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

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #90 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]
« Last Edit: May 08, 2018, 11:50:20 AM by House Made of Dawn »
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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #91 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]
« Last Edit: February 04, 2018, 05:51:58 PM by House Made of Dawn »
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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #92 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.
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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #93 on: December 18, 2017, 04:15:27 PM »
 


Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline RichardM

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #94 on: December 18, 2017, 05:34:40 PM »



Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat
Was this a butt-post or did your text get lost?

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #95 on: December 18, 2017, 05:41:07 PM »



Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat
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.
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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #96 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:

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #97 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]
« Last Edit: February 04, 2018, 07:02:32 PM by House Made of Dawn »
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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #98 on: December 19, 2017, 10:07:19 AM »
Home sweet home for three nights and two and a half days.
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #99 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 until my heart was healed. I would buckle down and bull through this.





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]
« Last Edit: January 23, 2019, 01:31:20 PM by House Made of Dawn »
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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #100 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?

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #101 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.

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #102 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.

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #103 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:
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #104 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]
« Last Edit: December 20, 2017, 07:31:52 PM by House Made of Dawn »
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

 


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