Spring Break: Places Where I Almost Died a Little…ssshhh, don’t tell my mom.
Go away snow, go away snow, go away snow….
During the quest for weird shit, sometimes we find ourselves in the shit. Since I have long ago survived my teenage years and college at Ohio University, it’s a given that along the way I’ve probably made some questionable decisions that could have turned out badly. But I have never been arrested, haven’t been hospitalized nor has it ever been “touch and go.” However, there have been those moments of personal concern for my well being and that nagging question of “What the fuck was I thinking?”
I don’t consider myself to be terribly brave or a risk-taker. I do consider myself to be terribly paranoid, possibly the voice of reason sometimes, and borderline turning into my mom. For example, Jill, my ultimate travel companion; our friend Carrie, and I spent a few days in San Francisco during an extensive road trip. Jill and I had already been on the road together for 10 days at that point and were exhausted physically from hiking, camping and driving; and mentally exhausted with each other’s company. Lucky Carrie didn’t know what she was landing in when she touched down to join us in San Fran. It was a trip into the Mission District in search of the perfect burrito that a friend had told the two of them about (better than Chipotle, sacrilege) that pushed me over the paranoid, self-preservation edge. When there are bars on all the windows and I have to step over a drunken ? dead? body on the sidewalk, I’m no longer comfortable. When I witness a group of policemen chasing another man around a city bus, I’m just so done. But I tried my hardest not to be the spoil sport who ruined burrito fun because I was uncomfortable with police busts. My pals blissfully went on as I tried to suggest that perhaps this burrito didn’t exist and we would all be better off without it. Ultimately, we found the burrito, it was okay, Jill and I had our routine “we’ve been on this trip together too long” throw down, and we went on. What the fuck was I thinking?
Obviously I’m not dead, not word processing this from beyond the grave. But the fear and paranoia was there. And Jill. It’s going to sound like she and this road trip are responsible for much of my mental anguish. To be fair though, we were on the road for 17 days on this trip and over the years have traveled to about 28 of the 50 states together. In between the “I’m soooo tired of you” and the “OMG, we’re going to die!” we have a really good time and see some awesome stuff.
The first time that death was imminent on this trip was at Lake Powell, Arizona. Death was going to come in the form of me strangling Jill with her sleeping bag. We got to the campsite at dark and set up the tent in winds that wanted to pull it out of our hands. Dinner was apples, grapes, pretzels and a mouse sighting. This was my first time camping ever and it was the most miserable night I would have the whole trip.
We went to bed after rinsing off in a sink so I was already sweaty and gross. Trying to sleep inside the tent was like trying to sleep inside of a flapping, whipping plastic bag. The wind kept kicking sand in through the flaps of the sweltering hell hole, adding to my personal layer of grit. During the calm moments I could hear all the action in the bushes. A wide variety of local lizards and rodents were out and about, tearing it and each other up for the night. One of them decided to bite one of the four dogs in the next campsite over so everyone there had to wake up and deal with that. Meanwhile my travel buddy added to the noise by snoring like a drugged chainsaw.
I would take the car and leave. I would get a hotel room in town no matter the cost. I could not exist like this.
I gave up at 5:30 and greeted the sunrise with the lizards. Jill cheerfully awoke later, pulled out her magic bag of goodies and set up to make pancakes. I considered poisoning them.
It got better though. The loose tent flap was fixed, we spent the day hiking in Bryce Canyon- my now favorite hole in the ground- and discovered the camp showers. Being exhausted and $2 worth of clean eased the camping experience. Jill was safe….for now.
The next day we signed up for a lake cruise with Captain Tim into Antelope Canyon. Because of the type of boat and the local wake laws, there was no speed created refreshing breeze to counteract the sun burning my pale, pale skin to a crisp. There was also no protection for our lunch. Here is my advice: when nature decides to turn your cheese and summer sausage sandwich into a grilled cheese sandwich just by looking at it, DO NOT EAT THIS SANDWICH. Capt. Tim could not dock the fucking cruiser fast enough for my taste. Jill and I both left our intestines behind. I spent the next two days letting all solid food pass directly through me.
Take away: Lake Powell is a death trap.
The next leg of our death march was the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and more hiking. My long suffering friend has spent a lot of our travel time over the years dealing with my pussy attitude when it comes to hiking. I love hiking. I get all excited like the dog you’re about to take for a walk. Walkies!!
I love nature, I just don’t understand why it has to be uphill all the fucking time! Inevitably there will be a point in whatever hike we’re on when I’m all, “No, no, go on without me. Just leave me here; I’ll be fine.” Jill will patiently wait for me to catch up or rest or drink some water and then move on. I will begrudgingly drag my ass after her and then do something charming like throw up in the trees at the peak of Mount Osceola, New Hampshire, in the presence of like 30 other hikers. That seems like a pretty specific example, yea?
Despite this or maybe just to see what will happen the next time, she continues to take me for “walks.” We started this “walk” around 7 a.m., having gotten up at 5 a.m. to hit up the cafeteria and make sure we had everything. Our goal was the 3 mile rest house on the Bright Angel Trail. The round trip was supposed to take 6 hours and we each needed to carry a liter of water per hiking hour. So, yes, I drank plenty of water and ate plenty of GORP along the way, but the end of this story is pretty predictable.
We started down the switchbacks which were dirt, some loose stones and a view straight down into that part of the canyon. Awesome. I have no problem with heights. Oh, wait I do!
One of the many problems with switchbacks is that the view never changes. There was never that point when we rounded a corner and gasped at the majestic beauty of nature. Nope, just the same brownish orange rocks heading down as the temperature progressively headed up for the day. This hike was not so much about nature and a beautiful pay off as it was about just doing it. At the 2.5 miles mark and about 2 hours into this adventure, I was done.
I know your initial reaction is, “But wait, you only had a half mile to go to your goal, quitter!!!”
No, no kitten.
I had a half mile of more switchbacks that would become even steeper and drop me another 1000 feet in elevation until I got to a frickin’ outhouse without a view. Check your trail guide.
My report card says: “Sets goals and fails to meet them.” At 2.5 miles, all I could see was the insanely steep, miserable climb back up the exact same trail that I had just come down. No new view, no pay off and it was now 9:15 a.m. and even hotter than when we had started. We parted ways and I started dragging myself back up while Jill continued her determined quest for the 3 mile rest house. The biggest variable was the mule trains. The mule trains start running at 9 a.m. with 6-10 mules per grouping. There is no way in hell that I would ever climb onto the back of these swaying, temperamental animals and go for a ride on the edge of a cliff. I don’t know what the hiking etiquette was, but I pressed my body against the cliff wall and waited for them to pass, hoping that no one died or kicked me. Five different trains passed me on my way up. The other fun variables that the mules added to the climb were piles of shit and gigantic, unreal puddles of piss but only at the corners of the switchbacks.
I watched a lizard scamper over and drink exhaustively from a puddle of mule piss because I was in Hell.
Now that it was a “reasonable” time of day, more and more ill-prepared tourists were coming down the trail just for giggles, wearing things like flip flops and carrying one plastic water bottle. These people are your tax dollars at work for every one that has to be rescued by the park service.
Eventually Jill caught up with me and we lunched at the 1.5 rest stop. There, an aggressive ground squirrel- trained by fat uninformed tourists to beg for food- stole part of her lunch and leaped triumphantly into the canyon. We were too tired to care much. We talked with a group that had camped at the bottom and they told us that the temperature at 9 p.m. was 108 degrees. We (I) got our asses kicked by a group of grandmas with massive amounts of gear who had started at the North Rim, camped overnight, and were on their way out up to the South Rim.
Meanwhile back at my personal ranch, I had to pause at every switchback, my legs were shaking, I was lightheaded and felt like vomiting. I love nature! I spent most of my rest time sitting with my head between my legs, mumbling about wanting to just go to sleep for a while. Jill said I wasn’t allowed; allegedly that’s when people die.
We made it out by 2:00. She did laundry; I laid around feeling like dehydrated mule shit.
So not all of my “I died a little” stories involve hiking but most involve nature. I have felt threatened by rattlesnake warning signs at rest areas in the Mojave Desert and by signs informing me that mountain lions absolutely WILL EAT my small dogs and/or children if I let them wander too far ahead in Yosemite.
I have observed the signs in the North Dakota Badlands that illustrated that the freely roaming buffaloes are not for petting. You know that someone had to make that sign because at some point a tourist said:
“Look, kids. Take my picture while I pet the furry mountain with horns……OUCH!”
However there was no sign that said, “Don’t Drive Your Toyota Corolla into a Herd of Buffalo.”
Currently there is a State Farm Insurance television commercial where two guys are eating lunch in what appears to be a compact vehicle like…oh, let’s say a Toyota Corolla. Their lunch is suddenly interrupted by a buffalo head-butting their car as they scream in panic. It’s only fucking funny until somebody loses an eye.
One of the many reasons that Jill and I loved the Theodore Roosevelt National Park (i.e. the North Dakota Badlands), was that it was our personal playground. There were no tourists! All the tourists stayed in Medora, the town at the mouth of the national park, because they had come to see the live wild west show and eat ice cream. It was the Gatlinburg, Tennessee, of North Dakota: tons of old people and families with small children who drove all the way here to ignore nature and buy airbrushed t-shirts!
We would have conversations with them over breakfast about our hiking adventures and how we had seen wild horses and antelopes that morning.
They would copunter with: “Oooohhh, but have ya’ (they’re from Minn-eh-soooo-tahhh or Fargo) seen tha’ show now?”
Us:”No, we saw real buffalo like five feet away in the park. You know there’s a national park here, right?”
So as we slowly did a night drive through the park, there was no worry that we would create a bear jam or slow others down if we needed to stop and gape at nature. Therefore the road block ahead of us, as we rounded a hill was a little hard to understand at first. Who else would be on the road?
An entire herd of buffalo.
During the day, the herd primarily stuck around the huge flat fields by the river, but in the cooler night temperatures, they were on the move and directly in our path. Plus they had babies. Mother animals do not want you doing anything to their babies. Don’t touch them, talk to them or drive near them.
A buffalo and my car at the time ( the aforementioned Corolla) weighed roughly the same amount: 2000 plus pounds. The buffaloes, however were much taller than the car and came with huge pointy horns and possibly fangs. Not sure. As they slowly surrounded the car, snorting and rumbling, Jill and I reacted only slightly better than the guys in the commercial.
“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit! Do you think I can use flash?”
You see, there was and is a priority here. We were in the midst of the weird shit and it needed documented. What is the point of getting surrounded by a herd of buffalo if you can’t get a picture of the particularly big one with a crooked horn that screams, “I will fuck your shit up if you try to pet me.”
P.S. This has become very long and I had some other ideas on my brainstorming list like the airboat in Louisiana or that time with my mom on Pike’s Peak in Colorado, but I feel like this is better served with a buffalo threatening me. The End.