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Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« 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]
« Last Edit: February 04, 2018, 02:23:36 PM by House Made of Dawn »
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline DesertRatShorty

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #1 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.
I roamed and rambled, and I foller'ed my footsteps
   To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
   And all around me a voice was a'sounding
   This land was made for you and me

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #2 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.
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline catz

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #3 on: December 11, 2017, 03:56:57 PM »

Did the fish wink back?
Wake me when it's time to go.

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline Txlj

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #5 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


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Offline Jalco

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #6 on: December 11, 2017, 08:06:39 PM »
LOL!  I love the first sentence.  What a hook! :icon_wink:

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Offline badknees

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #7 on: December 12, 2017, 01:00:32 AM »
You've got to be shit&ing me!

Not all those who wander are lost.
– J.R.R. Tolkien

Through the Mirror
http://mirrormagic.com

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Offline Hang10er

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #8 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!

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Offline SergeantFunk

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #9 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.
"Luminous beings are we...not this crude matter." -Yoda

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Offline PacingTheCage

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #10 on: December 12, 2017, 10:49:56 AM »
Great story and can't wait to hear the rest of it! 

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #11 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]
« Last Edit: January 05, 2018, 12:12:00 PM by House Made of Dawn »
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #12 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].


« Last Edit: February 04, 2018, 03:37:33 PM by House Made of Dawn »
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #13 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.
« Last Edit: December 12, 2017, 02:40:52 PM by House Made of Dawn »
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline PacingTheCage

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #14 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!

 


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