you DON’T need it to be as you walk a hundred or more miles in the opposite direction. If only you could bring your vehicle with you, right? Har, har, har.  A hardshell was impossible to carry, of course. I owned an inflatable, too, but even deflated, the weight and bulk were prohibitive. And then the bell went off in my head: a packraft. Over the last ten or so years, a new lightweight highly-specialized form of watercraft had been developed (mostly in Alaska) to allow backpackers, hunters, scientists to cross water barriers such as rivers and lakes while packing through the wilderness. The raft is about six feet long. The bow contains tie-lines that hold down a fully-loaded backpack. The paddler sits inside an open cockpit between inflated sides, and paddles with a two-bladed paddle, just as with a kayak. The whole kit deflates and/or disassembles into a 5-8-lb bundle that can be strapped onto a backpack and carried for as long as necessary, and reassembled in less than 30 minutes. I’d never actually seen a packraft up close, but I’d seen videos. I asked around and found someone who owned a packraft and managed to borrow it for a one-day spin.  I liked it. This might work. There was hope. A plan began to form.

Looking at the maps, it became clear that I could park my vehicle at the Mesa de Anguila trailhead in Lajitas, pack the mile west to the river, inflate my packraft, load up, put-in, and then float 10-12 days down the entire 110-mile river border of the park, including all three major canyons, straight to the eastern end, beach there, deflate my raft, pack up my kit, and hike back 140 miles across the park to my vehicle at the Mesa de Anguila. IF I could stomach the additional 8-10lbs of weight the packrafting kit would add to my pack. I might have to carry more than 60lbs at some points. And then there was the calendar. Those of you that are good at math have already run the numbers in your head: last year, my cross-park hike lasted 14 days; add another 10-12 days on the river, and a few days at either end for driving and logistics like permits and cache placement; we’re talking a month-long trip. And THAT is a long, long time to be away from home, family, jobs. Especially during the run-up to the holidays. If I went at the end of the year (which is really the only time I can afford to be away from teaching and farming), I would have to miss all of Thanksgiving and virtually the entire run-up to Christmas. That’s a big ask.

And, yet, everyone said yes. It took a while to work up the courage to float the idea (so to speak), but each player, when approached, agreed.  Last year, when I returned from my failed cross-park hike, one of the first things my wife said was, “you should do this sort of thing again”. She saw the positive impact even a bad trip had on me. Everyone did. My wife, particularly, who has known me for almost 30 years, including back in the days when I lived out of a backpack for fun and profit, recognized the old fire rekindled, the lift in my step, and my generable agreeableness to all things good and healthy. This fall, it took her awhile to grasp the full scale of the upcoming trip and the enormity of my absence during that time, but she never faltered or backed out one whit. My kids, 15 and 12, stepped up and divvied up my familial duties as best they could. My brother, in-laws, neighbors, friends, and co-workers, did likewise. Just as with last year’s trip, the pieces fell into place through a communal effort of love and energy.

Now I had to come up with a packraft.  Ruh-roh.

Easier said than done. The packraft I test drove was made by Alpacka, the Alaskan company that pioneered the form. Research quickly revealed that their craft were head and shoulders above those of any other company in terms of performance and durability.  They also cost around $1200 - $1500, not including specialty PFD’s, paddles, and repair kits. I tried a couple of online sales but missed out each time. Eventually I found a Facebook group from Finland, Packrafting – Buy and Sell, and that led me to a British diplomat recently returned to London from a posting in Khatmandu; one who no longer needed his well-preserved Alpacka Llama packraft.  Negotiations were entered, deals were made, and by September I was the owner of a perfectly-customized Alpacka Llama for roughly half-price. Even that is a pretty penny to pay for a man of modest means like me, but it just so happened that I had TWO ongoing but stymied conservation projects that required just the kind of abilities afforded by a packraft. That’s a do-able deal.

Packraft secured, I spent the fall finetuning my itinerary and communicating with various BiBe rangers to make sure I would be in compliance with all NPS rules during my month-long trip. Again, easier said than done. There are A LOT of rules that I needed to comply with. Water rules. Land rules. Permitting rules. I won’t mention names, but the rangers and ex-rangers who helped me know who they are, and their input was always professional and positive to the extent possible within the bureaucratic environment in which they operate. I cannot thank them enough for the endless time and energy they spent in helping sort through the minutiae of BiBe regulations. The stickiest wicket was the disposition of my packraft after finally leaving the river. My full packrafting kit, including NPS-mandated redundant PFD and paddles and WagBag toilet system, came to almost 12 pounds, and I just couldn’t see myself carrying an extra 12lbs all the way across 140 miles of trail-less backcountry for two weeks. But there were no legal provisions in the regulations that would allow me to cache my packrafting kit anywhere in the wilderness. Food, yes. Water, probably. Packraft, no way. And then BBC user Mule Ears (‘natch) stepped in to save the day. I had been emailing ME back and forth for the better part of the year, picking his brain as I developed my plans for a return attempt to cross-hike the park. At one point he made me an open-ended offer of help and I politely declined, saying “Thanks, but I need to do this entirely on my own”. But now I was stuck. And he was planning on being in The Bend at the same exact time that I needed help (he is either amazingly intuitive, spookily psychic, or a really good researcher, but he managed to be where I needed him when I needed him). He proposed swinging by a pre-determined cache point on his first day in the park, my 17th day, which would be a day prior to him starting his own 8-day backpacking trip. Mule Ears would retrieve my packrafting gear a few hours after I dropped it in a secret place, five days into my cross-park hike, and well before the 24-hour legal limit on unattended equipment, and then deliver it to the RGV store where the unimaginably helpful staff had agreed to hold a cache of no-longer-needed equipment for me.  Mule Ears and I would miss each other completely: I would be far west of there by then, on foot through the desert toward Point 2417, and he would still be car-bound, preparing for his backpacking trip. But we would meet-up two days later in the Quemadas to share a camp and a hot meal, as he and his friend Scott headed east toward Mariscal Mountain and I headed west toward the Mule Ears. The Chimneys, and the Mesa de Anguila. Securing my abandoned packraft was the final piece of the puzzle and it now fell into place. All I needed now was to assemble my food and buy a few odds and ends. It was mid-October. I had a month to get every last little thing ready.

The great thing, of course, about starting a major trip in late fall is that you always have the REI Thanksgiving Sale to help you fill in any little equipment gaps. I took full advantage. A new pair of Oboz Bridger boots because my old pair was just too beat up and the soles too worn down to grip slickrock safely. Another Bear Vault for my additional caches this trip. A new duffle into which Mule Ears could stuff my packrafting kit at RGV. A few more Opsaks. A couple more drysacks and enough WagBags for the river journey. Gigapro fuel canisters. I tossed it all into my storage shed and plowed through a heavy teaching schedule in late November. Then I spent the first two days of Thanksgiving break furiously acquiring the foods on my menu and intensively packing. Everything went into my RAV4 on the evening of Sunday, November 19. Early on the morning of Monday, November 20, I made breakfast for my wife and hugged her hard as she left for work, woke each of my kids in bed, told them they were heroes that I loved more than I could say, kissed them goodbye, petted the dog, the cat, and winked at the fish, slipped out the door, into my car, and headed my sixty-year-old butt west to Big Bend.

[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: DesertRatShorty on December 11, 2017, 03:44:20 PM
Really looking forward to the telling of this tale. Just to conceive of and mostly complete a trek of this magnitude is simply amazing.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 11, 2017, 03:53:22 PM
Really looking forward to the telling of this tale. Just to conceive of and mostly complete a trek of this magnitude is simply amazing.

Props to you, man. I left a special message for you, Shorty, deep in the desert. I think it's durable. I hope you find it one day.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: catz on December 11, 2017, 03:56:57 PM

Did the fish wink back?
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 11, 2017, 04:05:36 PM

Did the fish wink back?

His name is Mr. Limpet. What's your guess?

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/335935/Incredible-Mr-Limpet-The-Movie-Clip-I-Wish-I-Were-A-Fish.html



Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Txlj on December 11, 2017, 04:23:55 PM
Oh this is gonna be good. HMOD , I stay up late to read the stories you tell. Another amazing tell is to be had in this one.

Sent from flat land

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Jalco on December 11, 2017, 08:06:39 PM
LOL!  I love the first sentence.  What a hook! :icon_wink:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: badknees on December 12, 2017, 01:00:32 AM
You've got to be shit&ing me!

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Hang10er on December 12, 2017, 09:50:42 AM
I already read it a few times, but I'll go back and read the 14 trip report again, while I wait on this one.

Just being here to write it deserves a CONGRATS!
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: SergeantFunk on December 12, 2017, 10:24:29 AM
HMoD,

Regarding what you keep saying was a 'failed trip'...from a BBC lurker that has been to the park perhaps a dozen times.

1) your travels, even when you do not reach their ultimate objectives, have far exceeded anything I could personally strive for.
2) you have sage advice along the way - extensible beyond simply walking, eating and such.
3) and wow - just great literary value all around.
4) I await this report almost as much as my trip coming 1st week of the year.  You are a treasure to this community.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: PacingTheCage on December 12, 2017, 10:49:56 AM
Great story and can't wait to hear the rest of it! 
Title: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 12, 2017, 02:16:01 PM
“Remember, the most dangerous part of any backpacking trip is the drive.” – Mule Ears

The drive from Dallas to Big Bend National Park on Monday 11/20 was wholly uneventful until Midland. A semi-trailer truck jackknifed and flipped on the eastbound side of I-20 almost beside me. Fortunately, I was in the westbound lanes, but that didn’t stop a dozen or so vehicles in front of me from slamming on their brakes. In the ensuing confusion, a few cars bumped into one another. One of them was me. A literal fender bender. Took awhile to sort everything out. In the end, I didn’t reach the Big Bend Motor Inn until well after dark, which was a damn shame, because I had hoped to have dinner with one acquaintance who lives in Terlingua, and drinks later with a group of friends that happened to be visiting the park at the same time as me. Instead, I had a burger by myself and hit the sack early. Tomorrow was all about permits and cache placement. I would probably be driving a hundred and fifty miles, all inside the park.


I awoke around 7am and was the first customer into the Chile Pepper Café in Study Butte at 8am.  Chorizo plate with a side of pico de gallo. By 9am, I was on my way to Panther Junction to get my first permit. This trip would require two. The BiBe regulations are such that no backcountry permit can be issued for more than 14 consecutive nights. No river permit can be issued for more than 28 consecutive river nights. If the two classes of travel are combined, then the 14-night restriction applies. Between any 14-night permit and another permit of any kind to the same person, at least one non-backcountry night must be logged (campground, roadside, lodge, or outside the park). All permits must be obtained in person from a ranger using the El Campo computer system at a BiBe visitor center. No permit can be issued more than a day prior to the beginning of a trip. In addition, there is a maximum 28-night limit on ANY form of camping in the park, whether it be riverine, backcountry, roadside, or campground. I had already been issued a five-night permit in June, of which I’d only used four nights, but that meant I had just barely enough permit nights left in 2017 with which to undertake this upcoming trip.  Confused? I certainly was for several weeks. It took me almost two months and a dozen emails to and from park staff before I fully understood all the ins and outs of how to permit my intended trip.


The plan was to go to PJ and get a 9-day permit to float the river from Lajitas (actually, I was going to put-in on the golf course) to Rio Grande Village. At RGV, I take-out at the usual landing, deflate and pack-up my packraft, retrieve my first cache of food, suppies, and replacement clothing from storage in a 5-gallon bucket in the back of the RGV store, spend two nights in the campground (or one night in the campground and one night in Boquillas, Mexico, depending upon how the rangers at the RGV visitor Center interpreted the permitting restrictions), and then secure the second of my permits, this one for 14 nights, including a two-day float through Boquillas canyon to the extreme eastern edge of the national park, followed by a 13-day off-trail backpack back to my vehicle at the Mesa de Anguila trailhead in Lajitas.


As I drove into the PJ parking lot, I was prepared for the Thanksgiving circus. I’ve taken all or parts of my family camping in BiBe over many a Thanksgiving week and I knew what I was in for at PJ. Special holiday-week permit office in the back. Lines around the building. Nervous campers, frazzled rangers. Computer delays. Furrowed brows. Tight lips. True to form, the parking lot was PACKED with vehicles and pedestrians of all shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities. The ubiquitous German Army surplus 5-ton truck conversion was even there. I exited my RAV, girded my loins, and rounded the corner to the back office and…..it was empty. One couple quietly planning their trip with a calm, happy ranger. And two more guys just sitting down with a second ranger with a big smile on his face. And me. No line. No stress. No hassle. It occurred to me that every single time I’d come here during a holiday week, I’d made a point of being at the permit office when the doors opened at 7am. Along with every other nervous would-be backpacker or car-camper in the park. But I wasn’t headed for the Chisos this time, I was headed for the river, and the chances of those permits being booked-up (even Santa Elena Canyon) was pretty slim. I didn’t need to be first in line when the doors opened. So here I was arriving at 9:15am, instead of 6:15am. The crowds were long gone. Those folks were already headed up the Pinnacles or into some sweet roadside campsite.


Ten minutes later, I stepped up to the table, maps in hand and a large selection of turkey-roasting foils, pizza deep-dishes, and cake pans under my arm. Getting a river permit is not like getting a backpacking permit. The NPS gets right up in your business on river permits. In addition to the usual rules, there is a long list of specialized equipment you must carry and prove you know how to use. And getting a river permit for a solo boater for 9 days in a tiny packraft is not like getting any river permit the rangers have ever issued.  I knew this was going to be challenging.


Unlike some on this forum, I like rangers. I appreciate the many things they do. The overwhelming majority of my interactions with them over the years have been very positive. And, most importantly, I understand the bureaucratic straightjacket within which they work. I never hold them personally accountable for things they can’t change. Those that know more than I do about something that interests me are precious to me. Those that know less are opportunities for me to contribute to the general knowledge bank and pay forward the kindnesses I have received from others in the past. Sometimes, if the rules seem impossibly murky, I engage in strategic “don’t ask; don’t tell”.  I certainly never argue. I’m never unpleasant. But I do often engage in long, circumspect, gentle conversations in which a great deal of information is exchanged back and forth. More often than not, most rangers really do see a picture that’s bigger than the one I’m seeing. And at the end of the day, I’ll be somewhere in the backcountry in my sleeping bag eating M&M’s, while they may be delivering an amphitheater talk to a bunch of wiggling kids more interested in the games on their iPhones than the ecology of bats in The Bend, or somewhere out in the dark on foot on a harrowing SAR, or putting out a fire from a lightning strike or tossed cigarette butt, or monitoring a potential drug deal or illegal border crossing, or – god forbid – sitting at a desk under a weak light with a cold cup of coffee, revising the minutiae of a budget for the twentieth time and preparing a power-point on backcountry bathroom policy for an early morning staff meeting.


I smiled at the ranger sitting behind the table. He smiled at me; then shot a quizzical look at the collection of metal containers under my arm. Before he could ask, I said, “River permit. I need your input and advice.” He was new, but was good. Originally from Oregon, he knew rivers. I pointed to the pile of aluminum now on the table: “Fire pans: when the time comes, you tell me which one is legal.” I sat down and we dove in to the permit process. I usually begin in one of two ways. Either I present my bona fides succinctly right off the bat (“Hi, I’m 60 and I’ve been backpacking and climbing and kayaking for 40 years, and here for 25, mostly solo. I used to do some biological research here, too. I’ve got a trip plan right here for which I need a permit.”), or innocuously (“I’m thinking about a river permit, can you help me out? Maybe Santa Elena Canyon to start.”). It all depends upon which approach I think will help the permitting ranger feel most comfortable. The funny thing is, I have really clumsy social skills, but this seems to be one area in which I do fairly well. Maybe practice helps.


Having established our focus as a river trip, the permitting ranger asked my experience level, and he was satisfied with my answers. We broke out the maps. I started with Santa Elena Canyon. Then I discussed maybe taking it a little farther, to which the ranger correctly pointed out that there were really only two other standard takeouts, Solis after Mariscal and the Rio Grande Village. I told him I’d take RGV. I didn’t mention the next leg of my trip, because it really had nothing to do with the permit we were working on. That was something I would take up with the rangers at RGV when I got there. Meanwhile, keep it simple. Did I have enough food for that long a journey? Yes, absolutely. Water? Yes, I was taking 3 MSR Dromedary bags with a total capacity of 5 gallons, plus two 1-liter bottles, and I could re-fill at Cottonwood Campground. I would strain and boil river water for dinners. Okay: camping zones next. I had them memorized. We zoomed down the river map, specifying likely camping areas, exclusion zones, named rapids, expected weather and mileages each day, even a few bail-out strategies in case of unexpected trouble. No problem. Tent? One, sort of - my Integral Designs Silshelter tarp. Then the question that worried me most: what kind of water craft? The permitting ranger had heard of packrafts (specifically Alpacka) but only vaguely. I described it. “So,” he summed up, “like an inflatable kayak, but bouncier?” Exactly. Good enough. Then the special rules. Raft repair kit: check. Inflation pump: check. Spare PFD: check. Spare paddle: check. Maps and navigation tools: check. Medical kit: check. Contained river toilet: check (I was using WagBags).

And lastly, fire pan?

Well…I said…you tell me, and pointed to the motley collection of aluminum containers at my elbow. The NPS river regulations at BiBe impose several burdens that seem particularly draconian for the solo boater and doubly so for the solo packrafter intending to end the trip on foot, carrying his or her boating kit in a backpack. The most galling of all is the firepan. Now don’t get me wrong – I understand the necessity of firepans for normal trips. Everyone wants a nice campfire along the river at night. Group trips, especially, bring coolers of food and drink, and cook large, delicious meals with ample booze and scrumptious deserts at the end. And comfy chairs in which to sit while you eat it all. And maybe a guitar or two, too. That’s the point of taking a big raft or a few canoes, right?  Without fire pans or grills to contain the fires, then every sandbar and bank on both sides of the river would be littered with fire scars from Lajitas to La Linda. But I was a backpacker. I didn’t build fires. Ever. Maybe once a year, at most, in a national forest or on BLM land. I could count the number of campfires I’d made while backpacking in the last decade on two hands. I used containerized stoves, or alcohol stoves, or maybe a wood-burning Zip Stove or Solo Stove. But not campfires. My goal, generally, and damn-sure specifically on this trip, was to keep my weight as absolutely low as possible because whatever I took in with me was riding away from the river on my back for several days. In the early stages of planning this trip I had wondered if I might prevail upon the permitting ranger to waive some of the special river requirements. For example, given that I planned to wear my very, very good and packrafting-specific PFD 100% of the time I was on or even near the water (I’ve had a few drowning issues in my life), why bring a backup? I also considered adapting some carbon fiber paddle blades for attachment to my trekking poles in order to satisfy the backup paddle requirement. And the firepan?  Really? REALLY?!? Surely I wouldn’t be required to carry a large 2” deep aluminum or steel fire pan when I had NO INTENTION AT ALL of making campfires? Well…”it is very much not in your interest to ask a ranger to break the rules”, one very wise and helpful ranger messaged me. And it’s true. I’ve had a few judiciously waive or bend rules from time to time, but entirely on their own initiative, not because I asked. So here I was, with a large selection of possible fire pans spread out on the table between the permitting ranger and me. By this time, I was the only civilian in the room. The other permitting ranger came over and inspected the containers, which ranged from a small aluminum foil turkey-roasting pan weighing less than an ounce, to a 16” aluminum cake pan easily weighing 8 times that much.  “Pick a light one, pick a light on, pick a light one,” I chanted over and over in my mind. The second, more experienced ranger looked at them all, handled them, rattled off the rule as written, from memory, and pointed to one of the smaller aluminum pizza dishes. “That’ll do, I expect.” And so it did. By 10am, I was walking out of the permit office with a handshake in one hand and a permit to run the river from Lajitas to RGV in the other.

[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 12, 2017, 02:16:38 PM
I spent the rest of the day finetuning and placing my food-and-supply caches throughout the park, from RGV to The Chimneys and everywhere in between. Enough for a month-long trip. I finished in the dark, after dinner, and then returned to my motel room to pack and re-pack my pack and unroll, inflate, deflate, roll, unroll, inflate, and deflate and roll again my packraft. At 10pm, I packed up the last of the camera batteries which I’d been charging for my new Sony Cybershot Point-and-Shoot camera (bought just for this trip) and slipped one into my camera’s body. Or tried. It wouldn’t stay in. I tried multiple times but to no avail. Then I took a close look at the interior of the camera, and I saw it: the tiny pivoting plastic nub that held the battery inside the camera was either broken or stuck but it would not, no matter how many times I tried, hold the battery in place. Without the battery in its proper place, no electrical connection was made and the battery and media card cover would not close. The camera – the new camera – my only camera – was useless. If there were folks in the neighboring rooms, they were treated to a tour de force of high-decibel late-night profanity. I couldn’t believe it. As is my custom, my mind immediately switched into “FIND PLAN B MODE”. I had my iPhone. I wasn’t going to take it, though I’d considered it, just so I’d have it RGV and could use their wifi to contact the outside world and tell my family that I was OK and Mule Ears that I was still on track to drop my packrafting kit at the pre-arranged coordinates in the desert for pickup. Earlier in the day I’d been undecided about the phone, so I’d gone ahead and dropped a charge stick for it in the RGV cache bucket.  So…..if I was very parsimonious, I could eke out a few photos with my iPhone over the nine days on the river, then re-charge it at RGV with the stick, and eke out a few more during the overland portion of the trip. Not many, but just enough to show where I’d been. Okay then, iPhone it was to be. Too wired to sleep, I nevertheless hit the sack at 11pm with an alarm set for 7am.  Tomorrow, I’d check out, eat a final breakfast at the Chile Pepper Café, and then hit the golf course, so to speak.


10am the next morning, I parked my RAV in the trailhead parking lot for Mesa de Anguila, secured everything in my SUV, deep-sixed what I could and covered the rest liberally with my customary dirty underwear and socks (“You want this? You can have it.”). Locked the RAV, slipped my car key, cards, and cash into my backpack’s top pocket zip compartment, shouldered my pack and packrafting kit, and marched off down a service road toward the fairways and, ultimately, the Rio Grande. Immediately I encountered a sign proclaiming, “PRIVATE PROPERTY. TRESPASSING PROHIBITED.” I sort of expected that, but I figured I’d be on the water in half an hour before anyone noticed. But a few minutes later, a resort employee on a golf cart came rolling toward me, stopped and said, in no uncertain terms, “PRIVATE PROPERTY. TRESPASSING PROHIBITED.” I tried to explain what I was doing, that I would be gone in 15 minutes and they’d never see me again, but to no avail. I was unceremoniously ushered off the property and back to my RAV. I sat there in the gravel and stewed. Flipping almost immediately into “PLAN B MODE”, I considered going directly to the resort office and appealing. But by this time it was almost noon and I wondered if it was even worth starting out on the rive so late in the day. I had ambitious plans for my first day – a short float and a long exploratory hike inland - and this wasn’t helping at all. Nope. I needed to start over fresh the next day. “PLAN B MODE” reminded me that I had multiple “grace days” built into my land plan; days that I set aside for special exploring or days structured to be “easy recovery” with low mileages. I could easily give up one of those days in exchange for starting my journey a day later than anticipated. So, that was it. All dressed up and no place to go, I got back in my RAV and headed to Terlingua, stopping at Desert Sports along the way to chat with Kathy, who’d provided my shuttle rides last year. Could she shuttle me from my vehicle at the MDA trailhead to the Lajitas put-in tomorrow morning? Yep, 9am. And the deal was done; see you then. Next I drove to the Chisos Mining Company Motel and reserved a room for that night, then walked over to the Iron Bucket DB's Rustic Iron Barbeque next door and had a good, big pity-sandwich. With extra sauce, pickles, peppers, and onion. It was delicious. Despite how I felt.


That night, I packed and repacked my backpack and packrafting kit again. It was all I had to do. I wish I’d had a book. The next morning, Thanksgiving Day, I awoke at 7am, loaded everything back into the RAV, skipped breakfast, and drove back to the MDA trailhead. Again, I off-loaded my gear, tidied up my RAV’s interior and liberally distributed the dirty underwear, and then sat down to wait for the Desert Sports shuttle which arrived spot on time. A few minutes later we were at the standard Lajitas put-in. Which was packed with at least four groups waiting to put in. Looked like everybody waited for Thanksgiving Day to hit the river. I pulled my gear out of the Desert Sports truck, laid it out of the ground, set my packraft aside for inflation, and took my place in the put-in queue. It looked like I was last and that was fine with me, I didn’t really want to float the river next to anyone else, nor leapfrog back and forth during the morning with multiple “hail fellows, how goes it?” Last would be just fine for me. My time finally came around 11am on a bright sunny morning with almost no wind, a blue cloudless sky, and a swift river running somewhere around 850 cubic feet a second.  Not bad, all things considered. I pulled my packraft up to the water’s edge, threw my 50-pound pack onto its bow, threw a raincover over it, strapped it all down tight to the raft, slipped in my trekking poles on top, lashed my two closed-cell foam Ridgecrest pads to the tie lines.  A couple of full Dromedary bladders went into the bottom of the raft, between where my legs would go. My spare PFD and firepan, weighing less than a pound together, were already lashed to the stern of my packraft and served as a further backrest in addition to the built-in inflatable seat and backrest in the raft. My four-section carbon fiber spare paddle was broken down and stowed inside the rear shove-it pocket of my backpack. My Astral V-Eight packrafting PFD was on my torso. My Columbia hat was on my head, its neck strap cinched tight. My glasses were on my face, their neck strap secured. My Osprey’s top pocket was detached and strapped to my belly, its contents protected in a drysack – this always stayed around my belly and included everything I needed to survive for a few days if I became separated from my packraft and pack: a metallized bivy sack, a water bottle, purifying pills, a thin plastic poncho, a Montbell down vest, matches, lighter, tinder rope, a PLB, smoke signals, my medical and repair kits, permit, maps and compass, Petzl e-LITE, CRKT mini-knife, and my keys and cards and cash. I snapped together my four-piece Aqua-Bound Manta Ray packrafting paddle, attached its paddle leash to it and to the packraft tie lines, and then nudged the raft into the swift-moving river, maintaining a tight grip on the paddle. Wearing my VivoBarefoot plastic shoes for the river, I stepped into the cold water, swung my first leg into the raft, avoiding the Dromedary bladders, then quickly my second leg, sat down heavily into the inflatable seat, pushed off the bank with my paddle, and then dug it deeply into the current, and off I went, downstream.

Rio Grande Village in nine days.

[TO BE CONTINUED].


Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 12, 2017, 02:21:48 PM
You are a treasure to this community.

High praise, Sarge. I hear you. Thanks. It's just one man's perspective, but I'm deeply grateful you find my musings valuable. I get the same gift from others' tales on here. We are all lifting each other up. BBC is a true meeting place of like-minded souls.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: PacingTheCage on December 12, 2017, 02:45:26 PM
I met that Oregon Ranger last month!  Really nice guy and very helpful!  What a great report!
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 12, 2017, 02:50:42 PM
I met that Oregon Ranger last month!  Really nice guy and very helpful!  What a great report!

Glad you did, PTC. As a fellow cage-pacer, I'm right there with you. That Oregon ranger was one positive guy. He made every situation better just by being there.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Homer Wilson on December 12, 2017, 03:19:46 PM
I saw your car at the parking lot.  We were up in the mesa for a quick expedition the week of the 2nd.  We figured it was someone just taking a leisurely trip out to the point.   When I saw the note on your sticker saying you repaid in RGV, I did wonder if it was someone doing a major trip.  Indeed it was.

And I met the Oregon ranger in October, really nice guy.  And helpful.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: RichardM on December 12, 2017, 03:49:06 PM
10am the next morning, I parked my RAV in the trailhead parking lot for Mesa de Anguila, secured everything in my SUV, deep-sixed what I could and covered the rest liberally with dirty underwear and socks (“You want this? You can have it.”). Locked the RAV, slipped my car key, cards, and cash into my backpack’s top pocket zip compartment, shouldered my pack and packrafting kit, and marched off down a service road toward the fairways and, ultimately, the Rio Grande. Immediately I encountered a sign proclaiming, “PRIVATE PROPERTY. TRESPASSING PROHIBITED.” I sort of expected that, but I figured I’d be on the water in half an hour before anyone noticed. But a few minutes later, a resort employee on a golf cart came rolling toward me, stopped and said, in no uncertain terms, “PRIVATE PROPERTY. TRESPASSING PROHIBITED.” I tried to explain what I was doing, that I would be gone in 15 minutes and they’d never see me again, but to no avail. I was unceremoniously ushered off the property and back to my RAV. I sat there in the gravel and stewed. Flipping almost immediately into “PLAN B MODE”, I considered going directly to the resort office and appealing. But by this time it was almost noon and I wondered if it was even worth starting out on the rive so late in the day. I had ambitious plans for my first day – a short float and a long exploratory hike inland - and this wasn’t helping at all. Nope. I needed to start over fresh the next day. “PLAN B MODE” reminded me that I had multiple “grace days” built into my land plan; days that I set aside for special exploring or days structured to be “easy recovery” with low mileages. I could easily give up one of those days in exchange for starting my journey a day later than anticipated. So, that was it. All dressed up and no place to go, I got back in my RAV and headed to Terlingua, stopping at Desert Sports along the way to chat with Kathy, who’d provided my shuttle rides last year. Could she shuttle me from my vehicle at the MDA trailhead to the Lajitas put-in tomorrow morning? Yep, 9am. And the deal was done; see you then. Next I drove to the Chisos Mining Motel and reserved a room for that night, then walked over to the Iron Bucket Barbeque next door and had a good big pity sandwich. With extra sauce, pickles, peppers, and onion. It was delicious. Despite how I felt.
I see LaHideous still is...

Did you mean DB's Rustic Iron BBQ (http://www.rusticironbbq.com/)?
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 12, 2017, 04:27:40 PM
10am the next morning, I parked my RAV in the trailhead parking lot for Mesa de Anguila, secured everything in my SUV, deep-sixed what I could and covered the rest liberally with dirty underwear and socks (“You want this? You can have it.”). Locked the RAV, slipped my car key, cards, and cash into my backpack’s top pocket zip compartment, shouldered my pack and packrafting kit, and marched off down a service road toward the fairways and, ultimately, the Rio Grande. Immediately I encountered a sign proclaiming, “PRIVATE PROPERTY. TRESPASSING PROHIBITED.” I sort of expected that, but I figured I’d be on the water in half an hour before anyone noticed. But a few minutes later, a resort employee on a golf cart came rolling toward me, stopped and said, in no uncertain terms, “PRIVATE PROPERTY. TRESPASSING PROHIBITED.” I tried to explain what I was doing, that I would be gone in 15 minutes and they’d never see me again, but to no avail. I was unceremoniously ushered off the property and back to my RAV. I sat there in the gravel and stewed. Flipping almost immediately into “PLAN B MODE”, I considered going directly to the resort office and appealing. But by this time it was almost noon and I wondered if it was even worth starting out on the rive so late in the day. I had ambitious plans for my first day – a short float and a long exploratory hike inland - and this wasn’t helping at all. Nope. I needed to start over fresh the next day. “PLAN B MODE” reminded me that I had multiple “grace days” built into my land plan; days that I set aside for special exploring or days structured to be “easy recovery” with low mileages. I could easily give up one of those days in exchange for starting my journey a day later than anticipated. So, that was it. All dressed up and no place to go, I got back in my RAV and headed to Terlingua, stopping at Desert Sports along the way to chat with Kathy, who’d provided my shuttle rides last year. Could she shuttle me from my vehicle at the MDA trailhead to the Lajitas put-in tomorrow morning? Yep, 9am. And the deal was done; see you then. Next I drove to the Chisos Mining Motel and reserved a room for that night, then walked over to the Iron Bucket Barbeque next door and had a good big pity sandwich. With extra sauce, pickles, peppers, and onion. It was delicious. Despite how I felt.
I see LaHideous still is...

Did you mean DB's Rustic Iron BBQ (http://www.rusticironbbq.com/)?

Yes! Thanks for the correction, Richard. DB’s Rustic Iron was perfect in every way. I wouldn’t want to get the name wrong. I hope he gets a lot of business out of this mention.


Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)
Title: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 12, 2017, 04:28:14 PM
I saw your car at the parking lot.  We were up in the mesa for a quick expedition the week of the 2nd.  We figured it was someone just taking a leisurely trip out to the point.   When I saw the note on your sticker saying you repaid in RGV, I did wonder if it was someone doing a major trip.  Indeed it was.

And I met the Oregon ranger in October, really nice guy.  And helpful.

Ain’t it crazy? Like Slimkitty said: Big Park, Small World.

UPDATE 12/14: Homer, look what I found in my floorboard while cleaning out my RAV last night.


Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: jasonmerlo on December 13, 2017, 09:59:03 AM
HMOD, you should set up a wordpress blog and publish your stories there so you can keep the whole story continuous. Looking forward to the rest. One of my dreams is to float the river all the way through the park.


Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 13, 2017, 12:14:15 PM
Camp Metates: November 23, 2017


I entered the river with a fair amount of nervousness. Though I’d been kayaking for years, and had even run Santa Elena Canyon by myself some 15 years ago, my Alpacka packraft was no kayak. It was reasonably good at many things but excellent at nothing, except perhaps packability. Over the fall, I had taken it out for many practice runs in my home town of Dallas, but Dallas is not exactly known for its whitewater. I really had no experience at all in maneuvering my new craft through rapids, and yet here I was, tackling the entire stretch of the Rio Grande through Big Bend National Park. Alone. And, though I had run Santa Elena once in the past, I had zero experience of the remaining stretches of river below Santa Elena, and that included at least two major canyons and a number of smaller ones, along with several named rapids. My intelligence consisted of reading Louis Aulbach's two excellent river guides, The Upper Canyons of the Rio Grande, and The Great Unknown of the Rio Grande, as well as surfing the American Whitewater website guide to the Rio Grande. River flows during my trip were generally between 800 and 1000 cubic feet per second, a bit more than I’d hoped for when planning my trip. My thought was that higher flow level would push me through the difficult rapids too quickly for my skill level. I wasn’t sure how nimbly I could maneuver the packraft around and through obstacles, nor how the inflatable would react to hard collisions with stone and branch and thorn. Santa Elena’s Rockslide obviously loomed large in my imagination, but so did Mariscal’s Rockpile and Tight Squeeze, which I had never seen before.


The morning couldn’t have been more beautiful. Temperatures had risen from the low 40’s at dawn to a sunny, balmy 68 degrees by the time of my put-in. No wind to speak of, and calm but swift water. The landscape to either side was wide open, the river framed by distant mesas topped by erosion-resistant capstone.  I waved a paddle at the Texas bank as I passed the extreme western boundary of the national park, right where it met the Lajitas golf course. That was where I had hoped to put-in and begin my journey. As it turned out, the point was choked with Giant River Cane, an invasive non-native scourge that had come to dominate the Rio Grande’s river banks over the last decade or so. At times, the cane – 20 feet high – turned the river into a green and taupe tunnel with little or no view beyond it. Not a person in sight on either bank as the minutes rolled by. The only other humans I encountered during the first part of the day were a recreational group of canoeists from a UT San Antonio adventure program: two or three skilled instructors and a gaggle of inexperienced students, all having a blast. We jockeyed back and forth on the river for an hour or so, and then I beached to let them pass me, only to find them docking around the next bend, on a low narrow gravel bar on the Texas side. “Is that as far as you’re going?’ I asked. “For tonight,“ they replied. I never saw them again, but I heard rumors of their progress over the next couple days: they were headed all the way to the Santa Elena takeout. Meanwhile, I pushed downriver.


So here’s a few things I learned about my packraft in those first couple hours. Even in a swift current, it does not track well. If I stopped driving it forward with paddle strokes, it would almost immediately start to spin in lazy 360 degree circles. Not unpleasant, but a little goofy. On the other hand, even the tiniest of paddle strokes would keep its bow aligned downriver. Given that the first few miles of the river contained no real rapids, I didn’t yet know how the raft would function in those, but I did hit a couple riffles over sand bars and quickly learned that the raft’s lack of an inflatable floor was significant. The urethane floor was thick, but not so thick that my butt didn’t feel every rock, even though perched up on the inflatable “toilet seat”.  The potential for high-centering and grounding was something I hadn’t anticipated. This was not a raft that would slide easily across gravel bars or barely submerged rocks. Not with my fat butt weighing it down. And two loaded Dromedaries sitting on the floor. I’d need to read the river carefully and identify the deeper channels. The craft itself was plenty comfortable. I’d bought Alpacka’s larger Llama, rather than the Yak which was recommended for my height, because I figured 9-11 full days in the raft called for a bit more leg room. I wasn’t going to be using my packraft for quick river or lake crossings, I was going to be living in it for days at a time. I made the right call. I could rearrange my legs and torso in multiple different configurations throughout the day: straight legs, bent legs, indian style crossed-legs, legs stretched out across the gunwales and out across either side of the bow. I could sit upright and ride high, or hunch down low and drop my center of gravity, or I could lie back and use the extra PFD lashed to the stern as a headrest for leisurely spins in the middle of calm water.  These things matter when you paddle for 6-8 hours a day, day after day after day, often with no stops.


I kept packets of GU in the chest pockets of my PFD and a SmartWater 1-liter bottle of water in my belly bag. That was all I ate and drank while paddling. For breakfast every morning, I threw down a couple of KIND Bars. Dinner was my only cooked meal each day. My maps, inside a waterproof ziploc, were slipped underneath the tie lines that held my two RidgeRest closed-cell foam groundpads next to my backpack on the bow, immediately in front of me where I could easily read them.  I didn’t really need the maps to know where I was, but it was nice to have them there. A pair of sunglasses were also slipped into the tie lines, as well as a pair of paddling gloves which I wasn’t yet using.  My belly bag’s zipper pull had a tiny compass, tiny thermometer, whistle, tiny Princeton Tek light, and miniscule CRKT NIAD knife, all attached to it via two small carabiners.


Sometime in the early afternoon, I encountered the first significant rapid, Matadero (Spanish for "slaughterhouse"). The raft handled fine, though I took on a lot more water than expected. Shortly afterward, I rounded a bend in the river and spied a gravel bar ahead of the Texas side. On the bar was a rafting party unloading for the day.  I beached, disembarked, drained the excess water from inside my raft, and strode over to the leaders, Michael and Pam. They were from Angell Expeditions. It would turn out to be a fateful encounter. We chatted a bit, I told them my plans and they asked where I intended on spending the night. I had always planned on my first day to be a short one on the river. My goal was Metates Camp, an ancient paleo-Indian food-processing site situated where the drainage from the Mesa de Anguila’s Tinaja Rana eventually empties into the Rio Grande.  Pam quizzed me on my ability to recognize the spot. Did I know the landmarks? Never having been up on the Mesa de Anguila, the spot was personally unknown to me, but I’d planned so many eventually-aborted trips up there over the years, studied the topos so carefully, surfed Google Earth so obsessively, that I was pretty sure I would recognize the area as soon as I saw it. I explained, they seemed satisfied, and Michael waved goodbye with a warning about Entrance Rapid, some ways downstream ("it's rough this week"), and a reassurance that "Metates is just around the bend". And it was. A nice flat bank presented itself on the Texas side around 3pm and I pulled up onto it, disembarking and dragging my packraft up onto the highest, grassy shelf, well above any possible river level should it rise overnight. I would make my first camp here. I pulled out my tiny Holux M-41 GPS logger, set it out on the gravel by the river, turned it on, and waited for it to acquire the necessary satellite fixes. A couple minutes later, I had my coordinates. Metates Camp should be just a few score yards downriver of my campsite. I wanted to check it out, so I stripped off my PFD, took my water bottle out of my belly bag, refilled it, move the belly bag around to my fanny, reinserted the water bottle into the bag, slipped a map and compass inside as well, and headed downstream through river cane, tamarisk, and mesquite.


One thing the NPS doesn’t tell you is that the Rio Grande smells like cowshit, looks like cowshit, and feels like cowshit, because both its banks are covered in cowshit. You get used to it. I grew up around it, so it smelled like home. Wearing my VivoBarefeet river shoes (which, with their perforated uppers and surprisingly stiff soles, served excellently as desert walking shoes as well), I made my way through the foliage and in between the cow patties until I reached Metates Camp, and sure enough, there they were, a whole collection of metates excavated in the limestone shelves above the river. Paleo-Indians had ground meal here hundreds, maybe thousands, of years ago. It wasn’t hard to imagine women, maybe some men, crouched down or kneeling at these holes, just above the river, with a good view in both directions along the river, slowly grinding plant material into food meal.


I spent a nice chunk of the sunny late afternoon just chilling at Metates Camp. From there I could see, up on the sheer walls of the Mesa de Anguila, what I think is the ominously gaping mouth of the unnamed canyon identified much earlier in the year by Lance and elhombre as “interesting”. It certainly lived up to that description. That one would make for an epic descent. Eventually, the lengthening shadows across the river reminded me that I needed to move, so I returned to my raft, unloaded it, and established my night’s camp. I unrolled my RidgeRest pads, pulled my Feathered Friends Winter Wren bag out of its drysack and spread it out across the pads, changed into warmer clothes for the coming evening (the sun was sinking fast behind the Mesa de Anguila), and fired up my little Snowpeak titanium stove.


My cookset and meals were so dialed-in for this trip. I was using my old Vargo 1-liter screw-top titanium pot, inside of which I stored my stove (already attached to its Gigapro 110g fuel canister), and MSR plastic folding spork, a Bic lighter, and a bandanna which I used as a potholder and dirty-water strainer.  Wrapped tightly around the outside of my Vargo pot was a handmade titanium windscreen, exactly the same height as my pot. When dinnertime arrived, I would open the pot, slip out the spork, lighter, stove, and bandanna, and find a nice stable surface for my stove. Then I’d walk down to the river, fill the pot with two or so cups of raw river water, using my bandanna as a strainer to exclude sediment and larger impurities, return, light the stove, place the pot onto the burner, place the top back onto the pot, slide the windscreen down over the stove which was set on low simmer, and wait 5-7 minutes for boiling water. For dinners, I alternated freeze-dried or dehydrated commercial backpacking meals with various ramen noodle soups. Entrée one day, soup the next. On ramen nights, I would usually augment the soup with some extra ingredients like fat-rich chia seeds or vitamin-rich dried vegetables, and complement it with homemade jerky and a small packet of M&M’s for dessert. Either way, each night’s dinner was usually between 600 and 800 calories. Which was just right for me. I was usually consuming another 600-800 calories a day in KIND Bars and GU gel, so my daily calorie intake was somewhere between 1200 and 1600 calories. That seems to work for me. And my daily food rations only weighed about 1.25lbs per day. I ate to live; living to eat would come later, when I hit civilization again.


If dinner was an entrée, the boiling water went straight into the foil meal bag, and I ate out of that, slipping the finished, empty foil bag into my trash Opsak when done. If soup was dinner, I emptied the crushed noodles and contents of the spice packet from a Ziploc, directly into the pot of boiling water, eating my meal out of that, every last morsel and drop, and counting on the next day’s boiling water to sanitize the pot. Either way, no fuss and no mess. As soon as dinner was done, everything went straight back into or around the pot, the top screwed back on, and it all went back into its little stuffsack and back into the Basecamp odor-proof food bag in my backpack. The entire messkit, including all the accoutrements, weighed right at 13oz, even less of course as the fuel in the canister was used up. I had extra fuel canisters stored in each cache, each of which were about 7-9 days apart – about the burn-time for one canister. So at each cache, the new canister came out and the old used canister went in. I never carried more than one fuel canister at a time.


I slept great that night. Cowboy camping, which I always prefer. It takes a lot for me to retreat under a ceiling or inside a tent. Temperatures didn’t really matter, because my Winter Wren Nano bag is so supremely adjustable. Alone, it’s rated to 25 degrees. If I expect colder weather, I wear more layers to bed. If I expect warmer weather, I wear less. But, more importantly, it has endless venting possibilities: a center zip that goes from face to crotch, two zippered arm holes, and a drawstring bottom on the footsack. It’s not the lightest bag by any means, but I sleep like a baby in it, fully able to move and shift into any position that suits me, and that level of comfort and relaxation and recovery more than makes up for any extra weight and size. It is a down bag, a top-of-the-line down bag, but that does mean moisture is an issue. That’s why my down bag always traveled in a top-quality drybag, and why I always tried to air it out in the mornings before packing it back up.


First day on the river done. And a good night’s sleep. Not bad.

[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 13, 2017, 12:16:49 PM
I woke up around 6:45am, while it was mostly still dark outside, with just a hint of the coming sunrise. I didn’t stay in bed long because I had big plans for the day. First, I wanted to find Winterrowd Spring which was up the Rana drainage; second I wanted to hike to the bottom of Rana just to check it out; and lastly, today was the day I would enter Santa Elena Canyon proper and run The Rockslide. I was nervous. But first things first: on to Winterrowd. I had GPS coordinates for the spring, and a map including them, though I didn’t know how reliable they would be. From the slopes above Metate Camp, I could see the drainage which I believed the spring was in, and a few areas of thick vegetation that might indicate a spring. It took me an hour or so to work up drainage to the spring, all the while taking location readings with my Holux. Eventually I stumbled upon what I believe may have been Winterrowd Spring. Not exactly where the coordinates said it should be (officially, in degrees, 29 13 02 N, 103 44 09 W), but close, and at a location that was geologically reasonable. I found a large, thick, impenetrable clump of mesquite, tamarisk, and other woody plants dominating the center of the drainage coming down from Rana, on a slightly elevated rocky/sandy shelf located right at sharp eastward bend in the defile. The geology showed a marked change in the drainage walls at that point. I could easily see how water might exit subterranean layers here. Unable to work my may inside the tight knot of foliage, I walked around the perimeter and then I saw it: a large circular stone arrangement, maybe 4 feet in diameter. This had to be a memorial to Jeff Winterrowd, the young NPS seasonal employee who died from a late-night accidental plunge off the sheer Mesa de Anguila cliffs near Tinaja Rana, as reported in Laurence Parent's book, Death in Big Bend. The spring was named after Jeff Winterrowd. I don’t know if this is the actual spring, but that is my presumption.


Next, I moved up-drainage for a few miles, all the way to the sheer cliffs of the Mesa de Anguilla at the outflow from Tinaja Rana. What a gash that it is. I got vertigo just looking up at it. I didn’t climb to the tinaja up cliff because I didn’t need the water and time was running short. Again, my funky little VivoBarefeet shoes rocked. I’d brought my boots with me in my backpack, just in case trouble forced to me to hike out to safety, but I do believe that in a pinch, I could have hiked out wearing the VivoBarefeet shoes. Anyways, I headed back down drainage to my camp, past Winterrowd, past Metates, and back to the banks of the Rio Grande. Time to pack up and hit the river. Santa Elena Canyon and The Rockslide were waiting.

[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 13, 2017, 01:03:05 PM
HMOD, you should set up a wordpress blog and publish your stories there so you can keep the whole story continuous. Looking forward to the rest. One of my dreams is to float the river all the way through the park.

That's good advice, Jason. Maybe once I spool this tale out, I'll collate on Wordpress. As far as floating the river: do it! At the risk of sucking all the drama out of my narrative, I'll tell you right now that it wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it was going to be (small but significant exceptions here and there).
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Buck on December 13, 2017, 03:35:04 PM
I'm enjoying your narrative.  It puts me there with you.  Well done.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: iCe on December 13, 2017, 07:04:40 PM
Loved the intro (not a fan of cats  :d030:  ) and the rest is as awesome as I thought it would be. 
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: badknees on December 13, 2017, 07:17:33 PM
Keep it coming! You’ve got my attention.  :high5:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Reece on December 14, 2017, 09:05:07 AM
I imagined waking up to a mangy stray sharpening its claws on the raft.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Homer Wilson on December 14, 2017, 11:32:54 AM
This is awesome; already a great trip and you aren't even to the Santa Elena!

We were a couple of days behind you (doing "recon" on that canyon), but we found water at winterrowd spring.  It was already night when we hit it, so I didn't stop to mark the coordinates on my GPS, but it was a couple of shallow, slowly flowing pools to the left of the trail if you're heading away from metates.

Keep it coming!
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 14, 2017, 11:43:56 AM
This is awesome; already a great trip and you aren't even to the Santa Elena!

We were a couple of days behind you (doing "recon" on that canyon), but we found water at winterrowd spring.  It was already night when we hit it, so I didn't stop to mark the coordinates on my GPS, but it was a couple of shallow, slowly flowing pools to the left of the trail if you're heading away from metates.

Keep it coming!

Homer, that's fascinating. We need to talk to more. I'm working on my next installment right now, but after I'm done, I may PM you for more details. I saw several good tinaja pools inside the deeply eroded and narrow channel in the middle of the broad hard limestone shelf coming down from Rana, but didn't see anything that looked like spring-fed pools. Did you see the circular stone construction that I thought might be a memorial to Jeff Winterrowd?
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Homer Wilson on December 14, 2017, 12:10:08 PM
This is awesome; already a great trip and you aren't even to the Santa Elena!

We were a couple of days behind you (doing "recon" on that canyon), but we found water at winterrowd spring.  It was already night when we hit it, so I didn't stop to mark the coordinates on my GPS, but it was a couple of shallow, slowly flowing pools to the left of the trail if you're heading away from metates.

Keep it coming!

Homer, that's fascinating. We need to talk to more. I'm working on my next installment right now, but after I'm done, I may PM you for more details. I saw several good tinaja pools inside the deeply eroded and narrow channel in the middle of the broad hard limestone shelf coming down from Rana, but didn't see anything that looked like spring-fed pools. Did you see the circular stone construction that I thought might be a memorial to Jeff Winterrowd?

I didn't unfortunately.  We were using the full supermoon for light, so water was very easy to spot due its reflection, but a rock feature would've just blended in.  Totally missed the actual metates too.  Bummed about that.  Did you take any pictures of those?
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 14, 2017, 12:14:00 PM
I did not. My regular camera broke the night before I left Terlingua. I was relying on my very battery-poor iPhone5. I limited myself to 1-3 pictures a day in order to eke out my chances of taking pictures every day. Mainly just documenting my campsites. The metates were very much like those at The Chimneys, deep and perfectly circular, but the setting was powerful. Very easy to imagine paleo-Indians sitting on the limestone shelves above the river, slowly and patiently grinding meal.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 14, 2017, 01:47:31 PM
Camp Tired: November 24, 2017

Following my return from the base of Tinaja Rana, I was back on the river by Noon. Yesterday I had noticed that the river was becoming increasingly turbulent downstream of Matadero Rapid. Whereas the first part of my trip had been almost boring, the river now featured rapids of one kind or another almost every quarter mile.  The thing about a packraft is that, without a keel or skeg, it doesn’t track well. Especially in large, sweeping curves, it moves like an old air-hockey puck: sliding sideways across the current with a wide sweeping arc that is almost impossible to correct. Swift curves bounded by hard overhanging banks are called “wall shots.” Well, the packraft never met a wall shot it didn’t take, and take hard.  Somewhere prior to Entrance Rapid, I found myself approaching an obvious wall shot, but this one wasn’t just rock, it had Allthorn growing out and over it, drooping down almost to the water; behind the Allthorn was a large protruding nose of rock at just about the level of my face. I could see the trajectories in my mind’s eye and they didn’t look good. I was either going to hit the Allthorn hard and possibly tear open the air chamber of my raft (there was only one, which included both sides of the raft), or I was going to hit the overhang hard with my head. Or both. Swept into the curve in an accelerating slide, I dug in hard with my paddle and tried to cut across the current and toward mid-channel just enough to escape the collision, but I couldn’t do it. At the last second, I thrust out my carbon fiber paddle toward the wall, punched through the Allthorn and made contact with rock. Immediately my raft bounced away from the wall. At the same time, my paddle rebounded hard - harder than I expected. The closest paddle blade went straight into my face, exploding my lip with a decidedly unsettling sound, breaking off a tooth behind the lip and jamming it into the inside of my cheek. There was a lot of blood. And the rapid wasn’t over yet. I brought the paddle down, dug in, spun around a last bit of rock into an eddy and caught my breath. The tooth was loose in my mouth. I spit it out with a stream of thick salty blood. I dug in with the paddle again and beached the raft on a thin strip of steep mud on the Mexican side of the river. After my heartbeat and breathing calmed down a bit, I dug out a signal mirror from my belly bag and looked at my face. Ooooooooh, not pretty. The lip was split but already clotting, the cheek was still bleeding profusely from inside, and the tooth was long gone, somewhere in the river, not in the raft (I looked). Fortunately, this was a tooth that had already been broken previously some years ago in a climbing accident. It had undergone a root canal and had a crown placed on top of it. The paddle knocked off the crown and broke off what little real tooth remained. It was a clean break in a tooth with no live nerve. That made a HUGE difference. I don’t even want to think about what I would have experienced had that tooth contained a living nerve. Still, there was the matter of the bleeding cheek. I untethered my backpack, spun it around, opening up the top, dug down deep into the pack and dragged out my food (in a sealed Basecamp odor-barrier bag), rummaged through and pulled out one of my three Irish Breakfast tea bags (special treats I’d brought for cold morning starts or leisurely evening star-watching). I’d learned several years ago that the tannins in tea bags are natural coagulants, so I packed a tea bag tight into my cheek like a serious wad of chewing tobacco, dabbed a bit antibiotic gel and then liquid bandage onto my busted lip, downed an ibuprofen, packed up, and headed on downstream. Just before I put my signaling mirror back into my belly bag, I took a last look at my face.  With a thick beard covered in drying blood, and more dribbling from the corners of my mouth, I looked like Hannibal Lecter on a particularly evil day.


Oddly, I wasn’t particularly unnerved by this incident. It was an entirely self-inflicted wound. I just needed to get better at maneuvering my packraft through the inevitable wall shots. I was pretty sure the trick was all in choosing the right entrance line. I wasn’t on my game yet. Live and learn. Of course, my wife would probably be a lot less sanguine about my new smile. But I’d deal with that when I got back to Dallas. I have a good dentist. He’s made a lot of money off of me, and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind making a little more.


So onward I went, ever closer to the entrance to Santa Elena Canyon, the aforementioned Entrance Rapid that I’d been warned about and, deep inside the canyon, the dreaded Rockslide. Now, bear in mind, I’d run the Rockslide easily several years previous in an inflatable kayak, but this afternoon’s messy wallshot didn’t fill me with confidence that I could maneuver this new packraft through that rocky maze. My mind was messing with me now. Frankly, I have no idea what the river flows were when I went through the Rockslide 15 years ago, so I had no idea whether or not 1000cfs would be good or bad in a packraft. I was making this up as I went. One thing I did know: the Rockslide would come fast and any decisions I made would be split-second ones.


To those of you that regularly boat, my worries may seem overblown, and no doubt they were, but it might be helpful to take my context into account. At the tender age of three, I nearly drowned in a Kansas City lake: walked off a dock when no one was looking, and was only pulled from the water (unconscious) by my parents a few minutes later. CPR and mouth-to-mouth saved me. That made a profound impression on me. Consequently, I learned to swim late in life. As an adult, working in Belize, I took a few days off to visit Caye Caulker and went snorkeling with friends. Apparently, I froze and went limp at some point and the guide found me floating face down, breathing water, I didn't come back to normal consciousness until he had me back in the boat. Prior to that, I'd reverted to a three-year-old floating in a Kansas City lake. Same thing happened a decade later when I was back in Guatemala.  Which is to say, my experience of the water is probably not your experience of the water. I'm afraid of drowning, yet I boat. I'm afraid of falling, yet I climb. I'm afraid of confined spaces, yet I cave. Go figure. I guess the best way to meet those fears is head-on.


These worries were running through my mind when the sound of a quite large rapid drifted upstream and worked its way into my preoccupied mind. I was suddenly alert. I backstroked and listened for a moment. This was loud. Was it Entrance Rapid, that I’d been warned about? Michael from Angell Expeditions had warned me that it was bad this week. He’d run the river every day for the last six days and each time his parties had had trouble here. The traditionally navigable channel, the left one, he told me, was largely blocked with a long gravel bar protruding into the channel and overgrown with incredibly thick and thorny mesquite. There was no way through the mesquite without getting cut up, and only a narrow path between the gravel bar and several huge submerged rocks barely poking up through the very swift deep channel waters. Looking at my map, I could see I hadn’t yet hit San Carlos Rapid, just upstream of Entrance Camp and Entrance Rapid. The notes I’d made didn’t make any particular warnings about San Carlos Rapid. Okey-doke, only one way out of here. Let’s go find out.


The sound of crashing water got ever louder and more violent as I rounded yet another bend in the river, and then, there, suddenly, was the rapid. With two channels bracketing an island in the middle of the river. The right channel obviously too shallow for easy passage, with hundreds of small sharp rocks breaking the surface. The left channel much wider, but virtually the entire channel was blocked by a gravel bar extending from the Texas bank, and the bar was completely overhung with thick, thick, thorny mesquite. And the water was hitting it at what looked like 20mph.

Shit.

I was at the gravel bank before I knew it. I dug in with a complicated assortment of strokes on both sides of the raft for all I was worth. I was busting my arm, torso, and stomach muscles. I think I was screaming obscenities. I hove to, parallel to the bar, and dug in with my paddle at lightning speed, crawling perpendicular to the current, just a few feet from a faceful of mesquite thorns and cleared the bar by inches, leaping into the deep channel in the middle of this branch of the river. And just as I did, the deeper, stronger flow grabbed the bow of my raft and sent it spinning in vertiginous 270 degree arc and suddenly I was running the remaining rapid backwards. The whitecaps were filling my raft and the water was cold. The family jewels were shrinking, along with my confidence. I knew I still faced several very large submerged boulders. I’d seen them just before the current sent me spinning. The thought of hitting one of those at full speed, and backwards, no less, in the deepest channel of the river, was terrifying. I panicked, dug in my paddle, and tried to spin myself around so that my bow was downstream. The paddle caught the fierce current in a bad way, and the current used it as lever. I was tilting, broached, going over, and just then I slammed broadside into one of the large boulders, crashing to a stop that rattled my teeth, and then, implacably, the big muscular current swept up under my raft and tossed it high over the boulder in one angry hurl.  I was upside down for a second, and then plummeting into the swift river with my raft actually above me in the air. I hit the water and went straight down for several feet, never finding bottom. Involuntarily, shocked by the cold water, I inhaled, sucking in a huge draught of river water, and then I panicked even more. Looking up through the green-brown water, I could see the sunlight breaking up in shimmers and undulations as it passed through the current, then the raft coming down over me and blocking out all light.


Incredibly, my hand was still gripping my paddle, and the paddle was leashed to my raft. I realized this, and then realized I was panicking, and that was a sure way to drown. I forced myself to calm down, trusted my PFD and quit struggling. I laid back and let the PFD take me to the surface. I pushed the raft off of my head, and looked around. There was a gravel beach on the Mexican side and I began frog-kicking my way over there. It took a minute or two, but my feet eventually found a solid river bed several dozen yards downstream and I stood up, leaning into the current coming out of the shallower, right (Mexican) branch of the rapid and manhandled my raft up onto the beach. Soaked from head to toe, shivering, I began cursing at the top of my lungs, things too crass and obscene to print here. And then the river water I’d swallowed came up in one long stream, out of my gut and onto the beach. I knelt, closed my eyes, and took a moment to slow down. I was alive. I was okay. Everything’s good. But what about my stuff?


I stood up and headed toward my raft. The first thing I noticed, even before reaching the raft, was a big strawberry contusion on my right knee and a gash in my forearm. I got to the raft and thankfully my pack was still lashed to it. My belly bag was still attached to my waist. I fished out my medical kit and treated the scrapes and gashes with disinfectant, antibiotic gel, and liquid bandage. I surveyed my equipment: everything had worked EXACTLY as intended.  My raft was still intact and inflated. My pack never separated from the bow of my raft. Everything in my pack was stored in drysacks and the drysacks had held. Two of my three Dromedaries had been stuffed inside my backpack before I set out that afternoon (intuition?). The third, which had been in the floor of the raft, was gone, but I could live with that. I’d drink more river water. My spare PFD and firepan were still lashed to the stern of my raft. My VivoBarefeet shoes were still on my feet. My glasses were still on my head, held there by their tight strap. My hat was even still on my head, held by its tight chin strap. I never lost my grip on my paddle and my paddle was leashed to my raft, so I never lost contact with my raft. And even if I had, my belly bag, with all the necessary emergency survival suppies inside in a drysack, stayed around my waist throughout the spill. The only significant loss was three of my maps that I’d printed out on regular paper at the last minute, instead of Rite-in-the-Rain paper. Turns out the old Ziploc they were stored in was NOT waterproof at all. The Rite-in-the-Rain maps were fine, but the three copy-paper maps had turned into ink-blotched tissue paper. I could live with that.


It was a 75-degree afternoon with a little bit of wind. In my sodden state, I was starting to chill. I stripped off clothes and laid them out on the beach stones to dry. As well as a few other things I thought could use some sun. I dug through my food bag and pulled out a caffeinated GU and a couple of kind bars, as well as a water bottle from my belly bag, and then sat down on a large rock in my VivoBarefeet shoes, a pair of fresh Ex-Officio underwear and a fresh REI t-shirt, and slowly ate while replaying in my mind what just happened. What the hell was that? Was that Entrance Rapid, that Michael had warned me about? The description was spot-on. But then, where was San Carlos Rapid? This had to be San Carlos Rapid.


I was “meta-cognating” (as my wife likes to call it) when I spied a large commercial raft working its way swiftly through the rapid.  It was Michael, far ahead of his group of kayakers, scouting the rapid. I must have looked pretty pitiful because he hove to, looked at me, and asked, with obvious concern in his voice, “you okay?” “Yeah, I’m fine,” I replied, “flipped in that rapid, and I’m drying out.” “It’s a tough one,” he said, “everybody’s having trouble with it this week. Listen, we’re going to run the Rockslide, just downriver, in an hour or so after we do some hiking, you’re welcome to run it with us if you want.” “I think I might,” I replied, “my confidence is a little battered.” Presently, his party of kayakers ran the rapids and docked downstream at Entrance Camp, at the limit of my view downstream. I continued to sit quietly in the afternoon sun, warming up. Eventually I changed into my newly-dried river clothes, re-loaded and re-cinched my gear onto my raft, put-in and paddled over to their temporary camp.


Michael’s and Pam’s clients were a family from Houston: a Caucasian father in his 40’s, with a Vietnamese wife and three beautiful, bright, charming Amerasian children. So much like my family, I could hardly believe it. We chatted for a minute, I wished them good luck on their hike up the Mesa from Entrance Camp, and told Michael I’d wait for him and his party downriver at the entrance to Santa Elena Canyon. I shoved off and soon I rounded a sharp leftward bend to see: Entrance Rapid. THE Entrance Rapid. Exactly where I expected it to be. A split channel with a shallow right fork and a deeply-right-curving wall shot in the deep left fork leading IMMEDIATELY into the huge, dark, towering walls of the very narrow Santa Elena Canyon. Those walls clearly said, “don’t run this rapid unless you’re ready for what comes next, because there is NO TURNING BACK from here”. I beached on the Texas side, checked my drybags, re-cinched all my loads, broke out some food, laid down on the beach to eat and take a nap while I waited for the Angell Expeditions party to catch up.


I awoke from a deep nap sometime later and stood up to stretch. I was still clearing the sleep from my eyes when I caught movement in my peripheral vision. I turned upriver to see a long, lanky, leathery, muscular NPS ranger in wellingtons and a PFD with an attached NRS rescue knife, about my age, striding toward me. “Well, hello ranger, the last thing I expected to see this afternoon was a ranger walking toward me on land out here. I bet you want to see my permit.” “Nah, don’t worry about it,” he said, “I’m just sweeping the river during the holiday week, checking out campsites, this looks like a good one.” I explained that I was waiting for Angell Expeditions to catch up with me before running the Rockslide together. He remarked that he’d seen their rafts and kayaks, but no sign of them. “Oh, they’re climbing the Entrance Camp trail,” I said. He nodded, then looked at my packraft and rattled off all the required equipment he could identify, “looks like you have everything,” he remarked, “what about a toilet kit?” “Wagbags,” I answered. “Great stuff,” he nodded, “a wonderful invention, it’s amazing how much they help. Keeps huge numbers of people able to enjoy the river. So what’s your itinerary?” I explained the whole thing, how I had tried to hike across the park last year, inspired by Ranger Raymond Skiles earlier attempt. He knew Raymond. I mentioned Raymond’s grandfather, who’d pioneered river running in Big Bend on behalf of the DuPont family of industrial magnates. He not only knew Raymond Skiles, he knew Raymond’s father, and Raymond’s grandfather. All of a sudden we were talking river hydraulics, river biology, river history, Texas history, NPS history, NPS regulations, personalities, war stories, love-of-land stories, and just generally sharing the glory and joy of being where we were when we were, just the two of us. He probably stayed there too long, and eventually he made clear he needed to get back upriver to his canoe and other groups. With a handshake and a “good luck”, he headed back from whence he came. I thought, “there goes the best of the NPS”, and I settled back down into the cobbled river rocks to wait for the Angell folks.

[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 14, 2017, 01:48:08 PM
Around 4:30pm, a bit later than I hoped, Michael and his big raft rounded the bend and shot through Entrance Rapid, then he furiously backstroked to a standstill, papa-bearing his party through the rapid. One after one, the family members shot through the left fork, eddied just before the wall shot, and nudged around the rock corner next to Michael. Last came Pam in her kayak, “just pretend we’re not here, you’ll still have solitude!” “Not here? No Way!” I shouted, “if anything, I’ll pretend your Angels, because you are!” A few minutes later, after the party was well out of sight, not wanting to harsh their river buzz with my fussy presence, I launched into the water and fought my way through the Entrance Rapid wall shot. Some ways further downriver, beneath the dark and lowering overhang of the sheer Santa Elena cliffs, a full 10-degrees cooler than outside the canyon, we all stopped to discuss the coming Rockslide rapids.  Michael outlined a series of steps we would use to approach the rapids, including a final lining of our boats through the 30 or 40 feet leading up to the Texas and Mexican Gates. “I prefer that my clients not make their final decisions at 20mph,” Michael said. Fine by me.


We beached just upriver of the gates, lined our boats up to the final gravel bar just a few feet from the final commitment and gauged our chances. Just about then, the river ranger reappeared, saying he was trying to decide whether or not to run the Rockslide that day or the next. He knew there was at least one group (the UT-SA kids) that were coming up behind him and maybe he should wait for them. Personally, I think he was just papa-bearing us. Michael shouted out instructions over the roaring water, throwing rocks to identify decisions points, guiding his clients through the Rockslide. Not just his clients, but me, too. Some man he’d met by the side of the river yesterday. Somebody who wasn’t paying him a dime for his hard-won professional expertise. A random interloper that he’d taken responsibility for: amazing. He went first and the rest followed. Meanwhile the ranger and I talked about our love for Big Bend and Santa Elena in particular. Me waxing enthusiastically and he always with one eye on each client as they negotiated the maze of rocks, occasionally leaping up onto a promontory to keep track of them. One thing he said stuck with me: “the thing everybody forgets: never panic if you go down backwards, you’ll almost always make it.” Now he tells me. Finally, dead last so as not to mess with the family’s experience, it was my time. I climbed in, pushed off, shot threw the Mexican Gate, and chose my own route:  eddied and pulled hard right, skipping the Tight Squeeze to slip counterclockwise through the Even Tighter Squeeze at extreme right (only my tiny raft could fit through there), muscled my way leftward across the eddy toward the Keyhole but bounced off the guardian boulder, started to spin, quickly corrected, and slipped through the Keyhole and on downriver past several miscellaneous obstacles to the beach below the rapids to join everyone else on the gravel bar. Piece of cake. A bunch of worry for nothing. My packraft shone here; this was one of its few strengths: strong current, tight gaps, micro-maneuverability. I didn’t follow Michael’s route, but I guarantee I was buoyed up by his presence and his care. Had I been running this rapid alone, by myself, with no one else in known range, I would have been majorly, majorly, maybe incapacitatingly, puckered at this early stage in my journey.


Making it through the Rockslide was a huge mental and emotional milestone for me. Clearly I had over-hyped it, but I simply didn’t know how my new packraft would act in the rapid. It performed like a champ and I was happy. The Angell folks offered to share that night’s campsite with me, but I felt I should give them their privacy. The river ranger was nowhere to be seen, presumably still waiting on the UT-SA folks. The Angell expedition headed downriver and I stayed just below the Rockslide to empty the overflow from my raft, dry out a bit, take a few photographs and reflect. I asked the client family to call my wife when they got out and tell her I’d made it through the Rockslide and was still on schedule. I might not get to contact her personally until several days later at RGV, if then.


Eventually the Angell group passed not only out of sight but out of hearing. I was once again utterly alone. I checked all my lashing again, cinched everything tight, swung my legs into the raft and pushed off downstream. Originally, I had hoped to camp opposite Fern Canyon, but that seemed like an unreasonable goal now, given how long I’d waited for the Angell folks at the entrance to Santa Elena Canyon. A fair trade by any measure, though. I meandered my way downriver until close to dark and, spotting a decent looking island, well above the river, beached and prepared to make camp. The point at which I beached was liberally-decorated with old tires carried there by past floods. One of the only trashy spots I’d seen during my time on the river, it was well-tired, and so was I. Physically, emotionally, I was done for the day. I unloaded, attended to toiletries, changed into dry clothes, laid out my bedroll, my messkit, and heated up a fine dinner of Lime-Shrimp Ramen Noodle Soup, Serrano Seed Jerky, and M&M’s. Dark fell early as I was eating and I watched the walls of the canyon grow ever blacker, stars slowly fill the gap high overhead, between the walls, and then, ever so slowly, the invisible moon cast its light on the Texas wall, starting high, and inch-by-inch, yard-by-yard, crawl down the cliff face coming ever closer to my campsite with an eerie iridescent ivory glow, contrasted with the near-pitch-black of the opposing cliffs. On the Mexican side, unimaginably huge rocks, tumbled from the rim, sat lodged in the talus above me - no place for old men afraid of falling rocks (of which I was, fortunatey, not one). Finally, around 9pm, even the singular beauty of Santa Elena Canyon in the moonlight, and a distant overhead sliver of crystalline stars, could no longer capture my attention and I drifted off, lulled by the murmur of tumbling water on either side of me, to a deep, deep, exhausted sleep. Santa Elena Canyon was effectively over; tomorrow I would exit the canyon mouth, sail past Castolon and Cottonwood Campground and head east into what the guidebooks called The Great Unknown. No more fellow boaters, no more people, just mile after mile of uninhabited, rarely-traveled wilderness river.

[TO BE CONTINUED]

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Slimkitty on December 14, 2017, 05:03:06 PM
Amazing stuff.  I HAVE to get more serious about my adventuring.


Sent from the future.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: iCe on December 14, 2017, 05:13:02 PM
 :shock:  wow... just... simply... wow...
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: SergeantFunk on December 14, 2017, 05:33:21 PM
 Informative, funny, simply riveting.  I'd push right past Wordpress and go straight for the 'zon and Kindle.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: rocketman on December 14, 2017, 06:47:03 PM
I would buy this in hardcover.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: GaryF on December 14, 2017, 08:07:57 PM
I would buy this in hardcover.

I’m holding out for the movie.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 14, 2017, 08:56:06 PM
I would buy this in hardcover.

I’m holding out for the movie.

I held out for Harrison Ford to play me. The studio offered Jerry Lewis instead. I said, “he’s dead.” They said, “we know.”


Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: iCe on December 14, 2017, 09:06:04 PM
I would buy this in hardcover.

I’m holding out for the movie.

I held out for Harrison Ford to play me. The studio offered Jerry Lewis instead. I said, “he’s dead.” They said, “we know.”


Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)


That reminds me of when I was talking to my psychiatrist about the voices in my head... she said I didn't have a psychiatrist  ???
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 14, 2017, 09:07:38 PM
I would buy this in hardcover.

I’m holding out for the movie.

I held out for Harrison Ford to play me. The studio offered Jerry Lewis instead. I said, “he’s dead.” They said, “we know.”


Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)


That reminds me of when I was talking to my psychiatrist about the voices in my head... she said I didn't have a psychiatrist  ???

                                                                                                                                                                                                                         :s_laugh:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Txlj on December 14, 2017, 10:18:23 PM
Simply amazing House. You truly have a way with words.  Please keep it coming. And I agree on a book. Signed copy please.

Sent from flat land

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: PacingTheCage on December 15, 2017, 08:54:39 AM
Epic, epic story.  Great writer and great storyteller.  You are a "man's man", sir.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: SergeantFunk on December 15, 2017, 12:13:24 PM
Like a Labrador waits on his next meal, or a young child waits for Christmas...we suffer until the next HMoD installment fires off.  :icon_lol: :notworthy:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 15, 2017, 01:22:16 PM
Camp Leaky: November 25, 2017


Just before I drifted off to sleep, cowboy camping as always, I thought I saw the huge rocks hanging above my campsite glow with an eerie, almost subliminal light. A flash, then gone. Mostly in my peripheral vision. As soon as I tilted my head to get a better look, the light vanished. Then downriver, a few hundred yards away, I saw other flashes of light on the towering Mexican wall and…figures? Huge shadows, vaguely human-like, but with many arms and distorted parts. As I was sliding down the rabbit hole into unconsciousness, the thought dimly occurred to me that some people might find this incredibly creepy. And I suppose it was. But I was also incredibly tired. If two-headed river aliens were going to eat me alive while I slept, then so be it. I’d deal with that in the morning.


Fortunately, I was still there when I woke up in the morning. Body and brains intact. Whatever was out there, it left me alone. Maybe out of pity. I dragged my stiff body out of my sleeping bag and set about packing up. Last night had been markedly warmer than my first night on the river. 50’s versus 30’s. I slept great, really deeply, and though my body was stiff, I was full of energy this morning. A quick GU with 40mg of caffeine and soon I was full of even more energy. I stripped off my fleece sweater and pants, changed into my supplex river pants and shirt which I’d laid out on tamarisk to dry overnight, and loaded all my gear back into my raft.


One of the tricks of managing the packraft was that, while it floated great in a foot or maybe 18” of water, my fully loaded backpack and water bladders made it useless in less than that. When beaching the raft, I could drive it forcefully up onto the mud, sand, or gravel, with a few deeply vigorous paddle strokes, but once beached, it was truly beached. Like a whale. I couldn’t, or at least dare not, move the raft far onto land with that much dead weight on the bow. I had to detach the backpack from the raft and carry it to my intended campsite, then lift and carry the now featherweight raft to wherever I deemed safest for its overnight birth. Usually I tried to hide it somewhat – behind foliage or a dune. But then in the mornings, everything had to be repeated, but in reverse. Carry the raft back to the water’s edge, maybe tie it off to some anchor, pack everything back into my backpack, carry the backpack down to the raft and position in on the bow, cover it with a raincover, lash it onto the raft, then lash my RidgeRest groundpads to the pack, then hook my paddle leash and paddle to the boat. Slip on my PFD, then my belly bag, grab my paddle and launch. The raft needed to be sitting right on the very edge of (or in) the water if my backpack was attached, or I wouldn’t be able to get it moving. I was always careful to watch for submerged branches or unusually sharp rocks just to make sure I didn’t tear a hole in the air chamber while leaving (or approaching) a beach.


At 8:30am, the deep canyon was still dark and chilly. The water was swift and I immediately tackled a small rapid with ease and headed downcanyon.  A few minutes later, I rounded a leftward bend in the canyon and there, to my surprise, were Michael, Pam, and their clients on a beautiful, large beach. They had been right around the bend from me all night. With a campfire. The youngest daughter ran to meet me at the water’s edge and took my paddle leash in hand to help me dock. “Did you see our shadow games last night?” she asked. Well, yes, as a matter of fact I did, young lady. As a matter of fact, I did. Turns out they thought they might see me this morning, so they’d saved me a huge, hot, sausage, egg, and potato burrito for breakfast.  Really, could things be any better? I ate while they packed up. We chatted in the way strangers with mutual interests do when they meet somewhere strange and remote. They were headed for Fern Canyon. At one time I thought I might visit it, too, but my main priority – the real reason for being on the river was to get to the eastern border of the park and get OFF the river. I was already slightly behind my itinerary, so I decided to skip Fern and push on downriver. A little inconvenient, though, because I’d hoped to refill my water from the tinajas in Fern. As always, Michael came to the rescue with water he was carrying in his raft. He had plenty extra and he poured me a few quarts. Now I was more than good to go. Just before they headed out (I wanted to let them go first and enjoy their solitude), I walked over to Michael and offered my hand to say thanks. In it was a small wad of cash I’d packed for a possible visit to Boquillas, Mexico. “Allow me to be grateful,” I said, “it’s good for the soul.” He smiled, nodded, and gave me a quick bro-hug. And off they went downriver with big waves and bigger smiles. Pam, who always floated sweep in the rear, nodded to me as she pushed off. “We’re all one big family here on the river. Stay safe and let us know how you fared when you finally get out of the park.”


Within seconds, they were downriver around another bend and I was alone in a silent, dark canyon again. I laid down on the cold cobbled beach and stared – empty-minded - at the brilliantly blue sliver of sky spanning the jagged gap overhead, for twenty or so minutes, just enjoying being there, watching - without comment or judgment or thought of any kind - the occasional barely-visible wisp of white cloud float slowly by. Then, almost involuntarily, I started to hum, and then sing, the old Seals and Crofts song, “We May Never Pass This Way Again.” I palmed a couple of rocks and added my own percussion track while laying there looking up at the sky. Now, mind you, I can’t sing worth a bucket of spit. When I sing in public, it’s usually to punish someone. But you put me in a remote canyon with no chance of anyone suddenly surprising me, and I might just let her unselfconsciously rip every once in awhile.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vd6zYQPCgsc

The sentiment was true. I probably never would pass this way again. And after another hour or two of paddling I would be downstream of Santa Elena Canyon, and I really – literally - didn’t know what lie ahead in The Great Unknown. The sun was beginning its crawl down the Texas cliffs and it was time to go. I tossed my percussion rocks aside, walked back to my still-loaded raft and stepped inside its cockpit, “like Columbus in the olden days, we must gather all our courage, sail our ships out on the open sea...”


The open sea turned out to be a little more crowded than I anticipated. Passing Fern Canyon sometime later, I found not only the Angell boats, but at least one other rafting party as well. And then the upcanyon paddlers began to appear. Daytrippers who’d rented canoes or kayaks, intending to paddle up to Fern or maybe even all the way to the downriver side of The Rockslide. I didn’t envy them, that’s hard work at 1000cfs. The canyon, though, was gorgeous. Who doesn’t love the fun-house journey of paddling through those wildly tilted geologic layers of the canyon walls. The tilt made it appear as if I was paddling down a steep, steep slope. It was a little vertiginous. If I let my concentration wander, temporarily forgot where I was, a tiny panic could start to form deep in the lizard part of my medulla, and then crawl its way up into my amygdala, where its fight or flight mechanism was tempted to scream: YOU IDIOT, YOU’RE GOING OVER A WATERFALL!!!!!!!  Not really scary, but certainly titillating. Meanwhile, the poor sods paddling upcanyon must have felt like they were crawling UP a waterfall. And they looked like it. Not one appeared happy to be there. Respectfully, I averted my eyes and slid quietly past them. Leaving them to their self-imposed herculean labors. Soon, I hit the leading edge of the Santa Elena Canyon trail, fully stocked with an assortment of Thanksgiving Week tourists, perched high above me on the Texas wall. Ah, the chatter of the car-class. So nice to be back in civilization. I swung out of the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon, suddenly into the impossibly bright sunlight, and found myself onstage, blinded by the footlights, as it were: thirty or forty tourists standing on the muddy Texas river bank at the mouth of Terlingua Creek, near the entrance to the canyon trail, snapping pictures of the yawning canyon and of tiny me and my raft, while I swung hard east into the rapid just past the mouth of the canyon. It was a circus and I was the dancing bear as I carved and cut my way through the Class II curls. Mercifully, it was over quickly and I passed rapidly downstream of the crowd and back into the quiet of the people-less river.


A few minutes later I passed the Santa Elena take-out, full of a rafting party offloading clients and unloading supplies. “Where you headed?” they asked. “All the way,” I said, “east end of he park and then walk back.” “Dios mio! Into The Great Unknown! Bravo! You will LOVE Mariscal Canyon: it is the jewel of the rio! Have fun, my friend!” And I was out of earshot. I stopped a bit downstream at the last available sandbar before exiting the tourist area, beached, and walked inland to use the NPS bathroom. I’d hoped to dump some trash, but (of course) there were no receptacles there. I also thought of grabbing a celebratory ice cream from the Castolon store (the river ranger had recommended it) but I’d forgotten how long a walk it was from the take-out to Castolon (REALLY long). Maybe I could hit Cottonwood Campground and Castolon when I passed near them further downstream. Maybe even call my wife if I could find a cell signal.


A vain hope, that was. If the Giant River Cane was a problem upstream of Santa Elena Canyon, it was a nightmare below it. Indescribably thick. A continuous, impenetrable wall of vegetation twenty feet high and equally thick. Somewhere along there I passed the confluences of both Alamo Creek and Blue Creek as they ended their long cross-park journeys to the Rio Grande. I never saw the campground. As it turns out, there was one, single, tiny takeout there, but somehow it escaped me and I floated blithely past Cottonwood without a clue. Eventually it dawned on my dim bulb that the campground was behind me and there was NOT going to be any stopping until much later in the day, when I beached for the night. I was bummed. I’d really been looking forward to talking to my wife. She and the family were with our Chinese relatives in Louisiana for the holidays and I missed them. It had already been a week since I’d left Dallas.


The rest of the day was made up of the garden-variety “every-quarter-mile” rapids that had begun downriver of Matadero. I bumped and jumped my way through each of them. NPS regulations required I put at least ¾ of mile downriver between me and Castolon before camping for the night. I intended to put at least two, maybe three. I wanted to be far downstream of the Mexican village of Santa Elena and its old crossing into Texas.

[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 15, 2017, 01:23:52 PM
Late in the afternoon, as I was looking for a suitable place to beach and camp, I looked down at my packraft and was horrified to notice large puckers in its side tubes. I reached out and pressed the sides of my raft and they collapsed inward with a sickening lack of resistance. My raft was losing air pressure. WTF? How? What could possibly have caused a leak? Well that put a new urgency into finding a campsite. I pulled up onto the first reasonably flat surface I could find on the Texas side, a deeply muddy, narrow shelf. I offloaded my backpack and dragged the raft up onto the shelf and inspected it. A push against the bow or stern and their puckered surfaces caved inwards like old party balloons. Well, shit. Shit! SHIT! I used the mouth-valves to reinflate the raft. I’d wait to see what happened over the next few minutes or hours. Might tell me how bad the problem was. How screwed I might be. Meanwhile I set about unpacking, changed into dry, warm clothes, laid out my bedroll, and got ready to make dinner.


Everything was quickly ready, but before I set about making dinner (it was a bit early yet) I took out my maps and considered my situation. In planning my trip, I had anticipated the need for an emergency hike out on any given day, for whatever reason: river conditions, raft failure, illness, injury. That’s why I’d brought my hiking boots along, wrapped up inside a drysack inside my backpack, even though they were big and bulky and heavy. I had good maps, plenty of food, plenty of water and bladders to carry it in, a comprehensive list of land springs and tinajas with GPS coordinates, and the necessities to purify any water I might find while hiking overland.  I pulled out my little Holux GPS logger and took a reading.  My current position was pretty much where I though it was, near the old Rio Vista campsite on the abandoned section of the old River Road. I could probably use that old route to hike back to Castolon if I had to, even with my packraft strapped to my backpack. That was the worst case (well, worst case was activating my PLB and waiting for rescue, and that ain’t going to happen).


The more likely case would be having to repair my raft before continuing downstream.  I proceeded to retrieve and inspect my repair kit. I’d ordered a small one from Alpacka as well as a roll of Tyvek tape, good for major repairs. The Tyvek somehow never arrived in the mail. I’d intended to grab one from the Big Box home improvement store before leaving Dallas but in the rush to leave, forgot. Fortunately, I found a nice, large roll of special Gorilla Tape designed just for inflatables in the Cottonwood Store in Study Butte the day before I headed out. My pack was packed so I slipped the roll onto one of my pack’s compression straps, planning to stow it inside later. Now, needing it, I laid out my repair supplies onto the muddy beach.  The Gorilla Tape wasn’t there. I stood, staring dumbly at my supplies for a minute, uncomprehending, and then an image flashed into my mind: me, at my first put-in in Lajitas several days ago, loading my raft, unbuckling my backpack’s top pocket and detaching it from the pack so that I could load the pack onto the bow of my raft, and strap the top pocket around my belly as an emergency kit. The Gorilla Tape hanging from the top pocket’s vertical compression strap, sliding silently off as I unbuckled the straps, down into the tall grass at the put-in. Unseen, unnoticed. Left behind.

I was so screwed. I was so stupid.

And I didn’t even know how stupid yet.  All I could do now is wait until any leak in my raft revealed itself over time. It would take awhile to judge how fast the raft was losing air. I might not know until the morning.  And then I’d have to find the leak and repair it if possible. If not, I’d be hiking out to Castolon tomorrow: a very unhappy man. The sun was going down. I walked back to the river and strained a few cups of muddy river water into my cookpot and made a grim dinner. Just before I ate, I walked over to my raft and checked its inflation: soft and soggy. The chill night air matched my mood. The world was cold and comfortless. Pouring my water into the foil packet of a backpacking meal, I spilled it, nearly boiling my testicles. But my survival instincts were stronger than my depression and I managed to contort my way energetically to safety at the last second. I started over, made dinner without incident this time, and waited for my meal to rehydrate. I was in a major, self-recriminating funk.


Bleakly, I glanced over at my packraft and that’s when I noticed the firepan lashed to the stern. I hadn’t wanted to bring it, chafed at the requirement, tried to substitute various ridiculous aluminum foil alternatives, but here I was with a functioning firepan. By god, I thought, if I have it, I should use it. Why carry it all this way and not take advantage of it? Using my Petzl e-LITE headlamp, I quickly gathered up downed wood: old cane, dead tamarisk and mesquite, grasses for tinder, and strategically piled the first of it into the pan. Then I opened up my emergency kit, took out my 3mm utility line, sliced off a 3-inch piece from the end, peeled it back to its flammable core and set in under my little pyre in the pan. A couple of attempts with my Bic lighter and the rope core burst into a slow-burning flame. In just a minute or two, I had a roaring fire in my modest 12-inch pan. Just about the time my dinner was ready to eat. I kicked back on the beach, ate my delicious Jamaican Jerked Chicken and warmed my feet by my little circle of defiance.  I’m going to win this one, I said to myself.


Night deepened to almost total black. The moon was rising ever later each night and it hadn’t yet topped the river cane in the distance. My fire was just about dead, but the stars burned brightly overhead. The night was cold and I was ready to turn in; the morning would bring what it would bring. I watched the embers in my pan, my fourth set of wood into the fire, fade away to a low pulsing orange glow. And then, out of the corner of my upstream eye, I saw a light coming toward me. A big one, and fast. I started and swung my head around. Swinging toward me around a sharp bend in the river was a light that looked like a railroad engine’s lamp. Maybe 300 yards upriver. And it must have been moving at 15mph. My first thought was a motor boat. NPS patrol, Border Patrol? But, no, not a motor boat, not here with all the intermittent shallows. Smugglers, maybe. I was, after all, in The Great Unknown and I hadn’t seen a human being all day since leaving the Santa Elena takeout. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I suddenly realized my headlamp was on and instantly switched it off. With my foot, I pushed some sand over the embers in the fire pan. And then the light winked off. Completely. As if it just disappeared. I grew more tense. I had no means of defense. My teeny, tiny CRKT NIAD knife was several feet away, attached to the zipper pull of my belly bag. I froze my movements, stopped breathing, and listened as hard as I could.  Just then, immediately in front of me, only a a dozen yards away, giggles broke out. Girlish ones. And a light like an automobile headlamp flashed on, illuminating half the river from bank to bank and 30 yards downstream. “Who’s there?” I shouted. “We are!” came the soprano reply, and more giggles. “What kind of boat are you in?” “Canoe,” they yelled, just as I flipped my headlamp back on and spied a gaggle of young women zooming past me at incredible speed. They were paddling for all they were worth as they rocketed pell-mell into the rapids just downstream of my camp. They were gone before I could ask anything else, but immediately a second, equally powerful lamp flashed on just upstream. Another canoe, this one full of men laughing. “Where are you headed?” “RGV!!!!!!” “At night?!?!?” “IT’S THE OOOONLY WAY!!!!” And then they hit the rapids with a communal “YEEEEEEEHAAAAAAAW” and were swallowed by the downstream dark, never to be seen by me again. 

Well, that was unexpected.

Running the river in canoes at night at breakneck speed. That takes cojones. I figure it was a multi-day race between two groups, maybe they put in at Castolon, and neither wanted to be the first to stop. A game of chicken, as it were, but both competitors headed in the same direction. If they were waiting for the river to blink, things could get interesting before they were done. The experience had an odd effect on me: if these young folks were comfortable running the river in a race at night, then what was I worried about? In comparison to them, I seemed like a wimp. Buck up, man. Tomorrow is another day. I doused the last of my fire, crawled into my sleeping bag and pulled it tight around my face against the riverbank chill, and nodded off to sleep.

Tomorrow is another day.


[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Robert on December 15, 2017, 02:24:03 PM
Quote
In just a minute or two, I had a roaring fire in my little 12-inch pan. Just about the time my dinner was ready to eat. I kicked back on the beach, ate my delicious Jamaican Jerked Chicken and warmed my feet by my little circle of defiance.  I’m going to win this one, I said to myself.

I have made fire! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IS7Og1zvdy8)

When the movie version comes out I think Tom Hanks is a lock to play your part. But he might balk at having to do another tooth extraction scene.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Buck on December 15, 2017, 02:25:44 PM
The night canoers would have freaked me out as well.  Reminds me of one night well after midnight when I was half-snoozing in the hot springs and suddenly a burrow across the river cut loose, braying the dead back to life.  I probably raised the water level a little!

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 15, 2017, 04:45:26 PM
The night canoers would have freaked me out as well.  Reminds me of one night well after midnight when I was half-snoozing in the hot springs and suddenly a burrow across the river cut loose, braying the dead back to life.  I probably raised the water level a little!

I heard a few burro braying in the night during my trip. That's a sound that will wake the dead, and possibly help you join them.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: rocketman on December 15, 2017, 07:09:05 PM
Like a Labrador waits on his next meal, or a young child waits for Christmas...we suffer until the next HMoD installment fires off.  :icon_lol: :notworthy:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hesnlQYFDxo
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 16, 2017, 09:50:26 AM
Quote
In just a minute or two, I had a roaring fire in my little 12-inch pan. Just about the time my dinner was ready to eat. I kicked back on the beach, ate my delicious Jamaican Jerked Chicken and warmed my feet by my little circle of defiance.  I’m going to win this one, I said to myself.

I have made fire! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IS7Og1zvdy8)

When the movie version comes out I think Tom Hanks is a lock to play your part. But he might balk at having to do another tooth extraction scene.

Of course, in the new film, Hanks will then proclaim, "Testicles! I have boiled...TESTICLES!!!" And sit down to a meal of Rio Grande Oysters.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 16, 2017, 12:55:18 PM
Camp Kitten: November 26, 2017


I slept well that night, as I had all the nights so far on the river. The insects had been negligible, so I didn’t need to bother with the mesh headnet I’d brought, or my tiny bottle of repellent. Mud, sand, even gravel all made good beds because I could sculpt them to fit the shape of my body. Being mostly a side sleeper, a depression for my hip and shoulder were always appreciated. Adding my two RidgeRest pads on top of that, and slipping inside my Feathered Friends bag with all its venting options, my head resting on my stuffsack of spare clothes and extra layers as a pillow, and I was literally a happy camper.


Of course, my first thought upon waking around 7am was, “what about my packraft?” I crawled out of my bag, pulled on my river shoes, and hobbled over to my raft to inspect it, expecting the worst. Incredibly, it had lost almost no air at all: almost as inflated as I’d left it last night when I went to sleep. Puzzling. Not unwelcome, but odd. I knelt down, grabbed the mouth valve, and re-inflated the raft as fully as my lungs would allow. I’d give it another hour and see where things stood then. I shuffled back over to my bedroll and backpack and fished out my Montbell down vest and a microfleece balaclava. It was cold in the early morning air. Colder than usual. My campsite faced east, but the sun wasn’t quite up and I was getting chilled. I took a swig of cold, clean water. Ate a caffeinated GU. Drank some more water. And pondered the raft. It occurred to me that yesterday afternoon was unusually cold. The water was cold, too. It was possible that the flaccidity of the raft was a product of colder temperatures affecting the air pressure inside the raft’s inflation chambers. Seemed a bit extreme, but not unreasonable. If my raft stayed inflated this morning, and more to the point, if the rising sun and warming temperatures caused it to become even more inflated, then – BINGO! – I had my answer.  I was a bit chagrined to think this might be the cause of my panic and that I had overlooked it, and overreacted, but then again, I was new to this packrafting gig. I was still learning the idiosyncrasies of the boat. I really had gone to bed last night expecting to find a dead flat raft this morning. I was still expecting every day to bring some sort of disaster that I might not be able to overcome.


I leisurely packed up some of my stuff, particularly my bedroll and messkit, refilled my SmartWater bottles, grabbed a KIND Bar, and waited for an hour to pass. In due time, I checked the raft, and yep, it was good. No loss of air. In fact, the chambers were tighter, fuller, more stretched than before. It looked like I was good to go, after all. Still missing a decent repair kit, and that would surely be a cause for continuing nervousness now that I knew about it, but at least for now I’d dodged a bullet. Nevertheless, I would never during the rest of my trip be free of the nagging fear that a leak could spell disaster. I finished packing up, carried my raft down the short ways to the river’s edge, loaded my backpack and two groundpads onto it, cleaned out my now-used firepan and lashed it back onto the stern of my craft, and got ready to launch. Today, I would head downstream toward the Sierra Chino, hoping to make at least 12 miles. During my first three days on the river, I had paddled, respectively, 6.5 miles, 8.5 miles, and 12.5 miles. 12 seemed to be a reasonable daily goal for a full day’s paddling. The only named rapid I would encounter was the Smoky Creek Rapid located at the mouth of Smoky Creek where it intersected the river after its long descent south through the Quemadas.  Of course, there would be dozens more unnamed riffles of varying degrees of difficulty. I’d learned over the last few days that sometimes those could be more dangerous and daunting than the named rapids. So, with an apparently healthy raft and renewed enthusiasm, I headed downriver into a bright, sunny, cloudless day with quickly warming temperatures.


It was an easy day, or so it seemed. Maybe I was hitting my stride, or maybe I was just relieved that my raft wasn’t leaking. Either way, I felt strong, and the paddling was pleasurable. With every little rapid, I learned more about my packraft and how it handled. I got smarter and stronger in maneuvering it. I saw very little sign of people anywhere. Maybe a fence here and there on the Mexican side of the river. Smoky Creek rapid was bumpy and I took on more water than I would have preferred, paddling cross-ways through the whitecaps. But other than having to stop and drain my raft’s cockpit, I was making good progress. The wonderful thing about river travel in a packraft is that even during "rest breaks" I made progress: always floating downriver whether I paddled or not. And when I I didn't paddle, I could lean back against the PFD and firepan lashed to my stern, lay my head on them, stretch out my legs, and spin in lazy circles. A true 360 degree view. Any upcoming rapid would advertise its presence far in advance by its low rumble. The larger the rumble, the larger the rapid. I called the alternating naps and rapids, "chillin' and thrillin'." Early in the afternoon, I spied a vehicle up on a bluff on the Texas side, and a man standing next to it. As I neared, I saw him step either inside or beside his vehicle, I couldn’t tell which. I hailed him, “Helloooooo, any one home?” He stepped back to the edge of the bluff and waved at me. “Where are we?” I asked. “Black Dike,” he answered. "Which way to RGV?" I asked. (It was my favorite joke). That young man was the only human I would see that day. But he told me what I wanted to know: I was definitely ahead of schedule. Soon I was into the Sierra Chino, recognizable by the blonde dormant Bouteloua spp. and curly Hilaria berlangeri grasses covering their low hills. A little over an hour later, I passed the IBWC gauging station near Johnson’s Ranch, a full two river miles farther than I’d expected to make it today. I started looking for good campsites, and soon found a beautiful, flat, sandy beach on the Texas side of the river, just upstream of an unnamed but long, wide, and raucous rapid.


I stroked hard and beached my packraft high on a mudflat, climbed out, lashed my boat to a heavy piece of driftwood, and went off to inspect the 50-yard long beach. It was a narrow but long beach, arranged in two or three ascending shelves of sand, the lower shelves being rocky and muddy, the highest being made almost entirely of soft, fine, dry sand.  The downriver edges of the beach were sandy and undercut and appeared unstable but I could put plenty of real estate between those areas and my bedroll. The upstream edge where I’d docked was low, muddy, and rocky, with a few shallow pools in it. The rear of the beach, to the Texas side, was covered in abundant, thick river cane and some tamarisk.  This will do just fine, I thought to myself. A perfect place to relax for several hours. High, dry, and peaceful. Walking back to my packraft, I noticed that the beach was an amazingly comprehensive catalogue of the tracks of every kind of mammal, and quite a few of the birds, found in Big Bend. Virtually everything was here: bear, mountain lion, coyote, fox, kit fox, bobcat, beaver, muskrat, javelina, mice, rabbits, weasel, raccoon, badger, skunk, ringtail, turtles, snakes, lizards, frogs, vulture, quail, raven, heron, duck, sandpiper…apparently everyone came to this beach to drink from the river or hunt near it. I wish I’d had the battery-life to spare a few photos here. It was mind-boggling. I thought to myself: anything could show up here in the next 16 hours, before I leave.


Returning to my packraft, I unlashed my backpack and carried it several yards up to the highest beach shelf where the soft dry sand would make an excellent bed for the night. Then I carried my packraft up there, too. I laid out all the evening’s necessities. The afternoon, with direct unfiltered sun, was unusually hot. I decided to erect my tarptent as sunshade until the sun went down. It went up nicely and I sat down to make a few notes in my journal. Later, I noticed I was running a bit short on water, having lost my largest Dromedary water bladder when I flipped in the San Carlos Rapid, upstream of Santa Elena Canyon. Fishing out my water kit, I palmed my tiny Sea-to-Summit Ultra-sil water bucket – weighing slightly less than an ounce but capable of scooping up almost 10 liters of river water and scouted the edge of the beach, looking for a suitably deep pool in which to dip the bucket. The only deep pools were beneath the undercut banks on the downriver edge of the beach, looming several feet above the river. I’d need a rope in order to lower the bucket. Grabbing my 3mm utility cord, I attached it to the bucket handles with a quick square knot, dropped a rock in the bottom of the bucket for ballast, and tossed the bucket into the river. It filled, but only slightly, so I tossed it in again, and yet again, until the bucket held well over a gallon. Lifting the bucket, it swung into the sandy bank and a cascade of sand exploded into the bucket. Well, hell, that needed to go, so I dumped the bucket and tried again. This time the bucket filled quickly. Raising it up, I gave the cord a vigorous jerk and sent the bucket swinging far out over the water so that it could clear the bank. At the apex of the arc, the supposed square knot unraveled and my water bucket sailed free into the river, and sunk. And yet it caught on a submerged branch and held. Kneeling and leaning far forward on the edge of the bank, I could see the bucket vibrating rapidly in the vigorous current, just under the surface. Just then the bank collapsed and only a quick reaction saved me from joining the bucket in the swift current several feet below.  I needed something to extend my reach. Looking up and down the beach, I spied several pieces of large driftwood. Sprinting to the closest, I sorted through the pile and grabbed a piece I thought suitable, and sprinted back. Perched gingerly as close to the edge of the bank as I dared, I fished at the bucket with my makeshift pole, snagged one of the handles, and gently but with a great sense of urgency, began to lift the bucket out of the water. It was, of course, now full of several liters of water, and heavy. Up, up it came, closer and closer to my reach until….SNAP….the branch broke, the bucket plummeted, and was instantly far downstream. Well, hell. First my Gorilla Tape, now my water bucket. I’m hemorrhaging equipment here. I was going to need that water bucket during the rest of my trip, not only for dipping water out of the river, but more importantly, when I reached the difficult-to-access tinajas in Telephone Canyon, Ernst Canyon, and especially up on the Mesa de Anguila. I quickly ran through my options. Okay, I solved it:  with a little finagling of cord, I could repurpose one of my Ultra-sil drysacks, especially once I was off the river and the danger of river submersion was past. Grabbing one, I tested it, and it worked reasonably well.


With sunlight waning, I struck my tarptent, laid out my bedroll, set out my messkit, changed into dry warm clothes for the evening, and spread my wet river gear out to dry. Movement in the river cane and tamarisk to my rear drew my attention. Birds, lots of them, flitting through the foliage. I reached for my PFD, flipped open a tiny holster strapped to the chest, and withdrew the 7x17 monocular I’d brought on this trip, in lieu of my usual binoculars. I spent the better part of an hour glassing the little forest. Most of the birds were Yellow-rumped Warblers, butter-butts we call them. But there were also a few Orange-crowned Warblers, a very rare Yellow-throated Warbler, at least one and maybe more Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a wren of some sort (House Wren, I think), and a variety of sparrows (Song, Lincoln, Swamp, and White-crowned), even a Green-tailed Towhee. Noting the dipping sun, I moved toward the river to inspect the amazing abundance and variety of animal tracks. A jumble of prints often tells fascinating tales of conflict, aggression, and survival, but the tracks on this beach mostly seemed to represent trips to the river to drink.  I know it wasn’t, but it looked an awfully lot like a print version of Hicks’ “The Peaceable Kingdom”.  Every Big Bend native but humans was represented. Unlike so many other beaches I'd landed on, no person had been on this beach in weeks.  It was an island of solitude. Sunset approached, putting a new slant on the shadows of the tracks, allowing me to identify a few more, and then it was time to make dinner. Quickly I put together a hot meal of Lime Shrimp Ramen Noodle Soup with dried veggies and mushrooms, a chaser of spicy venison jerky while waiting for the soup to rehydrate, and a dessert of Peanut M&M’s. Then I settled in to watch the stars and moon rise over the Mexican shore. It had been a good day, lots of mileage, no real problems. Things were looking up.

[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 16, 2017, 12:55:57 PM
As so often happened on this trip, I drifted off to sleep sooner than I expected and without really realizing it. I was deep in dreams when an odd sound penetrated from the outside. It wove its way into and through my dreams with increasing urgency until finally I woke, realizing the sound was NOT a part of my dreams, but instead something that needed my attention. Somewhere just below the wind, I could barely make it out: a distressed keening, repeated over and over and over. I couldn’t place it in space. Was it coming from across the river? After a few minutes, I pushed my head out of my sleeping bag and propped my self up on one elbow, tilting my head to and fro. The noise stopped, then resumed a minute later. But this time it was clearly behind me, to my left, coming from the high bank of river cane at the rear of the beach, the same spot I’d so carefully glasses while birding earlier. I ran through the possibilities in my mind: what kind of animal was this? This was feline. A mountain lion kitten? No, I’d heard those before, this was too high. That was good, I didn’t really want to deal with all the implications of a mountain lion kitten in my camp at midnight. A bobcat: well, I didn’t actually know what a young bobcat sounded like. Maybe.


I decided a little light was in order. I wanted to get to the bottom of this. Reaching behind me, into one of my river shoes, I pulled out my Petzl e-LITE, switched it on, and swept the river cane at the rear of the beach. There, 20 yards away, two pale green eyes stared back. Then winked out for a few seconds, and then returned. And then the sound again. A high, thin, heart-breaking mew. I switched off the headlamp and listened.


Suddenly a small dark indeterminate shape emerged from the cane, padding swiftly and lightly toward me through the moonlight.  Almost immediately, before I could react, it was within reach. A kitten. A tiny domestic kitten. Or at least that’s what it looked like. A striped face and spotted body, large erect ears, and a long striped tail. This was no bobcat. The kitten trotted straight up to my head and bumped it. Pushing its forehead into my chin, then rubbing its own chin across my face, purring. I was flabbergasted.


How did this cat get here? As far as I knew, I was nowhere close to a human settlement. There were none on the Texas side within the park outside of the areas around the visitor centers, and none that I knew of anywhere reasonably close in Mexico. Certainly, domestic cats were not a feral species in the park, and this tiny kitten – no bigger than my river shoe – was VERY habituated to humans. It circled my sleeping bag, climbed up onto my chest and proceeded to make what my wife calls “kitty biscuits” on my throat: alternately pressing each soft paw into my skin, stretching its toes and gently extending its claws at the same time, just barely engaging with my flesh, all the while making a deep, deep, drawn-out purr. Then it nuzzled down into the opening of my sleeping bag, slipped inside away from the cold moonlight, and burrowed down to my stomach where it continued to make kitty biscuits on my shirt.


I was still flabbergasted. I certainly wasn’t in control here. The kitten was. It had swiftly swept in under cover of moonlight and taken control of my sleeping bag. And me. It worked its way around my torso, padding and purring, until it reached my armpit, where it nuzzled in and began to probe with its mouth. Unsatisfied, it moved up to my chin and thrust its face deep into my thick unruly beard. Pressing with its paws, making kitty biscuits, then probing with it lips, searching but not finding what it wanted and needed. It moved sideways through my beard, still searching, until it found my ear. The kitten’s mouth latched onto my earlobe and suckled. Not for a few seconds, or ten seconds, or thirty, but for two minutes.  All the while making biscuits on my neck and ear. I put my hand around its stomach and legs. The fur was clean and soft, the body lean but not emaciated. This was a hungry cat, but not a starving one.


How was this possible, I asked myself. And, seriously, without irony, “am I still dreaming?” No, this is real, and crazy. Here I am on a monthlong solo expedition through the wilderness, miles from any human settlement, on the banks of the swift-running Rio Grande, in the middle of the frigging Great Unknown, in the middle of the frigging night, on a small beach with no apparent access inland, and I suddenly have a tiny domestic kitten suckling at my earlobe and purring in my sleeping bag. You know, things like this just seem to happen to me. Last year, it was the dove landing on my chest in my sleeping bag at dawn of one of my lowest days. Looked me straight in the eye, a few inches from my face, and then flew off into the nascent sunrise. Bears wander into my campsites. Mountain lions meet me face-to-face on the trails. Or stroll by with their young in tow. Dolphins circle me while I’m swimming in the gulf and nudge my calves. A weasel runs up my leg in the middle of the forest. Iguana leap into my canoe. Black Widows hitch a ride from New Mexico in my car. Raccoons with distemper come to my front step to die. A Red-tailed Hawk is shot over a thoroughfare in Dallas and then gets hit by a rush hour car and winds up in a parking lot under my van; I have to capture it and take it to a rehabilitator. A Downy woodpecker flies headlong into a tree beside me, breaks its neck, and expires in my hands. Neighbors bring me doves, mortally wounded in a storm, or orphaned baby squirrels after an owl attack, and I must despatch them. An Eastern Phoebe lands on my shoulder while I’m birding, whispers sweet nothings into my ear for a minute or two, hops to my head and then flies away. My daughter kisses snakes. My son raises cicadas and click beetles. Hell if I know.


The kitten was still suckling my ear when the coyotes began to howl. Near and loud, maybe a hundred yards inland on the Texas side. The kitten froze, disengaged, and stood up on its front legs, stiffly, stretching its neck taut through my sleeping bag’s face hole, far into the dark night air, listening. Immobile, inches above my face, it sniffed the air. Then its eyes darted back and forth scanning the darkness while its eared twitched and tilted to pinpoint the coyotes’ location.  After a minute, the coyotes’ howls ended, and after another minute, the kitten’s taut muscles relaxed and it slowly settled back inside the sleeping bag. How many time in the preceding evenings had the kitten gone through this experience, confronting the possibility of its own violent death from the fragile confines of whatever safe place it had made for itself?  I gathered it up into my armpit and it began to purr again and make biscuits against my arm. Presently it crawled back up onto my chest, curled up under my chin, and went to sleep against my throat, though not for long, always cocking one ear toward the night, listening. I was exhausted but I kept myself awake, balancing her on my throat, holding the sleeping bag around her.


Sometime later in the night, the coyotes began howling again, this time slightly farther away. Other coyotes answered from the Mexican side of the river. The kitten repeated its earlier behavior, standing, straining upward to hear, to sniff, to see. Frozen and vigilant until the howling stopped. “Shhhh, calm down,” I whispered, “I’ll protect you.” Shortly thereafter, and unusually bravely, I thought, it left the sleeping bag and went down to the river’s edge to drink. Then it stood there and mewed loudly toward the river. Odd. I wondered what in the world this kitten’s story was. Almost impossible that it would be native to the Texas side. No domestic cats out here in the wilderness. So how did it come to the Texas side? I estimated its age to be six weeks. As best as I could tell, it was a female. Did her mother give birth to her on the Texas side for some reason? If so, where was she? Or the kitten’s siblings? If not, then how did the kitten ford the river? Was she chased into the river by a predator, did she fall in accidentally, did a portion of the bank give way and cast the kitten into the river upstream with her struggling to stay afloat and alive in the swift cold current, only able to make landfall at this beach? As I said earlier, she didn’t appear to be starving, she also didn’t appear to be weaned. I wasn’t sure if she yet had any hunting skills. So how long had she been separated from its mother: a day, two days, maybe three? Was the mother even alive? Who knew? Not me. These were such vexing questions.


One thing was obvious: this kitten was deeply habituated to human beings. Late in the night, or early in the morning, depending upon your perspective, she finally surrendered completely to the safety of the sleeping bag and my protection, and fell deeply, deeply into sleep against my inner arm, her front paws extended against my lips. I knew she was deeply asleep because it was the first time all night that she completely stopped purring and fell into slow, regular, relaxed breathing. Her eyes winked and her body twitched: she was dreaming.

To sleep – perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub.

This kitten had bonded to me, and I to her. It had happened slowly, subliminally, but there it was. I drew the sleeping bag tightly around us both against the creeping chill. Her soft, deep breathing finally lulled me to sleep as I was worriedly asking myself, “Now what?”

[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Slimkitty on December 16, 2017, 06:47:30 PM
I really hope another cat shows up soon...


Sent from the future.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: dprather on December 16, 2017, 07:43:52 PM
Excruciatingly beautiful.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: mule ears on December 16, 2017, 08:24:39 PM
I really hope another cat shows up soon...


Sent from the future.
A Slim one?

Sent from my Nexus 6P using Big Bend Chat mobile app (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: mule ears on December 16, 2017, 08:32:50 PM
I not sure I like the direction this cat story is headed

Sent from my Nexus 6P using Big Bend Chat mobile app (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: trtlrock on December 16, 2017, 08:51:33 PM
I not sure I like the direction this cat story is headed

Me neither -- it's been an amazing trip, and exquisitely written, but if it's going to involve immeasurable sadness HMOD (especially to fans of lost, helpless kittens)...you need to give us a heads-up now, so those who might want to can bail.

Not trying to be a jerk...just would like to know in advance if I should take a pass on the rest of this amazing tale.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 16, 2017, 09:04:50 PM
I not sure I like the direction this cat story is headed

Me neither -- it's been an amazing trip, and exquisitely written, but if it's going to involve immeasurable sadness HMOD (especially to fans of lost, helpless kittens)...you need to give us a heads-up now, so those who might want to can bail.

Not trying to be a jerk...just would like to know in advance if I should take a pass on the rest of this amazing tale.

I wouldn't call the sadness immeasurable. But it is hefty. Then again, your mileage may vary. Readers can make their own judgement after the next installment.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: trtlrock on December 17, 2017, 12:08:09 AM
I not sure I like the direction this cat story is headed

Me neither -- it's been an amazing trip, and exquisitely written, but if it's going to involve immeasurable sadness HMOD (especially to fans of lost, helpless kittens)...you need to give us a heads-up now, so those who might want to can bail.

Not trying to be a jerk...just would like to know in advance if I should take a pass on the rest of this amazing tale.

I wouldn't call the sadness immeasurable. But it is hefty. Then again, your mileage may vary. Readers can make their own judgement after the next installment.

I suppose this might get me tossed from BBC, and if that's the case, so be it. But I question your need to include this part of the story. When I saw your leading statement in your 1st post, I suppose I should have questioned it then, but I figured you were attacked by a rabid bobcat, or -- I dunno -- something that might have made some kind of sense. Instead, it appears you were approached by a lost (but not starving) kitten, seeking succor, which you provided. You chose to describe these loving moments in great detail. Now we await your dispatching said feline "in cold blood." I truly wish I had never read this thread. I have been lying awake in bed for a couple for a couple of hours, unable to sleep...thinking of what possibly compelled you to share this part of the story, as well as what decision-making process might have led you to determine that you needed to kill the kitten.

I'll never know, as I won't return to the thread.

And now I'll stfu, leave the thread, and let you continue your tale.

Richard or other mods can delete my comment if they feel it's inappropriate -- that's fine. But I feel marginally better, having said what I feel needed to be said...
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Slimkitty on December 17, 2017, 06:39:24 AM
I really hope another cat shows up soon...


Sent from the future.
A Slim one?

Sent from my Nexus 6P using Big Bend Chat mobile app (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)

*snort*

Well I made it out of our run-in alive...


Sent from the future.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: dprather on December 17, 2017, 08:53:06 AM
Regarding the potential for pain within this story, good literature, like life, sometimes hurts.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 17, 2017, 09:28:04 AM
Trtlrock reminds me of my now-departed father-in-law, one of the finest, most loving, and humane people I’ve ever met. He would have reacted almost exactly the same way. I understand. That said, I would also caution folks not to prejudge the story. There is a lot to come. I think it’s all relevant to the experience of The Bend.


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Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: iCe on December 17, 2017, 09:33:19 AM
Regarding the potential for pain within this story, good literature, like life, sometimes hurts.


I was thinking the same thing. The various situations of the story make it interesting and real. I didn't see anyone complaining when his tooth was knocked out. Eh... whatever... It's fine to skip out on the story if someone wants to but I've never understood the reasoning behind the need to announce it. 
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: iCe on December 17, 2017, 09:35:25 AM
Trtlrock reminds me of my now-departed father-in-law, one of the finest, most loving, and humane people I’ve ever met. He would have reacted almost exactly the same way. I understand. That said, I would also caution folks not to prejudge the story. There is a lot to come. I think it’s all relevant to the experience of The Bend.


Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)


We (humans) need people like that... they counterbalance the evil people in the world.


Why are you wasting all this time commenting? Shouldn't you be slaving away at the keyboard so we can continue to live vicariously  :notworthy: :icon_lol: :dance: :great:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: TexasAggieHiker on December 17, 2017, 11:20:38 AM
Keep it coming, I'm enthralled!!!!
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 17, 2017, 02:59:27 PM
Camp Cow(ard): November 27, 2017


The few minutes left in the night were spent by both of us in deepest sleep, deep down inside the sleeping bag with just a tiny breathing hole open at my nose. The sun rose but we didn’t. We didn’t even notice the light. At some point something, maybe the sun’s warmth on my nose, woke me and I stirred. The kitten, breathing softly but deeply, curled up in my armpit, head on my arm, stirred too, opened its eyes and looked up at me, purred and bumped my chin briefly, then stood up, stretching languorously inside the bag in that way only cats can do, digging its claws into my chest through my fleece, and then squeezed her way out through the armhole.


I wormed my face out of the bag and watched her pad off toward the river. She squatted, peed, covered it, and went to the water’s edge to drink. I noticed she didn’t shit. In sixteen hours of being together, it now occurred to me, I hadn’t seen her shit once. Because, it occurred to me, there was nothing to shit. Who knew when she last eaten? What did I have that I could fee her, I wondered. I ran through my list of provisions. Backpacking meals, heavy on the garlic and onion: toxic to cats. KIND Bars, mostly with macadamia nuts: toxic to dogs, but what about cats? For the life of me (and the kitten), I couldn’t remember (Damnit, Jim…I’m an ornithologist, not a mammologist), but a mistake could be fatal. Tons of GU gel, full of carbs but heavy on the caffeine. In that tiny body? I don’t think so, it might constitute a toxic load. Peanut M&M’s: chocolate is a no-no for cats, they can’t handle the bromine. Could I suck the chocolate off the peanuts and feed just those to her? Hell, I don’t know. She was so incredibly tiny, what was the margin for error? Lastly, jerky. A few different types, but all with some measure of onions and garlic. And dried, at that…meaning the concentrations were hard to estimate, but probably greater than I thought. No good options. What were the chances that EVERYTHING I carried would be toxic to her? I finally settled on the least spicy of my jerkies and decided to pre-chew pieces first, sucking as much of the garlic and onion from them as possible, and then feed even smaller bits to her at whatever rate she’d eat them. I’d made the jerky myself, I knew exactly what and how much was in it, and so I figured this was the best of my many poor options. I’d feed her later, after I’d packed up.


I squirmed out of my bag, quickly slipped on my down vest  and a balaclava, and started to pack up. What came next, I hadn’t yet decided. First, my very expensive down bag went straight into its drysack and the drysack went straight into its compartment in the bottom of my backpack. Didn’t need the cat shredding THAT in a playful moment. In went my Dromedaries, another thing I couldn’t afford to have punctured. My tent and raft’s inflation bag and backpack raincover were already inside my pack: good: all vulnerable, but all squirreled away safely. I quickly shoved my other drysacks (food and spare clothes) inside, for now, just to protect them. I left the food on top of everything else, as I planned to come back to it in a few minutes, but I cinched my backpack’s opening tightly closed. Soon, my emergency and hygiene supplies, in their own drysack, went back into my belly bag.


Meanwhile, the kitten was rolling around in the dry beach sand, playfully, joyfully, contentedly. Then she trotted over to my groundpads, sharpened her claws on them for a while, and bounced over to me by my backpack, standing up on her back feet, placing her front paws outstretched onto my knee, digging in her claws and mewing. She wanted up. “Okay, you want up? Come on,” I said. And she did, clawing her way quickly (and painfully) straight up my leg, my torso, and onto my shoulder where she then proceeded to nuzzle my cheek and ear. For the next few minutes, she rode around up there while I attended to business. She was ACTUALLY riding around on my shoulder, like a pirate’s parrot, but infinitely cuter. This was possibly the coolest kitten in the world. I tried to take a picture of our shadow: me standing and she on my shoulder, but my iPhone’s battery was still too cold, not yet having warmed up in the morning sunlight. Then she batted my ear once, bit it quickly, and leapt to the ground.


“What are we going to call you?” I asked her as I leaned down to scratch her neck. She flopped over and showed me her belly (cats DON’T do this) and let me scratch it. I could see now, in the daylight, that her fur was olive-colored, with black and honey markings. She DID look a bit like a bobcat, except for that fully-developed tail. I’d once had a cat, a female, named Olive: a tough, intelligent survivor, olive fur with black and honey markings, and this kitten reminded me of her. “Olive. Olivia, then. Olivia Felix because Felix means both ‘cat’ and ‘happy’ and ‘fortunate’. You are a happy and fortunate cat.” Or so it seemed at that moment.


My equipment was largely packed. I could leave at any moment. But what about Olivia Felix?


Could I possibly take her with me? Whoa….that was a heavy lift. I was traveling in an inflatable raft. One chamber only...and my repair kit was sitting hidden in the grass at Lajitas. In Lajitas. You stupid, stupid, stupid idiot. My gear was packed in drysacks. My tent was a single layer of silnylon. My raingear was light and vulnerable. My water was carried in polyethylene bags. I had no food she could eat. I was a minimum of five days from RGV where I could release her. And I was a day behind, having been stymied on the Lajitas golf course. And then there was Mariscal Canyon and the Rockpile and the Tight Squeeze. I’d never seen them but everything I’d read said they were formidable. I’d already flipped once, at the San Carlos Rapid. What would happen to Olivia Felix if I flipped again? Would she drown? Could I save her? Not likely. She’d flip out of the raft and never be seen by me again. So….my mind whirled….what? Do I leave her here to die, or take her onto the river and only to see her starve, or drown, there? I wasn’t sure I could get myself to RGV alive. Could I get us both there?


On the other hand, could she survive on this beach? Look, I’m a wildlife biologist. My judgements here are not uninformed. She was less than 9 weeks old. She was not fully weaned. I didn’t think she’d yet learned to hunt on her own and her chances of capturing a wily, evolved rodent or reptile or amphibian or even insect were close to zero. I’d been on this beach for at least 18 hours and seen no sign of any parents or siblings. She seemed abandoned, tried to suckle in my beard and on my ear, though she wasn’t yet starving. I’d guess her abandonment had happened, for whatever reason, in the last 3-4 days. She was habituated to humans and probably needed to grow up around people in order to survive, but the tracks on the beach indicated no humans had been here for days and days, if not weeks or months. What HAD been here was every possible predator in the park. They came here regularly to drink, and possibly to hunt. I knew coyotes were near; they’d told us so last night. As far as I could tell, Olivia had not yet learned to climb trees – about the only way, other than hiding in the cane (which I assumed she’d been doing up until now) that she could avoid some (but not all) predators.  Even if the weather stayed perfect (which it had all week), I’d give her – at the very most – ten days until she starved to death, and probably sooner, but only five until she was too weak and too sluggish and vulnerable to predation by a wild carnivore. If she stayed on this beach, she would die – either by starvation or by being eaten alive – there was no doubt about this in my mind.


Mulling all this in my mind, I absently wandered over to my beached packraft to move it toward the water for loading. Olivia Felix, my now faithful and ever-attentive cat, padded beside me. She sprinted past the raft to the water, and then back toward me. The raft between us, she leapt up onto the bulwark closest to the river and stretched, slowly, digging her claws gently into the raft’s fabric. My eyes bugged out and my throat choked as I (gently as possible under the circumstances) yanked her from the raft and tossed her behind me onto the beach. “No, no, No, NO, NOOOOOOO!!!!!” I cried. Uncomprehending, she rolled over and over in the sand and showed me her belly. I ran to my backpack up the beach and dug out my food bag in its Basecamp odor-barrier. I fished out a Ziploc full of mild jerky, stuffed a wad into my mouth and sucked it hard, chewed it soft, and bit a small piece off. Spitting it into my hand, I held it up to Olivia’s nose, then tossed it onto the beach. She ran to it, sniffed it for several seconds, pushed it across the beach with her nose and her paws, and then hungrily snapped it up into her mouth.  The chewing took awhile, she spit pieces out from time to time, hunted them down soon thereafter and, in the end, consumed every last bit, sand and all. She didn’t love it – it was spicy –  but she ate it.


Now, suddenly, Olivia knew I had food. I had FOOD. I HAD FOOD. I HAD FOOOOOOOD.


I assume that prior to that moment, she figured we were both starving and would just make the best of it, together. Sure, she’d probably been attracted to my camp by the wafting odor of my ramen noodle soup, but by the time she actually found me, that soup was long gone into my tummy and my cookset stowed in my backpack. It was all just odor and hope until now. 

If she was at my heels before, she was in my socks now.  I couldn’t walk without her in between my feet. I couldn’t pause without her pawing at me, digging her clawns into my legs, mewing. I put more jerky into my mouth, several pieces, sucked and chewed until I judged them palatable to the kitten, tossed them far out onto the beach while I loaded my pack onto my raft. Each time she came near, I’d toss her more jerky. It was maddening. Meahwhile, I was furiously trying to answer the question: what do I do? Do I take Olivia with me or leave her here? If I took here with me, would be both die, or would only she die, or would we both make it to RGV alive? Onto my packraft went my pack, and its raincover, and the lashes, and my groundpads, and the paddle with its leash. I grabbed my PFD and put it on, zipped it up. And then my belly bag. I walked up beach to feed Olivia more jerky. I scratched her ears, then her haunches, as she ate. I fed her more jerky, held it high as she reached for it and looked into my eyes. “You have a name,” I said, “It’s Olive Felix because you are olive and happy and fortunate. Good luck.” I started to cry. I fed her more jerky and then tossed the last bits far onto the beach. She didn’t see it. I led her over to it and made sure she found it. “Eat,” I said, “I wish I could do more.”


And then I walked swiftly back to my packraft and got inside, pushed off into the current – one foot, two feet, three feet – Olivia looked up and saw me drifting away from the beach, she sprinted toward me, mewing, with a panicked look in her eyes. I spun the raft around to look into her eyes, she leaned out over the water and mewed, and mewed again, and then followed me downbeach, never taking her eyes from me. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I’m sorry,” I dug in my paddle to keep myself facing upstream as we locked eyes. Hers never left mine as the distance between us widened. She encountered the first of the river cane choking the banks downstream and ducked under and through it, side to side, her eyes never leaving mine as her body bent to and fro and her head dipped up and down between the stalks, her mewing growing ever more desperate, louder, more panicked and more pained.  I was accelerating downriver and she was running now, along the very edge of the bank, keening intensely, ear-splittingly, with heartbreaking intensity, and then I hit the rapid hard. Our eyes locked, I dug in my paddle and spun the raft around, downstream into the rapid and hit the whitecaps.


One hundred yards downstream, I hit calm water and spun the raft around again, this time upriver.  Olivia was no where to be seen. Just a wall of impenetrable riverside foliage: cane and tamarisk and mesquite and althorn. Was she still coming, would she follow me blindly for miles and get hopelessly lost and exposed to predators? Or leap into the river to catch me, and drown? Or run until she could run no more, see me no more, and finally surrender to the inevitable: that I was gone? Did she return to the beach and wait for me, or turn upriver, knowing that I would never come back, and head stoically, alone, into her bleak future?


I don’t know. But I knew then that I’d made a mistake. I knew it almost as soon as I turned my raft downstream and entered the rapid.  And now, again, I slowly turned my raft downstream, away from the unerasable past and into the unforgiving future...and burst into tears. Great heaving sobs of anger and sadness.  I wanted to hit myself in the face, to hurt myself, I was so mad. I had been given one of life’s starkest, clearest choices, a chance to demonstrate my quality: selflessness or selfishness, competency or panic, life or death, good or evil, and I had failed.

Olivia would die and I would live.


[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: dprather on December 17, 2017, 03:23:30 PM
My father-in-law taught me a little about the cattle business.  He taught me to never name a calf.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 17, 2017, 03:29:49 PM
My father-in-law taught me a little about the cattle business.  He taught me to never name a calf.

Yeah......I know.....I taught my kids to never name our chickens. They love 'em, I kill 'em. In this case, it didn't matter. Neither cows nor chickens share your sleeping bag or put their feet on your lips in the middle of the night. I was doomed as soon as that kitten squeezed its way into my bag.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: dprather on December 17, 2017, 03:33:11 PM
Kitten as metaphor: we are all cute and cuddly to somebody, and we are all left on some sandbar someplace to fend for ourselves.

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Salty1 on December 17, 2017, 03:35:42 PM
P

Sent from my SM-T800 using Big Bend Chat mobile app (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 17, 2017, 03:36:49 PM
Kitten as metaphor: we are all cute and cuddly to somebody, and we are all left on some sandbar someplace to fend for ourselves.

And the coyotes don't care. Which is why we should. Love to you, Dprather.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Jalco on December 17, 2017, 05:48:40 PM
HMoD,

Although I'm by no means an expert on cats, we do have 4 that are ours and a 5th that belongs elsewhere but that my wife insists on feeding morning and night on our front porch.  All that to say this, my wife and I looked at the pictures of Olivia Felix and, to our eyes at least, she looks extremely healthy (our "front porch cat" was in worse shape when he wandered up) for a stray. 

One of our 4 "inside" cats is a recent addition to our home.  Much smaller than Olivia Felix, but she has already, on her own, learned to stalk and catch prey.  Mostly lizards, but we do find remains of mice in the yard.  She's working on bagging larger game, as we now have to coax her out of the trees while the squirrels bark at her.  I'm pretty confident Olivia Felix will adapt.

And, who knows, she might be adopted by the next group of giggling girls that float by.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: iCe on December 17, 2017, 06:00:50 PM
Well hell... I'm not a fan of cats but a kitten isn't a cat... well... it is but... eh... never mind... that's a bummer... mostly because it will stick with you. It probably "stuck you" more than once as you revisited the story for us.


Kind of like the Snipe I saw a couple of weeks ago. I drive 2 hours, sometimes more, one way, every weekday, to get to work (long story but it was voluntary and only a two year stint that is 1/2 over). About 30-40 miles of the trip is on dirt roads that pass through Post Oak Savanah and Gulf Coast Prairies and Marshes (rice fields). This time of year, ducks, geese, etc abound. A few weeks ago I was driving the last 2 miles of dirt road and I caught something falling out of the corner my eye. It appeared to have fallen from a high voltage transmission line and it fell straight down. I remember thinking "that was odd". Me being me, I couldn't just keep driving, so I stopped, backed up about 100 yards, got out of the pickup, and walked to where I thought "it" was. "It" was a bird. A Snipe (I think, I freely admit that it could have been a Plover or other kind of bird). It was still twitching but almost gone. I picked it up and looked it over. Below it's breast there was evidence of a single pellet entry wound. I don't bird hunt anymore. I guess I would go if asked to but it's not something I pursue, so I'm familiar with that kind of wound. Anyway, my guess is the Snipe was in with a flock of geese or maybe ducks and was hit by a single pellet. I just happened to drive by at the moment that it died and fell from the power line. It still bugs me that the bird died like that. Why? You can't eat them. Even if you could, nobody was going to. There was no reason to shoot it... Now that I have more years behind me than in front of me, I value things differently. It still bugs me.


So, if nothing else, I think it's sad that you had leave the kitten... and I think you had to leave the kitten. It's not like you had stopped in a rest area on IH10. You did what you had to do to preserve your life. Your self preservation instincts are there as much, if not more, for your wife and kids, as they are for you. And who knows... maybe someone in a kayak stopped on the sand bar and rescued the cat.


Hell man... I'd have blissfully fed it everything you knew would kill it without a clue. My version of the story would be- I found a kitten on a sandbar and I fed it x, y, and z. I would have believed I had done a good thing... and then someone would point out that x, y, and z are poisonous to cats.


And after all that... I understand and sympathize with you...

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Hang10er on December 17, 2017, 07:02:50 PM
Your encounter with that cat is almost like a metaphor (I think that's the right word) for the sacrifices that people who have lived in that part of the country most certainly had to make.  Having to face hard choices to insure THEY survived.  It's like the big Kahuna picked you and said, "He deserves to have an experience close to what people of the past had".

I have no issue with the choices you made.  I only feel bad for the person that bailed on your story so soon. 
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: mule ears on December 17, 2017, 07:32:09 PM
HMoD,
I am sad for your anguish but I am also with Jalco as one who lives with several cats that one looks awfully healthy and has more lives left in her.  You made a tough decision in a difficult place.  Don't beat yourself up over it.

Sent from my Nexus 6P using Big Bend Chat mobile app (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Txlj on December 17, 2017, 07:54:19 PM
 What a shame to have to make that decision. But I believe you made the correct one. Unfortunately, sometimes in life we have to make the hard choices. Its not fair, it is, what it is. Sad someone bailed, they missed a moving moment.

Sent from flat land

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: rocketman on December 17, 2017, 08:55:23 PM
Sorry you had to make that decision, but as others have said, I agree it was the necessary one given the potential risks. I also think Olivia just might make it. She looks healthy in the pictures, and by your description, she seems to be happy and somewhat comfortable rather than stressed and antagonistic. She'll get her share of bugs and lizards, and eventually larger prey. Did you happen to mention this encounter with the park rangers? Maybe they can find her and make sure she gets a good home in Dallas. ;)
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 17, 2017, 09:01:57 PM
Your encounter with that cat is almost like a metaphor (I think that's the right word) for the sacrifices that people who have lived in that part of the country most certainly had to make.  Having to face hard choices to insure THEY survived.  It's like the big Kahuna picked you and said, "He deserves to have an experience close to what people of the past had".

Hang10er, that is, I think, spot on.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 17, 2017, 09:02:47 PM
The die was cast. The arrow of time only points in one direction, as does the flow of the Rio Grande. For better or worse, there were no do-overs. I was going to have to live with the effects of my decision, however hastily it may have been made. As I floated downriver in my tiny rubber bubble, I endlessly replayed those last few minutes on the beach in my mind. My failure, it soon became clear to me, was that I asked myself, “how can I save this kitten and finish my trip” when it should have been simply “how can I save this kitten?” In the heat of the moment, I failed to really stop and think things through. My greatest sin was not STOPPING. Not taking the time to sort the situation out, weigh the positives and negatives carefully, one at a time. Could I have transported her in a way that posed no danger to my raft or other waterproof items? Yes. I could have emptied the contents of my belly bag, clipped its drysack with all my emergency supplies to a belt loop of my pants with a carabiner, and zipped Olivia inside the belly bag. Would she have tolerated it? Maybe not, but I could have used intermittent jerky bites to distract her for hours, even days. At camps and rest breaks, she would have been fine, though getting her back into the belly bag might have been painful. But I was convinced that, as hungry as she was, she probably would have gone back in willingly, and stayed there, as long as the treats kept coming. For FIVE long days? Well, maybe not. We’d deal with that as it developed. At least I could have TESTED it first, to see if she was amenable. And if we capsized? Well, she’d probably drown. But then again, if she stayed on that beach, she’d almost certainly die. It occurred to me that Olivia riding sealed in my belly bag would be extremely (and weirdly) reminiscent of a pregnancy – a kitten carried in a womb. I guess I was experiencing some major guilt of a maternal nature.


It slowly became clear to me that, as my grandmother would have put it, “I missed my appointment with Jesus.” My decision had PROFOUND consequences for an otherwise needy and helpless creature to whom I had become bonded and for whom I had accepted responsibility. Now, let’s stop and clear one thing up: I’m am not a Christian, I am not a believer in any kind of divinity, but I AM a deep admirer of ANY religious figure from ANY tradition that advocates for tolerance, love, and mutual responsibility. Jesus is a hero of mine, as is Buddha, and many others. As my other (now dead) grandma would say, I missed my “come to Jesus” moment on the beach. I had a chance to do something good and I failed. Was the world a better, or a worse, place because of the decision I made on that beach? A cat was now alone, isolated, and in fear…even worse, doubly abandoned…and likely to starve, grow weak, and die or be eaten. Had I taken it with me, it might have also died, or it might have lived and become someone’s wonderful pet.  Seemed like a no-brainer to me, especially now that I’d figured out how to contain the cat in my belly bag to reduce its chances of destroying my raft or gear. I could have fed it jerky bits during the day to keep it happy in the bag, and unspiced ramen noodles for for dinner for at least two nights. Enough to help it get to RGV alive.


As far as Olivia’s prospects on that beach…don’t kid a kidder. I didn’t reach sixty years old with a long career in the wilderness and around wild animals and wild people by believing in fairy tales. I am a realist. That’s how I’d survived all manner of disasters: hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, avalanches, lightning strikes, illnesses, injuries, animal attacks, equipment failures, falls, broken bones, burns, muggings, holdups, kidnappings, stabbings….you name it. The cat was young, it was abandoned, it was untrained, and it was in a wild environment beyond its ken, one absolutely teeming with skilled, well-adapted things ready, willing, and determined to eat it. No one was going to come along and rescue it before it died. Its days were numbered. And they were few. No sense sugar-coating the truth: does nobody any real good. Believe me, I considered ALL the alternatives. I had several days on the river to do just that. I killed the cat.


So what? Right? It’s just a cat. That’s a tricky one. I kill animals all the time. I’ve killed (a very few) by vehicle, by accident. Euthanized others that were beyond help. I’ve killed a lot more by hand, for food: hunting birds and squirrels and deer or elk; cutting off the heads of chickens and rabbits on my farm; selecting bison and cattle and pigs for slaughter by a butcher. And then there’s conservation: the hundreds of Brown-headed Cowbirds whose necks I’ve broken or lungs asphyxiated, or other native species whose presence was no longer welcome or balanced because of stupid mistakes we humans have made. I am no stranger to judicious, albeit conflicted, killing. But it’s never easy. A friend once told me, “when you start to find it easy to kill your chickens, it’s time to stop.”


All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

Each little flow’r that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colors,
He made their tiny wings.

The purple-headed mountains,
The river running by,
The sunset and the morning
That brightens up the sky.

The cold wind in the winter,
The pleasant summer sun,
The ripe fruits in the garden,
He made them every one.

The tall trees in the greenwood,
The meadows where we play,
The rushes by the water,
To gather every day.

He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.


In the end, we’re all just meat-bags. And yet, somehow we’re not. Every living creature on this planet is also the unique end-point of billions of years of evolution. Every living creature, and every non-living atom, is a part of a whole so vast, so complex, so interrelated, so beautiful (if you open your eyes and heart) that we can barely comprehend the totality, if at all. No man is an island, no creature an atoll. There is grace and nobility and wonder in that. And mystery. Profound mystery. The history of the last 500 years is the history of mankind realizing how small, and how large, its role in the world is. You think you’re special? Let me clue you in: you are but a host to non-human microbiota. For every one cell in your body, you are the host, feeder, and transport for ten non-human cells that are absolutely essential to everything you do every second of your life on this planet. Some are commensal, some are mutualistic, some are parasitic. But all are part of the delicately-balanced web of life. And so what are YOU? Is there a YOU? Hard to say. At best, we are temporary carriers of DNA. With self-awareness, imagination, moral judgement. And a consciousness of our own mortality.  Ay, there’s the rub.


To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there's the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause—there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th'oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of dispriz'd love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th'unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovere'd country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.


I had become sicklied over by the pale cast of thought. My enterprise of great pitch and moment had turned awry, and lost the name of action. Around dusk, I reached a beach south of the Great Loop, east of the Great Comanche War Trail, hours east of the beach where Olivia was now hunkering down, alone, against the coming night, and I made landfall. The spot was a steep slope, muddy at the water’s edge, covered in hoof-prints and cow shit, but bisected by a trail leading quickly up and inland to a wide pasture on the Texas side, well-timbered on the margins and shady. I secured my raft, unloaded my backpack, and climbed inland to the pasture, dropping my pack in the shade of a mesquite tree. Still with red-rimmed eyes from hours of crying and recrimination, I toured the pasture and selected a campsite, emptying my backpack and preparing my bedroll. I laid out my extra clothes, my messkit, and my food bag. Then I opened up my belly bag, pulled out my maps, my Holux GPS, set it in an open spot with a clear view of the sky, and switched it on.  Soon I would have a very good idea of where I was.


28 degrees 59 minutes and 28 seconds north, and 103 degrees 15 minutes and 31 seconds west. Not exactly on the river according to my map, but awfully close to where I thought I was. Good enough. Almost eleven miles today.


Just then, around 4:45pm, as the sun sank low but not yet below the horizon, a bull, three cows, and a calf appeared in the pasture, lowing nervously. I was between them and the entrance to the river: the rest of the bank was completely blocked with Giant River Cane and tamarisk. This was their nightly routine: descend here to the river, drink, and then move inland to bed down for the night. But I was gumming up the works. I moved far to the side of the entrance to the river, but it wasn’t enough. The cattle stood there, staring and complaining, but not moving, for a half hour and then dejectedly, sullenly retreated. They would complain for the rest of the night and into the next morning.  Even the cows were disappointed in me.


An impressive cloud formation blew in from the southwest and ran into an upper-level high right above me: long, wispy clouds skidding to a halt and spreading across the sky, catching the setting sun, blazing with hints of fire and forming a winding, glowing wall from horizon to horizon. Bad weather trying to form, but not quite getting it together. I pulled water from the river and fired up my stove; ate a hot dinner, made a cold bed...and just as the first stars appeared in the sky, gave my myself up to the oblivion of sleep.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JC_7uzrQ6jI



[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Demon Deacon on December 17, 2017, 09:33:14 PM
In fairness, the one where you take the cat with you has already been done.
(https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/57/Life_of_Pi_2012_Poster.jpg)
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: iCe on December 17, 2017, 09:37:29 PM

Erwin Schrödinger would say that all possibilities exist at the same time...

In fairness, the one where you take the cat with you has already been done.
(https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/57/Life_of_Pi_2012_Poster.jpg)
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 17, 2017, 09:44:19 PM
In fairness, the one where you take the cat with you has already been done.
(https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/57/Life_of_Pi_2012_Poster.jpg)

I'll be discussing that shortly.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 17, 2017, 09:45:29 PM

Erwin Schrödinger would say that all possibilities exist at the same time...

In fairness, the one where you take the cat with you has already been done.
(https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/57/Life_of_Pi_2012_Poster.jpg)

The problem is, I looked.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: badknees on December 17, 2017, 11:09:20 PM
HMOD,

Your action or inaction didn’t kill a cat. The fate of the cat was changed the day it wandered off, or was abandoned. You passed through the timeline of selection. You survived, the cat may or may not. I for one, see your decisions as rational and prudent. Regrets and recrimination doesn’t change the logic of your actions. You didn’t take the cat with you. That was your choice. That is who you are. Doesn’t make you a lesser being.

BTW.....This is only my opinion and doesn’t intend to represent the views of anybody or impose them on anyone either.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Talusman on December 18, 2017, 09:10:35 AM
HMOD,

Your action or inaction didn’t kill a cat. The fate of the cat was changed the day it wandered off, or was abandoned. You passed through the timeline of selection. You survived, the cat may or may not. I for one, see your decisions as rational and prudent. Regrets and recrimination doesn’t change the logic of your actions. You didn’t take the cat with you. That was your choice. That is who you are. Doesn’t make you a lesser being.

BTW.....This is only my opinion and doesn’t intend to represent the views of anybody or impose them on anyone either.

Agreed. Randomness of life. That cat may outlive us all!
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 18, 2017, 09:46:19 AM
HMOD,

Your action or inaction didn’t kill a cat. The fate of the cat was changed the day it wandered off, or was abandoned. You passed through the timeline of selection. You survived, the cat may or may not. I for one, see your decisions as rational and prudent. Regrets and recrimination doesn’t change the logic of your actions. You didn’t take the cat with you. That was your choice. That is who you are. Doesn’t make you a lesser being.

BTW.....This is only my opinion and doesn’t intend to represent the views of anybody or impose them on anyone either.

That is a brilliantly expressed opinion, BK.  And the qualification at the end is deeply appreciated.  Some of your post I agree with, and some not.  But I value the perspective. The truth, if there is any one truth to be had from this story, will probably be revealed by the many words of each us, rubbing up against what happened, abrading it, chipping away at it, polishing it into something truer than any of us could express alone. I love this forum.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: PacingTheCage on December 18, 2017, 09:59:02 AM
You are a great writer and storyteller!  I had to put a treasured pet cat down two weeks ago so this portion of the story was a bit emotional for me.  I would have done what you did.  I would have reacted the same you reacted as you floated downriver.  I’ve replayed the circumstances of putting my cat down every day since then.  What if I had done this or not done that, etc.  As you have learned that is not a good place to go.  You gave Olivia something she truly needed.  Sometimes we are called upon to end suffering.  The process, whatever it may be, is never easy.

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Hang10er on December 18, 2017, 10:57:38 AM
I get that the cat seemed domesticated, but it was in a wild environment.  And like someone already stated, HMOD didn't make the decision that put the cat where it was.  I am one who truly believes we don't always know how we're offsetting the balance of nature with every little thing we do.  We just can't see enough of a period of time to know.  Don't confuse me with some global warming believer and I really think this is not the place for that conversation.  I just try to go through nature taking memories, pictures and experiences and leaving footprints.  Nature is brutal, vicious and sad along with beautiful and amazing.  That's what it takes to carry on, survival of the fittest.  There's a food chain and everyone has a place.  As hard as it might sometimes be, I try not to interfere.  Is it right to save the poor bunny who is about to  be fed on by the coyote? 

I am glad HMOD told this part of the story and it makes for a better story knowing how it affected him.  I haven't done a "cross the park" hike or even a OML, but I can easily imagine how the setting, the isolation, the challenges still ahead compounded and played into the decisions regarding the cat.  How he handled it, is how he handled it.  I'm ready to get on with the rest of the adventure (it exceeded being called a "trip" a long time ago!)
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 18, 2017, 12:52:49 PM
Camp Déjà Vu: November 28, 2017


I was passing through the five stages of grief. Denial had lasted about 30 minutes - while the kitten followed me around camp and I packed – right up until the moment I dipped my paddle into the river and turned downstream into the rapid that would take me away from her. Anger began immediately after I cleared the rapid, and continued into this morning. I was still mad at myself. My original plan for the day, made several weeks ago, had been to paddle to Talley and make camp there, before the big push through Mariscal Canyon. But I was already several miles ahead of my original schedule. I was pretty sure I would arrive at the entrance to Mariscal Canyon fairly early in the day. So, the question was, do I run the canyon and its rapids today, or take a long break?


A long break did NOT sound like a good idea. What I needed was action, challenges, anything to keep my mind off the kitten.


I was up and packing by 7:45am. By 9am, I was on the water, paddling hard, heading toward Mariscal. Seven or so miles away. Less than two hours later, I identified the huge mass of Mariscal Mountain, where Mule Ears and his friend Scott would soon be. We had planned to rendezvous in the Quemadas, in the Fresno drainage above Skip and Jump Tinajas. I would be heading west out of the Quemadas on day nineteen of my journey, and they would be heading south toward Mariscal on day three of theirs. We’d share camp and dinner for a night. And they would do the cooking. I was looking forward to it enormously. But first I had to reach the eastern border of the park by river….and then hike back overland across the Deadhorse Mountains, through Ernst Basin, across the desert past Glenn Springs and up into the Quemadas.


As noon approached, Mariscal Mountain grew ever larger. I rounded a bend in the river and there was the mouth of Mariscal Canyon, cleaving the massif in two with an intimidating, forbidding gash. The rock was a glowering reddish brown, the sides steep, the shadows deep. Inside lay rapids that I feared, because I knew so little about them: The Rockpile and The Tight Squeeze. These were where I worried I might flip and drown the kitten if I carried her in my boat. I knew these rapids weren’t supposed to be as challenging as Santa Elena’s Rockslide, but then again, I’d often found on this trip that, for me and my packraft, the lesser rapids were more difficult and dangerous than the larger, more famous ones.


I had intended to pause at the mouth of the canyon, but the current was accelerating here enormously. The Venturi Effect - as all that river was squeezed through a very narrow canyon. I could have beached but I decided against it. The time was now: let’s go. I swept around a curve into the canyon and the steep sides swallowed me, towering overhead. I was just a tiny speck speeding downriver in the muddy red water, accelerating into the canyon between its sheer walls.  Shockingly, the first rapid, creatively named Entrance Rapid, was on me before I knew it.  I slipped through unscathed, but I could already here the roaring of The Rockpile downriver, less than a half-mile ahead. The sound rapidly grew louder and more intimidating. This would NOT be a good place to flip. Landing spots were damn few. The walls were mostly sheer 90 degree precipices, hundreds and hundreds of feet high. Flip here, and it would be a long float on your PFD to the canyon exit, and you’d probably never see your boat again. Somewhere along here, just as this thought was occurring to me, I passed the southernmost point in Big Bend National Park, and the very bottom of Mariscal Canyon, but I was too busy noticing my testicles retracting to notice the geographic milestone. Nevertheless, I had now bagged three of the four cardinal limits of the park: north (last year), and west and south (this year). Soon, lord willing and the river don’t rise, I’d be at the eastern limit, too. I had half a second to consider that and then the roar of The Rockpile drowned out my thoughts. The rapid appeared almost immediately, well before I expected it or was ready.  It’s a fearsome-looking jumble of enormous boulders jutting up crazily from the water. I attacked left, entered the jumble paddling hard and quickly pivoted 90 degrees to run the maze left-to-right at a slight downriver angle. I hit the last boulder with my bow, bounced, started to spin, but dug in and corrected and shot downstream, mostly free of boulders now, and danced around the last few minor obstacles. I was through The Rockpile. Intact, though I’d taken on a lot of water. No time to empty the raft, though. I could hear more rapids close downriver.  And again, before I was really ready, The Tight Squeeze appeared, and man, was it tight. A wall of rocks stretching across the narrow, now incredibly fast-moving river from canyon wall to canyon wall with only two openings for a boat: to the left, a TINY crevice, so small that I wondered if even my tiny raft could fit through, and another larger but still fearsome looking gap between two very large boulders near the right canyon wall.  That one, toward the right, was the Tight Squeeze. I don’t what they call the other one: the Mail Slot? Clearly, it was the Tight Squeeze for me. I shot through. It didn’t take much skill, the water was all going one way and one way only. Though I did take a tough wall shot off the rightmost boulder and as I rocketed through the small opening. It bounced me hard , spun me 360 degrees in a flash, and sent me back downriver at breakneck speed before I really realized what was happening. But thankfully the spin happened in the blink of an eye and I was again facing the right direction.


Downriver of The Tight Squeeze, the canyon becomes even more breathtakingly beautiful. Boulders the size of trucks have fallen into the river, probably thousands and thousands of years ago, and been carved and worn smooth by centuries of rushing water, so that they now look like pieces of abstract sculpture worthy of a museum. The beauty is impossible to describe, and I dared not try to remove my phone from its waterproof Opsak in my belly bag and take a photo in the unpredictable river flow, so you’ll just have to trust me…or go see for yourself. I’ll say this, though. Many of them were in the wider parts of the canyon with slower-moving water, places where I could relax and let the raft slowly spin, and I did. I lingered long as I could there. The canyon, in shadow, and full of mists, was cold. But the rocks were that beautiful. I really didn’t want to leave. I would have camped there if I could, but there was no place.


Another six or so miles, about an hour and a half, and I was out of the swift-flowing canyon, passing the standard takeout at Solis and heading downriver toward the mouth of Fresno Creek, where it emptied into the Rio Grande. That had been my originally intended camp for TOMORROW night. I was now a full day ahead of schedule. One might think that was cause for celebration, but what today actually meant for me was a recognition that I had been acting recently out of fear and weakness. An important part of my rationale for abandoning the kitten on the beach where I found her was the long length of time it would take me to reach Rio Grande Village: at least five days. Now it was beginning to look like I could do in four, or even three. An equally persuasive rationale was that Mariscal Canyon was dangerous and I would probably flip my raft, possibly drowning myself, definitely drowning the kitten. But, frankly, Mariscal had been easy. I was much, much better at maneuvering the packraft now than I was on my first or second day on the river. Which is to say, I COULD have brought the cat with me. I COULD have delivered her safely to Rio Grande Village. I’m almost certain of it. My mood grew dark.


Around 3pm, I passed the mouth of Fresno Creek and approached San Vincente Canyon. Just upstream of the canyon mouth I hove to and beached on a rocky spit covered in gray stiltsone slabs sloughed off from the striated gray hills of stone surrounding this part of the river. It was an odd place, hard, with little sand on which to lay out my bedroll, but I didn’t want to venture into another canyon so late in the day. 29 degrees 3 minutes and 46 seconds north, 103 degrees 5 minutes and 29 seconds west, or thereabouts, would have to do. I’d made almost twenty miles today. Extraordinary.


The afternoon was warm, the high pressure system was holding overhead, and what little clouds there were, were just wisps slowly drifting eastward. My campsite faced westward and the sunset looked to be a beautiful, intense one. But I was still preoccupied with the kitten. I unpacked my backpack from the raft, carried it up onto the highest shelf of the spit, and then scouted around for a decent place to lay out my bedroll. The pickings were slim. I chose the best of several not very good options, kicked a few slabs of rock aside, tried to sculpt a couple of hollows for my hips and shoulder, and laid out my groundpads, my sleeping bag, and my drysack full of spare clothes. I set out my water bladders, my bottles, my cookset, and a freeze-dried Black Bart’s Beef Chili. A quick trip down to the river to collect water for the chili, fire up my stove, drop the windscreen over it, and soon I’d be eating. Meanwhile, temperatures started to drop as the sun set in the west. The wind picked up and the wispy clouds collided and coalesced into bigger, thicker banks. I changed out of my wet river clothes, including the paddling gloves I’d started using in order to forestall blisters that were beginning to develop on my fingers, and laid the wet items out on boulders to dry. I then pulled on thick hiking socks, fresh underwear, a fresh t-shirt, dry fleece pants, a fleece sweater, and a balaclava. My feet went back into my VivoBarefeet river shoes, but being perforated and plastic, they were already dry and comfy.


As I sat and ate a sad dinner, I pondered the weather. A change was in the air. I had had an extraordinarily good run up until now. Perfect weather, really, since my arrival in the park almost ten days ago. How much longer would it hold – until I got off the river in Rio Grande Village – or even better, until I got off the river for good in six or seven days – or best of all, throughout my entire trip until I reached my vehicle again at the Mesa de Anguila trailhead in eighteen or nineteen more days? A guy could dream.


[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 18, 2017, 12:57:37 PM
The sun now down, I finished my dinner, cleaned up my messkit, dropped my mostly full water bladders onto the floor of my packraft as nighttime ballast, tidied up my camp, and crawled into my less than comfy bed. Glasses laid in one shoe by my head, Petzl e-LITE in the other. The wind was wavering, from still to blustery, but unpredictably. The temps were still dropping. It had been close to 80 degrees at 4pm; now – at almost 7pm – it was closer to 50 degrees. I thought about the kitten: not a good thing to think about. But I was sliding out of the anger phase of grief and, oddly, back into denial AND bargaining. She was still alive; I knew that. I could be in Rio Grande Village as early as tomorrow evening. Could I arrange to get back to that beach and look for her? How? A shuttle and an overland hike? Tough. A shuttle to the Johnson River Gauge and then put-in my packraft and float the half-mile or so to the beach, look for her, maybe find her, and then float another mile or two to meet the shuttle again at Loop Camp? Putting-in and taking-out at those locations was a lot easier said than done. And the shuttle? $$$$$$$. I was dreaming again. It was crazy talk. I wasn’t going to do it. No, she was going to die out there. I knew that. I let go of any denials, let go of my anger, let go any urge to bargain back the kitten's life, and slipped into depression. The next phase of grief. I drifted off to a restless sleep on hard ground, surrounded by a rough landscape of sharp, angular, brittle, gray stones covered with layer after layer of dry, gray dust, now kicking up in the cold wind.


I drifted in and out of sleep that night. And dreams. Strange and unhappy ones. Late that night, I dreamed of my old friend, Shawn Mahoney, and my even older friend, Roger Nall, whom I hadn’t seen in decades. Shawn was calling to me, at night, from the lit porch of his house, on the other side of a dark, slow-moving river. The night was still, but Shawn was worried. “My kayak,” he shouted, “it’s floating downstream, both of them. Can you put-in and help me bring them back? Roger went after the first one but I haven’t seen him for an hour. And my kayaks are drifting away!”  Now those of you that know me or have read my earlier trip report, know that my subconscious frequently speaks to me in my dreams, sending me urgent warnings from the real world. Last December, an impatient woman cursed me with the angry epithet, “Sideways Hypothermia!!!!!” at 3am near Dog Canyon and I woke to find the temperatures had dropped 50 degrees overnight and I was freezing to death outside my sleeping bag. This time, I started awake and realized the temperatures had dropped 10 or 15 degrees but, more importantly, the wind was blowing at least 30mph downcanyon.


Stop me if you’ve heard this before.


My raft!!!! I swung my head around, and there it still was, 50 feet away, on the first shelf above the water. But it was rocking wildly. Damn, I should have tied it up more securely! I wriggled out of my sleeping bag, reached for my shoes, almost stepped on my glasses and headlamp, remembered to pull them out, slipped then onto my head, then the shoes onto my feet. I threw my drysack pillow of spare clothes onto my sleeping bag, and the drysack filled with my much heavier hiking boots, too, hoping these would pin the bag from flying away in the wind. I rummaged through my belly bag and found my 3mm utility cord, tossed the belly bag back onto my sleeping bag as well, and sprinted toward my raft as the wind picked up and a gust almost stopped me in my tracks. I turned my face away from the stinging sand carried by the wind, and as I did so, I faced back toward my camp. Or what was left of it. What I saw was one of my gray closed-cell RidgeRest groundpads cartwheeling away in the darkness. The other was already gone. The sleeping bag, my very expensive Feathered Friends Winter Wren, was nowhere to be seen. The paler lump rolling away among the rocks might have been my stuffsack of spare clothes, including my Montbell down vest. My pack and my boots, thankfully, were going nowhere. Caught, frozen, between two disasters – my soon-to-be-airborne packraft, and my entire bedroll and spare clothes already flying away into the night – I made a split-second decision and chose my bedroll and clothes. I could survive without my packraft but not necessarily without my bedroll and clothes. Clothes!!!! OMG, what about my others, left to dry on boulders?!?! Shit, shit!!! Forget ‘em for now!!!! Sort it out later!!!!!! Now I sprinted back in the other direction, the one from whence I’d come, sweeping the ground with my headlamp, looking for my sleeping bag. I saw it!!! Amazingly...flat on the ground some yards away. Running full gallop, I passed by one tumbling groundpad and snagged it with my left hand while all the while keeping my eyes on the sleeping bag. I reached it just as it started to rise and launched myself, planting a knee on it. I grabbed it in my right fist, spun and sprinted back to my pack encountering the stuffsack of spare clothes along the way and soccer-kicking it ahead of me. Reaching my pack, I stuffed my sleeping bag down deep inside its mouth, and my stuffsack of clothes, while kneeling on my groundpad, over which I threw the backpack, and my boots, and the biggest rock I could grab with one hand. I kicked another rock onto the pad, and then headed back into the night to look for my other groundpad. It quickly became apparent that I would not, could not find a gray groundpad amid a field of gray rock in the middle of a black night. I gave up, turned, sprinted to my raft, pulled the utility cord from my pocket and quickly lashed it to a huge rock, and then to a large piece of driftwood, too. If the wind took all that, it would probably take me too, and we could all ride it out together in the air like Dorothy and Toto.


Next, I went in search of the clothes I’d left drying on boulders several yards away. I reached the spot but not a one was to be seen. I swept the distance with my headlamp. Fortunately, these boulders and been just upcanyon from a heavily-vegetated bank, mostly mesquite, tamarisk, and acacia. Plenty of thorns to catch flying clothes. Eventually I found all the pieces: my shirt, my pants, my t-shirt, my hat, my underwear, my paddling gloves. But it was a long, arduous, and dispiriting process. The groundpad was gone. No sign of it at all. Maybe in the morning.


I brought my now-very-dry clothes back to my pack and shoved them in, on top of my sleeping bag, and moved back to my packraft. I wasn’t taking any chances. I pulled the plug on the air chamber and the raft instantly collapsed. I drained the last of the standing water from its cockpit, rolled it up, squeezed out the remaining air and replaced the plug. Carrying it back to my pack, fighting through now-gale-force winds that threatened to knock me off my feet, I reached my camp and then kneeled and placed my deflated raft under the pack and on top of my last surviving groundpad, and then sat down heavily. “Well,” I said to myself, “that was fun.”


The one saving grace was that, unlike my mad midnight dash through the Ernst Basin last year, there were NO cacti on this spit. No low, thorny plants at all, outside the vegetation at the river bank. At least I could be thankful for that.  I proceeded to rebuild my camp, arranging everything against the wind, weighing it down with huge rocks. Spreading my sleeping bag out again on the remaining groundpad – my knee firmly anchoring it all – and then crawled back inside, not knowing if I’d even be able to fall back asleep in the now-howling wind, nor what time it was or how close to dawn I might be.


Tomorrow is another day, I said to myself.


[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 18, 2017, 01:17:23 PM
This, of course, is an example of why the studio suggested that Jerry Lewis, rather than Harrison Ford, should play me in the film. I would have preferred they at least proposed Buster Keaton, and reserved a little dignity for me, but no -- Jerry Lewis was the consensus. All dead, too, by the way. At least they didn't pick Jim Carrey.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 18, 2017, 04:15:27 PM
 


Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: RichardM on December 18, 2017, 05:34:40 PM



Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)
Was this a butt-post or did your text get lost?
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 18, 2017, 05:41:07 PM



Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)
Was this a butt-post or did your text get lost?

Ooops, butt-post, I assume. I believe that's my very first BBC butt-post. A milestone.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: iCe on December 18, 2017, 06:02:08 PM
There are so many paths to wander but... I think I'll just leave well enough alone  :eusa_shifty: :willynilly: :icon_cool: :dance: :great:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 19, 2017, 10:05:20 AM
Camp Carousel: November 29-December 1, 2017


The wind howled ferociously throughout what was left of the night, but died down just before dawn. I slept poorly, not just because of the wind, but also because the rotator cuffs in both my shoulders had started to ache, particularly the right one. Not muscle soreness, but an ache in the joint. Not surprising really: I’m sixty years old, I’d been on the river every day for a week, and the last two days, I’d paddled hard for 6-8 hours straight. I could have taken an ibuprofen, but the night had turned cold and I didn’t feel like crawling out of my sleeping bag to get it. Clearly, a low pressure system had moved in last night, and quickly. Around 7am, I finally worked up the energy to get myself up. The skies were blue, with few clouds. Didn’t look like rain. I pulled my down vest out of my the stuffsack I was using as a pillow and slipped it on, pulled my balaclava back onto my head, crawled out of my sleeping bag, slipped my feet into my river shoes, and went in search of my missing groundpad. The search was no more easy, or successful, than it had been in the middle of the night. Everywhere I looked were slabs of flat gray rock. Trying to find a flat gray groundpad in the middle of that was impossible, even if it was nearby. But it was probably in Mexico by now, or somewhere in Ernst Basin, maybe with my wife’s inflatable pillow that I lost last year in a windstorm. Add a sleeping bag to it, and somebody out there would have a complete bedroll. Well, there was still time in this trip: anything could happen: I might lose my sleeping bag yet. 


I took a long swig of water, downed an ibuprofen, ate a quick caffeinated GU, and a KIND Bar, to boot, and then started packing up. If I got a move on, I could probably make Rio Grande Village this afternoon. First, I would need to clear San Vincente Canyon, the San Vincente Crossing Exclusion Zone, the Hot Springs, the Hot Springs rapids, and Hot Springs Canyon. About 16 miles in all. That would put me two days ahead of my original schedule, easily making up for the day I lost when I failed to put-in at the western edge of the park by crossing through the Lajitas Resort Golf Course. That would put me in the RGV Campground for three nights instead of my planned two, if I wanted to stay on track to meet Mule Ears and Scott in the Quemadas. My timing was critical, because they were also going to retrieve my abandoned packrafting kit from a cache point in the desert near the main park road. I was going to leave it there when I accessed my cache on Friday, December 8, and they were going to retrieve it a few hours later, during their first day in the park. That would keep me in compliance with NPS regulations on abandoned equipment (“no more than 24 hours maximum”).  If I didn't stay in the campground the full three nights, I'd get ahead of Mule Ears, miss the packraft handoff AND the hot dinner that he and his friend Scott were going to make for me in the Quemadas on the 10th.  For all of that, I was more than willing to stay an extra night in the busy campground.


I already had reservations for the two planned campground nights; now I would just have to hope I could secure another night tonight. I thought my chances were good: it was Wednesday, mid-week, and well after the Thanksgiving Week holiday.


The sun was well up and the day was warming. I changed into my river clothes and stowed my fleece and down. Packing up quickly, I then reinflated my raft – a ten minute task -- carried it to the water’s edge, and lashed all my equipment to it. I stuffed a few more GU packets into the chest pocket of my PFD, slipped it on, buckled my belly bag to my belly, pushed the raft into the water, jumped in, pushed off and headed downriver toward San Vincente Canyon. Despite last night’s gale, the weather was great. Bright, sunny, warming quickly. San Vincente Canyon was delightful: small-scaled where Mariscal had been monumental. The geology was still fascinating. And, unlike Mariscal or Santa Elena, the sun shone on me the entire time. A welcome change. I passed Compton’s and Rooney’s Place and the ruins of Casa de Piedra, then the campsite I had originally planned for the night, just shy of the San Vincente Crossin Exclusion Zone. I blew through the zone and soon reached La Clocha and the Gravel Pits, and finally, the Langford Hot Springs. Several tourists were bathing there, and I think I startled them. “Is this the famous hot springs?” I asked as I swept swiftly upon them. “Yes!” came their answer but I couldn’t engage in conversation because the Hot Springs Rapids were immediately upon me. Another circus show for a tourist audience. I jimmied and jived through the rapids, exiting safely, and then dug my paddle into the river and spun around to face the tourists, now far upstream. I waved to them, then spun back around and headed energetically downriver into the small, beautiful Hot Springs Canyon.

Next stop, Rio Grande Village.

Around 4:30pm, after a beautiful eight-hour day of sustained but easy paddling through the usual minor rapids and a few more challenging ones, I reached the Rio Grande Village boat ramp. Just under 100 miles in seven days. I had pretty much mastered my packraft now.  I pointed my bow toward the shore, executed a few vigorous paddle strokes, and drove my packraft easily up onto the ramp, and stepped out onto solid land. It was a warm afternoon. The air was humid, and I sweated as I untethered my pack from the bow of the raft, and then dragged the raft further up the ramp and off into the deep sand beside it. I knelt, unscrewed the main air valve, and the raft collapsed. Within five minutes, I had dried the raft, folded and rolled it into a neat bundle, secured the bundle with compression straps, and was ready to strap it to my backpack. I popped the push-button locks on my paddle and separated it into two of its four parts. No need to break it down further, as I had only a short walk to the campground. I slipped the paddle pieces into the rear shove-it pocket of my pack, beside the four pieces of my spare paddle, took off my PFD and slipped it and my spare PFD loosely over the paddle shafts. My aluminum fire pan went inside my pack. The entire transition from water travel to backpacking took less than 30 minutes. I would walk in my river shoes: they were that comfortable.


I paused and looked back at the river for a moment. I imagined the kitten beside me, safe at last. Shook my head, and headed up the ramp. A minute later I was standing at the far end of the RGV group campground. Only one group appeared to be using the campground, and they weren’t home. Their tents had all been struck and were laying flat on the ground. My first stop was the row upon row of dumpsters. In went over a week’s worth of wagbags and trash. I was literally carrying a lot of shit with me on this trip: of all kinds. I was glad to be quit of the wagbags. A necessary evil, they were heavy, bulky, and only partially successful at deodorization when used, as I did, multiple times.

My next stop was the group campground’s bathrooms, where I did NOT use a wagbag, and DID use a mirror (Yikes!!!!! I looked scary) and filled one of my SmartWater bottles with a liter of fresh, clean water, most of which I promptly downed. I then trudged the length of the empty group campground to the Rio Grande Village store. I expected it to be closed, and it was. I missed closing time, and the chance to retrieve my first cache, by twenty minutes. No biggie. Being ahead of schedule, I still had food for two days in my backpack. As hints of dusk began to appear in the sky, I trudged through the main campground, and spied, coming slowly towards me, a three-wheeled bicycle pedaled by a charming woman in an NPS volunteer’s uniform. I know a campground host when I spy one. Mary was as delightful and helpful as they come. I explained what I was doing, my upcoming campground reservations, and my need for another night tonight. “Yes,” she said, consulting her clipboard, “I have your reservations down here, and not only that, the tent site you’re scheduled for tomorrow is also available TONIGHT. You can move in right now.” Fantastic. “There’s just one thing,” she added, “you picked the absolute farthest possible campsite from the river ramp…it’s a long, long walk.” “Well,” I replied, “I wanted the ‘No Generator’ Zone. I value my peace and quiet.” She smiled, “well, THAT, I think you’ll get.” And she waved goodbye, pedalling onward toward her evening rounds, and me trudging slowly – with my 50lb pack festooned with packraft, paddles, and PFD’s – toward the far end of the campground and tent site #100. I began to pass other campers, mostly in RV’s, some small, some unimaginably elaborate. One of the first I passed was a truck with a camper shell, a man sitting peacefully outside it in a camp chair, next to his solar cells. “Howdy,” he said, “you walk in?”  I told him my story and he nodded appreciatively. “How ‘bout that wind last night?” he asked. “Was it bad here, too?” I wondered aloud, and he laughed, “Yessir, like a tornado! Anything that wasn’t strapped down went flying! Chairs, bikes, food, tents! It was a mess.” Yep, it sure was.


Everyone I met was friendly. But, still, the abrupt transition from being utterly alone for days on the quiet river, with nothing but a few spartan camping supplies and freeze-dried food and water lifted from the river, to the world of winter RV-ers, was a difficult one. Suddenly, I was surrounded by trucks and cars and bikes and trailers and buses and generators and solar cells and paper lanterns and Christmas lights and clotheslines and hammocks and couches and tablecloths and boomboxes and music and spigots and fridges and the odors of grilling food and laughter and shouting and families and kids and couples and roads and signs and rules and boundaries and big metal bear boxes. It felt as if I'd suddenly emerged from a quiet walk in the woods and accidentally stepped onto a circus carousel moving at top speed, with wildly flashing colored lights and loud calliope music and large, oddly cheerful plastic and wood animals with wide eyes and strange smiles, bobbing up and down in crazy patterns beside me as we all spun around in a dizzying circle.  Whoa….where’s the handrail…can somebody stop this thing, I need to go lay down.


I found tent site #100 and dropped my pack against the bear box. The tent site next to me was occupied by a Chinese family just starting to make dinner. They nodded, I nodded. I understood they wondered why I had no vehicle. I speak a little Chinese – my wife is half-Chinese and we have an adopted Chinese daughter – but I didn’t feel like engaging anyone in conversation. I walked to the restroom (a RESTROOM! Toilets! Sinks! Hot Water! Soap! An ELECTRIC HAND DRYER!) and changed out of my wet river clothes and into my evening fleece. Thinking back on it, I’m grateful I remembered to use the restroom. I could just as easily have forgotten where I was and changed in the open air next to my tent.


Returning to my site, I laid out my river clothes to dry on a nearby mesquite tree that overhung the site’s picnic table, unpacked my rafting gear and laid it out on top of my bear box, unpacked the contents of my backpack, erected my little Silshelter tarptent and tossed my bedroll inside. The sun was dipping below the trees. I laid my messkit and foodbag on the table: soup and jerky for dinner. A water spigot waited directly across from my tent and I used it to refill my bottles with fresh clean water. I downed a liter right there and refilled. Walking back to my picnic table, I poured two cups of water into my Vargo cookpot and started the stove. While I waited for the water to boil, I opened a Ziploc of jerky and absent-mindedly munched on it. Eventually I dug my journal and pen from the belly bag on the table and began jotting notes of the trip. After a hot meal and some Peanut M&M’s for dessert, chased with an ibuprofen, I switched off my headlamp, star-gazed for a bit in the now-surprisingly dark and silent campground, and then laid down inside my tent for the first time this trip – not for shelter, but for privacy.


Tomorrow is another day, I said to myself.


[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 19, 2017, 10:07:19 AM
Home sweet home for three nights and two and a half days.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 19, 2017, 04:36:41 PM
I awoke at 6:30am the next morning, November 30, when the sky was just turning gray. I lay there for a moment, trying to get my bearings: I wasn’t entirely sure where I was. Why am I inside my tent? The campground… that’s right… Rio Grande Village… I’m back in civilization… I need to go get my cache and turn in my permit at the Visitor Center. Right.


I crawled out of my bag and out of the tent. Brrrrrrrrrrrrr…it was cold. I pulled my backpack out of my tarptent and my stuffsack-cum-pillow, too, and quickly put on my river shoes, my down vest and my balaclava, tight around my face. Didn’t expect it to be this cold. RGV store opens at 8am. I had over an hour. I grabbed a quick GU and some water and headed to the restroom to take advantage of its luxuries. Returning to my camp, I fired up my stove, boiled some water, and made a rare cup of black tea. The Chinese next door were up now and making breakfast. The sun had risen into a bright blue sky. It was another beautiful day in paradise.


After my tea and a KIND Bar, I packed up, tossed all the vulnerables in my bear box, grabbed my traveling wallet and my NPS river permit and headed toward the RGV store through the slowly-stirring campground. I heard something familiar behind me and turned. There was the kitten. Not quite and yet it was her. She was padding along, happily and curiously, just a step behind me, looking up with an expectant gaze that said, “now what?” My heart skipped a beat, fluttered dangerously, and I caught my breath, shook my head, blinked, and she was gone. Okay. Okay. That’s effing crazy. And it was. She had been RIGHT THERE. And so she would be, for most of the rest of my time in Rio Grande Village. Sorry folks, but I was haunted. Just the way it was. Nothing to be done about it. Everywhere I went, she went. Right on my heels. Happy, curious, mischievous. Kitten-ish.


I didn’t always see her, but she was always there. Of course, I didn’t mention this to anyone. Why burden them with something I could barely explain to myself? Why get myself a visit with an LE Ranger? Mum was the word. But, in my depression and regret, I was a haunted man. Crazy as it seemed, I knew dimly somewhere in the back of my mind that it wasn’t crazy, it was normal and healthy, if I ever wanted to become my normal, healthy self again.


As I approached the far end of the campground, the kitten beside me, I heard real music wafting through the clear morning air. Not imaginary, but real. Not just music: but cello. Classical music. And guitar. Live. I strode past a large camper trailer and spied the source of the music: two people both with at least a decade on me, sitting in chairs in front of their trailer, each playing an instrument, rapturously. It was beautiful. In every way. I stopped and listened for several minutes. They finished and I applauded. When they turned their faces to me, I bowed, deeply, and said, “Clearly I have made a terrible strategic mistake by not selecting a campsite next to yours. Well done, and thank you, from the bottom of my heart.” We saluted each other and I headed down the road.


At precisely 8am, I entered the RGV store, approached the friendly-looking woman at the cash register, introduced myself (aware that I looked AWFULLY wild and crazy...my hair was greasy, my beard was wild, you could still see scabs on my lips from the busted tooth), and explained that I had a cache waiting in storage there, per the store’s manager. She couldn’t have been nicer. She excused herself and a minute later returned with my big orange five-gallon bucket, still sealed, and filled with all manner of goodies placed there by me over a week ago. I sorted through the contents, familiarized myself with them, made note of which I needed and which I didn’t, pulled a few things out for today. I dug out a few bits of tasty food, and my daughter’s charge stick and prepared to recharge my dying iPhone. The charge stick would allow me to email my wife, and Mule Ears, to let them know I was alive and on schedule, and it would allow me to continue to take pictures throughout the rest of my trip. The charge stick was there, in the bottom of the bucket. All I needed was the USB cable so that I connect the phone to it. It was…it was…it was NOT……IN THE BUCKET. AAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRGH!!!!!!! I had forgotten the frigging USB cable! Without the proprietary Apple cable, the charge stick was useless. I would have to beg around the campground for someone to lend me their Apple USB cable. Frustrated, I sealed the bucket and returned it to the cashier at the counter. I would return later in the day, or tomorrow, to repack all the necessities into my backpack for the next leg of my trip: two days down Boquillas Canyon, and another five days overland to my next cache, waiting in a bear canister in the desert west of the main park road. I used the very last of my iPhone’s charge to send short, terse, essential emails ("ALIVE. Ahead of schedule. All good.") to a few people, and then shut my phone down.


I then bought a real, hot, fresh, black coffee at the store, luxuriated in its smell and taste, despite my self-pity and recrimination, and headed on foot down the road to the RGV Visitor Center. I hoped to be first in line, but when I got there, there were three cheerful and enthusiastic boaters securing day permits to run Hot Springs Canyon. So I browsed the book selection while I waited. I was tickled to realize that I personally knew six or seven of the authors whose books were on display there, though I hadn’t seen or spoken to most of them in years. Where had the days gone?  About then I suddenly realized I was drinking my coffee IN the visitor center, a big no-no, and rushed outside to dump the almost empty cup into the trash receptacle before returning.


Soon enough, the party ahead of me was done, and I approached the counter. “Just turning in my permit, so you’ll know I’m safe,” I said. The volunteer smiled and thanked me. “One thing, though,” I added, “I’m actually a day early, and I was wondering if you could make note of that in the computer. I’m in the middle of a fairly long, complicated trip, and I may need every one of my 28-alloted day this year, just to finish it.” Well, she tried her best. Even called the rangers at PJ, but the answer was “no”. Can’t restore a day retroactively. I would have had to come into the RGV Visitor Center yesterday to do that, but of course, I arrived in RGV after the Visitor Center was closed, so I couldn’t have done that. I didn’t REALLY think I would need that one extra day, I was just being over-cautious. I let it slide. As I was leaving, the volunteer noted the unusual spelling of my last name, “that’s the same way my maternal grandmother spelled her name.” “Really?” I asked, “with an E?” Yep. “Hmmm, tell me about her, where was she from?” Minnesota. Nope no relatives there that I know of. “The only thing remarkable about her was that she was hit by lightning and survived.” “Hang on,” I said, “then she’s definitely my relative: I was hit by lightning and survived. So was my Dad (he and his horse both), and my Grandad (while working on a windmill). We’re just waiting for my 12-year-old son’s time to come. It’s a family trait. We are all part of a small, exclusive and very reluctant club.” She laughed and laughed. Having established our unexpected connection, we wished each other well and the kitten and I headed back to my campsite.


I’d pulled an artisanal sausage from my cache: wine-infused, with fennel. And some garlic crackers. I ate that for lunch, along with fresh water, and some hard cheese. And sardines in olive oil. I was packing on the fat in anticipation for my next leg into Boquillas Canyon and then overland.  A bottle of wine would’ve been nice, but I didn’t need that right now. I’d grab a cold beer or two for dinner from the store, right before they closed at 5pm.


As I was eating, a couple, walking by, stopped at my campsite. “Where’s your vehicle? Did you walk in?” As I was explaining, the woman said, “Oh, YOU’RE the rafter!!!! We saw you at the hot springs!” And they had. I recognized them now. They had been part of the group I’d waved at. “So what’s it like rafting the river?” asked the man. I recounted my experiences and he nodded happily, “I’m trying to get her to do the same thing!” and then I got to the part about knocking my tooth out. He started to give me the “IXNAY” sign, but it was too late. “Oh. My. God!” the woman exclaimed. “Well, there goes that,” said the husband. They wished me safe travels and said maybe they’d read about me in the papers.  I said I hoped they didn’t because if I was in the papers, it was unlikely to be a happy story.


Shortly thereafter, John, the other campground host, stopped by to check my campsite reservation. He was just as charming and funny and delightful as his wife Mary. We chatted, he asked about my lack of vehicle, and I explained my trip to him. He looked skeptical. Pretty quickly it became apparent to me that he REALLY knew the park well. I told him about my trip last December, by way of providing my bona fides, and he relaxed. But he did say, “trapped in the Deadhorse, eh? You’re lucky you survived, I don’t think many people would volunteer to go in there to pull you out.” And he laughed uproariously at the thought. I liked John.


Of course, I didn’t tell John, or his wife Mary, or the curious couple at my campsite, or the volunteers at the visitor center, or the RGV store staff, or the musicians in the campground, or the Chinese family next to my site, about the kitten. What would I tell them? Hour after hour, I lived multiple stories, multiple versions of reality: in one a kitten miraculously walked beside me in this campground, in another I killed the cat by abandoning it to die beside the river, in a third I abandoned it, but it survived and learned to fend for itself and grew into maturity, alone, on the Texas side of the river. Which would they want to hear? Which would they believe? Which would they WANT to believe? I knew which of those scenarios I believed: the kitten would be dead soon. I couldn't fool myself, no matter what I might want to believe.  On the contrary, I needed to completely own that grim scenario if I wanted to recover. I NEEDED to be haunted by her.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_q7307IWwr4


Back at my campsite, kitten in tow, I rummaged through my stuff, collected everything that needed a wash (including me) and trudged back to the RGV store to do laundry. When I arrived, the laundry room was backed up. Unusual. I had nothing but time, so I sat down on the bench in the room and opened up my journal to make notes. The folks in the room were fascinating and friendly: a sweet but tough, well-travelled woman, an extroverted French woman in great shape, an older couple, and then a young couple with a very young child. They, unfortunately, were very last in the queue and it would be awhile before they could get their laundry into the only two working washing machines.  I sensed the young man staring at me. I met his eyes and he said, “Come here often?” I hadn’t heard THAT one in a few decades. “Umm, you mean the park….yeah, I guess.” He nodded, “are you by any chance on Big Bend Chat?” Ooooookay, “yes, I am.” “I’m Slimkitty,” the young man said.  Of course! I leapt up with delight and gave a slap on the back and a big hug. I was flabbergasted: I recognized him and his wife now. He was one of the few BBC users that I’d messaged frequently: he was from northeastern Louisiana, his family history on a cotton farm stretching back generations, a farm which he now managed…and I came from cotton farmers on both sides of my family, stretching back generations as well, though not quite as far, and I’d grown up on a cotton farm. AND I had relatives (my wife’s family) from northeastern Louisiana. In fact, my wife and kids were there right then, celebrating Thanksgiving with the family.


And then I noticed his son, crawling happily along the floor, interested in anything and everything in front of him. “THIS,” I pointed, “THIS is your new son!!!! The one you announced on Big Bend Chat! The one I said now had a thousand new godfathers that would always look after him and teach him the ways of The Bend.” Slimkitty (aka Will) nodded and beamed. I leaned down toward the boy and asked him his name. “Kip,” his mother, Hope, said, “he’s named after my father.”  I patted the young man on his 9-month-old head, looked him in his unbelievably bright eyes and announced, “nice to meet you, Kip. Welcome to Big Bend.” Kip and I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out together, just enjoying being together…or just enjoying being, together. Slimkitty and Hope chimed in from time to time, too.  They were about as nice, and sharp, and curious, and adventurous, as any young couple I'd ever met. This kid was the child of Hope and Will. If that isn’t a recipe for success, I don’t know what is.


Not only did Will have an amazing son, he had an Apple USB cable, which he gladly lent me. While we all talked and kvetched, I charged my phone. Eventually I finished my laundry and Hope and Will started theirs. I folded my laundry, inserted bits of it back into my cache bucket, took a five-minute, scaldingly hot shower in the bathrooms next to the laundry, blasting the grime and the grit and the shit off my body, and by the time I got out, Will and Hope had finished their laundry and were ready to return to their rental in Terlingua, and soon, leave the park. We all shook hands (well, Kip may have shaken his pacifier) and said our goodbyes and I returned Will’s USB cable from my fully-charged iPhone. The young family headed to Terlingua and I headed to my campsite around 5pm with two cold beers and some vittles from the store and my cache. Man, that encounter was a picker-upper to surpass all picker-uppers.


On my stroll back, I passed the cellist and his wife, playing a baroque sonata, and I applauded again. Then, close to my campsite, an extremely fit man, about my age, pulled up beside me on a bicycle. “Hey, there,” I hear you’re rafting the Rio Grande. “Ummm, yeah…how did you know?” He said his friend, John, the campground host, had told him all about me. “And then you’re walking back to Lajitas?” he asked. “Yeah…” “Look, don’t take this the wrong way, but…do you know what you’re doing?” “Well, I know a lot more now than I did a week ago,” I laughed, and then I explained my background, my experience as a kayaker, my experience as a hiker in Big Bend, my trip last year, and my general wilderness skills honed over the years, including as a biologist. He took it all in and said, “I was a canoeing guide in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota for decades, I’ve been coming here for years, I’ve hiked just about every bit of this park, what’s your intended route back to Lajitas?” These were prying questions, but they didn’t bother me, coming, as they did, from him: he wasn’t exactly challenging me, he wasn’t aggressive, he seemed concerned and friendly. I explained my intended itinerary; he asked a lot smart questions; I gave a lot of smart answers. I offered to show him my maps, but he demurred, “Can’t: my wife is waiting for me back at the campsite for dinner. Sounds like you know what you’re doing. My one piece of advice is do it while you can. My wife, the healthiest person I’ve ever known, had a stroke at sixty. I retired shortly afterward, and we’ve been coming here ever since.” I AM SIXTY, I thought. “How old are you now?” I asked. “Seventy-Five.” My second time today to be absolutely flabbergasted: “No. Frigging. Way.” “Really,” he said. “I want some of what you’ve got,” I said. “Do what you really want before it’s too late,” he replied, and took his leave with a wave, bicycling muscularly back to his campsite.


I just stood there for a minute or two, and then shook my head in wonder, and headed toward my bear box. I unpacked my food and messkit and prepared a dinner of cold guacamole, warm bean dip, spicy salsa, and a bag of tortilla chips, and then sardines with mustard, capers, and black pepper on crackers.  And two very cold Modelo Negro beers.


I would sleep well tonight.


[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: iCe on December 19, 2017, 06:06:27 PM
“Do what you really want before it’s too late,”

Indeed. Isn't that the mission for most all of us?
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Hang10er on December 19, 2017, 07:43:13 PM
"Do what you really want before it's too late."

I've never thought of anything to put as a quote at the end of my posts....I just might add that.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Slimkitty on December 20, 2017, 10:06:13 AM
Haha then Slimkitty went and blabbed to all of BBC about HMODs plans!


Sent from the future.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 20, 2017, 10:55:19 AM
Haha then Slimkitty went and blabbed to all of BBC about HMODs plans!

Sent from the future.

Slimkitty was excited.   :icon_wink:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 20, 2017, 02:23:55 PM
Indeed, I slept well that night, even though it was inside my little tarptent. I was looking forward to being back on the river where I would once again be free of the confines of a tent. But in order to get back on the river, I needed to get my next permit, and today, December 1, it was time. Permits can be issued no more than 24 hours in advance of the start of a backcountry trip, and I intended to hit the river first thing tomorrow morning.


Late in the planning of my trip, after yet another run-in with an unexpected NPS rule that scuttled my developing itinerary, the realization that I could obtain a combined river/backpacking permit at the Rio Grande Village visitor center had been a big boon to me. Over the years, I’d spent very little time in RGV and it just hadn’t been on my radar. But necessity is the mother of invention, and the RGV ranger station and visitor center turned out to be the solution to my regulatory bind. This morning, after grabbing another delicious cup of coffee at the campground store, the kitten and I would walk over to the visitor center and get the permit that would take me all the way back to my vehicle at the Mesa de Anguila trailhead in Lajitas. This was the crux: clear this final hurdle and I was free: after that it all depended upon me and me alone.

IF I could get the permit.

I still wasn’t 100% certain the rangers would find my plans to be in compliance with NPS regulations. The trick, of course, was that everything about my monthlong trip plan was interdependent: the route, the various means of transport, the caches, the schedule, the packraft handoff, the dinner rendezvous, the legalities, and the use limits: ever tiny aspect fit together like an insanely complicated jigsaw puzzle. Change one piece, and then nothing fits. You just never know when you go into the building to get a permit for a trip as non-traditional as this one. I was operating at the outer limits of the possible here.


It was another cold but beautifully sunny morning. A brief stop to say hello to my very good friends in the concession store (we were practically best buddies by now  :icon_wink:) and grab a cup of joe, and I shuffled off down the road to the RGV visitor center. Aiming to be the first one there when they opened at 8:30am. I arrived at 8:20am and two vehicles were already there and the doors to the building were unlocked. Damn, people get up early around here. Inside, a group of four twenty-somethings were negotiating some backcountry road camping (Pine Canyon, I think) with the ranger on duty. I recognized the ranger, he was the same one that had written my permit in mid-June for a 5-day Outer Mountain Loop. That was a good thing. He’d been unrelentingly hard on me back then, but ultimately fair, and issued the permit despite the fact that the trip plan sounded….unwise. I’d told him I wanted to hike the Blue Creek Canyon trail from Homer Wilson to the Chisos and hang out up there. No problem. Then, since I was a biologist, I might drop down into Juniper Canyon to check out the effects of the recent Crown Mountain fire, see what effects it had on nesting birds. Oooookay. And then, you know, since I was already down there in the desert, maybe I oughta just exit via the Dodson. Well, that sounds like an OML. Yeahhhhhhh. That’s when he drilled down on the rules, listening like an eagle to each of my responses. I told him I’d done some research in the park in the distant past; we shared war stories of The Bend and other parks around the West…SARS, the times we’d each narrowly escaped wildfires, various backcountry injuries and alarms, the difficulty of finding water, the dangers of expecting to finding water where it may not be.  In issuing my permit, he followed the regulations to a “T” and he made sure I would, too.  I declined to register as a solo hiker.

I used to register as a solo all the time, but these days I ensure most of the same benefits by leaving detailed digital files of my CalTopo route maps and itinerary with people I trust, as well as lists and pictures of my equipment, my shoes, my clothes, as well as information about my self-rescue and signaling strategies in case of trouble, and lastly contact information for park dispatch and local law enforcement. If the park contacts my family, or my family contacts the park, either because I’m late, or I’ve triggered my PLB, or there is some natural or criminal crisis in the park, everything can be emailed in an instant. 


The waving of the solo hiker forms settled, the ranger let me go out into the devastating summer heat, not quite with a blessing, but at least with respect. “Just do me one favor,” he said, and highlighted a telephone number at the bottom of my permit, “call this number when you get out, it’s park dispatch….let us know you made it.” I did, and I did. It was a dumbass trip to take, but I survived because I knew my limits and knew enough not to overreach them. I wouldn’t do that trip again for anything, I thought to myself.


“Sir…could you please take that drink outside.”  I was startled out of my reverie. It was the ranger, frustrated, talking to me, around the heads of the tourists in front of me.  Shit!!!!  I’d done it again. Walked into the visitor center with my coffee. The problem with coffee in the morning in Big Bend, is that until I’ve finished it, I’m too sleepy and stupid to remember where I can take it and where I can’t.  And this was NOT the way I wanted to begin my morning with the rangers. “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” I said and hustled out of the building through the front doors, past the two large signs that said, “PLEASE: NO FOOD OR DRINK INSIDE THE BUILDING”, and straight to the bear-proof trash cans into which I quickly tossed my half-empty Styrofoam cup.


As I walked back into the visitor center, the folks ahead of me were just finishing up. They’d gotten their permit but they were asking the ranger where they might buy propane for their portable grill. They’d forgotten their supply at home and the RGV store didn’t have what the particular type they wanted. The answers, of course, are Marathon and Study Butte, and neither made them happy. “And,” I chimed in from behind, “bear in mind that the speed limit in the park is a MAXIMUM of 45mph. So either way you go, you have a loooooong drive ahead of you.” They groaned, thanked me, then the ranger, and headed out the door while I walked nervously to the counter.

“House Made of Dawn, with the packraft!” the ranger announced, with a big smile.

This was clearly my week to be flabbergasted.  I stood there with my jaw on my chest, and my eyes bugged out, like an idiot, and then stammered, “But…but…but…yeah, but….how do you know that?” “Oh, I know…..I recognized you…I know all about your trip.” “Even the packraft?” I was incredulous. “Yeah, I saw you from the plane, during overflights.” I had, in fact, seen a plane three times, and waved at it twice. I was still flummoxed. I thought I was anonymously, stealthily, moving through the park, but it was beginning to seem as if everyone I met knew who I was.


“You are SPOOOOOOKY,” I said, and made Svengali fingers in front of his eyes. “Yes, I am,” he calmly replied, with a twinkle in his eyes. I didn’t know whether to take that as a good, or a bad, sign. “Do you remember you were the one that issued me my OML permit in mid-June this year,” I asked him. “Oh, right, I warned you that you might die out there; how did it go?” “I almost died out there.” “See?” “But I didn’t, that’s the takeaway.” He looked at me for a moment, then said, “fair point.” Then he sighed, “I can’t begin to tell you how many dessicated bodies I’ve pulled from desert parks around the US.” “I hear you, glad I wasn’t one of them.”


“So what’s next for you?” he asked. Here we go, I thought to myself. I gave a quick overview of my hoped-for itinerary and he didn’t blink. Or sigh. He just pulled out the backcountry zone map and we started working our way through the days. At every stage of the discussion he made ABSOLUTELY sure that I was in compliance with NPS regulations AND that I was completely aware of all NPS recommendations. We labored over the minutiae of zone assignments because some of my preferred campsites were right on the demarcation lines between zones. I wanted to get everything nailed. We even discussed specific campsites. He knew several of mine well and suggested small changes of location or approach that might make them even better. It took us the better part of an hour, but we eventually dialed it all in and my permit was almost complete. I would use every single one of my remaining allotted 28 annual days in the park. When it came time to type in the final entry and exit dates, the computer shaved a day off the exit date. I nearly peed in my pants.  He wrinkled his brow, tried again, frowned. “The system took your entire itinerary without problem, but it won’t let me enter the correct exit date. It’s shaving a day off the duration.”  Several more tries yielded the same result. “Okay,” he said, “here’s the deal. I’m issuing this permit. The itinerary is valid. All your camping zones are listed for every single night you’ll be out. But the “Out By” date is off by one night. If anyone, a ranger or a volunteer, anyone, questions you about it, you have them call me. I’m listed as the issuer. I’ll straighten it out.” And we were done!


A last reminder to alert dispatch when I finally exited the park, a last solemn handshake, and I was on my way. I practically skipped my way out of there and down the road to the RGV store. I was a free man. All I had to do now was raft my way to the wild eastern edge of the park and then hike 140 miles offtrail back to my RAV by sunset on December 16.


[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Buck on December 20, 2017, 02:37:49 PM
I used to be the kind of guy who would ask where the line was that I couldn't cross, then walk up to it and see how far I could lean over it while standing on the 'right' side.  I lost my balance once or twice doing that.

These days I tend to sit in a chair in the shade with a beer and catch glimpses of that line from time to time off in the distance. 

You seem to be the kind of fellow that tries to find where the line begins and ends!
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 20, 2017, 02:45:01 PM
I used to be the kind of guy who would ask where the line was that I couldn't cross, then walk up to it and see how far I could lean over it while standing on the 'right' side.  I lost my balance once or twice doing that.

These days I tend to sit in a chair in the shade with a beer and catch glimpses of that line from time to time off in the distance. 

You seem to be the kind of fellow that tries to find where the line begins and ends!

 :great:  Namaste, Buck. Which is to say, the line-surveyor in me salutes the line-surveyor in you.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: mule ears on December 20, 2017, 04:13:18 PM
Quote
“House Made of Dawn, with the packraft!” the ranger announced, with a big smile.

This was clearly my week to be flabbergasted.  I stood there with my jaw on my chest, and my eyes bugged out, like an idiot, and then stammered, “But…but…but…yeah, but….how do you know that?” “Oh, I know…..I recognized you…I know all about your trip.” “Even the packraft?” I was incredulous. “Yeah, I saw you from the plane, during overflights.” I had, in fact, seen a plane three times, and waved at it twice. I was still flummoxed. I thought I was anonymously, stealthily, moving through the park, but it was beginning to seem as if everyone I met knew who I was.


“You are SPOOOOOOKY,” I said, and made Svengali fingers in front of his eyes. “Yes, I am,” he calmly replied, with a twinkle in his eyes.

I have figured out how he put it all together.  I am sure we was aware of your trip from inter-office discussion and also saw you from the air on the river in the packraft but he also clearly monitors BBC and saw Slimkitty's post of a day earlier when he had your picture, BBC handle and a glimpse of the the trip all in one.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 20, 2017, 04:24:06 PM
Quote
“House Made of Dawn, with the packraft!” the ranger announced, with a big smile.

This was clearly my week to be flabbergasted.  I stood there with my jaw on my chest, and my eyes bugged out, like an idiot, and then stammered, “But…but…but…yeah, but….how do you know that?” “Oh, I know…..I recognized you…I know all about your trip.” “Even the packraft?” I was incredulous. “Yeah, I saw you from the plane, during overflights.” I had, in fact, seen a plane three times, and waved at it twice. I was still flummoxed. I thought I was anonymously, stealthily, moving through the park, but it was beginning to seem as if everyone I met knew who I was.


“You are SPOOOOOOKY,” I said, and made Svengali fingers in front of his eyes. “Yes, I am,” he calmly replied, with a twinkle in his eyes.

I have figured out how he put it all together.  I am sure we was aware of your trip from inter-office discussion and also saw you from the air on the river in the packraft but he also clearly monitors BBC and saw Slimkitty's post of a day earlier when he had your picture, BBC handle and a glimpse of the the trip all in one.

I have relatives that served in the CIA. This has all the hallmarks of tradecraft.  And his name was a nom de guerre, if  ever I've heard one.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: mule ears on December 20, 2017, 04:30:50 PM
Quote
“House Made of Dawn, with the packraft!” the ranger announced, with a big smile.

This was clearly my week to be flabbergasted.  I stood there with my jaw on my chest, and my eyes bugged out, like an idiot, and then stammered, “But…but…but…yeah, but….how do you know that?” “Oh, I know…..I recognized you…I know all about your trip.” “Even the packraft?” I was incredulous. “Yeah, I saw you from the plane, during overflights.” I had, in fact, seen a plane three times, and waved at it twice. I was still flummoxed. I thought I was anonymously, stealthily, moving through the park, but it was beginning to seem as if everyone I met knew who I was.


“You are SPOOOOOOKY,” I said, and made Svengali fingers in front of his eyes. “Yes, I am,” he calmly replied, with a twinkle in his eyes.

I have figured out how he put it all together.  I am sure we was aware of your trip from inter-office discussion and also saw you from the air on the river in the packraft but he also clearly monitors BBC and saw Slimkitty's post of a day earlier when he had your picture, BBC handle and a glimpse of the the trip all in one.

I have relatives that served in the CIA. This has all the hallmarks of tradecraft.  And his name was a nom de guerre, if  ever I've heard one.
You are right about the fake name!

Sent from my Nexus 6P using Big Bend Chat mobile app (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Slimkitty on December 20, 2017, 04:31:03 PM
Ok ok, I’ve learned my lesson.  The first rule of fight club is “Don’t talk about fight club.” 


Sent from the future.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 20, 2017, 04:34:53 PM
Ok ok, I’ve learned my lesson.  The first rule of fight club is “Don’t talk about fight club.” 

Sent from the future.

 :icon_lol: :icon_lol: :icon_lol:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 20, 2017, 04:44:46 PM
Ok ok, I’ve learned my lesson.  The first rule of fight club is “Don’t talk about fight club.” 

Sent from the future.

 :icon_lol: :icon_lol: :icon_lol:

I see that, with this quoted comment, I've arrived at 1492 posts after slightly more than a year's voyage on BBC. I feel as if this is a fraught and momentous moment: I'm in sight of a New World. Who knows what it will hold?
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: rocketman on December 20, 2017, 05:13:47 PM
Congrats House! The New World will be awesome as long as you keep posting your trip reports. Now get back to typin.... :icon_smile:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: iCe on December 20, 2017, 05:37:55 PM
Wait... you did a 5-day OML in the summer too?? How did I miss that? No bs... I was going to ask about doing the OML in the summer... and then you posted "I nearly died"... and I uttered <expletives deleted> um if HMOD "nearly died" that means I would be the aforementioned desiccated body if I tried that. I don't think I would  look very good desiccated. scratch that idea.


Correct me if I'm wrong House... but I think you've done this sort of thing before  :eusa_eh: :great:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 20, 2017, 05:47:52 PM
Wait... you did a 5-day OML in the summer too?? How did I miss that? No bs... I was going to ask about doing the OML in the summer... and then you posted "I nearly died"... and I uttered <expletives deleted> um if HMOD "nearly died" that means I would be the aforementioned desiccated body if I tried that. I don't think I would  look very good desiccated. scratch that idea.


Correct me if I'm wrong House... but I think you've done this sort of thing before  :eusa_eh: :great:

I did it. It sucked. It nearly me killed me, but I adapted and escaped. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. There was no trip report because I did not want to do anything that would in anyway encourage anyone to imitate it. IT IS A KILLER. The cut-off is Memorial Day. Unless you cache water at every opportunity and have a lot of expendable servants to follow you with palm fans and a sedan chair.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: iCe on December 20, 2017, 06:02:41 PM
Wait... you did a 5-day OML in the summer too?? How did I miss that? No bs... I was going to ask about doing the OML in the summer... and then you posted "I nearly died"... and I uttered <expletives deleted> um if HMOD "nearly died" that means I would be the aforementioned desiccated body if I tried that. I don't think I would  look very good desiccated. scratch that idea.


Correct me if I'm wrong House... but I think you've done this sort of thing before  :eusa_eh: :great:

I did it. It sucked. It nearly me killed me, but I adapted and escaped. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. There was no trip report because I did not want to do anything that would in anyway encourage anyone to imitate it. IT IS A KILLER. The cut-off is Memorial Day. Unless you cache water at every opportunity and have a lot of expendable servants to follow you with palm fans and a sedan chair.


So that time that I hiked out to Mule Ears Spring, in July, with no hat and one (might've been two) liters of water was a good indicator for me to not ever do that then? I thought THAT was going to kill me... and I haven't done it since. So nyet to the summertime OML...


I have this problem (ok... it's more than just this), it's not that I don't like people... it's just that I go to Big Bend and other places to ESCAPE from my day to day interactions with "folks". If you go to BiBe in the summer it does not feel like a zoo... well... it didn't and then they had the anniversary and the park seemed to be overflowing with them... People actually showed up when I was at Cattail Falls (the nerve of some people). I mean there were actually cars in the park and and everything. Thankfully it wasn't Yellowstone or the Tetons in July (never, ever again) but it wasn't Yellowstone in November either (bliss incarnate). So the summertime has been my time to go to BiBe. It limits where I can go and how far I can go (safely). More than I thought it would.


It's taken 59 years but, since I want at least another 59 years (I will get prettier right?) so I am mindful of the things that cause pain and make me decay (or dessicate). 


The good news is... whatever I do there... whenever I do it there... it's all good...
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 20, 2017, 06:26:18 PM
iCe, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you go out on the lower portions of the OML in June or July, and probably August, you WILL die. Full stop. End of story.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: iCe on December 20, 2017, 06:30:35 PM
iCe, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you go out on the lower portions of the OML is June or July, and probalbly August, you WILL die. Full stop. End of story.


Not to worry... I won't. If your experience was bad, mine would be terminal. And then I'd get a ticket for littering or feeding the animals I don't want that...


If I do an OML, I'll adjust my timeline to winter...
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: SergeantFunk on December 21, 2017, 12:02:50 PM
“Do what you really want before it’s too late,”

I live in the Houston area.  Was in Midland this week for work. Knowing how tantalizingly close the park was (3.5 hrs-ish), I felt the pull and said so to folks during a break.  And - them having near access to BBNP, BBRSP, GMNP, Hueco tanks, Balmorrhea, Seminole canyon etc, heck even Riudoso and lots of NM stuff...I asked "Do you guys get out there much?"  Answers were minimal.  They asked some questions about what I do in the Bend, backpacking and whatnot.

I guess the reason they stay planted is why I didn't make trips for a long time.  Theyre in the 'raising kids' zone - 30s & 40s.  It's all soccer games, band concerts, tae kwon do I'm sure.  And all that stuff is good certainly.  I'm an old band geek who still plays saxophone professionally on the side in fact. But as you say - before it's too late, do what you really want.  50 now, I'm just beginning to kick up the dirt again.  Following a recent back surgery - heavy pack trips are still a tall order.  Working on it, working on it. 

HMoD and everyone - I'm enjoying this thread immensely.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Txlj on December 21, 2017, 03:38:22 PM
Agreed.

Sent from flat land

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 21, 2017, 06:47:38 PM
The day was young, and the rest of it would be devoted to getting ready to hit the river again…both logistically and mentally. I returned to the store, accessed my cache with the help of the staff, pulled some vittles, rearranged the contents, and headed back to my tent site in the campground to make lunch and notes. Minutes after returning to my bear box, the campground host, John, stopped by to check up on things. He pulled up in his truck and hailed me, “how’s things?” As always, I was delighted to see him, I asked him about his friend, the extraordinarily fit 75-year-old that had grilled me yesterday. “Well,” John mused, “he’s a good guy, spent 30 years with the US Forest Service. He knows what he’s talking about.” Click. Everything snapped into place. Okay, I understood the gentle grilling now. John wished me well, I wished him well, too, and asked him to pass my regards on to his wife, Mary, because I would probably be gone tomorrow morning before I saw either of them again. Just another example of ships passing in the night in The Bend.


I made lunch. Enjoyed it in the warm afternoon. Took advantage of the pristine restrooms. Filled up with water. Did a bit of bird-watching. And then headed back to the RGV store late in the afternoon, this time with my empty backpack on my back. Striding into the store, I asked the delightful staff if I could access my cache one last time. As always, they complied, and couldn’t have been more gracious. I emptied the 5-gallon bucket of everything I needed for the next 7-day leg of my trip, and put back into it anything I no longer needed. I kept the contents to a minimum: Mule Ears would need sufficient room in the bucket to stow my empty Bear Vault 500 cache when he delivered it there on December 8. Attached to the bucket was a large, folded duffel, into which Mule Ears would stow all my no-longer-needed packrafting gear after removing it from our pre-arranged point in the desert west of the main park road. On the outside of my 5-gallon bucket was a taped note explaining all this, just to make sure the store staff understood the sequence of the comings and goings.


I humped my now-somewhat-fuller pack back to my campsite, along the way I passed the musicians’ campsite and noted that they had moved on. Their campsite was empty. Sad, but glad I’d been able to enjoy their music for a little awhile. When I reached my campsite, the Chinese family was also gone. Lot of people leaving. Hmmmm. Anyway, I laid out all my gear and supplies, and began the process of packing for my upcoming departure. Of course, I wouldn’t be able to finish until tomorrow morning, when I would pack my bedroll and tent, but I could get a good head start and make absolutely sure I had everything I needed for the transition to land travel three days later. I was pretty excited about returning to the water, and even more excited about finally transitioning to backpacking. With each passing day in Rio Grande Village, my depression had lessened, my grief over the kitten attenuated by time and separation. Isn’t that the way of it? Grief never disappears, but it does become manageable. The heart and mind find a place to store it, in proper proportion. Still open for a visit, but no longer occupying the valuable real estate at the entrance to the joint. Years ago, my twin boys died in childbirth, in my hands. Took years to climb out of the gaping hole that blew in my soul. The hole is still there, and I still visit it briefly from time to time, but now I can sit securely on its slippery, sloped edge without fearing I’ll slide in and never get back out.


Sitting quietly at my picnic table in the late afternoon’s warm light, I pondered the kitten. It had been almost five days since I’d left her on that beach, me swinging around to face the downstream rapid, she struggling in and out and through the river cane, trying to catch me, our eyes locked until the very last instant possible. And what if I’d taken her with me? What if she was here now? What next? Well, this was the endpoint, she certainly wasn’t going any further with me downriver. She’d have to fend for herself here. Yet the campground was full of very boldly-lettered signs warning of the dangers to pets: “This campground is home to wild coyotes, bobcats, and owls that can and do prey on unattended pets. Many have died or disappeared here.” Clearly the wildlife was a danger to kittens. But equally, on the flip side, the kitten was a danger to wildlife. Rio Grande Village was one of the most unique and productive bird habitats in North America and domestic cats - an introduced non-native species - are prodigious killers of native birds, the birds not yet having evolved coping strategies to deal with the threat posed by these fearsomely well-designed predators who (in evolutionary terms) arrived on our American shores only yesterday. In my mind, I could instantly rattle off a list of rare (or at least rare in Big Bend) birds that could easily be decimated by the sudden introduction into RGV of a feral cat. None of the campers feeding her and nurturing her would realize the damage she was doing to the native ecosystems.


The history of humans and cats is a complicated one, not unlike -- but still significantly different from -- the history of humans and dogs. Dogs co-evolved with Paleolithic hunter-gatherers as hunting companions and meat scavengers. Cats co-evolved with later Neolithic agriculturalists to protect settlements and their precious grain stores from rodents and birds. Over the ancient millennia, dogs evolved to be absolutely loyal to their roaming humans, and largely dependent upon their human masters for food.  Over succeeding millennia, cats evolved to be somewhat loyal but ultimately independent of their sedentary humans and largely self-feeding on vexsome prey in established villages and cities.  These animals did so because, as Stephen Budiansky pointed out in his brilliant little book, The Covenant of the Wild, it was in the interest of their DNA to do so. Dogs, cats, all of my chickens that would eventually die at the edge of my butcher knife, or the rabbits whose necks I would one day break, or the cattle and pigs my parents and grandparents slaughtered, even the rats and mice that the cats would eat, or the grackles and pigeons and gulls and cockroaches feasting on city garbage, had all remained associated with humans because, as difficult as things might sometimes be, in the end, their DNA was MORE likely to be passed along into the future by their Faustian association with humans, than if they chose to go it on their own as non-domesticated species. Domestication was a successful adaptation – cute, limpid eyes and irresistibly soft fur, being not the least of those adaptations – and, so, domestication persisted. But my little domesticated kitten, if she survived in Rio Grande Village, nurtured by the itinerant campers there, would grow up to be a super-predator, perched high on the trophic pyramid, until an even-more-super-predator made a meal of her and restored the ages-old ecological balance in that corner of the Big Bend. Was I ready to become another casual human disrupter – an ecological bull in the china shop of Rio Grande Village?


If so, I would join a long rogue’s gallery of human blunderers like the Californians that imported Giant River Cane in the 1820’s as a means of erosion control for irrigation channels http://[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arundo_donax, and the eastern US nurserymen that introduced Tamarisk trees, or Salt Cedars, as hardy ornamentals in California and the western US in 1823 http://[https://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/plants/saltcedar.shtml]; and Brooklynites who released eight European House Sparrows in Manhattan in 1851, hoping they would prey on and eliminate the Linden Moths that were defoliating Manhattan Island http://[https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/05/14/the-truth-about-sparrows/; and Russian immigrants in South Dakota who inadvertently imported the Russian Thistle (tumbleweed) into America in a shipment of flax seed in 1873 http://[https://www.usu.edu/weeds/plant_species/weedspecies/russianthis.html; and the geniuses at the Philadelphia International Exposition in 1876 that imported Japanese Kudzu and passed it on to the federal Soil Conservation Service which encouraged southern planters to use if for erosion control http://[https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/urgentissues/land-conservation/forests/kudzu.xml; and Eugene Shieffelin of the American Acclimatization Society who released 100 European Starlings in New York’s Central Park in 1890-91, in an effort to introduce into America all the bird species mentioned in the works of Shakespeare http://[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_Schieffelin; or the legion of nameless buffalo hunters and immigrant farmers and loggers that slaughtered our continent’s millions of bison and decimated our native forest cover, exposing all manner of native birds to the now-maladapted breeding behavior of the Brown-headed Cowbird http://[https://nestwatch.org/learn/general-bird-nest-info/brown-headed-cowbirds/. Or, more to the point to me, as a potential deliverer of an invasive by boat, the sailors that carried the Norway Rat to America http://][http://www.tsusinvasives.org/home/database/rattus-norvegicus, or the Zebra Mussel to our lakes http://[https://www.csu.edu/cerc/documents/TheIntroductionandSpreadoftheZebraMusselinNorthAmerica.pdf; or the Asian Tiger Mosquito to our veins http://[https://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/animals/asiantigmos.shtml].


The Law of Unintended Consequences is mighty and ever relevant. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy. Or our science. Intervention is a slippery slope from which we cannot always retreat. Many years ago, when I was but a young lad, newly living on my own, I came home to my apartment to find a Daddy Long-legs trapped in the messy web of a House Spider, high in one corner of my living room, next to the ceiling. The Daddy Long-legs was alive and kicking, but hopelessly caught in the spider’s web. I saw it, decided it was not my problem, and went to make myself some dinner. Later, sitting on the couch, eating, watching television, I could see the Daddy Long-legs, still struggling to free itself before being eaten. Exasperated, I reluctantly dragged a chair over to the corner, stood on it, and inspected the hapless creature. Okay, okay, okay, I said, I’ll pull you out of there. Gingerly, I reached in two fingers and gently grabbed the thorax, and pulled. The Daddy Long-legs lifted and with it the threads of the web lifted, too, refusing to release. Slowly, ever so slowly I pulled the arachnid toward me until….SNAP….one leg, unable to separate from the web, detached from the its body. Yikes. Seven left, I noted, and kept pulling….SNAP…two more legs left behind. Yow. Five legs left. Well, I said to myself, can’t leave it there now, can I? And so I kept pulling and pulling until……SNAP….three more legs came off. Now the nearly helpless Daddy Long-legs was left with only two legs. Do I leave it? Or do I press on with my rescue effort? I made one more, last, excruciatingly slow attempt to free the creature…millimeter by millimeter by millimeter until finally…..SNAP….only one leg left. Well, hell, I said, what’s the point now? Might as well leave it to become food for the House Spider.  And I did.


Playing god is often much harder and much more complicated than we think it will be when we blithely, optimistically pretend to omnipotence.


I made myself a dinner of Pesto Salmon, chased down by a not-quite-cold Modelo Negro, and hit the sack early in my tiny tarptent, reading an awful Big Bend-centered western, West Texas Kills, that I'd bought in the RGV store that afternoon. Unnoticed by me, the myriad empty campsites in the campground had filled in the late afternoon. About the time I laid my head down on my stuffsack of spare clothes, the music started. Not bad music, actually good music, but lots of it, and loud. And the laughter, and the young men and women chasing each other up and down the road, and the cars racing around, and the glow-in-the-dark frisbees, and the yee-haw-jello-shots.


It was Friday night.


Oh my god. Not my circus, not my monkees. Get me the f*ck off this damned carousel. I stayed one night too many. The carousing lasted until two or three in the morning. I was just close enough to the restrooms to hear every visit. It was a very long night, but eventually, as must all things, it came to an end. The sun rose, and so did I, but not much else. I made a quick visit to the now-deserted restroom, and then to the water spigot near my campsite to fill all my bottles and bladders with fresh water. The quiet older couple (though not nearly so old as me) nextdoor, who had moved yesterday evening into the spot vacated by the Chinese family, were up early, too, and grilling pancakes and bacon. As I was coming back from emptying the last of my garbage into the dumpster, the guy wished me a good morning and engaged me in conversation. His name was Arlen, his wife’s name was Pam. They were from San Antonio, but he’d lived and ranched in Colorado and other places in the west. They had arrived in Big Bend last night to celebrate their 36th wedding anniversary: his wife’s first visit. (That is true love.) Arlen offered me a cup of fresh black coffee while I finished packing. I gratefully accepted, holding out my liter-sized titanium cookpot as a cup, and then greedily cradling the warm pot in my hands against the surprisingly chilly morning. The coffee burned going down my throat, just the way you want it to on a cold, cold morning.  And then I smelled the bacon. “You want some?” Arlen called over to me. Who could say no? I strode over and he piled me a heaping plate of thick, hot, salty bacon, just the way I like it: burned on the edges, juicy fat on the interior. It had been broiled over an open grill and it was the best bacon I’ve ever had in my life. I ate it with my fingers and every time the plate neared empty, Arlen would shovel more bacon onto it. The grease was dripping from my lips, from my chin, from my fingers. Man, I was in heaven. Meanwhile we talked about everything and anything, as strangers in a campground do, including Arlen’s wise take on the cascading ecological effects resulting from the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone. Arlen and his wife kept offering me food: pancakes, eggs. But I had to get going. Today was my day to return to the river. I packed up my bedroll, my tent, and finally, reluctantly, my cookpot-cum-coffee-cup.  I said my goodbyes to Arlen and Pam, and they wished me a safe trip. “I mean it,” Arlen said, “stay safe.”


Fully packed, including a week's worth of food and three and a half gallons of water, with my packraft stowed on top of my backpack and my paddles stowed in my pack’s pockets and my PFD's riding on my paddle shafts, I plodded away from my campsite, through the crowded campground, toward the boat launch at the far, far end.  I hadn’t gone more than a few dozen yards when three friendly guys about my age, who had been in the campground as long as I had, hailed me from their breakfast table and asked me if I was leaving. When I told them yes, they said they’d noticed I had no vehicle and would I mind telling them a bit more about what I was up to? I did and they were fascinated, asked some really sharp questions, and then wished me well. A few minutes later, another group did the same, and then another. I guess I made a big impression, hiking out with my big pack and big paddles and big PFD's. Seems like everyone had noticed. Then a couple approached, walking toward me on the road, “is it true people call you House Made of Dawn?” “Well, yeah, sort of. It’s a name I use in an online chat group.” “What does it mean?” they asked. “Excellent question,” I replied, and explained. And then walked, through a beautiful warming sunlit morning, down to the river and, finally, after a too-long three-day hiatus, returned to the wilderness where I longed to be.


So, in case you were wondering....


My mother’s maternal and paternal great-grandparents and grandparents came to Oklahoma from Illinois and Indiana in the 1880’s, in covered wagons. They settled on the rough but fertile plains of southwest Oklahoma, near Longhorn Mountain and Saddle Mountain and Rainy Mountain, just north of the US Cavalry’s Fort Sill, on what was then Indian Territory, specifically, Kiowa and Comanche lands. The legality of my ancestors’ early homesteads is questionable, but during the transition from Indian Territory to Oklahoma statehood, with the land rushes and lotteries, both families acquired titled farmland and became cotton farmers and cattle ranchers. My mother grew up on a remote farm near Mountain View, Oklahoma on the Washita River, just down a creek from a Kiowa family, the Momadays (some say Mammedatys). The Momadays are a fascinating family: including in its lineage both war chiefs and peace chiefs of the Kiowas, as well as several descendants that went on to become teachers and well-known artists. One of the infant Momaday kids, a contemporary of my mother, but a little younger, was Navarre Scott, or simply Scott as he would later be called (though his true, Kiowa name was Tsoai-talee). Scott Momaday’s young parents, teachers both, left their extended family in Oklahoma during the desperate years of the Great Depression and The Dust Bowl to teach for the Bureau of Indian Affairs – first at a school in Shiprock, New Mexico on the Navajo reservation, then in Arizona, and finally, a few years later, at another Indian school on the Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico. Scott, the son of teachers and artists, grew up to be a thoughtful and artistically-inclined young man, exposed to the strengths and weaknesses of many Indian communities. Enrolling in New Mexico University in Albuquerque, he studied literature, eventually receiving his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1963. Five years later, he published a seminal, heart-breaking novel about the dislocation and despair of modern Native Americans separated from the natural environment in which their cultures had evolved over centuries and millennia.  The novel would go on to win the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Literature, the first Native American work to win that prize. The novel’s name: House Made of Dawn.


Whenever I wake up in wilderness, on dirt or sand or rock or leaves, on dry land or beside water, in canyon or desert or mesa or forest, I am home, where I belong, in a House Made of Dawn.


[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Txlj on December 22, 2017, 07:25:12 PM
Waiting patiently

Sent from flat land

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 22, 2017, 07:34:24 PM
Waiting patiently

Sent from flat land

Haha! Putting up the Christmas tree tonight. For some reason, everything seems to be running behind this year.


Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Txlj on December 22, 2017, 11:19:58 PM
Ok. You get s pass. Merry Christmas everyone

Sent from flat land

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: DesertRatShorty on December 23, 2017, 07:34:43 PM
That’s how I’d survived all manner of disasters: hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, avalanches, lightning strikes, illnesses, injuries, animal attacks, equipment failures, falls, broken bones, burns, muggings, holdups, kidnappings, stabbings….you name it.

Wow, you really could write books on your experiences, and if this report is any indication, it would be an eminently worthwhile read.

Your compassion for the cosmos is clearly deep and at the core of who you are. You tale is both heart warming and heart rending. I hope that writing and sharing it helps in processing your grief, I know it has moved me.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 24, 2017, 03:22:49 AM
Thanks, DRS, those are kind words that mean a lot to me.

Thanks also to Presidio, for his kind words about this report, posted on another thread.

Hard to keep up with the trip reporting with the holidays hard upon us, but I stayed up late after the family went to bed, and I'm ready to post another installment.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 24, 2017, 03:33:29 AM
Camp Contrabando: December 2, 2017


I reached the RGV boat launch considerably later than I’d intended because so many people stopped me on the way out of the campground and wanted to know what I was up to, or knew already and wanted to wish me well. It was closer to 11am than 9am when I finally reached the cut in the river cane and spied the river gliding eastward, glistening in the sun. The last thing I’d done on my way out of Rio Grande Village was stop by the store and check the weather forecast. Not too bad: a cold front moving in on Tuesday night, temperatures near freezing at night and a chance of rain through Thursday, but then sunny skies for the foreseeable future. I was anxious to get moving. I walked down the long slope of the boat ramp and over the paver stones that stabilized it, unloaded my packrafting gear, quickly inflated my raft, assembled my paddle, strapped down my backpack and spare PFD and firepan, and slipped into my own PFD and belly bag. Before launching my raft, I paused for a moment’s reflection. Had things turned out differently, this, rather than then, would have been the moment when I abandoned Olivia Felix, here on the banks of the river in Rio Grande Village. She wouldn’t have understood why we were separating here, after so many days of bonding together, but at least she would have had other humans here to help her. But there was no Olivia beside me this morning, just a memory. From here on, I would be moving through parts of my trip that she never would have shared. In a strange way, slipping back into the river at Rio Grande Village and heading down into Boquillas Canyon, was freeing to me. My memory of Olivia would always end here, in Rio Grande Village, the point where I COULD have taken her, and left her, if I’d had the courage.


I pushed my raft gently into the brown-green waters, and stepped into it. The current carried me swiftly downriver, into the future. As it did, I spontaneously, and to my own surprise, broke into a full-throated version of Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again.”


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBN86y30Ufc


I hadn’t been to the village of Boquillas in over twenty years, long before the border crackdowns following the 9/11 attacks. I wondered what sort of Border Patrol or INS presence I’d see along the river as I neared the crossing to the village. But I saw nothing at all. The Giant River Cane obscured everything on the Texas side. The river crossing was heralded by a palapa on the Mexican side, where a dozen or so Mexican nationals were gathered on this weekend morning, playing music, dancing, and grilling meat. Then the actual crossing point came in to view, with a flatboat just completing its journey to the Texas side, and two tourists debarking. I hailed the boatmen in Spanish and wished them a good morning. They didn’t seem to know quite what to make of me and my tiny colorful raft with the giant backpack lashed to the bow.  I realized then that I’d lost track of the days of the week. “Buenos dios, amigos, hoy es Domingo?” “No,” one of the boatmen laughed, “es Sabado.” Well, there you go. Glad I asked.


Soon thereafter, I spotted the colorful buildings of the actual village of Boquillas, up on a high bluff above the river. I slid silently past the village and approached a walled hot spring just downriver, and just in time to see a young woman slipping on a tube top, and then a blouse. I saw her, but she didn’t see me until I was right beside the spring. She yelped, and straightened her blouse, and then giggled and another young woman beside her giggled, too, as she sunk down deeper into the waters within the walls. I wished the ladies a good morning and good luck and then politely focused my attention downstream as I floated swiftly past.


It was odd to suddenly encounter humans along the river. During the entire rest of my trip downriver from Castolon just below Santa Elena Canyon, to where I was now, I’d seen only one other group of boaters (the crazy nighttime canoeists) and only three people on land: one man camping at the Black Dike site along the River Road, and another couple at Loop Camp. Both sightings had occurred on bluffs high above me and on the Texas side of the river. I’d seen no one on the Mexican side of the river since putting in at Lajitas ten days ago. Only cattle and horses and burros and goats and javelina…and not many of those. The Mexican side of the international border, while mostly fenced, was done so with rusty barbed wires strung between spindly cedar and mesquite posts cut by poor ranchers off their own land. This was a “desplobado”, an uninhabited land left to livestock, too inhospitable for human habitation. Between the village of Boquillas, which I had just passed, and the village of Santa Elena, almost 80 miles upriver, there wasn’t a single named settlement on the Mexican side. And the only thing that passed for settlements on the Texas side were the houses and campgrounds abutting the official national park visitors’ centers in Castolon and Rio Grande Village. The land in between the two was, simply, a Chihuahuan wasteland: too remote, too dangerous, and too heavily monitored by the American government to be attractive to either illegal migrants or drug-runners. Even at Santa Elena, I’d seen no one. That made bustling Boquillas all the stranger.


But Boquillas was now a memory. I was downriver and it was out of sight. The river was again quiet. I slid my way through a few more of the “every-quarter-mile” riffles and rounded a bend, only to find a canoe beached on the Texas side, and four men standing on a small, steep, shallow, muddy beach. One was digging into the beach with a shovel, a few inches above the river’s waterline and the other three were watching. I didn’t have a clue as to what they were doing. Nor did I really want to. I waved, greeted them, and pushed on downriver. The men looked puzzled my presence, but hardly responded. Whatever they were doing, they paused until I was several yards downstream. Just before I rounded the next bend, I spun and looked upriver. The canoe was now crossing back to the Mexican side with all four men in it. You tell me.


The day was sunny, cloudless, and windless. Perfect paddling weather. I rounded another corner, ready for the rapid that had telegraphed itself several hundred yards in advance, and there, on the forward edge of the convex Mexican bank, was a gang of Mexican nationals hurriedly scurrying about, doing what, I couldn’t quite make out. I ran the rapid, with only a second to glance at a  very large, very dark, very taciturn man, with tightly slicked-back hair and one black eyepatch, sitting in a folding camp chair in the middle of all the activity. I nodded but he didn’t nod back. The others ignored me, too. As I rounded the curve of the rapid, I spied another man in a canoe, paddling hard across my line of travel, toward the Texas bank and a stand of high river cane. He beached just as I emerged from the rapids, almost abreast of him. Passing him, I tried to make eye contact, but he dragged the canoe further onto land and immediately disappeared into the cane without acknowledging me. I decided speed was my friend at this point and dug my paddle hard into the river. Continuing to round the large bend, I sped past the cane wall and approached a wooded section of the Texas bank. There, at the edge of the water, sat an old man, a Mexican national, I assume. I smiled, waved, greeted him in Spanish. He nodded, then asked, in English, “You want souvenirs? From Boquillas?” “No, lo siento,” I apologized, “no tengo dinero, no necessito dinero en el rio,” and I shrugged my shoulders, “Ya voy a La Linda,” I exaggerated. “Cuantos dias a La Linda? Dos?” the man asked. “Si, dos, dos y medio, mas o menas,” I replied, and then waved and turned back downriver, dug my paddle hard into the current and sped onward. “Adios, vaya con dios,” I added, over my shoulder.


Again, I don’t really know what was going on at that bend in the river. The mind, of course, reels at the possibilities, but – I said to myself – I’m less than three miles downriver of Rio Grande Village, which has an INS checkpoint and a consistent Border Patrol presence. There are both river and air patrols around Boquillas – and frequently. While it might not be hard to imagine I’d witnessed illegal activity, it was harder to actually believe that were true. Later, after my trip, talking to rangers, I decided that the latter sighting, at least, was probably a candellila wax camp [https://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/waxcamps/techniques.html] even if the jefe looked like a villain straight out of central casting. As for the first sighting…..beats me….but I will admit to feeling spooked more than once that day. I was ashamed, but I also forgave myself: it’s not as if I was moving through a social landscape completely free of danger.


From time to time, earlier in the trip, I had contemplated the strangeness of the international border along which I was traveling.  The river was sometimes as narrow as 20 yards; at others it could be 200 yards. Sometimes it seemed barely a foot deep; at others far, far deeper than I am tall. But along most of its length, it was shallow enough to ford easily and narrow enough to throw a rock from one bank to the other with ease. But toss that rock in either direction – north or south – and it would pass from one world into a wholly, dramatically different one. The difference might not be immediately apparent, but it was profound. There are, in fact, few places on the globe where two so radically different nations bump up against each other.  Haiti and the Dominican Republic come to mind, or South Africa and Zimbawe, or the Gaza Strip and Israel, or North and South Korea. The most striking difference between the US and Mexico might be in the relative wealth of its citizens. In the US, the average household net-adjusted disposable income, according to the OECD’s global analysis, is $44,049; in Mexico it is $13,891. Income distribution in Mexico is far more lopsided than in the US, meaning the rich are fewer and richer, and the poor are more numerous and poorer. One can argue why these things are the way they are, but one cannot argue that they are not that way. So, as one travels downriver at a 2 or 3 or 5mph pace, the left bank is the southern edge of the globe’s richest country, home to some of the most economically-advantaged people on the planet, and the right bank is the northern edge of one of the globe’s poorest countries, home to some of the planet’s most economically-disadvantaged people.  Travel north through North America, and the wealth continues all the way through Canada to the Arctic. Travel south through Mexico and into Central America, and the picture, for the most part, gets even bleaker. And the only thing that separates those two worlds here in Big Bend is a small muddy brown river. And, frequently, a prodigious amount of Giant River Cane. But more on that later.


I’ve traveled extensively in Latin America and am as comfortable there as the next guy. I speak enough survival Spanish to get by. I like the people and the cultures and the foods and the history. I’ve studied there, worked there, recreated there. But being IN Latin America is not at all the same as being BETWEEN Latin America and what we, in the north, self-centeredly call “America” (there are, after all, at least two Americas in the western hemisphere). Being BETWEEN these two Americas can be a bit like being BETWEEN two tectonic plates: not always the most reassuring place to be.  Whether that geographic and cultural and economic boundary is divergent, convergent or transformative is debatable and debated endlessly. I suspect only time will tell. What is not debatable, I would argue, is that the boundary between the US and Mexico, along the Rio Grande, is – like any tectonic boundary – a place of extraordinary tension and pressure and even upheaval.  These tensions and pressures and upheavals are, for the most part, absorbed and accommodated by the extraordinary people living on each side of the border, but nevertheless from time to time the disequilibria – born of the social and cultural and political and economic differences between the two sides of the border – finds expression in angry, often frightening, and sometimes violent actions and reactions. Whether, in the end, our societies turn out to be elastic, brittle, or plastic in response to these challenges, is something I cannot predict.


[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 24, 2017, 03:34:02 AM
Money, they say, makes the world go round, and there’s no doubt that money helps the basement foundations of the United States and Mexico bump and grind against each other in their fertile disequilibrium.  While national foundations, like rock strata, are huge and massive and ever so slow to move, money, which is more like heat, generally flows through the environment at a much faster speed and, in doing so, seeks the path of least resistance which is also happens to be the path of greatest acceleration. One nifty definition of heat is “energy on the move”. And if there’s one thing money does along the border, it’s move. And when I say “money”, I mean money in all its forms – not just cash, but credit, investment, capital, raw materials, natural resources, labor, finished products, and all manner of things of value, both legal and illegal. The path of least resistance is often the path less legal, and the maximum acceleration of one’s net worth is often achieved through those same shady routes. Cheap illegal labor and goods flow north, illegal cash flows south. Illegal byproducts and substandard products are dumped in the south, and semi-legal cash flows north. Even the best of people, on both sides of the border, are tempted to follow the path of least resistance - let’s call it “the shortcut” - to riches.


In The Tecate Journals, a book I highly recommend, author and boater Keith Bowden tells this story:

“Rumors abound – many passed along by very trustworthy sources – that the business of drug trafficking had infiltrated all levels of the Border Patrol, the National Park Service, and local law enforcement agencies in the Big Bend Region. The most publicized case involved the bust of Presidio County Sheriff Rick Thompson, a twenty-year Marine Corps veteran, who was arrested in December 1991 after federal agents found a ton of 94% pure Colombian cocaine in his horse trailer in the fairgrounds outside Marfa, Texas. Thompson pled guilty and initially received a life sentence, which was later reduced to twenty-two years on the grounds that he had ‘cooperated’. Reputedly, the ex-Sheriff was part of an intricate smuggling network, originating with the legendary Pablo Acosta, that stretched through many of the backcountry ranches of the Big Bend area and included the cooperation of the ranch owners and Park Service officials.”


http://www.nytimes.com/1992/02/07/us/drug-traffickers-are-reopening-old-routes-in-texas-badlands.html?pagewanted=all

http://libit.sulross.edu/archives/marfanews/indandsent84-92/1992-01-16.pdf


Later in the book, Bowden, who recounts his own journey by canoe and raft down the Rio Grande from El Paso all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, writes of his personal experience encountering drug smugglers near the Adams Ranch, just outside the eastern border of the national park:

“I heard the unlikely sound of voices moving through the mesquite growth above the opposite shore. A moment later I spotted two heads, and I called out a friendly greeting in Spanish. Suddenly ten or twelve men, all outfitted with bale-sized yellow backpacks, scattered for cover. Even as they hurried to hide, I could tell that not one had seen me, even though I was only a hundred feet away on the other side of the river. I noticed that all the backpacks were identical – yellow and waterproof, similar to the wet bags…I use to keep our gear dry when running whitewater.”

“It would be difficult to overstate how pervasive marijuana trafficking is along the Rio Grande, but even I found it surprising that smugglers had chosen this remote route. By river, La Linda sat only five miles away; by land, because of the need to circumvent two impassable canyons, the distance was more than double. Furthermore, the next access on the Texas side, via the rough road network of the Black Gap Wildlife Management Area, was six river miles away, but two more canyons required long walks around.”

“In the vast desert triangle formed by Highway 90, Highway 385, and the Rio Grande – an area of roughly four thousand square miles – an extensive network of seldom travelled ranching and wildlife management roads crisscrosses the terrain. Rarely visited by the Border Patrol or any other law enforcement agency, these roads offer smugglers routes to circumvent the B.P. checkpoints on all the area’s paved highways leading from the river to the state’s interior. Apparently, this group of a dozen “mules” who carried the backpacks in the mesquite grove adjacent to camp was headed – or at least their cargo was headed – for this isolated network.”

“I angled onshore to chat with them…the men aged in range from late teens to mid-forties, most of them anxious about my approach…one of the men asked for cigarettes…I tossed a pack of cigarettes onto shore. Three men sprinted to retrieve it, and I saw that they were more relieved to have cigarettes than they had been to learn that I was not a drug agent. I asked, in Spanish, ‘So just what are you guys doing out here?’

‘Fishing,’ they replied.”


What a trip! As for myself, I wasn’t particularly keen on meeting any ‘fishers’ during my last two days on the river. With a little luck, I would camp tonight downriver of the spot where the Marufo Vega trail terminated at the river, and by tomorrow evening, I would be camped at the very easternmost edge of the national park, ready to pack up my rafting gear for good and head overland for fifteen days, back to my vehicle at the Mesa de Anguila trailhead in Lajitas.  Thankfully, as the day wore on, the canyon became quieter, the walls higher, and I saw no one else on either bank. I was now in truly remote and inaccessible territory. No room for humans here. Boquillas Canyon may be my favorite of the three major river canyons inside the park. It is not as tall or narrow or majestic as Santa Elena or Mariscal, but what it lacks in immediate drama, it makes up for in sustained complexity. At any given point it is usually possible to see two, three, or even four layers of sheer cliffs, each retreating behind the others and forming a deep-focus vista. And always dominated by El Pico, the iconic and imposing crown of the Sierra del Carmen mountains in Mexico.  Rarely was El Pico out of my sight. As the sun moved across the sky during the day, each cliff rank would shift in color and focus, so that the visual field was always a complex and dynamic canvas of contrasting colors and textures. And the caves! My god, the caves! It seemed as if every quarter mile or less, some amazing, often astoundingly deep cave would appear in a cliff face, begging for exploration. But, of course, I had not time for that, it was always, “Press on! Press on!” Fortunately the day remained warm, and unlike Santa Elena and Mariscal, Boquillas Canyon was open enough that I usually had the sun on me.  In the rare slow sections without rapids, I could lean back, prop my legs up on either side of my backpack lashed to the bow, let the sun warm and soothe me, and paddle leisurely downstream. Once, I even nodded off…for how long, I don’t know, but thankfully nothing disastrous came of it.


Occasionally the wind would pick up, mostly upriver, and I’d have to sit up and paddle vigorously into it to keep moving, but these occasions were rare. It was during one of these sessions that I noticed the sun was no longer shining on me, that the sky had noticeably darkened and the wind was picking up substantially. A little worried, I hunkered down and paddled hard against the wind. I soon passed the riverside terminus of the Marufo Vega trail, an extremely rugged section of the canyon with high, forbidding walls and jagged cliffs. Nevertheless, the day was coming to a close and I took this as a sign to begin looking for a campsite. I’d wondered if I might encounter any backpackers at the Marufo Vega trail, but I saw no one at or near the trail, so I felt certain I was all alone in this canyon this evening. The sky was schizophrenically moving from overcast to sunny and back again, but the wind continued unabated. I carefully scanned both banks for a suitable campsite and soon spied a tiny beach on the Mexican side. I had heretofore avoided camping on that shore, and had only beached there under necessity (once when I flipped on Day 2, and another time, also on Day 2, in order to scout the Rockslide in Santa Elena Canyon), but the sky was growing dark from clouds and it was late in the day.


Just as I began seriously considering the tiny beach as a campsite, I spied something orange above it, partially obscured behind a rock. What was it? An abandoned life vest? Noooooo….it was a tent. A tent? WTF? Here. And on the Mexican side? Perhaps there was a boater ahead of me? I had mixed feelings. I didn’t really want to encounter anyone else out here, even another American. I slowed down to take a better look, pausing near the Mexican shore, but still some 20 yards away from the tent, which I could now see was a two-person Eureka in pristine condition. At the same instant I identified the brand of tent, I sensed I was being watched, and turned to look upriver over my right shoulder. There, standing on what looked to be a steep and very rocky trail above the tent and a few yards behind me, were two men. Staring darkly at me. One was short and seemed clearly to me to be a Mexican national in everyday work clothes. The other, in warmer clothes, was enormously tall, strongly built, and impressively swarthy with a few days’ growth of beard. I’ve dealt with drug smugglers on three continents, and these guys looked like drug smugglers. And not just mules, but managers.


The hair on the back of my neck stood up. My heart skipped a beat in shock and surprise, and then I hailed the two men, “Buenos tardes, como estas?” “GOOD,” came the reply in English, from the tall one and only the tall one. And when he said “GOOD,” I clearly, unmistakably heard the unspoken, “and that’s ALL you need to know.” The single word was uttered loudly, curtly, and with a very strong full-stop period at the end. “Bueno,” I replied, but it came out as a soprano “Bueno?” The last thing I wanted to say. “Bueno!!!” I hurriedly added. “No problemo, bien, voy a La Linda, muchas kilometros, adios, amigos!!!!” And I hauled ass out of there without looking back. 


The problem was, it was getting even windier, and the sky was darkening with what looked distinctly like incipient mammatus clouds, and those almost always meant rain coming soon. It was late in the day and I needed to find a campsite quick, definitely before I hit the Arroyo Venado rapids which were getting ever nearer with each paddle stroke. Fortunately, the river made two quick bends and the two men were soon out of sight, and more importantly, I was out of their sight. Just upriver from another minor riffle, I spotted what looked like a good beach on the Texas side, made even better by a 40-foot cliff jutting up from its upriver edge. With luck, I could make a camp behind the cliff and remain unseen, even if the men tried to follow me downriver. I dug hard with my paddle strokes and vaulted the packraft onto the beach cobbles, then leapt out of the raft, unlashed my backpack, and quickly carried it upriver through mesquite and tamarisk to a nicely-sheltered sandy spot behind the cliff. Then I ran back down the beach to my packraft, removed a water bladder from its floor, tossed it onto the beach, lifted my packraft and paddle to my shoulder and hoofed it all up to the slope at the back of the beach, and gingerly threaded it through the trees. I left the inflated packraft in a small depression largely behind the cliff and mostly hidden from the river, and then rapidly retrieved my water bladder from the beach and tossed it back into my packraft for nighttime ballast. All my belongings were now hidden, more or less, behind the cliff. I quickly laid out my campsite, changed out of my wet river clothes and into warm fleece against the falling temperatures. The sky, which had been filling with mammatus clouds, now began to clear in an upper level breeze, and turned instead into a beautiful canvas of wispy clouds firelit from within by orange and red sunrays fading to a clear night of crystal stars. Looked like I would escape rain tonight. I debated whether or not to make a hot dinner with all the attendant odors floating upcanyon on the wind, or get by on meager but stealthy cold rations.  My stomach won out and I made a quick dinner of chicken ramen noodle soup, jerky, and M&M’s. Then, with the sun now down and the sky filling with stars, I slipped into my sleeping bag on its soft platform of sand, carefully placed my glasses and Petzl e-LITE into my river shoes, and laid down to sleep.


It took a long time to calm down, but eventually weariness overcame an abundance of caution and the excesses of my imagination, and sleep overtook me. My last, groggy thought was, “I don't know if I'll be alive when I wake up tomorrow, but if I am, by the end of the day I'll be off this river for good...and not a day too soon.”


[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: iCe on December 24, 2017, 06:08:27 AM
 :eusa_clap:


Merry Christmas to you and yours
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: mule ears on December 24, 2017, 08:10:12 AM
I think you camped just down stream of what I called the crux in the route from the MV trail over to Arroyo Venado, long beautiful riverside open area just below it.

I do think a book or some literary piece should come out of this trip.  My report on the other hand will read like a fact finding technical paper I am sure but it is coming soon anyway. 

Merry Christmas to all!   :a035:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 24, 2017, 10:22:26 AM
I think you camped just down stream of what I called the crux in the route from the MV trail over to Arroyo Venado, long beautiful riverside open area just below it.

I think you're right, ME.  Keeping your trip report in mind, I looked for that spot, as well as the mouths of Arroyo Venado and Cow Canyon. They all looked gnarly. I knew when I read your report of that trip that it was a hard one, but even with your trip photos, I still didn't realize just how incredibly difficult and forbidding the territory was until I saw it with my own eyes. And I only saw it from the margins. That must have been some trip.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: horns93 on December 26, 2017, 06:26:03 PM
This is a great read so far, HMoD. You are the backpacking wordsmith.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Txlj on December 27, 2017, 08:27:37 PM
The suspense is killing me

Sent from flat land

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 28, 2017, 01:24:00 AM
I think you camped just down stream of what I called the crux in the route from the MV trail over to Arroyo Venado, long beautiful riverside open area just below it.

ME, been looking at my journal notes. They indicate that my Holux recorded 29 15 1975N, 102 54 1770W, as the location of "Camp Contrabando", which would put it farther upriver than we thought. In fact, it looks like it's exactly where you and your party exited Marufo Vega and began your riverside bushwhack last February. Google Earth images do indeed look like my campsite, complete with the obscuring cliff. Does that make sense?
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 28, 2017, 01:39:15 AM
Camp Cain’t: December 3, 2017


The night before, I’d made sure to lay out my bedroll so I was facing east. I wanted the rising sun to wake me. It did its job. I was – to my great relief – still alive in my little hidey-hole. I immediately wriggled out of my sleeping bag, heedless of the early morning cold, and started quickly packing up. I wanted to get on the water as fast as possible. At the last minute, I changed out of my warm nighttime fleece and back into my now-dry river clothes, and humped my pack around the cliff, down the sandy slope, and across the rocky beach to the water’s edge. Next came my packraft, out of its little hollow and down to the water. Lashing my backpack and groundpad to the bow of the raft with what was, by now, well-practiced speed, I then slipped on my PFD and belly bag, leapt in to the cockpit and pushed off into the gurgling waters of the still-dark canyon. I wanted to put some fast distance between me and the campers on the Mexican shore, regardless of what they might or might not be up to.  I really couldn’t say what those men were doing in that remote and forbidding canyon, but I usually play the percentages, and the percentages said they weren’t there for recreation.


I hoped I wouldn’t see another person all day. More than that, I hoped I’d be off the river for good by the evening, my packraft deflated for good and ready for the long off-trail hike to Telephone Canyon and then 14 days back to my vehicle at the Mesa de Anguila trailhead. This evening’s goal was the extreme eastern edge of the park where it, the river, and the old Adams Ranch all met at a single point. I would make camp immediately downriver of there and spend the evening re-packing for the transition from my days of river travel to my days of off-trail backpacking.


I’d always viewed the rafting as simply a technical means to an end – a way to get from Point A (my vehicle in Lajitas) to Point B (the eastern edge of the park) where I could then begin the REAL trip - the backpack back to Lajitas. But it had become much more. My time on the river had been special to me. It had been surprisingly challenging, even stimulating – I’d mastered the packraft, learned a great deal about the Rio Grande and its borders that I hadn’t known before, taken in incredible views of the landscapes along the way, survived threats and injuries to both my body and my soul, and grappled with profound questions of life, death, ethics, and the harshness of life in a remote and forbidding wilderness – but I was now more than ready to return to the familiar rigors of travel on foot. On the river, I never had to bother with finding my way. I always knew (more-or-less) where I was and where I was going, but not always what I would find ahead or whether I had the skills to deal with it. That made river travel thrilling, intense, and often unnerving. On land, knowing where I was would always be a bit of a challenge, but I had no doubt I could deal with whatever I ran into. There was comfort in that familiar test. 


Contemplating the end of the day, I followed a bend of the river eastward and paddled into the light of the rapidly rising sun. The Arroyo Venado and its rapid of fallen boulders was a little more than a mile ahead of me, around two more bends, maybe half an hour away. I had seen distant pictures of this rapid in Mule Ear’s earlier trip report of his group’s epic ramble through the southern Deadhorse Mountains. Louis Albach, in his wonderful guidebook, The Great Unknown of the Rio Grande, had described the Arroyo Venado rapids as ranging anywhere from Class I at low flows to Class III at high flows. I estimated this morning’s river flow at about 800cfs, at the higher end of moderate. I wouldn’t actually know what I was dealing with until I saw it with my own eyes. 


It didn’t take long. I heard the rapid long before I saw it, and it sounded massive. I rounded one of the many bends of the river and there it was, coming up fast. It wasn’t nearly as large or imposing at it sounded from upriver, but it was still a formidable challenge for my little raft. The unique challenge of the Arroyo Venado rapid is that it was formed as recently as three or four years ago, when rocks and boulders crashed down from the overhanging canyon wall on the Mexican side. These rocks were not the huge and ancient boulders of the Rockslide in Santa Elena Canyon, or the similarly old obstacles in the Mariscal’s Rockpile and Tight Squeeze, all of which were worn smooth by hundreds, if not thousands, of years of raging river waters. No, these boulders were newly fallen and still retained their rough edges, sharply-delineated planes, and dangerous points, any of which could puncture my little raft’s single air chamber. Negotiating the rapid would require deft maneuvering and that would require split-second reading of the rapid and quick decisions. Perhaps I could have beached upriver and scouted the rapids, but I was in the mood for speed. I hit the rapid, moving fast, and worked left to right through the maze, cutting and twisting as I went. I nearly hit a rock broadside at one point, but dug my paddle in hard, turned on a dime, and then stroked deeply and quickly to launch my raft past the boulder. Before I had time to worry, I was through the rapid and into the calm eddies below. I spun around and examined the rapid I’d just run. Not bad. Not bad at all. I was a LOT better at this than I’d been on my first or second day on the river, almost ten days ago.


I barely had time to notice the mouth of Arroyo Venado, on the Texas side of the river, but I did note its gnarliness. This was the arroyo that Mule Ears’ party had ascended this past February. It was extremely daunting terrain. As I moved downriver, I encountered the mouth of Cow Canyon, which looked even more challenging, and then, just below it, high on a rocky slope, the Rabbit Ears formation, with its distinctive short double columns of rock extending upward from a single, massive, narrow and flat spire. The Rabbit Ears signaled that I would soon be coming to the end of the closed-in canyon. It would open up into much broader vistas, bounded on each side by large washes and terrain much less steep and cliffy. Shortly before exiting the narrow canyons, I spied a another huge, striking rock formation on the Mexican side of the river. This one looked remarkably like El Chupadero (the lizard) seen upstream yesterday, a creature straining upward toward the sky, only barely separated from the inland cliff, but in this instance the snout and jaw were much larger, much longer, representing much more of the creature. To me, it looked like the native Longnosed Gar (Lepisosteus osseus), breaching the surface, streams of river water pouring from its mouth. So I named it, naturally, El Gar, or El Pez Aguja, a downriver companion to El Chupadero. A few minutes later, I emerged from the canyons into broad open country and the river slowed to a meandering crawl, sheltered on both sides by huge, ample stands of Giant River Cane, twenty feet tall and twenty feet thick, blocking out all views inland except for the distant high cliffs that formed the canyons from which I’d just emerged. It was 1pm.


The river suddenly had a verdant, claustrophobic, and suffocating feel. The vegetation loomed inward, almost menacingly, reminiscent of what James Whales’ old 1950’s potboiler film called, “the green hell.”  More to the point, I was reminded of canoeing in the 1980’s, deep in the wilderness of Belize, on the Macal and Mopan Rivers, or on the Usumacinta River in Guatemala's Peten jungle. I half expected an iguana to leap from the vegetation into the cockpit of my raft. Nevertheless, spooky as it might have been, the slow crawl of the river gradually disarmed me, lulling me into a quiet, relaxed state. I put my feet up onto the bow, straddling my backpack lashed there, and again leaned back onto my spare PFD at the stern, and closed my eyes. In seconds, I was asleep. Again, as I did a few days ago, I woke suddenly with no clear idea of how long I’d been asleep or where I now was. Since the current was slow and I heard absolutely no sound of approaching rapids, I dug into my belly bag and pulled out my maps, carefully studying the bends of the river. Memorizing them, I returned the maps to my bag, and began paying close attention to the river. I should soon know where I was.


Right about then I had my most amazing bird sighting of the entire trip: an Aplomado Falcon, only the second I’ve ever seen. It emerged from beyond the cane on the Mexican side of the river, about 30 feet above me, and flew directly and muscularly across my line of travel, some 150 feet in front of me, disappearing beyond the cane on the Texas side.  The bird was in my view for maybe seven or eight or nine seconds. But it was unmistakable: an adult male. All the birders here know the rule: no pictures, no corroboration: it didn’t happen. And so that sighting remains a private experience shared only by me, the bird, and the river. Who knows, maybe I was still asleep and it was only a dream.


As I floated lazily downstream, I began to notice a perceptible difference in the river. What had once been a one-hundred-and-fifty foot wide river, became a one-hundred foot wide river, and then a fifty-foot wide river. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was experiencing the profound hydrological and ecological effects of Arundo donax, or Giant River Cane. This non-native plant, first imported into the western hemisphere some four centuries ago as a building material, and then later used for erosion control on river banks, had come to dominate the banks of southwestern rivers. As it colonized the river banks, forcing out less aggressive plants, and creating a thick monoculture, water flowing through the cane on the margins of the river was slowed, and the slower current deposited more sediment, creating more substrate for Arundo donax to colonize and marginally stabilize the banks. It was a positive feedback loop and the end result was an ever-narrower river channel.  But, as the river channel narrows, the Venturi effect dictates that the constricted river must flow faster, and that faster current carves the bank more precipitously. Eventually these competing factors reach a state of balance: the river banks narrow and become choked with a thick, impenetrable stand of Giant River Cane growing from a substrate of thick mud, right up until the point that the banks become impossibly steep, plunging almost vertically down to the bottom of the river. On Day 2 of my river trip, I'd discussed the scourge of Giant River Cane with the river ranger, and he'd told me about enormously clever efforts to use releases of predatory wasps to control the cane. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the clear-sightedness and creativity of conservation biologists.


https://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/the-wall-of-reeds-that-the-border-patrol-would-like-to-tear-down


Approaching the easternmost edge of the park, I nervously scanned the Texas banks, looking for a suitable exit point at which to beach, but none was to be found. The sharply eroded banks sloped upward toward the inland desert at 45 degrees or more, sometimes approaching 90 degrees. As steep as those banks were, they were still thickly colonized with Arunda donax and there was simply no way I could force myself up those banks and through that cane. Making matters worse, the constricted current was racing past the banks at 6 or 7 or 8 miles an hour, vastly complicating any efforts to beach my packraft on an inhospitable shore. I didn’t dare pull out my non-waterproof Holux GPS to try and take a reading, but nevertheless it was clear to me that I’d passed Heath Creek, and passed the easternmost boundary of the park, as was rapidly heading downriver toward the La Linda takeout. This was NOT what I had intended. Every mile downstream meant another mile deeper into the private Adams Ranch, and another mile (or two) that I’d have to hike overland back northwestward through private land until I reached the entrance to Telephone Canyon. I was becoming increasingly agitated: I had to stop racing downstream and find a place to reenter Texas, but good options appeared non-existent. I thought to myself, “this cane has screwed me." I was livid.


About that time - just downriver of a surprisingly difficult rapid - a large, flat beach of cobbles and sand appeared on the Mexican shore. “Any port in a storm,” I said to myself, and thrust my packraft up onto the rocky shore. It was 2pm. I had originally planned on beaching on the Texas shore and spending the rest of the afternoon unpacking and repacking my gear in order to prepare for the shift from river travel to backpacking, but it was not to be. My task now was to find a way across the river and back into Texas. I pulled my raft up onto the cobbles, well above the waterline, slipped off my PFD, pulled out my 7x17 monocular, and headed east along the beach, to scout the opposite shore, looking for any place that I might successfully breach the wall of Giant River Cane.


Texas apparently didn’t want me back, so I figured I’d just have to fight my way in.


I walked along the water’s edge for a few hundred yards, scanning the Texas shore with my monocular but to no avail, and then the beach on the Mexican side also disappeared into an impenetrable wall of Giant River Cane. At that point, I turned inland, looking for a way around the cane, and quickly came to a dry creekbed emptying into the Rio Grande from the inland slopes. I would have to cross it in order to continue my scouting downriver. I stepped off its bank, dropping a few feet into the creekbed and immediately – to my great shock – sunk into wet gooey mud up to my ankles. Panicking, I lunged forward across the 10-foot wide creekbed, yanking my buried foot from the mud and planting my other foot a few feet farther across the creekbed where it promptly sunk up to my calf. Still panicking, I extracted my sunken foot with great difficulty from the sucking mud and lunged forward again, this time sinking my foot and leg up to my knee. One more lunge, and another leg sunk up to my thigh, and with Herculean effort I freed myself from the sucking mud by clawing my way up the opposite bank with my fingernails. Free, finally, on top of the opposite creekbank, I soon realized that both my river shoes had been left behind, now buried deep in the muddy creekbed. Was I going to go back after them? NOT. ON. YOUR. LIFE. My shoes were at least two feet under the mud, and they would just have to stay there forever.


I took a few minutes to regain my calm and then, now barefoot, headed further downstream, mostly following animal trails through the thick, thorny riverside vegetation. After a quarter-mile or so, I found an opening in the foliage and forced my way roughly through. From that point, with my monocular, I worked my way further downstream and eventually found three possible exits on the Texas shore. The first was steep (about 40 degrees) but afforded some mud on which to beach, but it led to solid river cane. The second was also steep (about 60 degrees) and afforded little mud, but led to at least one mesquite and one tamarisk tree which had thinned the river cane somewhat. The last option was steep (about 45 degrees) but featured several trees and a two-foot deep and four-foot long wet mud beach below a thick stand of river cane.  Were there better beaches downriver from here? Who knew? But should I spend another day, moving down river to look, or should I just make the best of the alternatives in front of me? I decided upon the latter course, but there wasn't enough time to execute it that afternoon. The chances of me capsizing, as I tried to beach and climb through the cane, were huge, and I didn't want to capsize just as the sun was going down and without any clear idea of what I'd encounter downriver. I would wait until tomorrow morning to attempt a crossing of the river onto a hostile bank.


Plan made, I gingerly threaded my way, barefoot, back to my packraft, avoiding thorns with careful forethought, and the muddy creekbed by detouring further inland. Back at my packraft, I changed out of my wet river clothes and into my nighttime fleece, and laid my river clothes out on driftwood and stunted trees to dry overnight. Camping illegally on the Mexican side of the river, I did my best to hide my packraft behind a dune, and laid out my bedroll on the sandy Mexican beach behind another dune, made a quick hot dinner, and then retired for the night, sometime after the sun had set and before the moon had risen.


It was an unusually cold night and I had trouble falling asleep. I was worried about tomorrow. An hour or so after I crawled into my sleeping bag, I noticed a startlingly bright glow in the sky behind the cane and trees to my right, toward the Mexican interior. I stared at it, uncomprehendingly, for a minute or so, and then suddenly realized it was the full moon rising. It would take a long time before it finally rose above the vegetation, but man was it already bright in the cloudless sky. I surrendered to my sleeplessness and squirmed out of my bag, pulled my hiking boots out of their drysack in my backpack and onto my feet, and stood up to watch the moon rise over the river. In my mind, I ran through the steps I would take tomorrow to beach, secure, and unload my raft on the Texas bank. By the light of the moon, I pulled out my hank of 3mm utility cord and lashed it to my packraft in a handy spot. I double-checked the contents of my belly bag, fully aware that if I capsized and became separated from my raft, I might be forced to survive off of what I had inside my belly bag. I wouldn't wear my boots for the crossing - I'd go barefoot - but I would clip the boots in their drysack to one of my pant's beltloops. Having lost my river shoes, these boots were the only footwear I had left and I certainly couldn't afford to lose them. Mentally, I practiced unlashing my backpack and groundpad from my raft as quickly as possible: that would be my number one priority once my raft was secured to the Texas bank.  As all of these thoughts passed through my head, I paced. Partly to keep warm and partly to work off my nervous energy. Back and forth and back and forth on the sandy beach, until I had worn a deep depression into the sand. About this time, burros began braying a soulful dirge from beyond the vegetation on the Mexican shore. It was a disturbing sound, located somewhere between anger and sorrow. Other burros, these on the Texas bank, soon answered, and I found myself in the middle of an antiphony of asses, two groups calling mournfully to each other from bank to bank, separated by the dark river. One thought, dripping with toxic irony, popped into my head: I was trapped on the wrong side of the river, on a beach where I didn't belong, far from help, and all I wanted was to get to the other side: just like Olivia Felix. Karma is a bitch.


Meanwhile the moon continued to rise and cast an eerie ivory light over the entire beach, the gurgling river, and the wall of Giant River Cane on the opposite bank. Much like my night in Santa Elena Canyon all those days ago, I watched the moonlight slowly descend the wall of cane as the moon rose ever higher: when finally I saw the full moon's reflection in the rippling water of the river, I knew it was time to stop picking at my scabs of worry and crawl back into my bag. I was now sufficiently exhausted to go to sleep.


Tomorrow, cane willing and the river don’t rise, I would be in Texas - on foot, as I am most comfortable - and headed back to my vehicle, 14 days away.


[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: DesertRatShorty on December 28, 2017, 09:33:30 AM
That photo speaks volumes, that looks like an impenetrable wall, especially coming from the river.

What thoughts do you have on the route that the smugglers might have been taking?

Cow Canyon: was it too obscured by river cane, or could a person hiking down it access the river?

I realize you weren't looking for an exit until you got to the easternmost point, but if you had been wanting to exit the river earlier, were there any spots on the Texas side? Heath Creek?
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 28, 2017, 01:28:36 PM
That photo speaks volumes, that looks like an impenetrable wall, especially coming from the river.

What thoughts do you have on the route that the smugglers might have been taking?

Cow Canyon: was it too obscured by river cane, or could a person hiking down it access the river?

I realize you weren't looking for an exit until you got to the easternmost point, but if you had been wanting to exit the river earlier, were there any spots on the Texas side? Heath Creek?

The magazine article in the link within my last post mentions white plastic bags being used as markers for maintained smuggling routes. I saw several white bags tied to trees or cane on the Texas side, but at the time I simply thought they were trash caught in the banks during high river flows. I do think the two men whom I saw camped deep in Boquillas Canyon may have been using the Marufo Vega trail as a route in and out of Texas, because they were practically right across the river from it, but that's only speculation on my part.

I did try to keep a sharp eye out for the mouths of Arroyo Venado and Cow Canyon. As I passed through the Arroyo Venado rapids, I got glimpses of Arroyo Venado and it looked tough but do-able, as I think ME and his party proved in February. I got a better look at the mouth of Cow Canyon and it looked brutal. Just upwash from the mouth is a large pouroff that would be very difficult to ascend or descend without technical equipment. 

The Texas walls of Boquillas Canyon were almost exclusively rocky, all the way down to the river. River cane couldn't get much of a hold there. It was only after the walls ended at the eastern edge of the Hubert Ridge, that the terrain gave way to floodplains choked with river cane. I had hoped to scout the various mouths of Heath Creek as they meandered their way south to the river, but the transition to impenetrable river cane was almost immediate once downstream of the Hubert Ridge. I never saw any sign of Heath Creek. And the only sign I might have seen of the eastern boundary of the park was a small section of modern barbed-wire fence high up on a bluff behind the river cane. I'd hoped to explore the eastern boundary line because a friend of mine - a professor specializing in the history of the park system - had offered to buy me a steak dinner if I could get him a picture of the large boundary marker erected by an international commission upon the founding of the park. But, alas, there was simply NO way to beach anywhere close to there. I wish the ranger who'd written my permit had warned me of the condition of the river banks along this section of the river...but, frankly, I doubt anyone knew or even thought about it. Very few people boat through Boquillas Canyon and those that do, all take out at La Linda or even further downriver. No one even thinks of taking out anywhere between Hubert Ridge and La Linda, and for very good reason.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 28, 2017, 10:12:39 PM
Camp Diddit: December 4, 2017


Again, I’d placed my bedroll facing east so that the rising sun would wake me, and it did. I had serious work to do this morning. But the world I woke up in was not the world I’d gone to sleep in. It was cold. It was wet. The river was almost completely obscured by wisps of mist. My sleeping bag was soaked with condensation. The clothes I had left spread out on driftwood were dripping wet. Before I was willing to put them on for a 15-minute crossing of the river, or before I was willing to stuff my down sleeping bag deep into my backpack, everything had to dry. Unexpected, this was.


I shook out everything and spread it again on the available perches, strategically tilted toward the rising sun. Meanwhile, I packed what I could, including my hiking boots, ate a leisurely breakfast of GU and KIND bars, and walked back downriver to scope my intended landing spots. I had decided I’d try a practice landing at one of the first, less suitable spots, just in order to fine-tune my technique, then push off and head quickly downriver to the crossing point I’d selected as most likely to provide access through the imposing wall of Giant River Cane and back into Texas and my home nation. One of the odder things I’d noticed yesterday was a set of decrepit adobe buildings perched on a bluff high above the river on the Texas side. Selfishly, I wondered if there might be some of Bonnie McKinney’s folks there, working on the Desert Bighorn Sheep re-introduction, that could bail me out in case I capsized. I’d scoped the buildings late in the afternoon, at night, and then again in the morning, but I’d seen absolutely no sign of life among the buildings. It looked like I was completely on my own in this indescribably remote corner of the Big Bend.


Returning to my campsite, I found my gear finally dried, and the mists gone from the river. The day was warming and I was ready to make my crossing. I checked and rechecked my gear, changed into my now-dry river gear, stowed everything else, carried my raft downriver to a suitable put-in spot, lashed everything on to the raft, tossed a water bladder into its cockpit, took a deep breath, leaped in, grabbed my paddle, and pushed off into the current.


I immediately paddled toward the Texas shore, turned in tight to the river cane, and slowly paddled along its margins, constantly resisting the current, keeping an eagle eye for each of the three possible entry points I’d identified yesterday. Soon, the first access point appeared and I drove into the mud bank. Whipping out my pre-attached utility cord, I furiously lashed it around several shafts of river cane, most of which pulled out of the mud bank immediately. One or two held, and my raft spun sideways and slammed into the tiny mud spit before yanking the cane stalks free, sending me spinning downstream, cane stalks in tow.


Not exactly A+, but I’d learned a lot in that short, frantic encounter. I skipped the next possible access point – it was simply too steep – and steeled myself for my last chance. All too quickly it appeared and then, miraculously, so did a large gravel bar further downstream that I hadn’t been able to see in my scouting trips along the Mexican bank yesterday and this morning.  The bar looked far more appealing than the tiny mud beach I’d identified as my last hope. I dug in to the current with my paddle, shot back into the main current, narrowly avoiding a collision with the mud spit, and headed around a slight curve in the river, toward the gravel bar. Immediately, the gravel bar revealed itself as a mid-channel island, not an access point at all. There was no connection with the Texas shore, which was still as cane-choked as before, but there was a large rapid encompassing both sides of the island, and it was approaching fast. Instantly recognizing this, I furiously backpaddled, spun the raft around, and dug in hard to paddle backstream to my last hope. At first, I made little headway through the downstream current, but I persisted, cursing, and paddling for all I was worth. Slowly, I overmatched the current and crawled back upriver. A minute later, the tiny mud beach appeared. Two minutes later, I was upstream of it. I paused, spun the raft around, and established a diagonal line straight toward a notch in the mud spit.


I paddled hard and fast, always toward the notch, and hit it exactly right, temporarily lodging the bow of my raft. I whipped out my utility cord and frantically, intuitively, lashed it across anything that seemed thick or stable. No technique, just a whirlwind of desperate, hopeful activity. Stalk after stalk or river cane broke free from the mudbank and the raft started to spin, turning me upstream, but then miraculously one stalk held...and then another…and another.


Three were sufficient. I was facing upstream, but the raft’s motion had halted. I plunged my paddle into the river to test the depth right at the bank: two, three, four, five, six feet and my paddle hit bottom, at its full extension. The river was a full six feet deep right here at the bank and 80-90 degrees steep.  I did not want to fall in here.  I stood up, nearly capsized, and threw one foot onto the muddy bank, and my naked foot immediately sank into the soft mud. The raft slid away from the bank and I performed a particularly painful “boater’s split”, but was able to grab a thick handful of cane stalk and yank myself landward, bringing the raft with me. I lifted my other foot onto land, it sank, too. I grabbed the 30 or so free feet of the utility cord and lunged up the vegetated bank, clawing my way through the cane with my fingers. Cane broke off and I tossed it behind me, always scrambling upward along the now-almost 70 degree slope toward the first of the trees some ten feet above me, bare feet always searching for some foothold – a rock, a root, a hollow into which to dig my toes. Miraculously, somehow, don’t ask me how, I reached one of the trees and instantly lashed my cord to it. Over and over and over, and then collapsed face-down into the slippery mud, one hand holding the trunk of the tree in a death grip.


I was on land. I was in Texas. I had a grip on a tree. My raft was tethered and intact. And I had a handline to help me up and down the impossibly steep muddy slope so that I could unload my backpacking gear. I’d made it.


I looked over my shoulder to make sure the raft was secured, then grabbed the 3mm handline and lowered myself slowly back down to the tiny mud spit where I could stand and work. Quickly I unlashed my backpack and, using the handline again, climbed my way back upslope to the tamarisk tree and heaved my pack behind its trunk and into its lower branches. I made sure it was reasonably secure there, and then headed back down to the raft to retrieve my groundpad, then another round to retrieve my 6-liter MSR Dromedary bladder. Having off-loaded all the essentials, I now focused on the cane jungle. It was almost, but not quite, impenetrable: twenty to thirty feet thick and at least twenty feet tall, and tightly packed. A few trees were interspersed within the jungle, affording the only daylight, or hope, that I could see. Double-checking, once again, that my gear was secure in the arms of the tamarisk tree, I struggled out of my PFD, but not my belly bag, and shoved the vest into the tree’s limbs. Then I began to crawl on my hands and knees, or snaking along on my belly, between the cane stalks, bending or breaking off what I could, occasionally using my tiny knife to saw through what I couldn’t otherwise remove. I belly-crawled through the sand and mud and made my way toward the light on the far side. Ten minutes later, I poked my head into bright sunlight, in front of me was a ten foot expanse of deep grass, stretching inland to a tall, rough, dry and sunny wall of rocky aggregate decorated with all the traditional desert thorns.


Texas. I had broken through.


Having excavated a tiny tunnel through the cane, I now proceeded to ferry my gear through, bit by bit, one piece at a time, usually pushing it along the ground ahead of me. The handline was essential. I could never have made it up and down the extremely steep and slippery bank without it. Finally, all my gear was spread out in the sunlight in the grassy margin between the cane wall and the rocky inland slope. It was time to pull my raft from the water. Lowering myself carefully back to the water with the handline, I reached the raft, knelt down, took a deep breath, and unscrewed the plug. The raft instantly collapsed. It felt like crossing the Rubicon. Using the tiny mud beach as a precarious working platform, I hoisted the deflated shell onto the mud and proceeded to roll it up into a tight cylinder, slowly squeezing the water out of the cockpit and the air out of the chamber. Once empty, I replaced the plug, wrapped the raft tightly in two compression straps, and carried it back upslope to the tunnel. Carefully pushing it ahead of me, I managed to wrestle it to the grassy hollow. That was it: everything was off the river.


Now it was time to repack for land: after twelve days of thinking like a river, I was no longer a rafter, I was a backpacker.


[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: SergeantFunk on December 28, 2017, 11:21:04 PM
Even with prior knowledge that you had made it, I found myself breathless reading this latest entry.  Just fantastic storytelling HMoD!  Bravo.  :eusa_clap:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Txlj on December 29, 2017, 01:15:06 AM
Ah yes. All better.

Sent from flat land

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: mule ears on December 29, 2017, 05:54:34 AM
Whew!  Glad you made it.    :nailbitting:

The picture of the cane tunnel had me for a minute 'cause it looked like you had to crawl along a steep cut in the silt alluvium but then I realized it was sideways.   :eusa_doh:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: badknees on December 29, 2017, 07:05:13 AM
https://youtu.be/WQZqJ_-WAO8
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Hang10er on December 29, 2017, 08:51:52 AM
I have had a bit of exposure to BiBE, so my mind gives me an image when you describe your camps, the tunnel through the cane, etc.  With your storytelling, it's usually a pretty close match to your pictures. 

Thanks for sharing your adventure.  Can't wait for "Part Two - Land".
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 29, 2017, 11:31:43 PM
I now found myself in a secluded hollow on the US side of the international border.  I didn’t take a GPS reading (nor am I sure I could have, given all the blocking terrain), but my best guess of its coordinates, from looking at Google Earth, is 29 23 17N by 102 50 00W. To my rear and somewhat to each side of me was the wall of Giant River Cane and an incredibly steep ten-foot mudbank separating me from the Rio Grande, from Mexico, and from the first twelve days of my trip. Immediately in front of me was a towering aggregate rock cliff, maybe fifty feet tall, pierced through with caves and overhangs, and curving away from me at its far sides. The east, or right side of the cliff, as I faced it, was choked with a mix of vegetation that reflected the peculiar ecotone in which I stood: part succulent and cacti; part river cane, tamarisk, river willow, and mesquite; and wholly impenetrable. The west side of the cliff fell away into a rocky, sandy drainage, perhaps five feet deep, stretching from the cane wall northward into the desert beyond. To the west, even further to my left, the drainage was bordered by a classic desert slope some seventy-five feet high, filled with cholla, ocotillo, lechuguilla, pricklypear, and rainbow cactus. That would be my way out of this hollow and inland to Telephone Canyon.


First things first, I set about packing for land travel. Out came my backpacking boots, and onto my feet. I have to admit, they felt great. Their robustness and perfect fit filled me with confidence, even chutzpah, far different than the fragile, open river shoes now moldering deep in the mud on the Mexican shore. I filled up both my SmartWater bottles with a liter of water and slipped them into the side pockets of my Osprey Aether 70 pack. I already had a full 4-liter MSR Dromlite bladder inside the bladder pocket of my pack. The 6-liter Dromlite that had been in the cockpit of my raft now held only 4-liters of purified river water as well. I slipped it into the interior of my backpack, just above my sleeping bag compartment. On top of that went my Basecamp odor barrier bag with five days’ food, enough to get me to my next cache in the desert near Mile 13 on the main park road south of Panther Junction. Then the stuffsack with my Vargo messkit and stove, a stuffsack with my raingear, and another with my “layers and spares”. Lastly, on top, went my Integral Designs Silshelter Tarp, and then I cinched the packbag’s mouth closed. The packraft fit between the main packbag and my pack’s top pocket (aka, my “belly bag”, which was not reattached to my backpack). My groundpad was, of course, attached to the rear bottom of my backpack. And my paddles were broken down and inserted into my pack's rear Stuffit pocket. The PFD, and my paddling gloves, were slipped over the exposed handles of my paddles where they rode comfortably and securely.


My total packweight was probably somewhere around 56lbs: 18lbs baseweight, a little over 5lbs food, 25lbs water, and 8lbs of packrafting gear. I hoisted it all onto my back and groaned. This dog wasn’t going to hunt. I rummaged through my pack, pulled out my 6-liter Dromlite and emptied out 2 liters of water. I was confident I could find water SOMEWHERE in the next three days before reaching Ernst Tinaja. That brought my total packweight down to less than 54lbs: a small but welcome difference.


Before humping that load up the slope to my west, I decided to do a bit of scouting. I unhooked my pack’s top pocket (the belly bag) which held all my emergency supplies, and converted it into a fanny pack. Then I grabbed my two trekking poles and started up the slope, reaching the flat summit in just a few minutes. From there, I could see quite far both up and downstream along the river, as well as inland. It was fascinating to look down on the walls of river cane that bordered the water, to see the full extent of the barrier. Looking northward and westward, I could see the Hubert Ridge in the distance, including – in the very far distance – its terminus at the narrow eastern mouth of Telephone Canyon, which was my goal for the day. Between there and where I stood, I could barely make out a network of faint ranch roads. I’d noticed these before, both on topo maps and on Google Earth. Happily, it looked as if I might be able to use these as route to Telephone Canyon. Seeing as how I had been forced to beach on private land (the former Adams Ranch) and would now be crossing it illegally in order to reenter the national park, I was interested in doing so as quickly and efficiently as possible. I wanted to be back on national park land by sunset.


I returned downslope and across the wash to the grassy hollow sandwiched between the rocky inland cliff and the Giant River Cane jungle along the river bank. Time to man-up, I said to myself, and hoisted the pack onto my shoulders, grabbed my trekking poles, turned westward, and headed for the slope. It was a quick climb, if occasionally slippery on gravel, and I made the top in good time. The weight was manageable. I could do this. I took a couple of quick pictures from the top, mostly of the river and cane, and then turned north along the spine of ridge. I was headed for a spot in the distance where a rough ranch road crossed the ridge. The temperatures were fine, the wind was modest, and the skies were blue. I was happy.


Finally, I was backpacking again.


One of my main interests in this area was the various US military camps installed in Big Bend in the early 1900’s in response the political and social instability of the Mexican Revolution. No nation welcomes a neighbor descending into chaos, but that is exactly what the United States got when Porfirio Diaz’s autocratic presidency fell apart in 1910.  Pity the poor Mexican people: they’ve lived under 500 years of corruption, enabled by a willing (or submissive) bureaucracy that makes the US version seem positively saintly. As always, we could argue all day about why this is, but it’s hard to argue that from time to time, the Mexican people become fed up with their circumstances and attempt to throw the bums out. In 1910, destitute peasants, abused farmers, marginalized labor unions, and (most importantly) even some wealthy landowners (like, for example, Pancho Villa) refused to accept an extension of Diaz’s 35-year-long reign of corruption. A revolution ensued, the revolution collapsed into civil war, and Pancho Villa was eventually reduced to a lawless guerilla leader, roaming across his native state of Chihuahua. International commercial interests in Mexico were hamstrung or crippled with the breakdown of Mexico’s political and social order. And Villa was not the only guerilla staging raids across the Rio Grande; many others, of uncertain loyalty and motivation, took advantage of the general chaos to make a quick peso. As early as 1911, the United States had begun stationing military personnel in the Big Bend to protect civilians and commerce.  Tensions came to a head on the evening of May 5, 1914, when Mexican guerillas/bandits raided the candelilla wax camp at Glenn Springs, Texas. Nine men of Troop A of the 14th Cavalry were stationed there. A three-hour gun battle ensued. Three soldiers and one civilian were killed, and many others were severely wounded. Stores were looted, buildings burned, and the wax camp destroyed. The incident became a national scandal and President Woodrow Wilson ordered the Texas National Guard to establish permanent military settlements at Glenn Springs, as well as elsewhere in the Bend near Lajitas, at Castolon, La Noria on the ore road near Ernst Tinaja, and at the newly-created Camp Mercer on the Rio Grande near Stillwell’s Crossing. General John Pershing was sent to the southwest as the head of an expeditionary force tasked with subduing Mexican rebels and bandits in the border areas, with only marginal regard for the international border. The US- Mexican border had become militarized yet again.


And that is how Telephone Canyon got its name.


The 4th Texas Infantry’s I Company was tasked with stringing a telephone line from their camp at La Noria, just west of Ernst Tinaja, to Camp Mercer, above one of the many mouths of Heath Creek at the Rio Grande. The route they chose ran awfully close the present-day trail over the Deadhorse Mountains and through what we now call Telephone Canyon, and then along the Heath Creek drainage to Camp Mercer at the river. I knew I was awfully close to the ruins of Camp Mercer and hoped I would stumble upon them. Were the adobe ruins - near where I put in (best guess: 29 23 24W by 102 50 05N) - actually the remains of Camp Mercer? I thought not: an existing powerline still ran to them and they seemed far too well-preserved to be those that I was looking for. Most likely, the ruins of Camp Mercer were just downstream of where I landed, along the network of roads I was heading for, but further south, next to the river. I was headed in the opposite direction, north towards Telephone Canyon.


[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 29, 2017, 11:35:31 PM
I’d spent months studying this road network via Google Earth and felt I had a good grasp of it.  I knew most branches would eventually funnel westward into a single track heading to the fenced gate at the eastern mouth of Telephone Canyon right at the boundary between the national park and the old Adams Ranch. I trusted my skills, sure that through a combination of map study, dead reckoning, and intuition, I could wend my may through the spiderweb of ranch roads to my evening’s destination. The weather was beautiful, the topography was relatively flat, and the roadbeds were good. Pretty close to perfect if you’re humping 56 pounds through the desert.


To my rear, in Mexico, rose the Sierra del Carmen and a myriad of stark, isolated, and imposing volcanic mountains. In front of me were the massifs of the Deadhorse Mountains, forming the eastern end of Big Bend National Park: Hubert Ridge and the high, forbidding ridges that delineated Hog Canyon, Brushy Draw, Margaret Basin, and Telephone Canyon.  It was 1pm and I had about 4 miles of desert to cover before I made camp at the eastern end of Telephone Canyon.


Around mid-afternoon, still under clear skies and bright sunlight, I spied some kind of man-made equipment near the side of the road a few hundred yards away. It turned out to be an automatic wildlife feeder and a desert spring with a concrete cap and an attached pumping system. Clearly, this was part of the Desert Bighorn Sheep reintroduction program being conducted on the old Adams Ranch property. I looked around for automatic cameras, but found none. I took the opportunity to re-purpose the concrete cap on the spring as a camp stool. I set my hiking polls aside against a greasewood bush, unshouldered my pack, sat down and stretched my legs. I snacked on a GU and some jerky, drank several ounces of water, and set up my Holux GPS to get a reading. I was in the middle of nowhere. Sure, there were ranch roads, but it didn’t look like there’d been another human being anywhere near here in months. After a minute or two, my GPS logger registered coordinates of 29 28 3810W and 102 50 5513N. Yep, the middle of nowhere.


I checked my thermometer: 89 degrees. Yow. I considered drawing some water from the pump-fed pool atop the concrete cap, but decided against it. I was sure I had enough water to last me until Ernst Tinaja, a few days hence – and if I didn’t, I could find more in the tiny tinajas in Telephone Canyon. The pump-fed water belonged to Bighorn Sheep. It had been put there for them, not me, and I could survive without it. I shouldered my pack, grabbed my trekking poles, and headed east down the ranch road toward Telephone Canyon. The landscape was as barren as they come, but beautiful in its own sere, rolling way. I was happy to be out here, happy to be on foot, happy to have my necessities on my back.


A mile or so later, I spied what looked like more manmade artifacts in the distance. As I approached, I realized it was a fence and gate: the National Park boundary. The entrance to Telephone Canyon. I’d dreamed of this spot for three years and now it was only a short walk away. This is the spot from which I’d always wanted to begin my hike across Big Bend National Park, and now I was almost there. Admittedly by a somewhat non-traditional and borderline legal means, but there nonetheless. But, hey, was it really my fault that the Rio Grande was straightjacketed by Giant River Cane throughout its eastern reaches in the park? I did the best that I could under the circumstances.


With each passing step, the gate got nearer, and I got happier. And then…I was there. A thin, fragile fenceline strung through the middle of a vast, beautiful, austere wilderness. Mountains far behind, and mountains far ahead. And in between, bisected by the imaginary boundary line, some of the most flat, inhospitable desert imaginable. I took the obligatory selfie with my phone, just to prove to myself that I’d made it, and then I worked a little harmless mischief just to satisfy my own peculiar sense of fun. Half an hour later, it was time to saddle up and head for my evening’s campsite.


Now, you may think the walk from the park’s eastern boundary gate to the mouth of Telephone Canyon is a quick stroll. I did. But it is not. It is a long, long two miles across difficult desert before the sheltering walls of Telephone Canyon rise up to embrace the weary hiker. The terrain became rougher and the roadbed began to rapidly deteriorate. As the roadbed deteriorated, social and wildlife trails proliferated. So did historic trash: old tin cans, nails and horseshoes and other rusted hardware, even an ancient 55-gallon drum that had apparently served as a grill or cistern. Thankfully, a few cairns also began to appear. The hours of cruising were over; I had to wake up and pay attention to my footsteps. Not that I couldn’t find my way to the mouth of Telephone Canyon by dead reckoning…that was easy…it was just a matter of how painful I wanted it to be. Torn skin? Bloody gashes? Twisted ankle? Maybe better to look for cairns. And so I did. Soon the walls of Telephone Canyon went from blue to gray to black; from lines on the horizon to hulks big enough to blot out the sinking sun and darkening skies. By 4:15pm I was inside the canyon and began looking for a place to camp. I found a perfect spot. Soft gravel for a bed. Large rocks for seats, and for windbreaks behind which to cook my dinner. I dropped my trekking poles and my pack, unlimbered my top pocket, gently laid my packraft on the gravel, and my other packrafting gear, and began to prepare my camp.


First, I fished out my GPS logger and placed it high on a boulder to take a reading. The reading came back 29 23 0511W and 102 53 1338N. I turned back eastward and looked across the low, rolling desert toward the mountains rising starkly in Mexico. Somewhere out there was the Rio Grande, where I’d started my day early this morning. It had taken me twelve days of sometimes beautiful, often exhilarating, and occasionally comically incompetent rafting to reach that spot. And now, at this very moment, I had confirmed my arrival at the mouth of Telephone Canyon – a spot I’d dreamed of reaching for years – by clawing, hiking, and navigating my way here over rough and remote desert in which the chances of meeting another person or receiving help were little to none. No small feat.


"I did it," I murmured.  I may have injured my elbow while patting myself on the back.


The sun was now down below the ridges and the temperature was dropping. For once, I didn't need to change out of wet clothes: I simply slipped my nighttime fleece over my hiking clothes, and laid out my bedroll for the evening. Then I prepared a small kitchen and assembled my messkit behind a boulder sheltering me from the increasing eastern wind. I made myself a delicious pot of pork ramen noodle soup, jerky, and peanut M&M’s. Darkness fell as I ate and I switched on my Petzl e+LITE headlamp. The light was delightful. Comforting. Just a tiny headlamp provided the difference between an uncertain wilderness and a little bubble of civilization. Generally, I’m not a fan of the blandishments of civilization…but, for some reason, tonight they warmed my heart. Dinner done, I packed up my messkit and loaded it into my backpack, dug scoops for my hips and shoulders under my bedroll, crawled into my sleeping bag, adjusted every element just to my liking, and settled in to what I anticipated would be a very, very good night’s sleep.


As I drifted off, among the few billion stars now appearing overhead, I spied my old friend and counselor from last December, the constellation I’d named The Rattlesnake. As always its head pointed west: inviting me, encouraging me, cajoling me through the wilderness toward Lajitas.


God, I thought to myself, I love backpacking.


[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: presidio on December 30, 2017, 12:17:35 AM
First, I fished out my GPS logger and placed it high on a boulder to take a reading. The reading came back 29 23 0511N and 103 53 1338W.

Shouldn't that be 102 53 1338W?
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Txlj on December 30, 2017, 12:18:12 AM
Simply wonderful.

Sent from flat land

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 30, 2017, 12:29:21 AM
First, I fished out my GPS logger and placed it high on a boulder to take a reading. The reading came back 29 23 0511N and 103 53 1338W.

Shouldn't that be 102 53 1338W?

Thanks! Fixed.

As Badknees can tell you from last year's trip report, always double-check any navigational information I post. I have some sort of geographical dysgraphia that causes me to invert/convert/subvert everything I write. It's been a severe occupational hazard. I can read and use navigational tools; I just can't write about them.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: DesertRatShorty on December 30, 2017, 09:23:20 AM
I hope Lawrence Parent reads this report and revises the TC chapter: "To get to the eastern trailhead,  simply ..."
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: badknees on December 30, 2017, 09:41:35 AM
First, I fished out my GPS logger and placed it high on a boulder to take a reading. The reading came back 29 23 0511N and 103 53 1338W.

Shouldn't that be 102 53 1338W?

Thanks! Fixed.

As Badknees can tell you from last year's trip report, always double-check any navigational information I post. I have some sort of geographical dyslexia that causes me to invert/convert/subvert everything I write. It's been a severe occupational hazard. I can read and use navigational tools; I just can't write about them.

I'm struggling a bit with your coordinates :-[
Can you provide units?  What is the 3810, 5513, 0511 and 1338? Are there any decimal points?

29 28 3810N and 102 50 5513W.
29 23 0511N and 102 53 1338W
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: mule ears on December 30, 2017, 09:57:33 AM
First, I fished out my GPS logger and placed it high on a boulder to take a reading. The reading came back 29 23 0511N and 103 53 1338W.

Shouldn't that be 102 53 1338W?

Thanks! Fixed.

As Badknees can tell you from last year's trip report, always double-check any navigational information I post. I have some sort of geographical dyslexia that causes me to invert/convert/subvert everything I write. It's been a severe occupational hazard. I can read and use navigational tools; I just can't write about them.

I'm struggling a bit with your coordinates :-[
Can you provide units?  What is the 3810, 5513, 0511 and 1338? Are there any decimal points?

29 28 3810N and 102 50 5513W.
29 23 0511N and 102 53 1338W

It is the way the Holux reads out degrees, minutes, seconds
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: iCe on December 30, 2017, 10:30:32 AM
It is the way the Holux reads out degrees, minutes, seconds


Seconds are xxxx = xx.xx


Page 12



http://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/814b66_d203080a7cc74b7ea4e435e8e6896319.pdf
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: badknees on December 30, 2017, 10:45:45 AM
It is the way the Holux reads out degrees, minutes, seconds


Seconds are xxxx = xx.xx


Page 12



http://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/814b66_d203080a7cc74b7ea4e435e8e6896319.pdf

OK, that clears that up and was my assumption. That leads to another question?

Below is a plot of the 2 referenced points. Looks like about 6 1/2 miles (as the crow flies) between them. The first point plots on the east side of the La Linda road? Which way did you travel?

Are you sure it wasn't 29 28 2810N and 102 50 5513W. That would make more sense?
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: mule ears on December 30, 2017, 11:16:01 AM
It is the way the Holux reads out degrees, minutes, seconds


Seconds are xxxx = xx.xx


Page 12



http://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/814b66_d203080a7cc74b7ea4e435e8e6896319.pdf

OK, that clears that up and was my assumption. That leads to another question?

Below is a plot of the 2 referenced points. Looks like about 6 1/2 miles (as the crow flies) between them. The first point plots on the east side of the La Linda road? Which way did you travel?

Are you sure it wasn't 29 28 2810N and 102 50 5513W. That would make more sense?

Yeah I looked at that too, I am sure his first Long. number was off and agree that it is 102 not 103.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: badknees on December 30, 2017, 11:26:11 AM
It is the way the Holux reads out degrees, minutes, seconds


Seconds are xxxx = xx.xx


Page 12



http://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/814b66_d203080a7cc74b7ea4e435e8e6896319.pdf

OK, that clears that up and was my assumption. That leads to another question?

Below is a plot of the 2 referenced points. Looks like about 6 1/2 miles (as the crow flies) between them. The first point plots on the east side of the La Linda road? Which way did you travel?

Are you sure it wasn't 29 28 2810N and 102 50 5513W. That would make more sense?

Yeah I looked at that too, I am sure his first Long. number was off and agree that it is 102 not 103.

Quote
Are you sure it wasn't 29 28 2810N and 102 50 5513W. That would make more sense?
That was wrong :willynilly:

Seems like its too far north by about 5 min.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Hoodoo on December 30, 2017, 11:56:52 AM
It is the way the Holux reads out degrees, minutes, seconds


Seconds are xxxx = xx.xx


Page 12



http://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/814b66_d203080a7cc74b7ea4e435e8e6896319.pdf

OK, that clears that up and was my assumption. That leads to another question?

Below is a plot of the 2 referenced points. Looks like about 6 1/2 miles (as the crow flies) between them. The first point plots on the east side of the La Linda road? Which way did you travel?

Are you sure it wasn't 29 28 2810N and 102 50 5513W. That would make more sense?

Yeah I looked at that too, I am sure his first Long. number was off and agree that it is 102 not 103.

Quote
Are you sure it wasn't 29 28 2810N and 102 50 5513W. That would make more sense?
That was wrong :willynilly:

Seems like its too far north by about 5 min.

Looks like he walked up between Heath Creek and Brushy Draw from the river to Telephone canyon.

There appears to be some sort of water feature (wildlife guzzler?) at 29 23 38.1 -102 50 55.13.

Just floating the river through the entire park is a feat in itself.  :eusa_clap:

Great Story :eusa_dance:

Don
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: badknees on December 30, 2017, 01:01:07 PM
It is the way the Holux reads out degrees, minutes, seconds


Seconds are xxxx = xx.xx


Page 12



http://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/814b66_d203080a7cc74b7ea4e435e8e6896319.pdf

OK, that clears that up and was my assumption. That leads to another question?

Below is a plot of the 2 referenced points. Looks like about 6 1/2 miles (as the crow flies) between them. The first point plots on the east side of the La Linda road? Which way did you travel?

Are you sure it wasn't 29 28 2810N and 102 50 5513W. That would make more sense?

Yeah I looked at that too, I am sure his first Long. number was off and agree that it is 102 not 103.

Quote
Are you sure it wasn't 29 28 2810N and 102 50 5513W. That would make more sense?
That was wrong :willynilly:

Seems like its too far north by about 5 min.

Looks like he walked up between Heath Creek and Brushy Draw from the river to Telephone canyon.

There appears to be some sort of water feature (wildlife guzzler?) at 29 23 38.1 -102 50 55.13.

Just floating the river through the entire park is a feat in itself.  :eusa_clap:

Great Story :eusa_dance:

Don

Quote
Just floating the river through the entire park is a feat in itself.  :eusa_clap:

No kidding!
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: presidio on December 30, 2017, 01:24:57 PM
I'm struggling a bit with your coordinates :-[
Can you provide units?  What is the 3810, 5513, 0511 and 1338? Are there any decimal points?

29 28 3810N and 102 50 5513W.
29 23 0511N and 102 53 1338W
Quote
It is the way the Holux reads out degrees, minutes, seconds

29 28 3810N and 102 50 5513W
29 23 0511N and 102 53 1338W

Okay folks, to clear this up, the above coordinates would display like this:

29° 28' 38.10"N 102° 50' 55.13"W
29° 23' 05.11"N 102° 53' 13.38"W

However, I've never met a GPS unit in which coordinate systems cannot be changed from DMS (degrees, minutes, seconds) to alternate, and much easier to use, displays.

In order of usability they are:

DDD° MM' SS.S"    Degrees, Minutes and Seconds (hardest)
DDD° MM.MMM'    Degrees and Decimal Minutes
DDD.DDDDD°    Decimal Degrees (easiest)
UTM (easiest to do quick mental calculations with, as long as you are in the same zone, as numbers are in meters)

So, converting HMOD's numbers to the above alternates,  you get
Degrees Lat Long    29.4772500°, -102.8486472°
Degrees Minutes   29°28.63500', -102°50.91883'
Degrees Minutes Seconds    29°28'38.1000", -102°50'55.1300"
UTM   13R 708597mE 3262790mN

Degrees Lat Long    29.3847528°, -102.8870500°
Degrees Minutes   29°23.08517', -102°53.22300'
Degrees Minutes Seconds    29°23'05.1100", -102°53'13.3800"
UTM   13R 705058mE 3252469mN

Some notes about all this. Every GPS I've ever used can be set to any of the above schemes, but outputs downloaded data in WGS84 decimal degrees, regardless of how it is displayed on the screen.

The North and West designators are replaced by a plus (+) sign (omitted as unnecessary) for northern latitudes and a minus (-) sign (included) for western longitudes. The degree symbol also is omitted as superfluous since "degree" is what you're dealing with.

So, for example, you can drop 29.3847528, -102.8870500 (or 29.3847528 -102.8870500; with or without the comma, it's not necessary but a space between the coordinates is) into Google Earth and quickly go there.

UTM is a bit more complicated to use outside the GPS  unit as you must include the zone (the 13R above), but for quick calculations between two points in the field it's a matter of simple subtraction to find out how many meters over and up (or down) you are from the first point. No complicated conversions necessary. Values are shown as "Easting" first and "Northing" second. Each zone has 500,000 meters as the center (central meridian: "longitude") of the zone.

Thus, for the Easting value the numbers are prevented from going above or below six digits and negative numbers are not possible. For example, at the equator, where the zones are the widest, the Easting values range from 167000 meters to 833000 meters. The Northing value is the distance in meters from the equator.

Decimal degrees (DDD.DDDDD) is by far the easiest and fastest way to use lat/long coordinates and is much easier to enter into any navigation program or Google Earth than the more laborious entry of DMS or DDD MM.MMM.

It's user preference, but if you deal intensively with maps/navigation the decimal degree system is the way to go.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: badknees on December 30, 2017, 01:38:12 PM
Quote
It's user preference, but if you deal intensively with maps/navigation the decimal degree system is the way to go.

Agreed 100%. Although I can readily convert, I only use decimal degrees. - DDD.DDDDD
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 30, 2017, 01:48:26 PM
Ooops, sorry.  :eusa_doh:  But I did warn you.   :-[

As Badknees can tell you from last year's trip report, always double-check any navigational information I post. I have some sort of geographical dysgraphia that causes me to invert/convert/subvert everything I write. It's been a severe occupational hazard. I can read and use navigational tools; I just can't write about them.

The correct coordinates for the feeder/guzzler station on the Adams Ranch, per my Holux logger, are 29 23 3810N, 102 50 5513W. You can actually see it was written correctly in my journal if you look closely. I mis-transcribed it when posting my trip report, to the tune of 5 degrees, exactly as Badknees deduced. 

A word about my writing process. We're in Albuquerque right now, on our traditional post-Christmas week with the in-laws. I'm composing on a laptop that isn't mine, late in the evenings, on a crowded dining table where 8 other people are raucously playing cards or boardgames. Take my usual geographic dysgraphia and multiply it by ten.  :willynilly:

I'll end my trip report by attaching a CalTopo version of my routes and that should clear up most, if not all, questions.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 30, 2017, 01:51:18 PM
The correct coordinates for the feeder/guzzler station on the Adams Ranch, per my Holux logger, are 29 23 3810W, 102 50 5513N.

See? I did it again. I need an intern.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: badknees on December 30, 2017, 01:55:05 PM
Ooops, sorry.  :eusa_doh:  But I did warn you.   :-[

As Badknees can tell you from last year's trip report, always double-check any navigational information I post. I have some sort of geographical dysgraphia that causes me to invert/convert/subvert everything I write. It's been a severe occupational hazard. I can read and use navigational tools; I just can't write about them.

The correct coordinates for the feeder/guzzler station on the Adams Ranch, per my Holux logger, are 29 23 3810N, 102 50 5513W. You can actually see it was written correctly in my journal if you look closely. I mis-transcribed it when posting my trip report, to the tune of 5 degrees, exactly as Badknees deduced. 

A word about my writing process. We're in Albuquerque right now, on our traditional post-Christmas week with the in-laws. I'm composing on a laptop that isn't mine, late in the evenings, on a crowded dining table where 8 other people are raucously playing cards or boardgames. Take my usual geographic dysgraphia and multiply it by ten.  :willynilly:

I'll end my trip report by attaching a CalTopo version of my routes and that should clear up most, if not all, questions.

Thanks for that! I know you are a wild child, but I was trying to figure out how you crossed over the Deadhorse without any drama!!! :eusa_naughty:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: SergeantFunk on December 30, 2017, 03:37:36 PM
I think  :eusa_think: your hand-written journals alone might end up items of value to the community here (not that you'd ever give them up haha).  What a thrill this trip has become for all of us... :eusa_clap:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: iCe on December 30, 2017, 04:32:45 PM

The Holux easily fits in the palm of your hand (I have had one for a while). It's not much bigger than the AA battery that powers it and it's basically a data logger. It doesn't have a lot of features. But it's light and it works. It also last a surprisingly long time on a AA battery. The newest version has Bluetooth and will talk to a phone. Battery life - With Bluetooth and logging - 20 hours. 30 hours if it's just logging. Not bad.

I'm struggling a bit with your coordinates :-[
Can you provide units?  What is the 3810, 5513, 0511 and 1338? Are there any decimal points?

29 28 3810N and 102 50 5513W.
29 23 0511N and 102 53 1338W
Quote
It is the way the Holux reads out degrees, minutes, seconds

29 28 3810N and 102 50 5513W
29 23 0511N and 102 53 1338W

Okay folks, to clear this up, the above coordinates would display like this:

29° 28' 38.10"N 102° 50' 55.13"W
29° 23' 05.11"N 102° 53' 13.38"W

However, I've never met a GPS unit in which coordinate systems cannot be changed from DMS (degrees, minutes, seconds) to alternate, and much easier to use, displays.

In order of usability they are:

DDD° MM' SS.S"    Degrees, Minutes and Seconds (hardest)
DDD° MM.MMM'    Degrees and Decimal Minutes
DDD.DDDDD°    Decimal Degrees (easiest)
UTM (easiest to do quick mental calculations with, as long as you are in the same zone, as numbers are in meters)

So, converting HMOD's numbers to the above alternates,  you get
Degrees Lat Long    29.4772500°, -102.8486472°
Degrees Minutes   29°28.63500', -102°50.91883'
Degrees Minutes Seconds    29°28'38.1000", -102°50'55.1300"
UTM   13R 708597mE 3262790mN

Degrees Lat Long    29.3847528°, -102.8870500°
Degrees Minutes   29°23.08517', -102°53.22300'
Degrees Minutes Seconds    29°23'05.1100", -102°53'13.3800"
UTM   13R 705058mE 3252469mN

Some notes about all this. Every GPS I've ever used can be set to any of the above schemes, but outputs downloaded data in WGS84 decimal degrees, regardless of how it is displayed on the screen.

The North and West designators are replaced by a plus (+) sign (omitted as unnecessary) for northern latitudes and a minus (-) sign (included) for western longitudes. The degree symbol also is omitted as superfluous since "degree" is what you're dealing with.

So, for example, you can drop 29.3847528, -102.8870500 (or 29.3847528 -102.8870500; with or without the comma, it's not necessary but a space between the coordinates is) into Google Earth and quickly go there.

UTM is a bit more complicated to use outside the GPS  unit as you must include the zone (the 13R above), but for quick calculations between two points in the field it's a matter of simple subtraction to find out how many meters over and up (or down) you are from the first point. No complicated conversions necessary. Values are shown as "Easting" first and "Northing" second. Each zone has 500,000 meters as the center (central meridian: "longitude") of the zone.

Thus, for the Easting value the numbers are prevented from going above or below six digits and negative numbers are not possible. For example, at the equator, where the zones are the widest, the Easting values range from 167000 meters to 833000 meters. The Northing value is the distance in meters from the equator.

Decimal degrees (DDD.DDDDD) is by far the easiest and fastest way to use lat/long coordinates and is much easier to enter into any navigation program or Google Earth than the more laborious entry of DMS or DDD MM.MMM.

It's user preference, but if you deal intensively with maps/navigation the decimal degree system is the way to go.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: catz on December 30, 2017, 04:38:11 PM

Just curious:  you keep referring to the "former" Adams Ranch.  I didn't know it wasn't still that.  So what is it?
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 30, 2017, 05:15:03 PM

Just curious:  you keep referring to the "former" Adams Ranch.  I didn't know it wasn't still that.  So what is it?

Good question. The Mexican multinational corporation, CEMEX, bought the ranch in 2006. They're cooperating with a number of conservation organizations in an effort to restore Desert Bighorn Sheep to Big Bend. Like you, I also didn't know this until I tried to arrange access to the eastern end of Telephone Canyon to begin my cross-park hike last year. Turns out CEMEX and its land partners have closed the ranch to all public access.  I tried everything and everyone I could think of, to no avail.

I'm including a couple of links about the ranch and the CEMEX project.

http://cbbs.sulross.edu/basics-adams.php

http://marfapublicradio.org/blog/nature-notes/el-carmen-land-and-conservation-restoring-the-big-bends-harshest-terrain/

http://www.cemexnature.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/15thAnniversaryReport_ElCarmen.pdf
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: mule ears on December 30, 2017, 06:11:21 PM

The Holux easily fits in the palm of your hand (I have had one for a while). It's not much bigger than the AA battery that powers it and it's basically a data logger. It doesn't have a lot of features. But it's light and it works. It also last a surprisingly long time on a AA battery. The newest version has Bluetooth and will talk to a phone. Battery life - With Bluetooth and logging - 20 hours. 30 hours if it's just logging. Not bad.


Mine is (I think) a 2009 version and it does have amazing battery life, I figure 17 hours or so for a lithium AA, when logging I figure on battery for 2 days, sounds like the new version is even better.  We call it the magic film canister.

I will say that on this last trip I wasn't sure I was always getting the correct Lat. reading but then I could be the way the Caltopo printed out the coordinates, I am still trying to figure that one out.  The track was dead on in Google Earth.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 30, 2017, 11:29:04 PM
Camp Blue Skies: December 5, 2017


I slept even better than I’d hoped. The morning of Tuesday December 5, the thirteenth of my trip, dawned cold but clear. Barely a cloud obscured the star-decorated sky. The air was as fresh as can be, and its chill burned my lungs with a sweet frisson as I inhaled it deeply. I was exactly where I wanted to be. No place on the globe could be better than here, now.


As the last stars were disappearing into the graying sky. I slid out of my sleeping bag – which had some condensation on it, so I set it aside to dry in the rising sun. I could have gotten moving quickly, but the spot I’d camped in was so beautiful, I decided to linger. After all, I might never pass this way again. 


I pulled out my messkit and set up my stove in order to brew the last of my Irish Breakfast tea bags.  A few minutes later, sitting in outrageously soft gravel with my back to a nicely sloped east-facing boulder, I enjoyed a hot pot of tea and a cold KIND bar while I watched the sun rise majestically over the distant Sierra del Carmen into blue, blue skies. I was a backpacker now, with a single focus: hike to my vehicle at the Mesa de Anguila trailhead in Lajitas. This new singularity of purpose was very freeing. I knew there was nothing that Big Bend might throw at me now that I couldn’t handle. (Well, OK…snakebite, but I chose not to dwell on that.)


Feeling flush with success, I reveled in this perfect moment. It’s a rare gift to be totally happy; it’s an even rarer gift to consciously recognize that you’re totally happy at the moment when it’s happening, that this would always be one of the happiest moments of your life.


In this moment, I knew it.


I’d only had a few of those moments: once in elementary school during a perfect day of creek play with my best friends; in college after the first kiss of a woman I nearly married; alone on the bow of a freighter late at night in the middle of the Caribbean during the Geminid meteor shower; standing in front of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona for the first time; watching the sun’s shaft of light move through the interior of the Pantheon in Rome; being awakened at dawn in Istanbul and hearing – for the first time in my life – the muezzin’s call while the sun rose over the Bosphorus; having a wild Eastern Phoebe land on my shoulder in a forest and hang there for a couple minutes while twittering in my ear; being awakened by and then almost immediately seeing my first Black-capped Vireo singing from a perch just a few feet above my sleeping bag early one morning; camping in a tiny, remote alcove in Arches National Park and watching the sun set over one of the wildest landscapes I’ve ever seen; discovering a previously unknown population of one of the world’s rarest birds high in the Andes; my wedding deep in the wilderness of the Wichita Mountains; reaching the summit of a few peaks including one with my young adopted daughter; and the moment my biological son was born.


Sitting in a soft gravel seat on a cold morning, wrapped in a comfy down sleeping bag, sipping a hot cup of tea, and watching the sun rise into a blue, blue sky over the remote eastern mouth of Telephone Canyon – which I had so long dreamed of reaching – was one of those moments.


Cognitive dissonance is the human ability to hold two contradictory ideas in the mind at one time. At this moment I was experiencing a deep satisfaction that bordered on ecstasy. At the same time, underneath it was the lingering grief for the kitten, which I still carried in my mind and in my heart every day, even if not at the forefront of my experience.  The grief had played little part in my actions of the last three days, but it was there nonetheless, like a subliminal bass line below the happier music of my days. It was a low ostinato of regret. Humans are funny that way: two emotions, both were real, and valid, and intense, and totally at odds with each other, but neither cancelled the other out. They simply co-existed.  The story of the last nine days since abandoning the kitten had been one of me learning to manage my grief, to find the right place for it in my world.


I was trying.


But here's what made it so hard: the essential lesson I'd taken away from my last cross-park hike was how we - you , me, everything - are interconnected and how each of our personal judgments, decisions and actions reverberated through space and time. I completed that trip with a profound awareness of what it meant to be a responsible human being. In my epilogue I summed it up my epiphany with a song by the group Tenth Avenue. Wisely or unwisely, I had promised that kitten one thing: "I will protect you". Every night following my abandonment of the kitten, I lay awake, replaying that song in my head, chastising myself. I thought I'd learned a powerful lesson during my cross-park hike last year, but apparently I'd only traveled the first few degrees of the learning curve. I still had a long ways to go. In my current circumstances, the irony of the song was soul-crushing.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tl9QIbJEg7s


Cognitive dissonance being an inscrutable and mysterious thing, even in my grief, I still could have sat at my perfect campsite in the eastern end of Telephone Canyon all day, except…I couldn’t. I needed to reach the western end of Telephone Canyon by the end of the day. I would camp there, at pretty much the same place I’d camped last year, and then make the difficult climb out of Telephone Canyon, over the sparsely-cairned high ridge, and into Ernst Basin tomorrow.  I hated to say goodbye to this end of the canyon. It’s modest scale and narrow sheltering walls were just the thing for me. The eye candy of towering canyon walls, massive looming peaks, and endless deserts were always thrilling; but for comfort, I liked more modest surroundings. Small, human-scaled places like Tuff Canyon, The Chimneys, Ernst Canyon, or Hot Springs Canyon, always appealed most to my sense of place.  But today would be a march through ever higher canyon walls. Reluctantly, I packed up my gear, stuffed my now-dry sleeping bag into the bottom of my pack, then my messkit, my spare clothes, and lastly, my rainwear at the top of the pack’s main bag. The last weather forecast I’d seen – three days ago in Rio Grande Village – predicted a cold front would move in tonight and bring with it a small chance of showers tomorrow and Thursday. If tricky weather arrived early, I wanted to be ready for it.


I started upcanyon around 9am. The excellent weather remained unchanged, with incredibly blue skies and only a modest wind blowing from the east. Though the dawn had been cold, the day heated up fast. Some hikers find Telephone Canyon to be a difficult route to follow. I never have. It can be congested with plants, but usually a fairly easy route through them can be found. And basic navigation - in other words, staying headed in the right direction at any given moment - is a no-brainer if you know how to read a map: just follow the main canyon and stay between its walls. As one ranger said about Ernst Basin: "it's not a trail, it's a direction". There are cairns, but you don't need them. Partly because there are so many cairns put there by so many people at so many times. There's always a cairn to be found somewhere nearby, but they don't necessarily all fit together in one coherent route. But I was doing just fine on my own.


In fact, I was doing wonderfully. One of the things that had worried me most when planning this trip were my knees. Earlier in the year, I'd had to cancel a trip up onto the Mesa de Anguila when I developed crippling pain in one knee: first time in my adult life hat I'd had knee problems. Turned out to be damage in both my plica AND a meniscus, but not so bad that surgery was required.  Through a combination of physical therapy, targeted strength exercises, and diet, I'd eliminated the pain. I was fairly certain the injuries had been caused by the extreme, prolonged rigors of my cross-park hike last December. The nagging question was: how would my knee hold up when I tried the hike again? Thankfully, the answer was: GREAT. I'd started out from the river carrying 56 pounds and I'd been hiking uphill for over a day now with absolutely zero issues with my knee.


By 9:30am, I was approaching North Telephone Canyon on my right. By 10:45am, I was passing Margaret Basin on the right and, on my left, the northernmost ridges of Cow Canyon – those descended by Mule Ears, Robert, and Mitch as they came out of their cross-country exploration of the southern Deadhorse Mountains this previous February. I knew they’d fought their way through tough territory, but until you’ve looked up at it with your own eyes, I’m not sure you can appreciate just how tough it is. 


By noon, when I stopped for lunch, I’d entered the narrow, angular, twisting section of the canyon which wended its way mysteriously and beautifully through high ridges bordering both north and south. The day was now positively hot and I was sweating under my 50+ pound load.  Reclining in a shady spot for lunch, I broke out my small tube of NUUN rehydration tablets and added one to a 1-liter SmartWater bottle, ate some Jerky and a caffeinated GU, and drank about half a liter of water. Then I resumed hiking, threading my way through, up, and over a small slickrock section of the canyon that featured at least one outstandingly beautiful and interesting cave low in the southern canyon wall.  I didn't realize it at the time, but that cave was the very place that the founders of the Adams Ranch lived in for a few years until they could build their first ranch house further east on the desert lands I'd walked through yesterday. You can see a grainy picture of the cave in this article.

http://cbbs.sulross.edu/basics-adams.php

As I passed the cave, I looked up the steep canyon walls and noticed wispy, high-altitude clouds dotting the sky. The first I’d seen today. Not a lot of clouds, but still a small discordant note in an otherwise harmonious day. Almost as a protective incantation, I began singing “Blue Skies” toward the sky as I hiked upcanyon. Work your magic, music: keep me safe and happy and dry.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGZDwxnjG1g


The singing seemed to help. The clouds dissipated. Occasionally they’d return, I'd dance a few steps in my backpack and sing them away again. By 1:30pm, I reached the intersection with the Strawhouse Trail and its amazingly large, towering cairns. Real works of art and trailcraft, these are. I could have sworn I took a picture of them, but I can’t find any evidence of it in my iPhone. Pushing on, I reached the mouth of Heath Creek, under the towering massif of the Sue Peaks, around 2:45pm. This was the drainage I’d bailed into last December after escaping the freak winter storm that had trapped me up on the mountain, just below the peaks, tent-bound, for three days. Oddly, I didn’t recognize many of the landmarks I’d seen last year in my long, long hike south down Heath Creek and around the southern foot of Sue Peaks. The drainages had now become much more overgrown with vegetation than they’d been last December. I had been hoping to find water in the myriad tiny rock depressions and tinajas from which I drawn it last year, but I found neither the tinajas nor any other surface water. Fortunately, I wasn’t counting on those: with careful rationing, I had sufficient water to last me until Ernst Tinaja, two days from now.


About this time, as I exited the twisting sections of the canyon and approached Sue Peaks, the wind picked up noticeably. Fortunately it was at my back, blowing westward in my direction of travel. Up until now I’d only been walking at a 1-2 mile-per-hour pace. Not sure why: maybe it was the heavy pack, maybe it was the overgrown vegetation, maybe I was doing too much rubbernecking, maybe I was subconsciously protecting my knees, or maybe I was just out of practice. Now, with a wind-assist at my back, and the canyon floor opening up before me, I picked up the pace and reached the western end of the canyon by 4:30pm, making about 9 miles for the day. The clouds overhead had returned, and this time I couldn’t sing them away. They began forming into loosely organized mammatus. Never a good sign. And the wind was picking up in a very serious way.


I decided to make camp up on the low bluff at the mouth of the serpentine canyon that descended from the western shoulder of the Sue Peaks massif. It was the same place I’d camped last December. I trudged up the 30 foot slope, threading my way carefully through various cacti. Reaching the top, I was a little taken aback: it was completely choked with tall plants, most of them thorny. Again, this canyon was proving more heavily vegetated than I remembered from last year. Another complication then arose: the wind was now blowing at 20mph or more, gusts even higher. There was no way I would be able to cook dinner in that wind without a serious windbreak and I didn’t see any close at hand. Reviewing my options, I quickly decided to erect my tarptent. I needed shelter from the wind. And the forecast, so far as I knew, called for a cold front to move in that night, with a chance of rain tomorrow. Better safe than sorry. Some days everything suddenly seems to turn difficult, and this was apparently going to be one of them: looking around on top of the bluff, I could find no open space long enough or wide enough in which to pitch my 8-foot long Silshelter tarptent. With the wind continuing to pick up, the clouds gathering, and sunset approaching, I didn’t have much time to spare. Finally, I found an almost suitable spot, perched right on the very precipice of the 30-foot bluff, overlooking the western terminus of Telephone Canyon. I had to remove a few tufts of bunchgrass and one cactus, but there was just exactly enough room to stake out my tarptent. The substrate was iffy, but I had plenty of rocks at hand that I could use to weigh down my stakes. Quickly I put up the tent, stretched over my trekking poles, with the low end pointed downcanyon, eastward, to deflect the whipping wind.  The entrance, hard up against a large creosote bush, was best suited for a very skinny contortionist, but I would make it work. I would have to leave my packrafting gear outside the tent, so I found a small adjacent clearing that would hold the rolled-up packraft, along with my PFD and paddles. I weighted it all down with a couple very large rocks. Next, I folded back the two entrance flaps of my tent and secured them tightly to tent stakes along the sides of the tent, creating a large sheltered working space under the tent’s apex, facing away from the wind, where I could now make my dinner.


The sun had disappeared behind the western slopes at the end of the canyon, and the temperature was dropping, not to mention the windchill. I dug my fleece out of my backpack and slipped it over my hiking clothes. Setting up my messkit, with my stove and windscreen in the large open vestibule of my tent, I heated up water for a calorie-laden Pad Thai dinner. As I waited for the water to boil, I studied the western sky, alight with fiery streaks of sunset. The mammatus clouds had broken up and were blowing away. By the time the sunset faded, the sky was almost cloudless again, with just a few orange-blue wisps stretching from north to south. Maybe the weather would be fine after all. Temperatures had stabilized around 50 degrees. The wind, however, had not died down one bit: it still whipped my little tent with 20mph fury.


Dinner was good. I lingered over it. It takes a long time to eat almost 900 calories of Pad Thai, no matter how much you like it. Once done, I cleaned up and repacked my messkit, spread out my bedroll, brought my backpack into my tarptent’s vestibule, and sealed everything up tight for the night. With the relentless wind pummeling my little refuge, I worked on my journal by the light of my headlamp until my eyes grew heavy. Peeking out through a crack between the flaps of my entrance, I could see stars in the sky. We’d see what kind of cold front, if any, blew in overnight. I slipped off my headlamp, and then my glasses, put both into my boots beside my bedroll, snuggled down into my bag and fell quickly asleep despite the wind's military tattoo.


Tomorrow: up and over the last of the Deadhorse and down into Ernst Basin’s beautiful canyons.


[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Jonathan Sadow on December 31, 2017, 01:38:43 AM
I just spent the better part of an evening reading through this missive.  Once again, a ripping yarn!

Not to make you feel any worse than you have, but if I'd been paddling down the Rio Grande and encountered a kitten, I would've bailed on the remainder of the trip and gotten the kitten to civilization.  Then again, I love cats, and I'd never dream of paddling down the Rio Grande the length of the park and then walking back to my vehicle, so I'd never be in the position you were in and have to make the decision you did.

I'm sorry to hear about your twins.  As an identical twin born two months prematurely and who spent the first two weeks after birth in the neonatal intensive care unit, I can sympathize.

I was in the park at the same time you were during your ramble through Telephone Canyon, and it appears we came within about five miles of each other.  That's why I have a pretty good idea of how your story is going to end....
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: DesertRatShorty on December 31, 2017, 11:38:30 AM
Was the interesting cave the one where Apache Adams' parents lived for a couple of years (http://cbbs.sulross.edu/basics-adams.php)?
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 31, 2017, 11:56:56 AM
Was the interesting cave the one where Apache Adams' parents lived for a couple of years (http://cbbs.sulross.edu/basics-adams.php)?

Holy cow canyon, Shorty!!! That never occurred to me, even though I’d read that article a couple of times before beginning my trip. It HAD to have been the same one. Now I really regret not having taken a picture of it.

Edit 1/15/2017: Yep, that's the cave. I added a link in my trip report to the article about the Adams Ranch that DRS referred to above. The article includes a picture of the cave. Thanks, Shorty!


Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 31, 2017, 12:02:08 PM
I just spent the better part of an evening reading through this missive.  Once again, a ripping yarn!

Not to make you feel any worse than you have, but if I'd been paddling down the Rio Grande and encountered a kitten, I would've bailed on the remainder of the trip and gotten the kitten to civilization.  Then again, I love cats, and I'd never dream of paddling down the Rio Grande the length of the park and then walking back to my vehicle, so I'd never be in the position you were in and have to make the decision you did.

I'm sorry to hear about your twins.  As an identical twin born two months prematurely and who spent the first two weeks after birth in the neonatal intensive care unit, I can sympathize.

I was in the park at the same time you were during your ramble through Telephone Canyon, and it appears we came within about five miles of each other.  That's why I have a pretty good idea of how your story is going to end....

Thanks, Jonathan. That you understand the twins and the kitten actually makes me feel better. I’m mostly a dog person, but I think the readers that are most disturbed by the kitten’s fate are most likely to understand my story and why I’ve presented it the way I have.


Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: presidio on December 31, 2017, 12:13:22 PM
The Holux easily fits in the palm of your hand

What model do you have?
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 31, 2017, 12:36:48 PM
The Holux easily fits in the palm of your hand

What model do you have?

I have the Holux M-241. I bought it a month or so before leaving on my trip, so I assume it's the latest iteration. Mule Ears has the same model, though his is several years older. Not sure about iCe. And, yes, it does look almost exactly like a roll of vintage 35mm film.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: iCe on December 31, 2017, 12:38:12 PM
The Holux easily fits in the palm of your hand

What model do you have?


It's an older version. I bought it a long time ago. The plan was to use it to log where I was and then xref the location and time with the time that I took a photograph. That turned out to be a colossal waste of time. Since I take the photograph I typically know where I am (and if I don't I'm not too concerned about it)
 
Holux M-241


(http://wildlightimagingstudio.com/img/s1/v55/p2695983790-5.jpg)


(http://wildlightimagingstudio.com/img/s5/v120/p2695987685-5.jpg)
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: iCe on December 31, 2017, 01:07:43 PM
The M-241 Plus that shows up on the Holux website with the M-241 isn't available anywhere that I can find. The manual link is to the M-241 Plus and the manual says M-241 Plus. But nobody seems to carry it. Mine still works great but I was going to compare prices.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 31, 2017, 11:45:12 PM
Happy New Year's y'all! I skipped the party. Here's my next installment. I want to wrap this up soon.


Camp Déjà vu Too: December 6, 2017


I really hate sleeping in a tent. I’ll only do it if I have to.  It’s not claustrophobia, it’s the separation from nature. I love being able to open my eyes and immediately see the stars and the moon (or the clouds), feel the wind, judge the time, and hear the sounds of the night or early morning.  When I woke up Wednesday morning inside my battened-down tarptent, I couldn’t tell what time it was, other than that it was after dawn; nor could I tell what the weather was like, other than that it was damned cold and the wind was still blowing hard. I looked at my watch: 7am, and its barometer showed the pressure was dropping like a rock. I listened closely for a moment: no rain, not even a drizzle. That was good: the rain, if it was coming at all, hadn’t arrived yet. Not yet feeling ready to climb out into the cold, cold morning, I lay there in my snuggy sleeping bag and contemplated the upcoming day.


A minute later, the rain came. Not with a whimper, but with a bang. Suddenly the sound of my tent walls snapping in the wind was entirely drowned out by the sounds of thousands of big fat cold rain drops assaulting the wafer-thin sheet of nylon tarptent, the only thing that stood between me and the killing rain. 


Well, I said to myself, I guess it wasn’t such a bad idea to put that tent up after all.


I was smack dab in the middle of what my old Lubbock buddy, Bob McVay, would call “a good damn rain.” I knew then that I wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while. The thought of packing up and hiking out over the mountain ridge in this driving cold rain was distinctly unappealing. I’d give it awhile to blow over. A while turned into an hour. And the rain still hadn’t let up. My tent site was level, and my tent was secure, so I was good, but a small leak did develop at the apex of my tent, just below the cordura cup that cradled the handles of my two trekking poles. Last year, a seam had separated right there under extreme tension: it’s a common complaint about the Integral Designs Silshelter, the only weakness I’d ever found in this tent. I had intended to repair the tear sometime during my trip, using the specialty tape I’d brought as a repair kit for my raft – the specialty tape that had slipped off my pack at my initial put-in into the river and was accidentally left behind. Rightee-oh. Though the rain continued to pound down, I was able to insert a small Ziploc bag into the tear in the seam and divert the drip to the outside of the fabric.


The larger issue, of course, was: when would the rain end? Or would it end at all? I lay there in my (thankfully warm) sleeping bag, bathed in dim gray light filtering through my gunmetal-gray Silshelter, mulling over these questions, listening to the thrumming staccato of the rain. “Slight chance of rain,” I muttered. Never trust an old forecast. Of course, I knew that, but my mood was darkening. I wanted to be on foot again. Fortunately, I’d planned for today to be a short one. My goal had been simply to climb the three miles up and over the last shoulder of the Deadhorse Mountains, drop down into Ernst Basin, and hike to a camp in Passionflower Canyon – another three and a half miles down the basin. Things could be worse: one of the earliest versions of my trip had me climbing the Sue Peaks today, in order to visit the point where I’d bailed off the mountain last year. I thought to myself, I may be trapped in my tent by a rainstorm today, but at least I’m not trapped in my tent by a rainstorm up on top of a knife-edged mountain ridge. Been there, done that, don’t need to do it again. And, frankly, I had to admit the weather on this trip had been outstanding: virtually perfect for every one of the thirteen days leading up to today.


I really had no basis for complaint, but still, I found the mood inside my tent becoming grim and grimmer. And then it hit me: this was day fourteen of my trip; but it was day ten since I’d abandoned the kitten. At the time I’d figured the kitten – with all the challenges it faced – had, at most, ten days to live. Those ten days were used up today. I did not take that thought well: my heart was breaking. I closed my eyes and a few tears squeezed out. The beating rain ran down the sides of my tent in cold rivulets. And then I thought of the old Elmore James song…


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udk_u2c8Whw


Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 31, 2017, 11:45:49 PM
Olivia Felix was dead. I knew it.


At 11am, the hard rain ended, almost as suddenly as it had begun. Pessimistically, I waited: the wind still blew wildly, the thermometer still read 40 degrees, and I could hear light rain, but the worst of it really did seem to be over, at least for now. I had had my fill of being tentbound – I wanted out – and decided to make a break for the ridge and Ernst Basin. Contorting, I wriggled into my raingear. I put my hat on over my hood. The only gloves I had were my paddling gloves – back at RGV, I'd decided to stash my Seirus waterproof gloves in my cache rather than carry two pair – I’d find out soon enough if that was a stupid idea. I struggled into my boots and laced them tight, and then rolled up my RidgeRest groundpad and lashed it to the bottom of my backpack. All that was left to do now was to step outside, take down my tarptent and then retrieve my sodden packrafting gear from its nearby clearing and stow it on the outside of my pack.


I hadn’t looked outside my tent all morning: a creosote bush completely blocked the entrance/exit. Crouching at the entrance flaps, I undid the little elastic cord that held them secure tight across each other and squeezed my way painstakingly through the thin gap and out into the open air.


“G*d d*mn.”  Déjà vu all over again.


The landscape was buried in thick fog. Visibility of thirty feet or so. A cold wind blew the light rain sideways into my eyes; it felt more like ice crystals. It was the Sue Peaks ridge all over again. Well, maybe not quite that bad, but I still had three miles of steep, imposing, lightly-cairned ridge to climb and descend. I would need to see those cairns if I was going to make it up and over in this gray, grim weather.


Stumbling around in the wind and rain and fog, I found my packrafting gear with the now-soaked paddling gloves that I had, stupidly, neglected to bring into the tent last night. I slipped them on and they felt like cold tripe. I returned to my tent, quickly dismantled it, being careful to work with the wind and not against it. I also had to take care not to accidentally step off the 30-foot precipice that formed one border of my campsite. I had – literally – no room to spare on that side: the tent wall ran exactly 3 inches from the edge. Eventually I wrestled the flapping tent into the top of my packbag, then switched my attention to stowing my packrafting gear onto my pack. That done, I grabbed my trekking poles and leaned them  against a creosote bush so I could easily retrieve them, hoisted my pack of 44 or so pounds onto my back, grabbed my poles, and headed gingerly through the blowing mist, down the steep and slippery bluff, toward the narrowing end of Telephone Canyon and the ridge I would now have to climb in the fog. It was just about noon. Today, I would be skipping lunch.


If you’ve read my earlier trip report, Round the Bend in 14 Days, you’ll remember that I’m no fan of hiking over the ridge between Telephone Canyon and Ersnt Basin: it’s steep, rocky, sometimes slick, and covered in the full complement of Big Bend’s pain-inflicting plants. Add to that the fact that there really is no trail to speak of, just a series of wildly varying cairns at unpredictable intervals, and you have a real challenge. Don’t get me wrong: I am profoundly grateful for the NPS staff and volunteers that erected these cairns – the work involved must have been almost unimaginable. Much of the terrain is tortuous; the route through it is not intuitive; and hikers must keep their eyes constantly peeled for cairns, even in the best of weather. Making this crossing in heavy winds, cold rain, and thick fog was not my idea of fun. For days, I had known a change of weather was coming; I just hadn’t expected it to be so sudden and dramatic and daunting.


At the western end of Telephone Canyon, just below the Sue Peaks massif, the canyon appears at first to come to a stop, but actually bends to the left, southward, narrows dramatically, and starts climbing up to its head in the ridges of the western Deadhorse Mountains. The trail to Ernst Basin threads its mostly-invisible way up this narrowing defile choked with boulders and plants for a few hundred yards before turning westward up a side drainage and then up along a steep canyon wall. Often, just fighting through those first few hundred yards can be the hardest part. This year, heavy growth made this passage more difficult than usual. So did my packrafting gear. With the large bundle of my rolled-up raft sticking out on each side of my pack, the shafts of my disassembled paddles sticking up high above my head, and my bulky PFD strapped to the rear of my pack, I required a lot more clearance than usual to move around, under, or through trees, shrubs, succulents, and boulders. Until today, that had not presented a problem, but it was becoming a serious challenge here in upper Telephone Canyon, and it would continue to be so for most of the rest of the afternoon. More than once during the ensuing afternoon, I wondered if I’d ruined my raft by piercing or tearing it.


It took about another hour to negotiate the various drainages and reach the flatter section of the ridge, 450 feet above Telephone Canyon (maybe 29 22 28N, 102 59 55W). By then the rain had picked up again and continued to intensify by the minute. The fog was much thicker up here: vistas would open up briefly and then just as quickly visibility would be reduced to a few yards. Often visibility would be less than the distance between cairns, and then I had hard choices to make: 1) press onward, assuming I knew where I was going, 2) establish a search protocol with safeguards to prevent me from getting lost if I failed to find any subsequent cairns, or 3) sit tight and wait for visibility to improve. It was slow, touch-and-go hiking. It required steely nerves. Occasionally mine grew rubbery. More than once, I completely lost the route and had to take a break to calm myself and reassess. What always drove me forward was uncertainty: I really didn’t know what the weather would do. It was bad enough now, but it could get a lot worse and I didn’t want to be up here on this ridge if it did.


One little grace note: last December I’d learned a nifty little trick. Mature yuccas are excellent sources of drinking water when it rains. Their desert adaptation is your gain. Find a yucca head high, with leaves inclined just above the horizontal, place your mouth just below the tip of the leaf and gently pull it downward toward you: 2-4 ounces of (mostly) clean, cold, fresh drinking water. Be ready for it, though. It can come rushing out so fast you can’t catch it all and you’ll wind up with a yucca bath. A cup, if you have one, is better for catching the water. I didn’t have a cup, but I made do that afternoon and probably scored an extra quart of water without ever having to break out bottles or bladders. I also was able to squeeze in a couple of GU gelpacks. That was all I ate that day.


As luck would have it, things just got worse during the afternoon. Up high, temperatures dropped below 40 degrees, the wind stayed wild, and the fog got even denser. The rain returned to its heavy downpour but, as best as I could tell, my raingear was keeping me dry. I still had my fleece pants on under my rainpants, and though I could feel the ankles were soaked – as well as parts of the socks underneath – everything else felt dry. The paddling gloves were an iffy choice: better than nothing, but occasionally my wet fingers were so cold I couldn’t quite feel them. My Oboz Bridger boots were great: not only were my feet dry, I’d maintained traction on any number of very gnarly and dangerous bits of wet rocky terrain.


It was close to 3pm when I finally spied Ernst Basin. That was a welcome sign: Ernst Basin was fog-free. I began to drop down the very steep and slippery route leading down to the basin, descending through the thick fog on the high ridges, following cairns as they appeared, back and forth across narrow, precipitous, rock-choked drainages.  Normally, this is a fairly quick descent, but this day it was a real challenge. Thank god for trekking poles, or I surely would have taken several bad falls. As I descended the west-facing slopes to Ernst Basin, they shielded me from the worst of the eastern wind…another blessing. On the descent, fog gave way to thin mist and even the rain lessened. Things were looking up.


My boots touched down on the floor of Ernst Basin around 3:30pm and I immediately turned south, heading through the basin’s wide open washes toward the Alto Relex, and pushing toward Passionflower Canyon, some three-and-a-half miles away. That was my planned campsite for the night. Within thirty minutes, the light rain turned to heavy rain again, pounding my hat and raingear. My thermometer registered 42 degrees. The heavy cloud cover and low fog had turned the skies dark and 4pm looked more like 5pm. I approached the first of the Ernst Basin trail’s low, meandering canyons and headed inside. The rain just kept getting more intense. At least the wind had abated. But by 4:15pm, I was done. I could feel my rainhood starting to wet out, and water was wicking its way down through my socks and into my boots. My fingers were numb. And the rain was just getting harder. This was it. It was time to stop for the day (best guess: 29 20 49N, 103 00 15W).


In retrospect, this was probably not the best place to make camp. I was several hundred feet into a narrow canyon, its walls perhaps 150 feet high and 50 feet apart, its floor a jumble of boulders ranging from beach-ball-sized to VW-beetle-sized, and – in between the boulders – thick soft beds of small gravel.  But my tank was empty and my will sapped, so here it would be. With the rain pouring down, I unshouldered my pack and removed my packrafting gear. I laid it aside: it would stay outside the tent tonight. I pulled my Silshelter tent out of the top of my packbag, then tossed the backpack underneath to keep it from getting any wetter, and began trying to erect my shelter. I’m sure you can guess the next part.


The gravel wouldn’t hold my stakes (I’d brought extra-light, read: “short”, stakes for this trip) no matter where I tried to lodge them. Not only was the gravel loose, it was wet. Thank god the wind wasn’t blowing like it had up on the ridge, or I might have driven one of the stakes through my own heart. I spent the better part of half an hour trying to get my tent up. My wet, frigid fingers barely felt the stakes or the rocks I pounded them with: I constantly fumbled things. Eventually, through frantic, desperate use of large impromptu cairns, I managed to pin the stakes – and in some case, the raw tent fabric – to the gravel and erect the tent over my trekking poles. All the while being hammered by rain. A quick look at my thermometer told me it was now 37 degrees. My fingers and a good part of my hands were now absolutely senseless.


I dragged my stiff, sodden self into the tent and began struggling to make a home inside. First, I unbuckled my single RidgeRest groundpad and rolled it out of the wet gravel so that I could kneel on it. Then I stripped of my boots and wetted rainwear and set them aside. Most of my inner clothing was dry enough. My socks were soaked, as were the bottom hems of my fleece pants, and the small of the back of my fleece sweater. Everything else was good. I pulled out my “layers and spares” drysack and dug through the contents. On went fresh dry socks, my Montbell down vest, and a microfleece balaclava. I sorely wished I’d brought some microfleece gloves but, as with my Seirus waterproof gloves, I’d left them behind to help offset the weight gain from my packrafting gear. Next, I removed my down sleeping bag from its drysack at the bottom of my pack and laid it out at the bottom of my tent, to fluff up. Then I pulled out my messkit and my 4-liter Dromlite water bladder, set up the cookset, added water, fired up the stove in the vestibule of my tent, and proceeded to boil water for a much-anticipated dinner of hot chicken ramen noodle soup with dehydrated vegetables. “This is it,” I thought, “come hell or high water, this is home for the next 12 hours.” My hope was that the storm, which had now been raging for almost twelve hours, would blow through overnight and leave me with clear skies in the morning.


Ten minutes later, I was sitting inside my Feathered Friends Winter Wren sleeping bag, hood tightly cinched around my head, arms poking out of the zippered arm holes, cradling a hot pot of ramen noodle soup in my hands, which I pushed up hard against my chin, greedily letting the heat radiate through my fingers, and into my neck arteries, brushing past my lips and up my nostrils. I was more interested in the steam than I was the food. But cold soup is not nearly so appetizing as hot soup, so after a minute or two, I spooned the noodles into my mouth and savored their long, hot slide into my belly. Alternating spoonfuls of soup with mouthfuls of homemade habanero-spiced bison jerky, I made my way through my dinner, gobbling up every last morsel and drop. I followed with several swigs of water carried all the way from Rio Grande Village, and a dessert of Peanut M&M’s. By now, I was operating entirely by headlamp. The rain was just wailing against my tent walls and the wind was starting to pick up. Good Lord, I was in a very inhospitable situation.  God help me if Ernst Basin flash-floods. In this narrow canyon, I would be flotsam in a heartbeat. Or worse, grist in the boulder mill.  Working the percentages, comparing today to last December, I didn’t think enough rain had yet fallen on the Deadhorse to flood this canyon, but working the percentages is never a recipe for a good night’s sleep.


My dinner done, I put away my messkit, arranged my wet clothes and boots to give them the best chance to dry overnight, put together a pillow made of my spare clothes and backpack, tightened up my entrance flaps, snuggled down into my sleeping bag, and waited for sleep.


Sleep didn’t come, but the wind did. The sun was down and the wind was up. Blowing from the east and north with a frigid ferocity. And here I was, self-situated in a high, narrow rock canyon, a constriction point in the Ernst Basin. Ahhhhhh…the old Venturi Effect. If the wind was blowing 20mph in the basin, it was blowing 30mph or more through the canyon. And in my exhaustion and haste, I’d stupidly pitched my tent facing upcanyon. Which meant the wind, blowing from the east and north, was assaulting the high entrance of my tent, not its low-slung foot. Dumb, dumb, and dumber. Soon, freezing rain was slipping through the battered entrance flaps of my tent, and the flaps were slapping and clawing at each other like two alley cats locked in a death struggle. Would I crawl out into the darkness, in the wind-whipped freezing rain and re-pitch my tent? No effing way. I’d make do. I propped my backpack up to form a windbreak behind my head. My drysack of depleted spares and layers would have to suffice for a pillow tonight. Then I noticed how cold my back was: the single closed cell foam pad I was using was insufficent for the ground temperatures. My body heat was leaching into the gravel via conduction through my one thin pad. The loss of my other groundpad on that beach along the Rio Grande was coming back to haunt me. But there was absolutey nothing I could do about it.


Windbreak in place, I sank even further down into my sleeping bag, cinched the face hole even tighter, leaving only my nose and mouth exposed, pulled my arms inside the bag and zipped the armholes closed, and settled in for what I hoped would be pu medium-night’s sleep. Shortly thereafter, I drifted off to sleep and found myself in dreamland. Dreamland was filled with water, and rivers, and kittens, and thunder, and organ-music, and rocks crashing down mountain slopes, and earthquakes, and suffocation, and then I awoke. The stakes holding my entrance flaps had worked free of the gravel under the relentless assault of the wind whipping downcanyon, and had slipped out from under the cairns I had built. The wet tent, laying close around my face, was collapsing. My trekking poles toppled onto my face. The wind was lifting the tent fabric into the air and away from me: I was about to be totally exposed to the driving rain. Instantly, adrenaline flooding my body, I scrambled from inside my sleeping bag, threw on my headlamp, and vaulted into the freezing rain. Cursing like a sailor, I instinctively tugged on tension points in the tent with one hand while searching for rocks to pile onto them, pulled and pulled and pulled my tent fabric against the wind, and re-positioned the rocks. Jamming and jamming the stakes beneath the rocks and piling on more rocks, I finally felt I’d secured everything again, and then I reached inside the tent, searching for my trekking poles, found them, and raised them until the Silshelter was stretched tautly over them.  I piled more rocks on the stakes holding the two entrance flaps, and then ever-so-carefully threaded my way through the two flaps and back into my tent.


I. WAS. EFFING. SOAKED. 


I considered changing out of my soaked fleece but decided I was better off climbing back into my sleeping bag and letting my body heat dry it out. I slipped back inside the bag, but left my torso outside. Then I dug through my backpack, found my food bag, and pulled out two GU gels. Body heat required metabolism, and metabolism required fuel, and I hadn’t had enough of that today. I lay there in my sleeping bag, on my single insufficient groundpad, cold and shivering. I could barely maintain my body heat in what felt like near-freeing temperatures. I began to tremble violently. Was it hypothermia, or was I just scared? I fell asleep before I could decide.
   

My tent collapsed eight more times that night. Every time, the same drill: furiously wriggle out of my ever-wetter sleeping bag, scramble out from under the collapsed tent fabric, into the freezing, wind-whipped rain with neither rainwear nor boots on my body, and then rebuild my pitch before my fingers froze. Inside the tent, I spent most of the next several hours trying to keep my little shelter erect with my own body: hands stabilizing my trekking poles against the ever-increasing winds that were beating and shaking my tent walls; knees propping up my waterlogged, sagging roof; all my senses alert to the first signs of a stake coming unmoored. I was exhausted, but I didn't dare fall asleep: my constant attention was all that was keeping my shelter from failing. It was, without doubt, the single worst night I've ever spent in my beloved little Silshelter  - even worse than last year's thunderstorm up on the Sue Peaks ridge. During one of the last collapses, I emerged, manic and sleep-deprived from my disheveled tent, and stood full upright in the rainstorm, shaking my fist and hurling curses at the weather like some demented King Lear: “F*ck you! F*CK YOU!! F*CK YOU!!!!!!” Finally – around 3am – I devised another, better way of rigging my tarptent, mostly involving inverting my trekking poles so that the handles were on the bottom and the sharper points were dug deep and securely into the apex’s cordura cup. Around 4am, the rain – mercifully – stopped and the wind mostly did, too. “Hallelujah!” I rejoiced, “it’s over!! I lived!!!!!” I fell asleep for the final time with my wet fleece-clad arms sticking out of my bag’s arm holes, each naked hand wrapped tightly around a trekking handle, steadying its pole, just in case.


In the short amount of time I had left before dawn, I dreamed dreams I don’t want to share here.


[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: mule ears on January 01, 2018, 06:56:07 AM
I can only imagine trying to find the Telephone canyon trail in the fog.  It was hard enough to follow in full blazing sunlight in February (even though it was hard to see through the sweat pouring down my face) and coming down the 1000' drop into Ernst Basin would be death defying.  Then again survival allows for some amazing feats, well done.   :eusa_clap:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: iCe on January 01, 2018, 09:10:49 AM
 :eusa_clap:


I'm pretty sure I'd be dead if I had been in your shoes... that makes it hard to type so I'm glad I missed it  ???  and I appreciate that you take the time to share this with us.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: badknees on January 01, 2018, 09:11:09 AM
Kudos to you!

Perseverance results in success out of what seems surely to fail.

PS
you got your N & W backwards on your Lat/Lons.............again :eusa_doh:

29 22 28WN, 102 59 55NW

29 20 49WN, 103 00 15NW

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 01, 2018, 02:13:51 PM
Kudos to you!

Perseverance results in success out of what seems surely to fail.

PS
you got your N & W backwards on your Lat/Lons.............again :eusa_doh:

29 22 28WN, 102 59 55NW

29 20 49WN, 103 00 15NW

It’s a miracle that I ever arrive at the right spot. No, seriously, I’m an excellent navigator. Just don’t ask me to write anything down.

We’re on the road home today. I’m pretty sure we’re headed to Dallas. It’s down I-25, right?


Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: iCe on January 01, 2018, 02:25:19 PM

Dallas is in front of you... ABQ is behind you... unless...  :nailbitting: :willynilly: :shock: :dance:

Kudos to you!

Perseverance results in success out of what seems surely to fail.

PS
you got your N & W backwards on your Lat/Lons.............again :eusa_doh:

29 22 28WN, 102 59 55NW

29 20 49WN, 103 00 15NW

It’s a miracle that I ever arrive at the right spot. No, seriously, I’m an excellent navigator. Just don’t ask me to write anything down.

We’re on the road home today. I’m pretty sure we’re headed to Dallas. It’s down I-25, right?


Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: austin gorpchomper on January 01, 2018, 05:19:37 PM
Thoroughly enjoyed reading your report, HMoD! I can see the Fletcher influence not only in your prose, but in your mode of travel and your philosophy as well, I think.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: mule ears on January 01, 2018, 05:57:59 PM
Thoroughly enjoyed reading your report, HMoD! I can see the Fletcher influence not only in your prose, but in your mode of travel and your philosophy as well, I think.
My thoughts exactly, very Fletcheresque!

Sent from my Nexus 6P using Big Bend Chat mobile app (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: horns93 on January 02, 2018, 05:51:08 PM
Your cursing in the rain moment reminds me of the rain scene in Cool Hand Luke!  >:(

And THAT is why I still carry a free standing tent!
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 03, 2018, 11:17:07 PM
I am not worthy to tie Fletcher's boots, or Cool Hand Luke's, but I am grateful for the comparison.  If I have a talent, it is to make failure interesting.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 03, 2018, 11:22:16 PM
Camp Joyceful: December 7, 2017


I woke up around 7am, hands still clutching the handles of my trekking poles, eyes skyward toward the apex of my Silshelter. The first thing I noticed was the sound, or lack thereof: absolute silence all around me. No rain, no wind. Thank god, I thought to myself, the rain really did blow itself out last night. As best as I could remember, it had stopped around 4am, and shortly after that I’d fallen asleep….so I’d probably gotten about three hours sleep. The second thing I noticed was that it was cold. Really cold. I figured it was below freezing for sure. I’d pull out my thermometer in a second and check. The third thing I noticed, as I lay there, staring up at the apex of my tent, was that the light was very gray. It was most definitely NOT a sunny dawn. I decided to take a peek. I relaxed my grip on my trekking poles and rolled over onto my shoulder in order to peel back one of my tarptent’s entrance flaps.


I stopped short, mouth agape. And then moaned. A low, pained moan that slowly turned into a fatalistic chuckle. “You’ve got to be kidding,” I said to no one.


My tent was buried in snow. The storm hadn’t ended at 4am. The pounding rain had simply changed to silent snow as the temperatures fell below freezing. I was buried under six inches of snow; drifts up to a foot or more. No wonder I was shivering and shaking last night. If it felt like 20 degrees inside my tent, what was it like outside? I fished around for my tiny thermometer, unhooked it from its zipper pull, and pushed it under my tent wall, through the snow drift, and up onto the surface outside. I never saw it again. Apparently, it melted into the deep drift and sank to the bottom. I searched and searched later, but it was just gone. “A chance of rain,” I murmured, and shook my head.


My clothes were wet from last night’s struggles. Overnight, my body heat had only dried them a little. My down bag was wet, too. I was shivering, on the edge of hypothermia.  With teeth gritted against the cold, I stripped down and tossed my wet inner layer of hiking clothes aside, re-donned my fleece layers and my other pair of (slightly drier) hiking socks, adding my down jacket and microfleece balaclava on top of it all. Then I forced myself to eat two caffeinated GU gels and drink several ounces of water. Next I slipped on my sodden raingear and my (still dry) boots. I cinched the raincoat’s hood tight around my face and placed my hat on top of it.  Lastly, I pulled on my cold, soaking-wet paddling gloves, wincing at the feel of them on my already freezing hands.  I sorted through everything still in my tent and packed it all into my backpack, and then opened up my tent flaps and stepped outside.


It was a genuine winter wonderland. Gorgeous. The narrow little canyon I’d camped in last night was now all snow and no rock. Every single surface was white. Vegetation, too. It was all buried under a thick blanket of snow, and it was still snowing. Big fat flakes floating gently down through the air. I wish I’d had a real camera with me. I wish I’d had time to take better pictures. But all I had was my old iPhone and numb fingers. I took one quick shot, just for the record, and then struck camp. Down came my tent, and into my packbag. Took me a minute to find my packrafting gear: it was completely buried under a snowdrift. I dug it out with my fingers, shook as much snow off the pieces as I could, and then loaded it all onto my backpack.


I hoisted my pack – now weighing around 33lbs – onto my shoulders and grabbed my trekking poles. I paused a minute to take one last leisurely look around at the rare snowy scene, and then turned my cold, soggy self downcanyon. My goal for tonight was many miles away - the area below the ghost town of La Noria – a full two miles on the other side of Ernst Tinaja, my next water source.  With the snow coming down hard now, my world was limited to the few feet in front of me and the next few steps. I had no sense of a larger picture, but someone else did: a few miles away, another BBC user, Jonathan Sadow, had wisely abandoned his plans to hike into Ernst Basin from Willow Tank on the Old Ore Road and was heading out of the park toward Terlingua. He stopped to snap this picture of the Deadhorse Mountains, which he later gave me permission to post here.  I'm somewhere on the other side of that ridge, desperately hoping to make it up and over and into the desert before nightfall.

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4701/38991339194_7aa2aa31de_z.jpg) (https://flic.kr/p/22pwNGS)
17C07022 (https://flic.kr/p/22pwNGS) by Jonathan Sadow (https://www.flickr.com/photos/jonsadow/), on Flickr

I had no way of knowing if the snow would end today, or tomorrow, or even later. I thought it would end by tomorrow morning, but who knew? My original plan had been to make my way to the tinaja by downclimbing through its canyon, but that didn’t seem wise now, or perhaps even possible in snow like this. So I’d have to climb up and over the slopes of the Cuesta Carlota just south of Ernst Tinaja canyon. But first I had to get there, and that meant seven miles of hiking through the cold snow to the Cuesta, beginning with the canyon I was in now. The canyon floor was choked with boulders. Threading my way through and over them in the snow was substantially more difficult than in dry weather. Not only was the footing occasionally slippery, but it was uncertain: both the boulders and the plants growing between them were covered with the same thick blanket of powdery snow. It was hard to tell where rock ended and vegetation began.  I was tired. I was sleep-deprived. I was cold and wet and shivering: probably borderline hypothermic. Most of all, I was in a hurry. I wanted to at least get into the open desert on the other side of Ernst Tinaja before night fell.


I reached a choke point in the canyon. A jumble of boulders blocked the way, forcing me to climb up a series of ever larger rocks, using my trekking poles to steady me on the slippery powder. Topping out and coming down the other side of the maze of rocks, I took a long unprotected step down onto a flat, snow-covered boulder. The boulder turned out to be a creosote bush, and my left foot plunged through it. Instantly, I was wildly off-balance. My foot hit solid rock some two feet lower than I’d expected. My backpack, though it only weighed 33lbs was unwieldy and top-heavy with all the attached packrafting gear. My center of gravity being higher than usual, I stumbled heavily and was tossed forward over the boulders into a five foot freefall, twisting to my right as I fell.


The next thing I remember was laying flat on my back, gasping for breath. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but this is what I think happened: I flipped, heels over head, while my left leg caught between two boulders. I landed head first and probably avoided a concussion because my packrafting gear (paddle shafts and raft) hit first and took the brunt of the impact. Meanwhile, my left leg, which was lodged between two rocks, was wrenched as it was pulled free.


I lay there in the snow, gasping for breath, trying to assess any damage I might have suffered. I didn’t feel any blood oozing, no broken bones or particularly excruciating pains, but my left knee ached, and pretty badly. This was the same knee that had given me so much trouble earlier in the year after my last cross-park attempt. What a pisser…up to now the knee had been absolutely fine, no pain or weakness at all. Over the previous three days, I’d hiked almost 18 essentially off-trail miles, ascended 3500 feet and descended 1200 feet, in good weather and in bad, while carrying a pack weighing anywhere from 36lbs to 56lbs, and had zero knee problems.  And now this: a simple stupid mistake in the snow.


I rolled over slowly and pulled myself to my feet. I put weight on my knee. It held, but it was throbbing now. I looked around to see if I’d lost anything in the tumble. I had: my hat and one SmartWater bottle, which I retrieved. Everything else seemed to be intact, including my glasses and even my two trekking poles, the straps of which – weirdly – had never slipped off my wrists. It’s a wonder the poles didn’t break, or break me. I took off my pack and inspected it and the gear strapped to it. Looked OK, though who knew with the raft? I felt around my body, just to make sure. I had a small lump on my head, one shoulder and armpit were extremely sore, and my knee hurt. Digging through my pack’s top pocket, I extracted my medical kit, fished out my pill box, and took two ibuprofen. It occurred to me that this was an awfully lot like the tumble I took when I hurriedly bailed off of the Sue Peaks ridge last December. What was the deal with the Deadhorse and me?


It was still snowing and I still had almost 9 miles to cover before nightfall, so I shouldered my pack and headed south again, this time a little more carefully. I made it through the short canyon and then swung southwest close to the base of the Alto Relex, moving fairly smoothly, if slowly, on my uncertain knee, through open washes.  The knee hurt, but dully rather than sharply, and I took that as a good sign. Almost two miles later, I limped, rather than walked, into Passionflower Canyon, the second of the basin’s two little jewels, and my favorite. It was still snowing, harder now, and the northeast wind had returned, gently at first, but now with increasing power, as I moved through the narrow, twisting canyon. I paused in one of the most beautiful sections of the canyon – a place special to me – to sit and eat a KIND bar and some jerky, and drink a half-liter of water.  I zipped-up against the wind and turned my face downcanyon to avoid the windburn. I admired the stark beauty of the canyon and thought about its isolation and loneliness. I watched the heavy snowflakes fall slowly to the ground, some landing on my arms and ceasing to exist, other joining their companions on the ground in a thick cold blanket. And just then I had an odd, but unshakeable sense of not being alone. I’d had this feeling once or twice before in the Bend, way out in the middle of nowhere. It never came to anything, and I’d never made sense of it. I shook it off and considered my knee: it was not getting better and it was probably getting worse. The other aches and pains from the tumble were minor, but the knee bore watching. Again, I reflected on the irony of making it this far – fifteen days – without serious injury, only to mess myself up in a stupid, self-inflicted fall. A mile or more later, around 11 am, I emerged, limping, from the mouth of the beautiful canyon, passed the terminus of the Alto Relex, and entered into the broad, majestic two-mile-wide expanse of the full Ernst Basin. I set my sights on the Cuesta Carlota and the distant gash of Ernst Tinaja Canyon, three-and-a-half miles distant.


For the next three hours, I meandered my way south through the braided washes of the basin. I’d like to report that my knee pain grew progressively less and my hiking progressively stronger, but neither did. I slogged my way through the snowfall, using my trekking poles to favor my knee. The more the wind blew – and boy did it blow – the more I felt the dampness of the my still-wet fleece under my raingear. Moving helped me keep hypothermia at bay, but I always felt it was juuuuuusst around the corner. I didn’t know exactly what temperature it was – my tiny thermometer was buried somewhere in the snow at the other end of the basin – but it was damned cold (rangers would later tell me it was probably in the high teens or low twenties in the Ernst Basin that day).


I passed Tinaja Verde, far to my left, buried deep and high in the imposing ridge that forms the eastern border of the basin. I’d originally planned on taking a side trip to investigate it, but not today, not with this knee, which now felt slightly swollen and tender and ached with every step. Today, I was focused on making it to the certainty of Ernst Tinaja Canyon where I would refill my water supply for the next leg of my trip. My on-hand water supply was down to a single full 1-liter Smartwater bottle, and a few ounces in one of my Dromlite bladders. Ernst Tinaja Canyon is visible and identifiable from a long, long ways up the Ernst Basin. My march toward it utterly lacked drama – just an interminable, slow, mostly painful slog through wind and snow and cold. But I did it, and sometime shortly before 3pm, I pulled up to the northernmost of the two entrances to the canyon and headed inside, between its dark looming walls. I quickly reached the point where the other, southern, entrance joined the main canyon. The southern path was the route to the rough trail up and over the Cuesta Carlota and into the western desert beyond. There, at the intersection, I left my backpack (now weighing about 28lbs) under the falling snow and headed downcanyon with my empty 6-liter Dromlite water bladder. That bladder, when filled – along with the 1.25 liters now in my Smartwater bottles – would last me all the way to my next food cache near Mile 13 of the park road, and then on to the reliable water of Glenn Springs in the desert far to the southwest, a day-and-a-half from now.


Given the weather and my knee, the likelihood of me actually reaching the big tinaja was zilch, but there were plenty of smaller tinajas upcanyon of the big one; they would certainly have water enough for me in them.  I limped slowly down the narrowing canyon, gingerly making my way across snow-covered slickrock and through deep, soft gravels and sand. Small pools of water, an inch or two deep, most with rimes of frost or ice, appeared almost immediately but I was hoping for something a little deeper, something from which I could more easily fill my Dromlite bag without stirring up too much silt. In normal circumstances I would simply hike down to the biggest, deepest pool that I could easily reach, tie my utility cord to my collapsible water bucket, throw it in, and then haul it up full of four or five liters of water which I would then filter into my Dromlite using a bandanna as a strainer. But I’d lost that water bucket into the Rio Grande way back on Day Four on the river. I was improvising here. 


I soon found a deeper pool, more suitable for my Dromlite. I broke through the thin layer of ice on top, and dipped my Dromlite into the mostly clear water below. One liter, two liters, three…and then I stopped. Was I really going to do this? Was I going to hike another nine days and 90+ miles over the badlands, across the eastern desert, through the Quemadas, past the Chimneys, down to the Mesa de Anguila, and up and over all the way to my vehicle in Lajitas – with THIS knee? 


If so, then I needed to fill this Dromlite bladder to the brim and load it back onto my pack, bringing the weight to almost 40 pounds, and take the steep trail over the Cuesta Carlota to La Noria, and reach it before sunset. If not, I could stop now – because this was more than enough water to get me to my next food cache, hidden in the desert near Mile 13 on the park road south of Panther Junction. That was where I was supposed to leave my packrafting gear tomorrow morning, so that Mule Ears and his friend Scott could retrieve and stow it (along with my empty Bear Vault cache) by noon, a day before beginning their own long backpacking trip into the Quemadas.  I wasn’t supposed to meet them there, I was supposed to be deep in the desert by the time they arrived to retrieve my stuff. But we had all planned to rendezvous two days later, along the Fresno Creek drainage, for dinner and a shared campsite. And then to reunite again several days later in Terlingua when we finished each of our trips on the same afternoon. But I could hike out to that cache tomorrow morning – as long as I reached it by noon – and stay there, waiting for them to arrive. Mule Ears had gone over and above in so many ways to help make my trip this year a reality, and abandoning it now would be a very poor way to repay him for all his kindness and effort. But I was pretty sure that if I asked, he’d drive me back to my vehicle in Lajitas tomorrow. 


I knelt there at the icy tinaja in silence for a long, long minute, the bladder gripped tightly in my hands in front of me, snowflakes falling softly against my forearms and melting into nothingness as if they’d never even existed.  And then I slowly poured a liter out of my Dromlite and back to where it came from.


[TO BE CONTINUED]
Moderator Note: Attached image rotated and resized,
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 03, 2018, 11:22:45 PM
Heading out of the canyon, pack on my back, I turned south into the Ernst Basin, looking for the cairns that would lead me to the rough trail up the Cuesta Carlota. It was 3:30pm. Outside the canyon, in the wide open basin, the wind was blowing ferociously, from both the north and the east. Snow was whipping through the air and stinging my face.  I don’t know what the temperature was but it felt like 25 degrees. The wind chill was ghastly. With a bit of searching I found the trail up the cuesta and started up, fighting the wind all the way. Mostly it was at my back, but that didn’t help much: every gale-force gust threatened to topple me over forward. I was already using my trekking poles to steady my knee. Adding an argumentative wind into the equation wasn’t helping matters.  The higher I climbed, the more ferocious the wind became. There were times when the trail bent north and the full force of the wind would bring me to a standstill, even forcing me backward. Twice it knocked me clean over: once when it came from the north, and another coming from the east. Each time, I picked myself up slowly, checked my knee and my pack, and continued plodding forward.


Reaching the top of the cuesta, I found a moment’s shelter in a small alcove of rock and took in my surroundings. Finally, for the first time during my fifteen days, I could see the breathtaking broad central desert of Big Bend stretching out westward before me for almost a hundred miles.  Far to the northwest, I could also see the Chisos once again and, to the south, Chilicotal and Talley Mountains. All were bleached with snow, the Chisos by far the heaviest, from top to bottom.  Even the low desert had dustings. Between me and the desert stretched the drainage of Tornillo Creek, and the clayey badlands reaching all the way from the Old Ore Road to the unseen park road, beyond which my cache awaited. In Mexico, to the south, the Sierra del Carmen were as white as ghosts. Behind me, to the east, lay the broad graben of Ernst Basin. The Deadhorse Mountains, rank upon rank stretching eastward, were completely buried beneath deep snow and, below me, snow was still falling on the Ernst Basin in windswept eddies, slowly coating its vast flat expanse with a white blanket that made the wide basin seem even more featureless than usual.


The gray skies, cold wind, and white snow matched my mood. My trip was over; my hopes dashed again, another rare opportunity frittered away. So many people had made so many sacrifices to help me get here, and the best I could do was get even less far than last year.  I had failed.  Again.  Clearly, the Deadhorse Mountains were the graveyard of my hopes and dreams. This was where they went to die.


I pondered this thought: in a moment, I would turn away to the west, toward the oncoming sunset, hike down off the cuesta to the desert below, away from my now-dead hopes, and make camp for the night somewhere close to the little ghost town of La Noria and its scattered but still-tended graves. A place where people, much stronger than me, had struggled to fulfill their own hopes and dreams and ultimately surrendered to failure. Behind me, on the other side of the cuesta, I would leave behind an old ore operation of unimaginable labor, now obsolete, and an ancient telephone line strung by nominally American soldiers only slightly removed from the War Between the States, stationed so far from home, and a cave where early Big Bend pioneers had carved out a home, every one struggling to establish a life in this brutal, inhospitable corner of the world. I would leave behind a river run first by the Skiles and the DuPonts, a memorial to a dead NPS volunteer hidden deep in a lonely remote canyon, a riverside military camp lost to time, multiple paleo-Indian campsites, metates of aboriginal Indians who slowly ground grain here several thousand years ago, petroglyphs and pictographs and worked stones that hid more mysteries than they revealed, the ghosts of Jumano and Apache and Comanche Indians who learned to live in and on this land with few tools but a great deal of wisdom, distant echoes of jacals and vegas of Hispanic farmers past, peasants who labored under Aztec then Spanish then French then Mexican then Texan then American rule while hardly changing their lifestyles over centuries, and the fences and windmills and corrals of the nineteenth-century homesteads of the Adams, the Rooneys, the Dorgans, the Subletts, the Dodsons, the Wilsons, and the hundreds of hard ranch hands in their employ, the barely discernible echoes of two wars with Mexico and another two involving the entire world, and glimpses - real and imagined - of the horses and burros and mules and men and women and children starving in the desert as they yearned their way through lands first explored by companions of de la Vaca, and Coronado, and Onate. All of them – every one – now dead and gone or soon to be. Not unlike an unfortunate kitten named Olivia Felix, whose full story, in all its complexity, I would never really know: neither its beginning nor its end.


Another thought – first formed during my cross-park hike a year ago – reoccurred to me.  Every step I take in Big Bend, every piece of land I tread upon, has been trod upon before, countless times throughout history, by other humans – most of them far tougher and stronger than I could ever hope to be. We are surrounded by the dead and their dreams. And someday, perhaps a day not too far away, we will join them as a part of the mysterious living landscape. Everything so important to us today will dissolve like snowflakes, subsumed into the vast tapestry of history, an infinitesimally tiny and anonymous piece of the foundation of the future.


I sighed, surrendered, and turned west, heading down through the snowy landscape to my final camp in the desert. As I did – perhaps because I am from Irish stock – I heard the words of James Joyce’s The Dead in my mind….


“The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Qjgo1sLSgI


[TO BE CONTINUED]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: elhombre on January 04, 2018, 08:41:48 AM
If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.    :great:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: DesertRatShorty on January 04, 2018, 09:11:16 AM
House, I get how this feels like failure. But I doubt anyone reading this sees it as anything less than a phenomenal accomplishment. For two years you've  had your sights set on one particular type of hike, the cross-the-park hike, established back in the day when the eastern end of Telephone Canyon was accessible. And though you haven't (yet) made that happen, you've invented your own brand of trek, the Round the Bender: start somewhere along the park boundary, veer in a broad arc, and don't stop until something runs out, be it a knee or days on the permit. Simply remarkable.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: SergeantFunk on January 04, 2018, 08:53:42 PM
HMoD,

Inline with DSR...regardless of its conclusion - yours is a triumph of design, ingenuity, perseverance, utter ballsiness and literature for that matter.

Many thanks.

House, I get how this feels like failure. But I doubt anyone reading this sees it as anything less than a phenomenal accomplishment. For two years you've  had your sights set on one particular type of hike, the cross-the-park hike, established back in the day when the eastern end of Telephone Canyon was accessible. And though you haven't (yet) made that happen, you've invented your own brand of trek, the Round the Bender: start somewhere along the park boundary, veer in a broad arc, and don't stop until something runs out, be it a knee or days on the permit. Simply remarkable.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 05, 2018, 02:18:13 AM
Camp Didn’t: December 8, 2017


The hike down the other side of Cuesta Carlota had actually been mercifully easy. My knee still ached, but as I descended the cuesta’s west side, the big bulk of the ridge acted as a windbreak against the northeast wind, freeing me from the terrible pummeling I’d taken during the ascent up the other side.  The snow, too, was much less on this side. Just a light shower of snowflakes. Amazing that a single ridge could make this much difference. I would later read, in an obscure academic treatise, that the Deadhorse Mountains are notorious for making their own weather. If it’s bad in the Chisos, it’ll be even worse in the Deadhorse. Sometimes it’ll be bad in the Deadhorse even when it’s beautiful everywhere else.


Making my way down the trail on the west side of the cuesta, I could see the Old Ore Road in the distance.  Before reaching it, but now in the desert, I turned west and headed toward La Noria. The snow may have lessened, but the cold had not. It was bitterly, bitterly cold. And once I put some distance between me and the cuesta, the wind returned.  I can only imagine what the windchill must have been out here in the open desert with little or nothing to stop the wind.  The ache in my knee grew worse. A bit later, I felt a popping with each bend of the knee: the same popping I’d felt back in March when the knee first started acting up. I stopped and took another two ibuprofen, pulled up the leg of my fleece pants, and wrapped an ace bandage around the knee. Most of the afternoon, I’d been wearing a special patellar strap recommended to me by DesertRatShorty, but now I was needing even more support.


Before resuming my hike, I pondered my route. I was heading to La Noria mostly for sentimental reasons. I wanted to visit the old graves there, and look around the abandoned townsite up on the ridge. It was part of my interest in the old military campsites that were created to manage the cross-border chaos resulting from the Mexican Revolution. But the cache I would be heading for in the morning - under some deadline pressure if I wanted to arrive before Mule Ears and Scott - was in a slightly different direction, some forty or forty-five degrees to the southwest. Proceeding to the graves and to La Noria would only cost me time tomorrow – time I might not have if I wanted to rendezvous with Mule Ears and Scott. I wasn’t sure how fast I’d be able to hike tomorrow, given the state of my knee. And who knew what kind of weather I’d have? I suspected clear, but the last few days gave me pause. So, instead of proceeding west to the graves around La Noria, I turned and headed southwest across the Old Ore Road and into the desert. I wouldn’t have made it to La Noria that afternoon anyway. Before I’d covered even another half-mile, the sun began to drop below Chilicotal Mountain. The gray clouds made it seem even darker and later than it was. I stopped there, on a rise a half mile on the other side of the Old Ore Road, and made camp in a small clearing between several cacti and creosote.


The snow had stopped but the wind most definitely had not. Fortunately, the substrate was good up on this hill. With some difficulty, I pitched my Silshelter in the screaming wind and liberally applied all the rocks I could find (not many) to my stakepoints. I made sure to pitch the shelter so that its low end was facing northeast, into the wind, and I inverted my trekking poles as I’d learned to do back in the Ernst Basin canyon. I wanted a good night’s sleep. I pulled my still-wet hiking clothes out of my backpack and laid them out inside the tent to dry. Then I spread out my bedroll, took off my boots, slipped off my ace bandage and  back into my down vest and microfleece balaclava, and climbed in to my bag, still wearing my damp fleece next to my skin. I heated up a very welcome hot meal and ate it from inside my sleeping bag, chasing it down with a dessert of ibuprofen and several ounces of very cold water. When I finally cinched my sleeping bag up tight that night and lay down inside the cold, pitch-black darkness of my Silshelter, I was as tired and dispirited as I’ve ever been while in the wilderness.


That night, I slept like the proverbial rock. The only negative was that I awoke once with terrible hamstring cramps in my left thigh. I dug out my NUUN tablets, made myself a quick drink and washed down another two ibuprofen.  Eventually the cramps ceased and I fell back into a deep, deep sleep. A few hours later I woke up to bright sunshine filtering through the walls of my Silshelter. It was 7:30am. I stuck my head outside the shelter and saw brilliantly blue, cloudless skies without a hint of wind. The weather HAD cleared. But man, oh man, was it cold.  Knowing I had no time to waste if I wanted to rendezvous with Mule Ears and Scott, I reached for my boots. They were covered in thick ice. INSIDE my tent. I looked over at my Smartwater bottle: frozen. I reached for my hiking clothes, laid out to dry inside the tent last night: frozen solid. If it had been cold two nights ago, it was REALLY cold last night. Probably in the low teens. Oddly, I slept great, even on my one, single, insufficient groundpad. Then again, I wasn’t sleeping in soaking-wet clothes, as I had a couple nights ago. The fleece I had on now was completely dry: the body heat in my sleeping bag had dried it overnight. The socks on my feet, too.


I was already wearing all my available dry clothes, so I crawled out of my bag. I broke the ice off my boots, slipped them on, and exited the tent. It was a gorgeous, gorgeous morning. Had I not been injured, I would have thought it a perfect morning. The sky was blue in the way it can only be after a hellacious storm clears. Far across the desert to the northwest, I could see the Chisos Mountains rising from the desert, still covered in snow, and with mists circling their middle elevations. Chilicotal and Talley were mostly snow-free. The Deadhorse were barely visible behind the slopes of the Cuesta Carlota - and further south the Alto Relex - and still buried under blinding white snow.


I reached inside my tent and pulled out my hiking clothes, every piece of which felt like cheap card stock. My shirt and pants and socks and hat were frozen so solidly that I was afraid I might break them in to pieces if I treated them too roughly. I laid each carefully out on top of creosote and cholla, tilting them toward the rising sun. I’d let them thaw there.  Then I pulled out my down sleeping bag, coated thickly with frost, and laid it across a creosote bush to dry. I sat down on a rock to wait for the sun to do its work. Looking at my clothes, their stiff frozen limbs jutting out at odd, unnatural, even painful angles, it occurred to me that they looked remarkably like photographs of the dead, frozen bodies at the massacre at Wounded Knee, or perhaps like Otzi the Iceman, the Neolithic adventurer whose ancient but still-preserved body was retrieved frozen from an alpine glacier in Italy. These were creepy thoughts.


[TO BE CONTINUED}
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 05, 2018, 02:18:56 AM
After forty-five minutes or so, my clothes were completely dry – as good as new, if new includes filthy  – and I added them underneath my fleece.  Thusly, layered, I put my down vest into my now-packed backpack and made ready to head southwestward toward the park road and my cache. Again, I have to say that the weather was just perfect. The temperatures were warming very quickly. The sky was unbelievably blue. The air was clean and clear as crystal. Even the ground was firm, despite the days of rain and snow. If there’s one surface I absolutely loathe hiking on, it’s wet, sticky Bentonite clay.  But I encountered very little this day. Last year, during my first attempt at a cross-park hike, I’d traveled much the same route: from Ernst Tinaja to Mile Marker 12 on the main park road. I’d chosen a reasonably intelligent route without too many ups and downs through the badlands, but this year I felt I could do better. And I have to say, I did. Worried about my knee, I kept the ups and down to a minimum and played the topo lines like a virtuoso. My elevation gains and losses were about as few as possible. The only hiccup occurred in the form of a wide, deep Mesquite and Acacia belt stretching across part of the Tornillo Creek drainage from north to south. I hit it at what looked like the middle, making a circumvention look long and unappealing, so in I went, and forced my way through about 50 yards of thorns and branches. I winced every time I snagged, certain I’d just destroyed the packraft strapped to the outside of my packbag.


But now was not the time for second guesses – I had a hard deadline to meet: noon at the cache, or I was toast. l didn't know exactIy when Mule Ears and Scott would arrive to retrieve my packraft, but I couldn't afford to be late. I did NOT want to try to hitchhike back to Panther Junction and then pay someone to shuttle me to my vehicle in Lajitas. It would be aggravating, costly, and humiliating. I was already carrying a year’s worth of humiliation on my back and I didn’t need one ounce more.  Limping gingerly, I pressed on, always on the lookout for a few key landmarks: a wide north-south wash with oddly-humming telephone lines passing through from horizon to horizon from Panther Junction to Rio Grande Village; an abrupt rank of steep, gravelly hills ending in a long, long, long, flat, north-south mesa and, from beyond the mesa, the strange, thrumming, and alien sound of rubber on asphalt: the park road.


I stepped onto the weirdly firm surface of the park road at 11:55. Two hundred yards north of Mile Marker 13. For the second year in a row, I’d nailed it: ten miles of trailless cross-country traffic through a maze of bewildering hills and washes and thorny plants, and I’d only deviated from my goal by a few hundred feet. And for the second year in a row, I experienced an unnerving, uncomfortable sense of vertigo when my feet hit the asphalt…or maybe when I peered up and down the unnaturally straight and well-manicured ribbon of industrial road. It just…didn’t…seem right. In any sense of the word.


I stumbled across the asphalt – my feet actually felt repelled by the smooth, hard, oily surface – and into the desert on the other side. Ten minutes later, I approached the location where I’d left my cache, fifty or so yards off the main road. Over the years, I’ve always wondered if the cache is actually going to be there. Did someone – an interloper, another hiker, a ranger – take it way? Or was it mauled by an animal, or a flood, or the wind? Fortunately, my caches have always been exactly where I left them, but the consequences of failure are fairly severe, so I always worry. But there it was, my Bear Vault 500, exactly where I’d placed it eighteen days ago, behind a tall stand of creosote on the edge of a shallow wash, tucked away in its black stuffsack with my name and trip dates on it. I was delighted. And then, almost simultaneously, I was heartbroken. This cache represented the next six days of my intended trip: from the park road to Point 2417 to the ghost town of Glenn Springs to the Fresno Drainage and my camp with Mule Ears and Scott, to Double Spring and Fisk Canyon, to the abandoned homestead at Dominguez Spring and on to the Mule Ears, and to my final cache near the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. From there I’d have gone on to the petroglyphs of The Chimneys and the Geminid Meteor Shower, to Bee Spring, Pena Spring, Gomez Spring and the ghost town of Terlingua Abajo, then up the Mesa de Anguila, and finally to my vehicle at the trailhead in Lajitas.


But none of that was to be. Instead of nine more days on foot through Big Bend, I would spend the next nine minutes (or maybe ninety) waiting for Mule Ears and Scott to arrive. They’d park on the side of the road, step out of their rental car, follow my emailed directions to the hidden cache and find me sitting here on top of it.  And I’d explain that my trip was finished, over, done. 


So I sat down on my upturned Bear Vault, screened from the road by the tall creosote wall, comfortable in the sunny 40-something-degree weather. I swallowed a couple of ibuprofen, pulled out my little Rite-in-the-Rain journal, and my ridiculously tiny blue pen, and began to write this trip report. How could I possibly make sense of it all: my failed cross-park hike last year and how it led to this year’s attempt, all the research and planning, finding and acquiring and testing the packraft, the park regulations, the consultation with rangers and ex-rangers, mapping my routes and caches, all the encouragement and help from so many kind people, the insanity of boating the Rio Grande from one end of the park to the other on a packraft I barely knew how to maneuver, the dangers, the beauties, the tragic encounter with the kitten, the coincidental meeting with Slimkitty in Rio Grande Village, all the other wonderful and kind folks I met there, the many rapids of the river, the history of the land and the history of the water, the tensions between the US and Mexico, the candelilla harvesters and the drug runners, the maddening Giant River Cane, the hiking with a full packrafting kit on my back, the awe-inspiring canyons of the river, the awe-inspiring canyons of the land, again the crazy weather, more injuries, the many challenges and my responses, and…then again, above all…the kitten.


I began to write….


“The most important thing you need to know about this trip is that I killed a cat in cold blood by the side of the river. That overshadows everything.

But more on that later.”



I was still scribbling away when I heard a vehicle pull over to the side of the road some fifty yards away. Two doors opened and shut. Voices, and then footsteps. As the footsteps crunched across the desert toward my seat in the wash, behind the tall creosote, I began to make out individual words in their conversation: they were repeating the directions to my cache, the ones I’d emailed to Mule Ears. Two tall men appeared at the side of a scraggly ocotillo with an old rusted can stuck between its stalks: one of the waypoints to my cache. I could see the men clearly now, twenty feet away. Scott turned in the direction of the cache and saw me sitting there behind the creosote, smiling. As I stood up, we all recognized each other from our pictures in trip reports.  Mule Ears, who had played such a large part in the planning of this trip, strode over, beaming, to shake my hand, as did Scott.  And then I told them why I was still here at my cache. Shock, and sadness, all around. Some awkward shuffling. Mule Ears, stricken, was about to give me a consoling hug, but I deflected it: I would have broken out in tears and I wasn't ready to do that. “Well, what now?” he asked, sadly but sympathetically.


And then, saving me from having to ask, he kindly offered, “How 'bout we go get your vehicle in Lajitas?”


[END]
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 05, 2018, 02:23:52 AM
Epilogue: Chisos Mining Company Motel, Terlingua


Mule Ears and Scott helped me pile all my gear, and my unopened Bear Vault, inside their tiny rental car already fully loaded with their own backpacking gear. Neither one complained about my filth and stink. They did, however, feed me – from their own traveling stash – all the barbecue I could eat. We stopped at the Chisos Mining Company Motel in Terlingua so Mule Ears and Scott could check in, and I could switch my reservation from December 16 to that night. Scott stayed behind to finish packing for tomorrow’s early morning start of their long backpacking trip through the Quemadas to Mariscal Mountain and back. He showed me what he’d planned for our shared dinner in the Fresno Creek drainage, two nights hence. It was magnificent and outrageous and I was, again, heartbroken, ashamed, and grateful, all at the same time. Leaving Scott to finish packing, Mule Ears and I drove to the Mesa de Anguila trailhead where I retrieved my RAV4 from the gravel parking lot, exactly where Homer Wilson had seen it several days earlier. As I pulled into the long side parking lot of the motel some minutes later, Mule Ears flagged me down and thrust a cold beer through my passenger window, “and there's more where that came from.” No kinder words were ever spoken. I headed to my room in the far back buildings, threw my small suitcase inside, took a long hot shower, inspected my knee and my shoulder and the lump on my head and the hole where my tooth had formerly been, and then changed into clean clothes and a clean ace bandage for my knee.


The three of us spent the evening at the Starlight Theater, swapping stories of our younger years, our lives at home, some surprising shared professional interests, and our ongoing adventures in the wilderness – well lubricated by excellent food and abundant drink – and then retired to our rooms at a reasonably decent hour. I was exhausted after a long trip; they were conserving their energies before beginning their own. We agreed to meet the next morning at the Chile Pepper Café in Study Butte when it opened at 8am for a last breakfast before heading our separate ways. I never mentioned the kitten: what would I say? I couldn’t even explain the events to myself.


The air was absolutely frigid as I walked up the steps to my motel room after our night at the Starlight Theater. The sky was cloudless and billions of stars burned brightly in the pitch-black sky. Starlight theater, indeed.  I paused and felt the chill flowing down the collar of my down vest. Mule Ears and Scott were going to be awfully cold during their trip, but it looked like they’d be dry. The weather system had blown through. I closed the door tight against the cold, walked over to the room’s heater and turned it to high. Then I sat down at the tiny table and resumed scribbling in my journal, trying to craft the beginning of my trip report.


As you can probably tell by now, I write trip reports not just to record routes and gear and wilderness conditions, I write trip reports to help me understand myself, my experiences, and the world. To make sense of a flood of random, often conflicting events and emotions and echoes of other times and places and ideas that I experience while in the wilderness. I write from the notes in my journals. But I rarely know exactly what I’m going to say until I type the words. Sometimes events that seem unrelated at the time I experience them, later take on meaningful shape and pattern and relationship as I type. Sometimes they don’t. But, still, I give it my best shot. 


And then sometimes, it’s not me that sees the pattern, but someone else, someone on the outside, someone not so involved in the events as to be blinded by them.  I was several days into this trip report for Big Bend Chat when I posted the entry describing my deeply upsetting encounter with Olivia Felix. I was still flailing, trying to make sense of it all. Later that evening a Big Bend Chat user – Hang10er – wrote:


“Your encounter with that cat is almost like a metaphor (I think that's the right word) for the sacrifices that people who have lived in that part of the country most certainly had to make.  Having to face hard choices to insure THEY survived.  It's like the big Kahuna picked you and said, "He deserves to have an experience close to what people of the past had".


THAT made sense. It was the wisest thing anyone had said about my experiences on this trip. Every moment of my trip this year through the wilderness of Big Bend – by water or land – was shot through with the awareness of how remote, how harsh, how unforgiving these places were, and how tough people had to be to survive there. There was little room for error and none for the emotional luxuries we, in our indescribably comfortable lives, now take for granted.


I come from two hard families. Depression-era farmers that almost didn’t make it through. Both are from immigrant stock. My father’s forbears came from England and Ireland to Virginia in the 1600’s, then on to North Carolina, and then the poorer relations left to help found Nashville, and finally, my great-grandfather left Tennessee on foot, as a very young man right after the Civil War, to head to Texas to make his fortune.  Things didn’t turn out as he hoped: the family whose wagon he eventually hitched a ride with was ambushed by Comanches near Georgetown and only he and one other person escaped unharmed. Texas suddenly seemed not so appealing and he headed back, on foot, to his family in Tennessee. Along the way he stayed a few nights with a family named Parker near Groesbeck, Texas, whose relatives had built a family compound near there many years before.  My great-grandfather made it back to Tennessee, married, and raised a family. Twenty-five years later, after the death of his wife to scarlet fever, he uprooted his Tennessee family and took his children, his brother, and his father (a carpenter) back to Texas with him, this time landing in Era, Texas where he took up, among other things, cotton farming in the 1890’s. The land stayed in the family – through two world wars, the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and innumerable smaller national economic collapses and personal tragedies - until just a few years ago. I still have my great-great-grandfather Reuben’s level and his plane, both of which he made with his own hands from Tennessee hickory.


My mother’s family is of English and Scottish and German descent. I don’t know when they came to America, but I do know they came to southwest Oklahoma in a covered wagon in the 1880’s and became cotton farmers and ranchers on what was then Indian land. They, too, weathered all the trials and plagues of the era, and the land is still in my family. My great-grandfather John was a very successful farmer and rancher who once did business with a canny Quahadi Comanche war chief who, after surrendering to the US Cavalry in 1875 and being imprisoned at Fort Sill in what was then Indian Territory, went on to settle nearby in Cache, Oklahoma and become a successful rancher and businessman in the white world. His name was Quanah Parker, the son of Cynthia Ann Parker, a white woman captured and adopted into the Nokoni Comanche tribe after an Indian raid on her family’s “fort” near Groesbeck, Texas in 1836.


It’s a small world. And often a harsh one.


I am the beneficiary, the product, of so many sacrifices and so much suffering and heartache undergone by others, not just my ancestors but others not even related to me who have helped build the world I've inherited. Am I worthy? I often wonder how I would measure up if I faced the same hardships as my forebears, the hardships faced by most immigrants and pioneers. In some ways, my trips into the wilderness are tests to find out just how big a man I am. The answer I got from this trip was: not as big as I would like to be. Judged by my standards – and aren’t our own standards the ones that we have to satisfy? – I failed both morally and physically. By the time Mule Ears and Scott rescued me from the desert, I was a broken man. Not just my body, but my heart. I finally did mind that it hurt. I had made decisions to abandon many things, including my long-planned trip and a tiny sweet kitten, but I had not yet made my peace. That would take a long time. Big Bend is a tough place, an unforgiving place, a dangerous place for the weak.


Here’s to the survivors.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgPJtIpQtjo
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Jalco on January 05, 2018, 07:08:08 AM
HMoD, my wife and I were in Bolzano, Italy over the Christmas holidays and were able to tour the local museum, dedicated to Otzi.  The mummy is on display.  Very interesting!

We were in Italy as guests of my son (Army posting) and his wife.  She has done some amazing work tracing our family tree back through the ages and across the continents.  I have never really pondered the arc of history represented there, but, like you, I wonder if I could measure up to my forebears.  Or would they consider me soft.

I have truly enjoyed your narrative.  I'm sure YOUR literary forebears are smiling  :eusa_clap:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Hang10er on January 05, 2018, 08:35:41 AM
The trials and challenges our forefathers faced, they trained for from the day they were born.  I don't think you can compare how we measure up to them the same way they did. 

You can read the Big Bend Chat forum, do some hikes with fully loaded packs and go out and do the OML.  Yet an adventure like what HMOD took on is something way more.  In my opinion, he did it not only as a physical quest, but he, because of his personality, put himself there mentally. He didn't just paddle down the river and walk across the desert, he journeyed thru there spiritually.  I think the miles took a toll on his body, but the trip took a lot out of him mentally as well. 

Side note, I think he could have made it, but at what price?  Permanent damage?  I think he evaluated his situation, took in account all his options and made a decision, in my eyes, the right one.  If one of his relatives in the 1800's was in the same situation and had the option of getting a ride out, I'm sure they would have took it.  Imagine if he wrote that he continued on and at some later point in the trip, his knee worsened and he had to take some other option; calling for rescue, limping out with a worse injury.  I know a lot of people on here would be thinking, "Hmmm, maybe he should have ended the trip earlier."

I think it's a special person (and a LOT of them are on this site) that can not just "VISIT" the area, but can get out and become a part of the area.  Someone that can feel it, experience the beauty and recognize the power and danger of it all.  See the majestic views and understand the hardships.   
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: PacingTheCage on January 05, 2018, 08:57:53 AM
What a great story written by an incredible storyteller!  I am in awe of you.  Your accomplisments on your trip are simply inspiring.  So many lessons you have shared with all of us.  Thank you. Thank you.  Thank you.  Can't wait to follow your next adventure and , hopefully, some of your footsteps!
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: iCe on January 05, 2018, 10:11:04 AM
A great story teller has the ability to pull the audience in both mentally and physically (we feel the emotions). You accomplished that in spades HMoD. I have no doubt that we all waited anxiously for the next segment, felt the sadness when you turned away from La Noria (and other places), and felt all of the emotional peaks and valleys that this roller coaster of a story had to tell.


 :eusa_clap: :notworthy: :great:  to you HMoD... what an epic journey you had... thanks for letting us tag along
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Talusman on January 05, 2018, 10:15:42 AM
I was already carrying a year’s worth of humiliation on my back and I didn’t need one ounce more. 
[END]

In NO sense of the word can I see either of these two trips as being "humiliating" to anyone who might have an inkling of what you planned and accomplished. As El Hombre said, "if it was easy anyone could (or would) be doing it". You should be writing a book on these travels. Epic stuff. Respect.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: RichardM on January 05, 2018, 10:54:49 AM
Truly epic. Epitomizes the old cliche "it's the journey, not the destination, that is most important."

P.S. I went on a resizing spree and shrank a lot of your attached photos.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: presidio on January 05, 2018, 01:14:55 PM
Epilogue: Chisos Mining Company Motel, Terlingua

I often wonder how I would measure up if I faced the same hardships as my forebears, the hardships faced by most immigrants and pioneers. In some ways, my trips into the wilderness are tests to find out just how big a man I am. The answer I got from this trip was: not as big as I would like to be. Judged by my standards – and aren’t our own standards the ones that we have to satisfy – I failed both morally and physically. By the time Mule Ears and Scott rescued me from the desert, I was a broken man. Not just my body, but my heart. I finally did mind that it hurt. I had made decisions to abandon many things, including my trip and a kitten, but I had not yet made my peace. That would take a long time. Big Bend is a tough place, an unforgiving place, a dangerous place for the weak.

You are too hard on yourself by at least several orders of magnitude.

A superlative adventure is not a glass half empty simply because the ending was unanticipated and disappointing but, rather, is a glass overflowing with accomplishment far beyond measure.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: horns93 on January 05, 2018, 03:10:24 PM
Chin up, HMoD. IMO it took brass balls to even plan a solo trip of this magnitude. And travelling the length of the park via the river sounds like an amazing journey.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: jasonmerlo on January 05, 2018, 07:27:46 PM
I keep seeing the word accomplishment, and it was a great one, but the word that describes it best in my eyes is experience. It was an incredible experience that very very few people will ever have. I am envious of it. HMOD, if you go back next year and make your destination you have to write a book, a three part book. It would be amazing and I know everyone here would buy a copy, and probably lots more. You have the writing chops to do it.


Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Demon Deacon on January 05, 2018, 10:05:35 PM
House:

I hereby bequeath to you all of my unused nights in the park for 2018 (we know “they” read this, so I’m sure that this is official and how it works), so that you can plan something equally as challenging, fulfilling, enlightening, and rewarding.

And as for your spirits, they should be full. I’m barely 38 years on in this world, and you sir have set about doing and actually accomplished things in the past month, let alone throughout your entire existence, that I would not even be able to begin to contemplate. No one and nothing can take that from you.

And you don’t need me to say it, but hold your head high. And if you are at the Starlight anywhere between 1/14/18 and 1/19/18, the drinks are on me. While that seems unlikely, given the recency  of your travails, the offer stands indefinitely for when you are in or around Alexandria, VA. There’s less desert here for sure, but we do have M&M’s for your dessert desires.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 06, 2018, 11:45:08 PM
House:

I hereby bequeath to you all of my unused nights in the park for 2018 (we know “they” read this, so I’m sure that this is official and how it works), so that you can plan something equally as challenging, fulfilling, enlightening, and rewarding.

And as for your spirits, they should be full. I’m barely 38 years on in this world, and you sir have set about doing and actually accomplished things in the past month, let alone throughout your entire existence, that I would not even be able to begin to contemplate. No one and nothing can take that from you.

And you don’t need me to say it, but hold your head high. And if you are at the Starlight anywhere between 1/14/18 and 1/19/18, the drinks are on me. While that seems unlikely, given the recency  of your travails, the offer stands indefinitely for when you are in or around Alexandria, VA. There’s less desert here for sure, but we do have M&M’s for your dessert desires.

Deacon,

I might just take you up on that.  I had a relative at Jamestown, and my direct ancestors first made their New World stake in Isle of Wight County, VA, on the Blackwater River. I've never been there, but I plan on heading that way in the next year or two. And even though my kids have cousins in D.C., only one of them has ever been there. We're due for a visit.   :great:
Title: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 07, 2018, 12:28:44 AM
Good folks:

I cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciate all the love. I can barely stand to re-read my own writing, but I get that we're all bound by our love of Big Bend, of wilderness, of the rough adventure that comes from taking on a hostile but beautiful land that only gives up its secrets to those that meet it on its own terms. Trip reports give us an opportunity to come together and celebrate those qualities. I love our celebrations.

That said, I think you may be over-estimating me. Let's do a little reality check:

1. I am, at best, a moderately talented wilderness traveler. There are many, many other people on this forum that are vastly better at it than I am. That is not false modesty; that is the truth.
2. You CAN do what I do. Unless you have serious physical compromises or crippling phobias, you can do this. I promise you. I am not particularly fit, and I AM particularly old.
3. If I have any unique gifts, they are perhaps in three areas. First, I have a great deal of chutzpah. I was born with that. Some would say I am a little crazy, but I think you could easily be as crazy (or as optimistic) as me if you so chose. Second, I have been blessed with an incredible family and incredible friends that love and support me, making these crazy trips possible. Third, it seems I can put my experiences into words that many people find meaningful. Let's not over-analyze that right now, but do let me make this last point: words are not deeds. Don't make more of what I've done that it deserves. Every single week (well, every single week when the weather in Big Bend won't kill you) there are amazing trips taken and reported on BBC, trips that are as difficult in their own way, and often more so, than mine. I've read dozens of them.

I've just spent all of yesterday evening and most of today at memorials for a dear friend of 30 years, a man a decade younger than me, who just died of cancer. A force of nature, he'd had cancer for ten years and told no one but his wife and closest family. Don't wait, don't procrastinate. Doing is more important than wording. So, go, do. Trust me, the best trip ever taken in Big Bend will always be the one you take yourself.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 07, 2018, 12:56:20 AM
As for me......I'll be back.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-EDyyGGCeQ
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Slimkitty on January 07, 2018, 02:22:43 AM
House, I’ve met you in person, and from that meeting alone I would never have expected you would be in the midst of an epic adventure.  Our run in was so unexpected...you were so pleasant and warm to us.  Had I not already known of your previous adventures on BBC I wouldn’t have ever guessed what you were up to.  However, in your telling of this adventure,  it’s easy to see how the same gentle man who entertained my baby boy by the laundry machines could also prove to be a tough as nails adventurer.  You wear your heart on your sleeve, and you pour that out in your writing.  In you I saw a love for life and nature. That in turn is reflected in every paragraph you write. Your curiosity about, well, every single thing you seem to come across is both baffling and a source of inspiration to me.  I hope in the coming years my little family can develop into adventurers like yourself.  Do me a favor and contact me if you ever find yourself visiting family here in the Delta!


Sent from the future.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Demon Deacon on January 07, 2018, 07:45:55 AM
Deacon,

I might just take you up on that.  I had a relative at Jamestown, and my direct ancestors first made their New World stake in Isle of Wight County, VA, on the Blackwater River. I've never been there, but I plan on heading that way in the next year or two. And even though my kids have cousins in D.C., only one of them has ever been there. We're due for a visit.   :great:
Let me know when it’s happening. I’ll be here.

And if you are going to Jamestown, you’ll need to eat at my favorite BBQ place in the world, Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que in Williamsburg (http://www.pierces.com/menu.php)
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Quatro on January 07, 2018, 12:21:29 PM
Like most everyone here, I've checked in on the board several times a day looking forward to the next portion of this journey.  You are the triple threat of adventure as you can plan it, live it and tell it - months, 16 days and 18 days, respectively.  That combination is very rare.  Even rarer is to possess each of those traits and remain humble. 

Your trip was almost identical to the journey of your father's ancestors: a long journey over water between two countries followed by a journey on foot over rugged country, things didn't turn out as you'd hoped so you turned back before encountering two friendly faces that provided aid. 

Thank you for taking us along for the ride.  :eusa_clap:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: GaryF on January 07, 2018, 01:38:17 PM
HMOD,

T just want to add my kudos to a job well done, and a thank you for writing it up in the way you did. I'm not the first to notice, but you have a real talent for writing that brings your audience into the adventure.

I wouldn't harp too much on not making it back to your car on foot. With the hypothermic conditions that you were in, it's much better to live to hike another day. Some day, some way, you will get another shot at this.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 07, 2018, 02:28:02 PM
HMOD,

T just want to add my kudos to a job well done, and a thank you for writing it up in the way you did. I'm not the first to notice, but you have a real talent for writing that brings your audience into the adventure.

I wouldn't harp too much on not making it back to your car on foot. With the hypothermic conditions that you were in, it's much better to live to hike another day. Some day, some way, you will get another shot at this.

Thanks, Gary. You know, it wasn't really the rain, or the wind, or the cold, or the snow or hypothermia that ended my hike. It was the fall, and the damaged knee. Though I suppose you could say the fall was caused by the first five.  But mostly I think the fall was just caused by carelessness/stupidity. By the time I was hiking toward my rendezvous with Mule Ears and Scott at my cache the next day, the weather was a non-issue. Temperatures had risen; the sky was a clear, brilliant blue.  I'm not even sure I couldn't have finished my hike on that knee, if I'd tried. Maybe, maybe not. We'll never know. Mostly, I'd just reached a point where I minded that it hurt, and I didn't want to risk making it hurt more. My knee hurt, my shoulder hurt, my heart hurt.

I visited the doctor (and my dentist  ;D) when I got back home. I did do actual damage to my knee: multiple bits of my knee architecture are inflamed, and it seems that I have exacerbated a small tear in a meniscus.  So it's back to physical therapy for me, for now.  And exercise soon.  And a more specifically-targeted knee brace.  But I'll be up and running again eventually. As you said, "live to hike another day."
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 07, 2018, 02:29:06 PM

Your trip was almost identical to the journey of your father's ancestors: a long journey over water between two countries followed by a journey on foot over rugged country, things didn't turn out as you'd hoped so you turned back before encountering two friendly faces that provided aid. 


That's a beautiful way of looking at it, Quatro.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: PyramidBlaster on January 08, 2018, 09:35:02 AM
HMoD,

I was 'late to the party' and am just now finishing up the story of your amazing adventure. Your love and excitement for the journey is absolutely palpable. I'll echo the sentiment of pretty much everyone here and say you're way too hard on yourself. I know how you feel, but you have absolutely NOTHING to be ashamed of---Your exploits put so many hardy adventurers to shame---And I could only hope to be half as successful at your age. :notworthy:

I was once a good bit more active on BBC, but i've let 'life get in the way'. I've found i've been lurking more the past few months. I celebrated 20 years of my first visit to Big Bend just this last October, and while my plans to do a memorial trip haven't come to pass, they're definitely in the works. I try to visit every couple of years, but it's been over 10 since my last solo effort. I'd already been planning a trip in mid October 2018, but reading your exploits has strengthened my resolve to do something... More.

I'm also a lifelong outdoorsman, but it's been 20+ years since i've been backpacking. I'm in my 40's, but the sound of the ticking clock has been drumming louder in my eardrums with each passing year. It's true, there's no time like NOW, we may never pass this way again. While I'm not quite at the level you are (that pack raft down the river is utterly EPIC), I think it's time do do a solo backpack this time, while I still can.  One day I hope to work up to make a trip of your magnitude, but I have to get my sea legs back, first. Quite frankly, I needed a swift kick in the pants, a goal to reach for... And I want to THANK YOU for helping to give me that kick. I hope to meet you one day to thank you in person.

As far as the kitten... The universe is a vast and mysterious place, full of amazing and unexpected occurrences. As far as her fate, I'm going to have to call, 'Pics or it didn't happen.' Life is a funny thing.... Like Dr. Malcolm in Jurassic Park says, "Life finds a way."... And so it is with the hardscrabble people of the Bend....

Be well in your travels.

And now, back to read your LAST year's trip report!!!
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 08, 2018, 10:54:28 AM
Quite frankly, I needed a swift kick in the pants, a goal to reach for... And I want to THANK YOU for helping to give me that kick. I hope to meet you one day to thank you in person.

 :great:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Jonathan Sadow on January 09, 2018, 12:37:28 AM
HMOD,

T just want to add my kudos to a job well done, and a thank you for writing it up in the way you did. I'm not the first to notice, but you have a real talent for writing that brings your audience into the adventure.

I wouldn't harp too much on not making it back to your car on foot. With the hypothermic conditions that you were in, it's much better to live to hike another day. Some day, some way, you will get another shot at this.

Thanks, Gary. You know, it wasn't really the rain, or the wind, or the cold, or the snow or hypothermia that ended my hike. It was the fall, and the damaged knee. Though I suppose you could say the fall was caused by the first five.  But mostly I think the fall was just caused by carelessness/stupidity. By the time I was hiking toward my rendezvous with Mule Ears and Scott at my cache the next day, the weather was a non-issue. Temperatures had risen; the sky was a clear, brilliant blue.  I'm not even sure I couldn't have finished my hike on that knee, if I'd tried. Maybe, maybe not. We'll never know. Mostly, I'd just reached a point where I minded that it hurt, and I didn't want to risk making it hurt more. My knee hurt, my shoulder hurt, my heart hurt.

I visited the doctor (and my dentist  ;D) when I got back home. I did do actual damage to my knee: multiple bits of my knee architecture are inflamed, and it seems that I have exacerbated a small tear in a meniscus.  So it's back to physical therapy for me, for now.  And exercise soon.  And a more specifically-targeted knee brace.  But I'll be up and running again eventually. As you said, "live to hike another day."

It's good to see that your knee (and your mouth) is recovering.  That's the thing about epic journeys such as the ones you attempt - there's more opportunities to experience really interesting things, but there's also more opportunities for something to go wrong.  However, you don't get to achieve epic things without trying to achieve epic things.

It's too bad you weren't a day or two ahead of schedule, or you might have run into me poking around the Ernst Basin.  As you have written, it really is a special place, and not just because its an excellent example of a graben.  It's one of those places which has to be earned, because you can't drive to it;  you have to get out of your vehicle and make the physical effort and sacrifices to hike there.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 09, 2018, 12:50:44 AM

It's too bad you weren't a day or two ahead of schedule, or you might have run into me poking around the Ernst Basin.  As you have written, it really is a special place, and not just because its an excellent example of a graben.  It's one of those places which has to be earned, because you can't drive to it;  you have to get out of your vehicle and make the physical effort and sacrifices to hike there.

Jonathan, had we run into each other deep in middle of the lonely Ernst Basin, that would have been yet another of the flabbergasting (and wonderful) coincidences of my trip.  Sorry we missed each other.  Thanks for the kind words!
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: watcher82 on January 10, 2018, 06:03:04 AM
Epilogue: Chisos Mining Company Motel, Terlingua

As you can probably tell by now, I write trip reports not just to record routes and gear and wilderness conditions, I write trip reports to help me understand myself, my experiences, and the world. To make sense of what often seems a flood of random, often conflicting events and emotions and echoes of other times and places and ideas that I experience while in the wilderness. I write from the notes in my journals. But I rarely know exactly what I’m going to say until I type the words. Sometimes events that seem unrelated at the time I experience them, later take on meaningful shape and pattern and relationship as I type. Sometimes they don’t. But, still, I give it my best shot. 


I just spent the better part of yesterday reading your trip report.  Immediately upon waking, I had to finish the story.  And what a story it was!  I have so much to comment on I honestly do not know where to start, or end!

I remember you giving me some advice as I decided to take my first steps into the park last year.  I had no idea I was getting advice from someone of such caliber.
 I live ‘close’ to the park (Del Rio, Texas) and have some time off next month.  I have been kicking around ideas of stuff to do and after reading your trip report, I have been motivated to return to Big Bend. 

I am going to keep this short and simply say, “Thank you for taking the time to write out that wonderful trip report.” 

-If you don’t try at anything, you can’t fail…it takes back bone to lead the life you want.” –Richard Yates.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 10, 2018, 12:14:44 PM

 I live ‘close’ to the park (Del Rio, Texas) and have some time off next month.  I have been kicking around ideas of stuff to do and after reading your trip report, I have been motivated to return to Big Bend. 

I am going to keep this short and simply say, “Thank you for taking the time to write out that wonderful trip report.” 

-If you don’t try at anything, you can’t fail…it takes back bone to lead the life you want.” –Richard Yates.

Thanks, Watcher!  There are plenty of people on this forum that know a lot more about Big Bend, and backpacking in Big Bend, than I do. That said, I am very happy that my trips and trip reports are inspiring in you a love for the Bend and a motivation to get out and explore it. That's the BEST compliment of all.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: PacingTheCage on January 11, 2018, 12:36:38 PM
Chin up, HMoD. IMO it took brass balls to even plan a solo trip of this magnitude. And travelling the length of the park via the river sounds like an amazing journey.

Agree, yet he never mentions the pack raft or the pack he packed those in!   :icon_wink:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 11, 2018, 02:48:30 PM
Chin up, HMoD. IMO it took brass balls to even plan a solo trip of this magnitude. And travelling the length of the park via the river sounds like an amazing journey.

Agree, yet he never mentions the pack raft or the pack he packed those in!   :icon_wink:

:icon_lol: Here you go, Pacing the Cage. Everything I carried while backpacking.  :icon_wink: If I can find the time later, I'll try to add the weights of everything.

EQUIPMENT LIST FOR MY ATTEMPTED CROSS-PARK HIKE, 2017
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Here is a comprehensive list of my backpacking equipment and where I stowed everything while hiking. This does not include my packrafting equipment - either while on the river, or while carrying it on my back to my drop point near Mile Marker 13. The packrafting gear weighed anywhere from 10 to 13lbs. My backpacking load while on land ranged from a low of 32lbs to as much as 54lbs. My fundamental base weight was 17.25lbs. If you take away the pound-and-a-half solo-traveler penalty for increased first-aid and survival supplies, and the extra two-pound penalty for a heavy-ass bag that can carry nearly 60lbs to accomodate packrafting gear and 3 gallons of water through the Deadhorse, then my fundamental baseweight would be closer to 13.5lbs. I can live with that.


ON MY BODY
Boots, Oboz Bridger (size 10.5)
Toesocks, Injinji 2.0 Crew (replace at each cache)
Socks, Smartwool Midweight Hiker (replace at each cache)
Wicking Briefs, Ex Officio (replace at each cache)
Wicking T-shirt, REI Co-op (replace at each cache)
Shirt, REI Sahara (launder at RGV)
Pants, REI Sahara (launder at RGV)
Hat, Columbia Booney (launder at RGV)

Map-of-the-day, on 8.5x11 Rite-in-Rain paper (folded, in thigh pocket)
Compass, Suunto M-3D (in pocket w/ map-of-the-day)
Journal, stapled binding, Rite-in-Rain paper (in other thigh pocket)
Pen, Fischer Stowaway (rubber-banded to inside of journal)
Brass Balls (2), between thigh pockets

Eyeglasses w/ retaining strap
Watch, Suunto Vector
Trekking Poles, REI Traverse Jr.


BACKPACK
Osprey Aether 70, medium

BACKPACK’S DETACHABLE TOP POCKET (my daypack whenever I walk away from my main pack)

Trash, in a large Opsak, lashed to outside on top

Silnylon Drybag, containing:

Keys, Cards & Cash

Survival Kit:
McMurdo FastFind PLB
Signal mirror
Smoke Signals (2)
Windproof Matches (12) w/ case+striker
Bivy Sack, metalized
Emergency Poncho, 2mil clear plastic

Oops Kit (medical/repair):
Mini-Altoid Tin w/ Pills: Ibuprofen/Aspirin/Bendadryl/Immodium
Mini-Squeeze Bottle w/ Bactine (2oz)
Antibiotic Gel Packets (6)
Sterile Gauze (4.5” x 4 yards)
Duct Tape (1 yard), wrapped around pole repair sleeve
Scissors
Sewing Kit, including curved upholstery needle for heavy fabric repairs or sutures
Superglue
Tweezers

Patellar strap
Ace bandage

Toilet Kit, in gallon ziploc: 
Deuce of Spades toilet trowel
Toilet Paper Roll (2), Coughlan’s (replenish at each cache)
Hand Sanitizer in mini-squeeze bottle (replenish at each cache)

Water Kit, in silnylon stuffsack:
Sea-to-Summit 10-liter Collapsible Bucket
Chlorine Dioxide Tablets, two packets of 20 each (replenish at each cache)
3mm Utility Cord

Map Kit, in gallon ziploc :
Caltopo maps on two-sided Rite-in-Rain paper (12), plus Nat Geo BBNP map

BACKPACK’S MAIN PACKBAG

Raingear (in stuffsack):
Rainpants, Marmot Precip
Raincoat, Outdoor Research Helium II

Spares and Layers (in drysack, launder all but down vest at RGV):
Extra hiking socks (1 pair)
Extra briefs (1 pair)
Extra T-shirt, REI Co-op
Microfleece Balaclava, REI
Seirus Waterproof Gloves
Fleece Sweater, REI Co-op
Down Vest, Montbell

Basecamp Odor-Barrier Bag, containing:

Dental Kit in snack-size ziploc:
Toothbrush
Flossers (10) (replenish at each cache)

Messkit, self-contained inside or around cookpot:
Cookpot w/ screw-on lid, Vargo titanium
Fuel, 110g Snowpeak Canister
Stove, Snowpeak Titanium, attached to fuel canister
Bic lighter
MSR Folding Spoon
Cotton Bandanna, as potholder and water strainer
Titanium windscreen w/ paper clip, homemade (rubber-banded to cookpot)

Food (replenish at each cache)
   
MAIN PACKBAG, SLEEPING BAG COMPARTMENT
Feathered Friends Winter Wren Nano, with overfill (in drysack)
Mesh Headnet

BACKPACK EXTERIOR REAR HYDRATION SLEEVE
MSR Dromlite 6-liter Bladder   

BACKPACK EXTERIOR MESH STUFF-IT POCKET
Backpack raincover
Silshelter
Tent stakes, eight, rubber-banded

BACKPACK EXTERIOR REAR-BOTTOM
Thermarest Ridgerest Groundpads, two (or one, depending upon the wind  :icon_wink:) via backpack’s integrated straps

BACKPACK EXTERIOR SIDE POCKET (left)
Smartwater Bottle, 1-liter

BACKPACK EXTERIOR SIDE POCKET (right)
Smartwater Bottle, 1-liter

BACKPACK HIPBELT POCKET (left)
iPhone, in lieu of my broken point-and-shoot camera, in a small Opsak (charge at RGV)
Holux M-241 GPS Logger, in a Ziploc (replace battery at each cache)
Mini-compass + thermometer (attached to exterior zipper-pull by mini S-biner)

BACKPACK HIPBELT POCKET (right)
Lipbalm, SPF 50 (replace at each cache)
Daily Trailsnacks (GU gels, KIND bars)
CRKT NIAD knife (attached to exterior zipper-pull by mini S-biner)

ON BACKPACK SHOULDER STRAP (left)
Carson 7x18 Monocular (attached via mini S-biner)

ON BACKPACK SHOULDER STRAP (right)
Petzl e+LITE (attached via mini S-biner)
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: PacingTheCage on January 11, 2018, 02:57:05 PM
Thank you for sharing the list but also for the locations of the various items in your pack. 
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Txlj on January 11, 2018, 06:07:23 PM
Brass Balls, 2 between thigh pockets; you sure those aren't titanium? Because what you did was amazing!

Sent from flat land

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 11, 2018, 06:17:52 PM
Brass Balls, 2 between thigh pockets; you sure those aren't titanium? Because what you did was amazing!

Sent from flat land

 :icon_wink:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 11, 2018, 06:27:30 PM
DEETS AND REGREETS


Well, first and foremost, I regret that I didn’t finish the g*d d*mn hike. Second, of course, I regret that I didn’t rescue the kitten. In retrospect, I‘m almost certain I could have done it safely, without injuring me or the kitten, or endangering the completion of my trip. That belief will haunt me for the rest of my days. I was presented with a challenge – a test, if you will – and I failed. Morally, intellectually, physically, I proved to be weak. And that, I guess, is my third greatest regret – my weakness. Having now attempted two major trips in Big Bend in two years, I have to admit I may be losing a step or two. I’m just not the man I used to be.  Ten years ago, I think I would have rescued that kitten without a second thought. And the kitten isn’t the only example of my declining effectiveness.


Almost as alarming is my reaction to the rain and fog I encountered the day I crossed over the Deadhorse Mountains into Ernst Basin. That crossing sapped my strength and will. And if there is one thing that has always distinguished me, it’s my will power. Yet it took all the strength and will I could muster to reach that first canyon in Ernst Basin; that was the revised goal I set for myself that day, and I made it. But by the time I entered into that canyon, my tank was empty and I was done. And this was less than 36 hours after luxuriously sipping tea and watching the sun rise over my little camp at the eastern end of Telephone Canyon, celebrating my just-completed packraft of the Rio Grande from one end of the park to the other – without a doubt, one of the happiest moments of my life.  The Bend giveth and the Bend taketh away.


Whereas abandoning the kitten was clearly very bad for the kitten, I didn’t suffer even a scratch while doing it (at least on the outside). But making camp in that canyon might have killed me. Let me count the ways. 1) I made camp in the wash of a narrow canyon draining a wide basin sandwiched between two very high, rocky mountain ridges…in a torrential rainstorm. I didn’t think it’d flash flood, but it could have. And I probably would have died. 2) I made camp in the wash of a narrow canyon draining a wide basin sandwiched between two very high, rocky mountain ridges…in a rainstorm…and a massive windstorm. The chances of anything other than a four-season alpine tent surviving the inevitable Venturi Effect were pretty slim.  3) I made camp in the wash of a narrow canyon draining a wide basin sandwiched between two very high, rocky mountain ridges…in a rainstorm…and a windstorm…and I pitched my tent so that its tall entrance faced upcanyon, into the wind.  The chances of my tent surviving the night went from pretty slim to impossibly slim. 4) I made camp in the wash of a narrow canyon draining a wide basin sandwiched between two very high, rocky mountain ridges…in a rainstorm…in a windstorm…with the entrance pitched into the wind…using a non-free-standing tarptent with its stakes buried in the wash’s loose, wet gravel.  The chances of my tent surviving the night just went from impossibly slim to absolute zero. 5) I made camp in the wash of a narrow canyon draining a wide basin sandwiched between two very high, rocky mountain ridges…in a rainstorm…in a windstorm…with the entrance pitched into the wind…with a non-free-standing tent using stakes buried into loose gravel…with the temperatures plunging to well-below freezing. Even in the most sensitive of Little Leagues, five strikes and you’re out. It was inevitable that I’d spend the night leaping out from under my collapsed tent, frantically trying to re-erect it in the freezing wind and pummeling rain. And without a decent pair of gloves to protect my frozen clumsy hands. Leaving my real gloves behind in RGV turned out to be a really unfortunate decision.


If the flash-flood doesn’t kill you, the hypothermia will. It’s a miracle I lived.


So why was I so stupid? Well the simplest answer would be: because I have become stupid. The more comprehensive answer would be that I was exhausted, and hungry, and mentally-fatigued, and already borderline hypothermic – possibly all made worse by the fact that I’m older and less resilient these days. The most complicated answer would be that ALL of those things are true, but all of those things were immeasurably worsened by my preoccupation with and depression about the kitten.


Still, I survived my own stupidity. And was rewarded with a freak snowstorm. Again, I was in a bad way made even worse by the terrible night, and I think I panicked a bit and hurried too fast to make it out of that canyon, out of the Ernst Basin, and over the Cuesta Carlota into the hopefully more hospitable desert beyond. Again – I was the victim of my own stupidity. If I’d been in top form, I’d have made it out of Ernst Basin in fine shape. But I was tired and hungry and mentally-fatigued and hypothermic and depressed and in a hurry. I made a mistake – I misjudged my footing in the snow – and it cost me. It cost me the rest of my trip. Again – it’s a miracle I wasn’t hurt more badly. I made it out to the main park road and to my cache, and – thankfully, miraculously – two friends were headed to that same spot to do me a big favor. In the end, the favor was even bigger than they’d bargained on, and I will be eternally grateful for their kindness and goodwill.


WHAT WORKED?


Well, first or all, my friendship with Mule Ears and Scott. Otherwise, I might not be sitting here, writing this.  Second, my relationships with my family, my co-workers, my friends, and the many people that counseled and advised me while I planned this trip or made logistic sacrifices on my behalf. I am but the tip of a huge iceberg of effort. I’m sparkling up here in the sun and they’re all hidden, underwater, holding their breath, supporting me.


Another thing that worked outstandingly was, ironically, my knees. Both functioned perfectly throughout nine days on the river and three days of hard hiking on tough terrain with a pack that was at times almost as heavy as the one that nearly defeated me last year when I struggled across Dagger Flats carrying over 3 gallons of water. It's nice to know that I can still carry 60lbs if I have to. Not once during this year's trip did I feel a twinge of pain or any sign that my knees might not be up to the tasks before me. Not until the misstep and tumble in Ernst Basin. And though the damage I suffered in that fall exacerbated a previous knee injury, that’s not to say that my previous injury ended my trip: even a perfectly healthy knee could have been damaged by that twisting fall.  My knee didn’t end my trip; my own stupidity did.


As for particular pieces of gear that worked: it’s pretty much the same list as last year. I’ll stick with my beloved Integral Designs Silshelter: it’s windproof, rainproof, and snowproof. Anything short of apocalyptic hail and I should be fine. It’s failure in the Ernst Basin rainstorm was due to me, not it. At just under 13oz for the tarptent and 8 stakes rubber-banded together, it’ll continue to come with me on wilderness adventures as long as it stays in one piece.  When it finally goes to gear heaven, I’ll probably replace it with a Six Moons Designs Deschutes. My sleep system: two indestructible (but occasionally airborne) 48” Thermarest RidgeRest closed-cell foam sleeping pads (total 18oz with an r-value of 5.6) and my Feathered Friends Winter Wren Nano down bag with overfill (33oz). Using this system, I sleep like a baby on anything but razor rocks or lumpy bunchgrass. I can toss and turn and adjust to my heart’s content. I can use the pads as a seat between me and cold hard rocks or ground. And my sleeping bag, with its arm and foot holes, can double as a parka if the weather turns arctic. My Outdoor Research Helium II raincoat: incredibly light, tough, breathable enough, and it never failed once. My Oboz Bridger boots: I can’t wrap my mind around how other hikers like Mule Ears or DesertRatShorty use light trail runners or approach shoes in Big Bend. They must have tougher feet than mine. Nor can I imagine engaging in some of the rougher bushwhacking I’ve done while wearing lightweight shoes. I get an enormous sense of security and comfort from wearing medium-weight footwear that I know is impervious to all the things in Big Bend that are evolved to hurt me.  With my Oboz, I never have to worry about my feet; they survive everything I ask of them without costing an ounce of my mental energy. That leaves me free to concentrate on what’s ahead of and above and behind me. My Vargo titanium cookpot and everything that goes inside it: I think I’ve dialed my messkit almost to perfection. It’s light (13oz, including everything but the food and water), it’s compact (a lidded cylinder, approximately 4in by 6 in), and all my cooking/eating gear fits inside of it (a titanium stove attached to a 110g fuel canister, bic lighter, bandanna/pot holder, and folding spork) except for the titanium windscreen sleeve which is wrapped tightly around the outside of the cookpot. A Basecamp odor-barrier bag for carrying food and other “smellies”. A week, maybe even two week’s food fits easily inside, the bag is translucent which helps when searching for something, it’s odor-proof to discourage critters, it’s tough, and it only weights 1.7oz. Quick-cook ramen noodle soups: man, I love these. They’re insanely cheap, can be re-packed down to next-to-nothing, weigh even less, but still satisfy me with their hot, spicy broth and noodles. I augment them with dehydrated veggies and chia seeds, and usually pair them with jerky and peanut M&M’s to make a well-rounded meal. Ramen is quick to cook, easy to eat, and there’s almost no clean-up and no trash left over. But, hands down, the best backpacking meal I ate during this trip was the Jamaican Style Jerk Rice with Chicken from Backpacker’s Pantry. My god, it was tasty and filling! Also I love GU gel with caffeine: extremely easy to eat (even while paddling or climbing), offers a little pick-me-up during the day, and saves me from having to bring coffee or any coffee-making gear. And my own homemade jerky: it’s so kick-ass. It’s cheaper and healthier than store-bought. And I can vary the recipe as much as I want. My daily food intake for this trip averaged about 1200 calories and weighed about 1.25lbs. I know it seems low, but it actually worked fine for me, and kept my pack weight down. The Deuce of Spades toilet trowel: only .6oz and perfect. This year I even used it once as an emergency tent stake. My Petzl e+LITE: still the best little microweight headlamp around, as long as you only expect it to light your immediate campsite. I wouldn’t take it mountain climbing.  CalTopo customizable maps: they do everything I need and want, and more.  But, then again, I like my maps on letter size Rite-in-Rain paper. And, lastly, my tiny Rite-in-Rain journal (.8oz) along with my even tinier Fischer Stowaway pen (.15oz): taken together, they make a very workable sub-1oz journaling system.


WHAT DIDN’T WORK?


First of all, my new Sony point-and-shoot camera which broke the night before I began my trip. Not being able to take photos along the Rio Grande was a huge bummer, particularly because most of it is so rarely traveled or reported on.  Admittedly, it would have been tough to operate a camera while rafting through the canyons, but I’m sure I could have gotten at least a few good photos of the mind-blowing scenery. I bought the Sony specifically to replace my old Panasonic Lumix point-and-shoot, which I felt fell short on anything other than macro shots. I’m still searching for the right lightweight, compact camera: all I want is to be able to take point-and-shoot wilderness photos like DesertRatShorty. Secondly, the jury is still out on the Carson 7x18 monocular (1.7oz). On this trip the monocular took the place of my Leica 8x32 binoculars (22.3oz).  The monocular was barely adequate for basic wildlife-watching and route-finding, but it did cut my packweight down by a much-appreciated 20 ounces. If I thought I was likely to encounter a lot of good wildlife on a trip, I would probably opt to bring a pair of compact binoculars like my Nikon Trailblazer 8x25 (10oz). Thirdly, the jury is also out on my new Montbell Superior Down vest. At 5.5 ounces, it’s close to half the weight of my old Mountain Hardwear down vest, and more than twice as packable, but it’s also about half as warm in temperatures below 35 degrees, I found I needed to cover it with an overlayer (like, say, my raincoat) for it to really insulate and warm me. Of course, there are a few more obvious things that didn't work, like "don't forget your Gorilla Tape" or  "don't hit yourself in the mouth with your paddle" or "don't flip in a rapid" or "don't tie a dumbass square knot" or "don't abandon a kitten" or "don't leave your gear unweighted in a windstorm" or "don't head down a river if you don't know how to get off of it" or "watch where you put your foot in a muddy creek bed, pinhead" or "pitch your tent like you know what you're doing, moron" or "watch where you put your foot in the snow, idiot".  But nobody's perfect, right?



Next up: Final Thoughts

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 12, 2018, 12:57:50 PM
FINAL THOUGHTS


I thought the river would kill me and the backpacking would be easy. You may remember that I actually said to myself at one point: once I get on foot, I can handle anything Big Bend throws my way. But, as some other folks that know a thing or two about wandering the wilderness wrote in a very old trip report: “pride goeth before the fall”. And it did, literally. Turns out it was backpacking that did me in. Big Bend is a dangerous place and it only takes a moment of inattention to get yourself into a world of hurt.


The fall I took in that Ernst Basin canyon was the end product of a cascading series of unfortunate events: my abandonment of the kitten and subsequent grief, the fog over the Deadhorse, the terrifying night of rain and wind that repeatedly collapsed my tent and, finally, the snow. Each of those things took a toll on my mental and physical stamina and the effects were cumulative. And probably more consequential than they would have been if I wasn’t over sixty. Or if I hadn’t been traveling solo.


As Badknees and Mule Ears pointed out in another thread, solo makes everything harder. The absence of a partner takes away a confidante, a sounding board, an extra hand in an emergency, a back-up when things go bad, and any checks and balances on one’s wilder ideas, impulses, and fears. I love being alone in the wilderness, but the solitude doesn’t come without real, tangible costs. I suspect that if I’d been traveling with a partner, I’d have rescued the cat, or if I hadn’t, I’d at least have had someone with whom to talk it out. I’d also have felt more confident working my way over the Deadhorse ridges in the fog. I wouldn’t have made camp at the end of the day in the gravelly bottom washes of a narrow canyon. If my tent had still collapsed in the wind and rain, I’d have had a second pair of hands to help re-pitch it. And the next day, in the snow, I might not have been rushing so madly to get out of Ernst Basin and into the desert beyond.  But I didn’t have a partner, and the rest is history.


Am I ready to give up going solo?  Nope. “As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” (By the way, that’s from the same awesome trip report I quoted above). I still like the challenge and intensity of going solo. If my trip reports sometime seem as if they were written by House Made of Drama instead of House Made of Dawn, it may be – in part – because the highs are higher and the lows are lower when traveling the wilderness alone. And the longer one is alone, the longer it seems. Sixteen days is a long time in the wilderness.


Of course, as I’ve pointed out so many times before, no one ever REALLY travels alone. In many cases, the “wilderness” through which we travel was once settled land. People LIVED there. We're walking in the world our ancestors made. Big Bend National Park is a perfect example. That it is now public land and accessible to people like me is something for which I am profoundly grateful. I’m also grateful to the thousands and thousands of people that made it so, and continue to make it so. This year, just as in the past, my interactions with NPS rangers, TPWD rangers, and various law enforcement officers both current and retired, were professional, smooth, and friendly. Many went over and above to help me out. In my experience (ymmv) that is the rule rather than the exception.


So many other people helped make this trip a reality. So many BBC users - people that are much better and more experienced backpackers and boaters than me - whose own trip reports provided invaluable details and advice on the park. So many who responded to private message requests for information. And David and Richard for making it all possible by keeping this site alive. Mule Ears and Scott, of course, who were willing to do so much for me: in the end, they may have saved my life and certainly saved my dignity. My friends and family who said “yes’ to my absence for an entire month. And lastly, and above all, my wife. A woman I love so much because, among other things, she’s always been less interested in telling me I am right than in helping me figure out what is right.


The final day of my trip, I left Big Bend NP around 2pm. Once I reached Marathon and reliable cell service, I called home, telling my wife only that I’d cut my trip short because of a hurt knee and was on my way home. When I finally arrived in Dallas around midnight, it was cold and wet as I walked up the steps to my front door. I could see a single light on in the den. My wife was sitting beside it on the couch, asleep. The kids, I thought to myself, must be sound asleep in their rooms: tomorrow is a school day. As I was closing the front door she stirred, woke up, and walked sleepily over to give me a welcoming kiss.


She put one had on my cheek, and then stopped short. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “What do you mean?” I replied, not really getting her drift. “I don’t know,” she said, scanning my face and then looking directly into my eyes, “You’re... someplace else. It’s like you’re not quite back home again. What happened?”


“Well….” I sighed, feeling tears rise in the corners of my eyes, “it’s a long story……”
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: elhombre on January 12, 2018, 01:14:05 PM
Your story brings up a recurring thought that I get reading about Big Bend backpackers.  And it comes down to this idea:  Maybe Big Bend is not an ultralight backpacking venue.  Many of us give advice to newbies all day long on BBC about how they must be prepared for the desert.  Think water, shelter, sun protection, weather protection, ect.  I think that in the quest for ultralight practices, some basics are being relegated to the idea of “What are the chances I’m gonna need that?  Not very likely, so I can skimp it down to the minimum.”  The ultralight attitude lulls people into leaving more and more behind, because they didn’t use it last trip.  This has them hiking right on the edge of the positive side of survivability IF all things go as planned.

Most of us have experienced the ferocious and un-forecasted winter cold fronts.  You must carry enough extra clothes to stay dry and warm.  Life depends on this.  It’s worth the extra weight. 
A real shelter will block the wind and can be 10+ degrees warmer inside. 

You must drink/carry enough water.  Hiking all day in the desert is not the time to ween your body off the stuff.  Hot or cold weather.

FOOD !   From caloriesperhour.com - #185 guy, pack weighing #21-42,  walked 8 hours, 5371 calories.
Fitwatch.com  8 hours, moderate load – 5639 calories
A person can survive a few days in caloric deficiency  ie.OML.  Then the body starts eating itself up making us weaker and weaker.  And how about the effects on the brain?

In the fire service, there is a term LODD,  Line Of Duty Deaths.  The investigations always point to many small events that build up and occur in only a certain way that eventually accumulated to the deadly event.  I think some of the decisions made to go ultralight are becoming these small events.  Counting ounces is not the problem, it’s under estimating the severity of problems that can occur out in the desert that you think your ultralight stuff will overcome.

It seems that you are looking for all the reasons for this trip, in your own perception, was a failure.  I take the attitude like a pilot takes about a landing;  “Any trip you can walk away from was a successful one.”

As a monkey banging on a keyboard, and a man with numerous experiences and scars to prove it when it comes to making bad, stupid decision, I think much of your difficulties can be attributed to the low caloric intake, and being half frozen.  The fact you are solo magnifies the necessity to carry a larger, and thus heavier “safety net” in your pack. 

Next time when you get out there, and we all know there will be a next time, I think that if you would put your cashes closer together and fill them up so you can stop and use it as a real honest to goodness rest stop.  Hang out for the afternoon.  Eat till your FULL.  Drink water, Gatorade, and anything else your heart desires so that you give your body a chance to restore it’s reserves.  You’re right, we are all getting older, and we can still do the adventures. They just need to be tweaked a little in respect of distance, time, and supplies needed for each days work.

Thanks for taking all the time to bang out the trip report!
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 12, 2018, 01:40:50 PM
Your story brings up a recurring thought that I get reading about Big Bend backpackers.  And it comes down to this idea:  Maybe Big Bend is not an ultralight backpacking venue.  hiking right on the edge of the positive side of survivability IF all things go as planned.

Most of us have experienced the ferocious and un-forecasted winter cold fronts.  You must carry enough extra clothes to stay dry and warm.  Life depends on this.  It’s worth the extra weight. 
A real shelter will block the wind and can be 10+ degrees warmer inside. 

You must drink/carry enough water.  Hiking all day in the desert is not the time to ween your body off the stuff.  Hot or cold weather.

FOOD !   From caloriesperhour.com - #185 guy, pack weighing #21-42,  walked 8 hours, 5371 calories.
Fitwatch.com  8 hours, moderate load – 5639 calories
A person can survive a few days in caloric deficiency  ie.OML.  Then the body starts eating itself up making us weaker and weaker.  And how about the effects on the brain?

In the fire service, there is a term LODD,  Line Of Duty Deaths.  The investigations always point to many small events that build up and occur in only a certain way that eventually accumulated to the deadly event.  I think some of the decisions made to go ultralight are becoming these small events.  Counting ounces is not the problem, it’s under estimating the severity of problems that can occur out in the desert that you think your ultralight stuff will overcome.

It seems that you are looking for all the reasons for this trip, in your own perception, was a failure.  I take the attitude like a pilot takes about a landing;  “Any trip you can walk away from was a successful one.”

As a monkey banging on a keyboard, and a man with numerous experiences and scars to prove it when it comes to making bad, stupid decision, I think much of your difficulties can be attributed to the low caloric intake, and being half frozen.  The fact you are solo magnifies the necessity to carry a larger, and thus heavier “safety net” in your pack. 

Next time when you get out there, and we all know there will be a next time, I think that if you would put your cashes closer together and fill them up so you can stop and use it as a real honest to goodness rest stop.  Hang out for the afternoon.  Eat till your FULL.  Drink water, Gatorade, and anything else your heart desires so that you give your body a chance to restore it’s reserves.  You’re right, we are all getting older, and we can still do the adventures. They just need to be tweaked a little in respect of distance, time, and supplies needed for each days work.

Thanks for taking all the time to bang out the trip report!

Thanks, elhombre. That's a fascinating take on my trip. You may have a point.

While you and I probably skew a bit more toward the "old school" of backpacking (I was, after all, seriously considering the Seek Outside Divide 4500 and I'm still using my Osprey Double-Wide...I mean Aether), I may have cut my food supplies too much. I think it's an open question that I'll have to think about. 

Bear in mind, I've ALWAYS been someone that can go with less food and water and sleep than others, whether it's in the wilderness or in civilization. It's just one of my idiosyncracies.  I was never hungry on my trip, not in the least.  I've always found that if I bring more than 1200-1500 calories/day, I just don't eat them. But maybe I'm missing the bigger picture: I might need to force myself to eat more food just to keep my brain functioning in top form. And that might mean making the other adjustments you suggest.

The pivotal mistake I made during this trip, the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back, was making my camp inside that Ernst Basin canyon, on a narrow gravelly wash.  That decision led to exhaustion, hypothermia, panic.  It pushed my equipment inventory to its limits and maybe beyond. Change that one thing, and everything else changes for the better: I probably would have finished my trip. So the (very legitimate) question is: was I stupid enough to do that because I was underfed? It's possible.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: badknees on January 12, 2018, 01:44:45 PM
Quote
I might need to force myself to eat more food just to keep my brain functioning in top form. And that might mean making the other adjustments you suggest.

My thoughts precisely. I noticed that your caloric intake was meagre at best. While you know your own hunger signals, the physics/chemistry of metabolism indicates that you were short of fuel.

Just sayin'
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 12, 2018, 02:09:49 PM
Quote
I might need to force myself to eat more food just to keep my brain functioning in top form. And that might mean making the other adjustments you suggest.

My thoughts precisely. I noticed that your caloric intake was meagre at best. While you know your own hunger signals, the physics/chemistry of metabolism indicates that you were short of fuel.

Just sayin'

The sad truth is that I usually arrive at the trailhead with several tens of thousands excess calories stored in a secret container carried somewhere between my sternum and my....brass. I count on those calories to augment what I carry in my backpack. If I ever manage to show up in the shape I'd like, then I may have to up the meal plan.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: mule ears on January 12, 2018, 03:17:40 PM
Your story brings up a recurring thought that I get reading about Big Bend backpackers.  And it comes down to this idea:  Maybe Big Bend is not an ultralight backpacking venue.  Many of us give advice to newbies all day long on BBC about how they must be prepared for the desert.  Think water, shelter, sun protection, weather protection, ect.  I think that in the quest for ultralight practices, some basics are being relegated to the idea of “What are the chances I’m gonna need that?  Not very likely, so I can skimp it down to the minimum.”  The ultralight attitude lulls people into leaving more and more behind, because they didn’t use it last trip.  This has them hiking right on the edge of the positive side of survivability IF all things go as planned.

Most of us have experienced the ferocious and un-forecasted winter cold fronts.  You must carry enough extra clothes to stay dry and warm.  Life depends on this.  It’s worth the extra weight. 
A real shelter will block the wind and can be 10+ degrees warmer inside. 


I would disagree to a point.  The same statement I am sure has been uttered by high mountain folks ("it's too windy, too cold, potentially too snowy") or wet climate places ("it rains too much, the thunderstorms are too intense, etc.").  Ultralight is as much about equipment and weight as it is about experience and how to use it and yourself.  There is a whole discussion about "Stupid Light" (https://andrewskurka.com/2012/stupid-light-not-always-right-or-better/) where people do carry too little or too flimsy for the possible conditions.   I think more properly there are people who should not attempt ultralight in Big Bend or anywhere else.

I am cautious with inexperienced people to leave too many things out of the pack, especially sleeping bag warmth, maybe an extra layer, etc.  But especially in the desert most people bring too much sh*t, particularly clothing and food and then compound it by carrying too much water and refusing to learn about and use the natural water sources.  It is just as dangerous for those people with stupid heavy packs to struggle with them especially in the heat.  Easier to fall and get hurt or get heat exhaustion.

On my last trip, sure I rolled the dice with no rain gear and my lighter sleeping bag but the forecast was pretty bomber and I had plan B.  I didn't do the same on my 25 day hike across Utah when you could not be sure what might happen past the 7 day forecast so I brought my heavy bag and rain gear, neither of which I needed for the 12 days I was out and probably wouldn't have knowing how the rest of the weather turned out.  But I was using experience to determine that.  Same with food, we increased our food a bit as the trip went on knowing our appetite would increase with time and diminishing fat reserves.  Most people bring too much food and just carry it around.  You cannot force food down if you are not hungry or don't like it.  I usually bring several options with me in the clothing dept. and sometimes sleeping bags and will make the call at the trail head for trips shorter than a week or so.  I have no idea how many calories my standard backpacking diet has, I just know it has always been plenty.

HMoD's equipment list looked pretty good for a trip of that duration and difficulty and solo.  I would have a left few things out but not much, like the extra T-shirt but that is minimal.   And I would had to have different and more interesting food but that is me and he clearly enjoys Ramen noodles and GU packets. 
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: badknees on January 12, 2018, 03:25:31 PM
Quote
I might need to force myself to eat more food just to keep my brain functioning in top form. And that might mean making the other adjustments you suggest.

My thoughts precisely. I noticed that your caloric intake was meagre at best. While you know your own hunger signals, the physics/chemistry of metabolism indicates that you were short of fuel.

Just sayin'

The sad truth is that I usually arrive at the trailhead with several tens of thousands excess calories stored in a secret container carried somewhere between my sternum and my....brass. I count on those calories to augment what I carry in my backpack. If I ever manage to show up in the shape I'd like, then I may have to up the meal plan.

I have that problem too!

But still, it takes time to metabolize the "inner tube" and when your blood sugar level drops, fatigue sets in...
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 12, 2018, 03:35:38 PM
Quote
I might need to force myself to eat more food just to keep my brain functioning in top form. And that might mean making the other adjustments you suggest.

My thoughts precisely. I noticed that your caloric intake was meagre at best. While you know your own hunger signals, the physics/chemistry of metabolism indicates that you were short of fuel.

Just sayin'

The sad truth is that I usually arrive at the trailhead with several tens of thousands excess calories stored in a secret container carried somewhere between my sternum and my....brass. I count on those calories to augment what I carry in my backpack. If I ever manage to show up in the shape I'd like, then I may have to up the meal plan.

I have that problem too!

But still, it takes time to metabolize the "inner tube" and when your blood sugar level drops, fatigue sets in...

True.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 12, 2018, 03:36:20 PM
HMoD's equipment list looked pretty good for a trip of that duration and difficulty and solo.  I would have a left few things out but not much, like the extra T-shirt but that is minimal.   And I would had to have different and more interesting food but that is me and he clearly enjoys Ramen noodles and GU packets.

I really DO like Ramen. I tolerate GU. The extra t-shirt was mandated by the river conditions. I got soaked by oversplash everyday on the river. First thing I would do after beaching, was strip off my soaked shirts and pants and briefs, and change into fresh briefs, t-shirt, and fleece, and usually add socks before putting my river shoes back on over them. That's what I slept in. The wet stuff was laid out to dry overnight and then, the next morning, I'd change back into it before getting back into my raft. Worked really well.

The extra t-shirt and socks also came in VERY handy after I got soaked multiple times during the night that my tent kept collapsing in the Ernst Basin canyon. Gave me something else to change into before I started off into the snow the next morning.

In general, I am a firm believer in intelligence and common-sense as the two most important things to take with you into the wilderness. There is no substitute. They weigh nothing, and they're often (though not always) worth several pounds of equipment. However, the one thing they may not be a substitute for, is calories.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: mule ears on January 12, 2018, 03:43:12 PM
HMoD's equipment list looked pretty good for a trip of that duration and difficulty and solo.  I would have a left few things out but not much, like the extra T-shirt but that is minimal.   And I would had to have different and more interesting food but that is me and he clearly enjoys Ramen noodles and GU packets.

I really DO like Ramen. I tolerate GU. The extra t-shirt was mandated by the river conditions. I got soaked by oversplash everyday on the river. First thing I would do after beaching, was strip off my soaked shirts and pants and briefs, and change into fresh briefs, t-shirt, and fleece, and usually add socks before putting my river shoes back on over them. That's what I slept in. The wet stuff was laid out to dry overnight and then, the next morning, I'd change back into it before getting back into my raft. Worked really well.

The extra t-shirt and socks also came in VERY handy after I got soaked multiple times during the night that my tent kept collapsing in the Ernst Basin canyon. Gave me something else to change into before I started off into the snow the next morning.

In general, I am a firm believer in intelligence and common-sense as the two most important things to take with you into the wilderness. There is no substitute. They weigh nothing, and they're often (though not always) worth several pounds of equipment. However, the one thing they may not be a substitute for, is calories.

True that!  Good point of the extra shirt, hadn't thought about the river portion being that way.  :great:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Lance on January 12, 2018, 05:40:20 PM
House,

Your trip report is single-handedly one of the best to ever grace the pages of BBC. I sincerely mean that. The river, the emotion, the landscape. It was all riveting. I felt like I was right there with you. In my eyes, your 16 days will never be looked at as a failure, so don't be so hard on yourself. You've reminded to stop and truly enjoy the experience while I'm there. Thank you for that and thanks for taking the time and effort to write such a beautiful narrative.

I really like this part of your story. Such great writing.
Quote
Another thought – first formed during my cross-park hike a year ago – reoccurred to me.  Every step I take in Big Bend, every piece of land I tread upon, has been trod upon before, countless times throughout history, by other humans – most of them far tougher and stronger than I could ever hope to be. We are surrounded by the dead and their dreams. And someday, perhaps a day not too far away, we will join them as a part of the mysterious living landscape. Everything so important to us today will dissolve like snowflakes, subsumed into the vast tapestry of history, an infinitesimally tiny and anonymous piece of the foundation of the future.

I live in the DFW metroplex. If you ever have some free time maybe we could meet up and talk shop. I would enjoy that.

Lance
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 12, 2018, 11:43:33 PM
House,

Your trip report is single-handedly one of the best to ever grace the pages of BBC. I sincerely mean that. The river, the emotion, the landscape. It was all riveting. I felt like I was right there with you. In my eyes, your 16 days will never be looked at as a failure, so don't be so hard on yourself. You've reminded to stop and truly enjoy the experience while I'm there. Thank you for that and thanks for taking the time and effort to write such a beautiful narrative.

I really like this part of your story. Such great writing.
Quote
Another thought – first formed during my cross-park hike a year ago – reoccurred to me.  Every step I take in Big Bend, every piece of land I tread upon, has been trod upon before, countless times throughout history, by other humans – most of them far tougher and stronger than I could ever hope to be. We are surrounded by the dead and their dreams. And someday, perhaps a day not too far away, we will join them as a part of the mysterious living landscape. Everything so important to us today will dissolve like snowflakes, subsumed into the vast tapestry of history, an infinitesimally tiny and anonymous piece of the foundation of the future.

I live in the DFW metroplex. If you ever have some free time maybe we could meet up and talk shop. I would enjoy that.

Lance

Thanks, Lance. That's one of my favorite parts, too. I'd love to get together and talk shop. I admire your trips and your approach to them enormously. Let's PM and make it happen. Though, the school year is often a tough time for me. Might have to wait until school's out again.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 12, 2018, 11:46:30 PM
I meant to post this earlier, but completely forgot. Here's a Caltopo of my trip. I didn't place a line on the river. I figure everyone can figure that route out pretty easily - it runs downstream - and there are LOTS more rapids than I marked. And I did create route lines for each of my hiking days.

https://caltopo.com/m/DG0J
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Jalco on January 13, 2018, 05:40:48 AM
that is a winding river. wow
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Talusman on January 13, 2018, 08:42:49 AM
House,
I saw Lance's post before I went to bed last night and it made me think of something you said in yours earlier (which he quoted). I do think there have been many humans here before us, and many have walked the same areas. Where I disagree though is I believe there are still areas on this planet that no man or woman may have actually stepped in exactly the same place. Time and erosion changes the earth and you may have very well placed your foot upon the earth in a spot no one has before you. Sure, on a busy street, common trail, hallway at work, or along the Rio Grande where many people needed the water, there may have been thousands of foot steps placed right where you place yours. But there are places in my opinion that you, or others, may have set your foot in just a place, or angle, on newly washed up rock, for the very first time. That's my belief. Now, where I am certain is this point, your trip was a very first and unique trip, never to be replicated in human history. Sure, one can try and follow your topo map and try and trace your exact footprints. Thousands could try it. But no one will ever walk that trip life you did. See the stars at that moment in time on any night from that angle from that place. Hear a coyote in the night at that exact time where you were. Think about your wife and kids and your life while you placed a foot step in one certain area. Or have a guy like ME there at a time when you really needed it. It's yours alone. All of it, combined, makes it the first in the history of the world and it will never be repeated in the same way. I think that is one of the reasons we all go out there, to have these unique moments in time and place. I think that is why many of us love this board, as reading these posts can partially take us there to enjoy some of it each time anyone shares. And there is one more thing you really should do.

Humbleness is a wonderful thing. It is easier to brag and compliment one who has it, much harder to those who boast. But you really should take the praise those here have thrown at you. I know when I tell my wife before we go out she looks beautiful, and she makes that pffft sound, she has not accepted my sincere compliment. But where I stand in front of her, hold her shoulders, look her in the eye, and tell her again she looks beautiful, and she sees it in my eye and sincerely says thank you dear, she has accepted the compliment that is sincere. Many here have looked you in the literal eye and said, amazing, well done, one of the best ever, and they mean it. I hope you'll take the time to see it as it is and say, thank you, and sincerely accept it. AS you have stated, many could go out and do this trip, and do it better. But......., no one has sir. Again, well done.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 13, 2018, 09:29:39 AM
But you really should take the praise those here have thrown at you. I know when I tell my wife before we go out she looks beautiful, and she makes that pffft sound, she has not accepted my sincere compliment. But where I stand in front of her, hold her shoulders, look her in the eye, and tell her again she looks beautiful, and she sees it in my eye and sincerely says thank you dear, she has accepted the compliment that is sincere. Many here have looked you in the literal eye and said, amazing, well done, one of the best ever, and they mean it. I hope you'll take the time to see it as it is and say, thank you, and sincerely accept it. AS you have stated, many could go out and do this trip, and do it better. But......., no one has sir. Again, well done.

Okay...I'm crying "uncle!"  Not as a joke, but sincerely. I hear you all. I get it.  It was a heck of a trip.

Now, where I am certain is this point, your trip was a very first and unique trip, never to be replicated in human history. Sure, one can try and follow your topo map and try and trace your exact footprints. Thousands could try it. But no one will ever walk that trip life you did. See the stars at that moment in time on any night from that angle from that place. Hear a coyote in the night at that exact time where you were. Think about your wife and kids and your life while you placed a foot step in one certain area. Or have a guy like ME there at a time when you really needed it. It's yours alone. All of it, combined, makes it the first in the history of the world and it will never be repeated in the same way. I think that is one of the reasons we all go out there, to have these unique moments in time and place. I think that is why many of us love this board, as reading these posts can partially take us there to enjoy some of it each time anyone shares.

That's beautifully put, Talusman.

Thank you, everyone, for the compliments, for the respect, and for the understanding. For committing the time to read and really engage with the story of my trip and all the thoughts and feelings it provoked in me, however personal and idiosyncratic they may be. I will tell you - quite frankly - that I write these trip reports mainly for myself: they're a kind of therapy. What I didn't anticipate is how much I'd be educated, enlightened and touched by the responses here. They mean a lot to me.  I'll second (again) Badknees' earlier post: this board is an amazing virtual place featuring amazing real people. I'm grateful.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: iCe on January 13, 2018, 10:04:39 AM
I'm grateful.


As are we  :)
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: catz on January 13, 2018, 11:20:09 AM
Quote
I might need to force myself to eat more food just to keep my brain functioning in top form. And that might mean making the other adjustments you suggest.

 

The sad truth is that I usually arrive at the trailhead with several tens of thousands excess calories stored in a secret container carried somewhere between my sternum and my....brass. I count on those calories to augment what I carry in my backpack.

I was told by someone who should know that your body first eats your muscle and the fat later.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 13, 2018, 11:37:46 AM
Quote
I might need to force myself to eat more food just to keep my brain functioning in top form. And that might mean making the other adjustments you suggest.

 

The sad truth is that I usually arrive at the trailhead with several tens of thousands excess calories stored in a secret container carried somewhere between my sternum and my....brass. I count on those calories to augment what I carry in my backpack.

I was told by someone who should know that your body first eats your muscle and the fat later.

That may be spot-on. I need to look into it. I can tell you one thing: my biceps never recovered from last year's trip. My thighs bounced back - maybe because of all the physical therapy on my legs - but my arms are spindly little things now. I need to work on that.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: TexasAggieHiker on January 13, 2018, 05:09:24 PM
Finally got to finish this epic trip report.  I find it humorous you consider the trip a "failure".  Yes, you didn't accomplish what you had originally set out to do, but what you did was nothing short of amazing.  You ran the length of the park on the river.  A trip in itself that anyone would consider a lifetime achievement.  But you saw it as a means to get to the eastern edge of the park.  I'm planning on running Santa Elena in my kayak this summer.  But now I want nothing more than to throw off the shackles of everyday life and run the river as far as I can.  I thank you for that.

I take great joy in reading your reports.  We have similar stories and interest.  I have a degree in wildlife ecology.  Wildlife biologist is one of several hats I've worn over my career.  My first job was working with the BCVI, GCWA, and BHCO.  I'm jealous of the Aplomado sighting!  We have similar interest in history and astronomy.  I see myself in your trips.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 13, 2018, 10:10:36 PM
I see myself in your trips.

Lordy, I'm not surprised: we're practically doppelgangers!

Black-capped Vireo is probably my favorite bird in the entire world. There are a few other contenders sprinkled across the globe, but BCVI always draws me back home.  I've also done a bit of work on the Golden-cheeked Warbler over the years. It's gratifying to see both those species bouncing back so well.  The Aplomado sighting was wholly unexpected. Really makes me want to go back there and snoop around. If there's one, there's probably at least one more.

I'm planning on running Santa Elena in my kayak this summer.  But now I want nothing more than to throw off the shackles of everyday life and run the river as far as I can.  I thank you for that.

 :great:  The very best kind of compliment.  Thank you!

Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Cookie on January 15, 2018, 10:37:36 AM
I was told by someone who should know that your body first eats your muscle and the fat later.

I'm going to have to disagree with that, the body will use fat first. The physiology of muscle is for movement (whether it be hiking, breathing, digesting or birthing a baby) Fat is designed to be a back up energy source when none is available(Ketosis), maintain body temperature and protects vital organs. Fat serves the role of an efficient energy store because it can hold a lot of energy per gram. They body also needs protein as well to help rebuild muscle. If the protein is not provided the muscles can't repair themselves. Carbs don't rebuild muscles (just fuel them) so if you consume only carbs it will have an negative effect on your muscles.

 Ketosis is the state that your body enters into when it starts converting stored fat into Ketones to use as fuel for your cells. If you eat plenty of carbohydrates, you will never enter into Ketosis. Instead, your body will simply use all that glucose as a fuel. When the body runs out of calories for fuels, it turns to stored fat for fuel. The "Keto" diet is very popular right now (think "healthier" Adkins)
Signs of Ketosis:
Bad Breath. ...
Weight Loss. ...
Increased Ketones in the Blood. ...
Increased Ketones in the Breath or Urine. ...
Appetite Suppression. ...
Increased Focus and Energy. ...
Short-Term Fatigue. ...
Short-Term Decreases in Performance
Digestive issues
Insomnia

From what I've read most doctors say it's not bad for your body to go into Ketosis (unlike diabetic ketoacidosis). I would rather provide myself enough calories for the activity I'm doing. I've "bonked" twice on hikes and don't plan to do it again.
Just some food for thought, so to speak.
~Cookie
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 15, 2018, 12:45:05 PM
Thanks for the excellent info, Cookie.  That's how I've always seen it, too. Metabolic progression being carbs, then fat, then protein. During my 2016 cross-park hike, I lost 14lbs over the course of 14 days. Most of the loss was fat, but I think I lost some muscle, too. You may remember the photo of that urine-filled ziploc I took after several days of being trapped in my tent in a storm up on the Sue Peaks ridge without food and with very little water. My urine was dark orange, verging on reddish. I had gone full catabolic and was probably eating my own muscle by that time.

This year's hike was MUCH better. I never ran out of food and always drank plenty of water. My urine ran clear all the time and I never felt thirsty. But, as elhombre interestingly pointed out in his earlier post, my daily calorie budget was probably way too low. The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that elhombre is probably right: the stupid campsite decisions I made in the storm after crossing over the ridge from Telephone Canyon into Ersnt Basin were probably the result of something very near to bonking. I'd become food-stupid. In good conditions, I could probably have gotten by on my daily calorie budget, but I went through 48 hours or so of really bad conditions.....bad enough that I didn't take time to stop and eat much of anything. By the time I set up that idiotic campsite, I'd probably consumed a maximum of 300 calories in the previous 22 hours. And I got what I deserved.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: elhombre on January 15, 2018, 01:37:31 PM

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that elhombre is probably right:


God bless you HMOD. 

Now, the question is why did my house erupt with laughter when Cookie read this out loud?
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 15, 2018, 01:41:26 PM

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that elhombre is probably right:


God bless you HMOD. 

Now, the question is why did my house erupt with laughter when Cookie read this out loud?

Well, they say surprise is the key to comedy.  Or............maybe not.  :icon_wink:
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: entirelydave on January 17, 2018, 01:47:48 PM
Long time lurker and haven't visited BBC in years. Stumbling across this trip report brought me out from under my rock.

What a well told adventure!  :notworthy:

Truly exciting stuff HMOD. I also consider this trip a success like many of the others who have posted before me. Best of luck in the future and I'll be here to read up on the next one.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on January 18, 2018, 09:55:37 AM
Long time lurker and haven't visited BBC in years. Stumbling across this trip report brought me out from under my rock.

What a well told adventure!  :notworthy:

Truly exciting stuff HMOD. I also consider this trip a success like many of the others who have posted before me. Best of luck in the future and I'll be here to read up on the next one.

Thanks, Dave!
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: congahead on March 12, 2018, 04:20:35 PM
This weekend I was home by myself and looking for something to read. I have a stack of books and magazines on my nightstand, but I chose to re-read this trip report (I read it when you first published it but did not comment ... maybe because I was at a loss for words.)

I enjoyed it even more the second time ... so much nuance, humor, pain, frustration and details that I missed the first time.

So, two words to you:

1. Wow.
2. Thanks.
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on March 20, 2018, 12:59:26 AM
This weekend I was home by myself and looking for something to read. I have a stack of books and magazines on my nightstand, but I chose to re-read this trip report (I read it when you first published it but did not comment ... maybe because I was at a loss for words.)

I enjoyed it even more the second time ... so much nuance, humor, pain, frustration and details that I missed the first time.

So, two words to you:

1. Wow.
2. Thanks.

Thanks, Congahead. You know I love your writing, too. I can barely stand to re-read mine; it's amazing (and gratifying) to me that someone else would do so willingly. Looking back on the river portion of this trip, I'm struck by how much fun - and what a crazy, bold adventure - it was.  Additionally, it's clear to me now that during the subsequent land portion of the trip, I simply wasn't consuming enough calories and that directly led to the catastrophes that prematurely ended my trip.  Ahh, well.....live and learn.
Title: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Meadows8903 on March 26, 2018, 05:53:15 AM
I have been on the board for a few years, but when I'm between my yearly trips to the park, I tend to lose touch. So, I'm arriving late to the party.

I stumbled onto your trip report among the hundreds of unread posts and decided to read it. Even though I stayed up several hours into the night and will undoubtably suffer today at work, it was worth it. Your report was truly captivating and I could not stop reading until I had finished.

As a fairly accomplished, 36 year old hiker who has completed many of the trails in Big Bend, I cannot even imagine undertaking such a trip as yours.

Here's to many more.

Cheers!!!


Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)
Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on March 27, 2018, 12:13:58 AM
Thanks for the kind words, Meadows. I hit Big Bend for the first time in the mid-90's when I was in my late thirties. Looks like you got there way ahead of me!
Title: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: Meadows8903 on March 27, 2018, 07:34:12 AM
I first laid eyes on Big Bend at eleven years old. My dad was an avid hiker and Big Bend (specifically the South Rim) was his favorite spot on the Earth. He first came as a junior in high school in 1965 (I have the pictures from
their first trip) and it quickly became an almost yearly pilgrimage for him.

On my first trip in 1992, he, myself and my 9 year old sister made the South Rim dayhike and I was hooked. During the 90's, we
came out just about every year and did many of the major trails. He also loved to drive the back roads and camp in the primitive camp sites around the park. His only regret was that he was never able to finish an OML. After one failed attempt in the 90's, he never was able to try again.

Unfortunately, he passed away in December of 2014. I decided then that I was going to make it a point to come to the park every year and honor his memory. Also, I am trying to build up the gumption and skills to ready myself to complete an OML in his memory sometime in the next year or two.

So, Big Bend is in my blood. I've done a lot of traveling but have never felt the pull back to any other place like I do to Big Bend.


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Title: Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
Post by: House Made of Dawn on March 27, 2018, 09:08:59 AM
That is a beautiful story, Meadows. Your father sounds like an amazing man and an amazing father. I hope my kids inherit the same love of Big Bend that you did from your father. You are in good company here on Big Bend Chat. We get it. Best of luck on all your future trips to the Bend. Especially the OML. You can do it.