Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Big Bend, 3/2008

Random thoughts:
- Desert backpacking demands clear communications about water. My mate Jeff said (with 1st hand experience), “Everything is a problem in the jungle.” Same in the desert.
- Take chewing gum next time.
- Dried mango from Central Market is really good in oatmeal with dry milk, sugar, and pecans.
- How about them Mexicans, coming across the desert with poor or no trails, tennis shoes, girlfriend, child! Amazing. David said, How about them Jews in the wilderness! Ranchers out here in the desert! How about them Cowboys! Lot of tough people.
- If you’re urinating more than once/12 hours, you’re drinking too much water. Just kidding.

- We went 3 days, 7-8 miles a day. I need to rest on the 4th day. I'm getting stronger, but have a ways to go. On this route, it’s important to start out early on the first day.
- I can’t wait to hike in places with water. Wash, carry 1-2 liters, have all I want.
- When you’re going to be driving a long way, before you leave, eat a jalapeño with your fingers and don’t wash your hands after you eat. When you get sleepy, just stick a finger in your eye. Just the idea of it kept me awake quite awhile on the way back. Photo: 1st campsite with late afternoon sun bright on the mountains and evening shadows falling over the campsite

This trip to Big Bend started in Houston where I’d gone for a two day primary care conference. I had lunch with David and his mentor, Judy. Thanks Judy! After a harrowing drive through dark hour/rush hour/driving rain in Houston traffic had dinner with David and his friend (and cellist), Lauren at a North Indian restaurant near the Rice campus. Very nice evening, crowned by not getting lost on the way back to the LaQuinta way out somewhere in north Houston. I was the only person there with a button-down collar shirt on and not driving a truck and not smoking. Friday I stayed at the conference as long as I could stand, then headed to David’s around 4pm. Photo: David & Lauren rehearsing

Lauren came over to practice a Beethoven viola/cello duet they’re working on. “But we did it like together and it was awesome” and so here I am in magicland listening to David and Lauren work their way through the duet. Young, serious musicians.
Let’s do it again.” “OK, again.”
Can you do it on the g string so you don’t have to shift so much?” “No.”
Was I slow?” “Yeah.”
Not bad.”

We left Houston a little later than planned, I under-estimated the driving time (with a little help from google), and I couldn’t stay awake driving late into the night so had to stop three times for fitful naps. Getting closer to the park we saw many jackrabbits and cotton tails beside the road and then saw two javelinas (“the only wild, native, piglike animal found in the United States”).

After getting a wilderness permit at the Basin, filling our water bottles, stashing some water at the Homer Wilson Ranch, and losing the map, we finally got on the trail around 10. Weather was beautiful, cool, sunny and the hike up to the pinnacles was stout. When we got to Boot Canyon, a ranger-type guy said (kind of smirkishly) that there was no water, but we looked a little further downstream and found a nice semi-stagnant pool. We missed the turn-off to Juniper Canyon, but doubled back a little way and started back up (panting) and then down down down until we came to what I guess was on old campsite 6-7 miles from the Basin and coming out of the mountains. Got the tent up and dinner fixed just as dusk fell. Had Italian pasta (Pasta Roni brand + a little added olive oil) with a packet of teriyaki tuna for dinner (good) and were in our bags by 7:15, which was just fine because we'd each had about an hour of sleep in the past 36 hours and had a good day’s hike at the end of the 36 hours. David said he thought my stamina was “pretty impressive” – which made me feel very good. Photo: Classic Big Bend - from our 1st campsite. From here we go down and into the desert in the center of the photo.

We both got up to pee at the same time and realized then we were camped in a kind of cirque with the mountains dark masses on three sides and the horizon and sky meeting black in Mexico on the 4th side and the stars like desert stars so many more than one sees in other places and the milky way really milky – part of the reward for hiking into the desert.

Got up 12 hours after lying down for the deepest imaginable sleep. Ahhh – not too sore or stiff, but LOL not not sore, either. Oatmeal with dried cranberries, dried mangoes, pecans, dry milk, and sugar for breakfast (of champions). Coffee me, tea David. Photo: DK In the tent

Broke camp and started off with more downhill to the floor of the desert, then a long level stretch and somewhere along the way David said something about warm Gatorade in the car and that’s when we realized there had been a serious miscommunication because I thought he had those two quarts of Gatorade in his pack. Instead of 8.5 liters, we had 6.5 liters between us. We started rationing what we had and the hiking got harder and we began to get thirsty and a little dehydrated – 20 seconds after drinking and swishing our mouths would be bone dry. We were down to 0.4 liter
when we finally got to Fresno Creek, a small rivulet of okay water. Happy us! Drank the rest of our water and filled our bottles and platypus, straining the water through a t-shirt. After treating with iodine and neutralizer it was still cloudy. Oh well, at this point, no doubt about it, particles or iodine taste or cloudy no problem for me.

That 2nd night by Fresno Creek we spread a ground cover out and lay there a long time watching the stars come out. It seems like you’d blink or look off at one part of the sky and when your eyes opened or you looked back there would be more stars. I slept outside and David in the tent. I didn’t sleep as log-like as I did the first night, but every time I opened my eyes there was the sky, black and sparkling and not a sound. The last time I saw the sky like this was when we were climbing in Arches and Fisher Towers so long ago – good to be back! Photo: DK at Fresno Creek
Another great oatmeal breakfast and refilled our water and saddled up and hit that dusty trail again. There was a huge difference traveling with 6.5 liters of water vs. less than 2 cups. Oh, and it's not as if we were in any great danger.

We drank extravagantly along the trail through the beautiful (in a desert sort of way) desert wilderness. I realized that we had seen one flower the entire time. We would see or hear a bird from time to time and I saw one of those lizards that runs on its hind legs – fast. Up and down, up and down, then a stretch along a dry, gravely creek and then more hills and behind the hills mighty ramparts like (as David said) castles. The trail is well-cairned and there’s only trail and as someone said, If you get off the trail you’ll know it soon enough because it’s all thorns.

Somewhere along the way we topped a hill and rested looking in front of us across the desert and behind us into a bowl in the sere hills rolling down to the place where we’d been. The desert stretches beyond where we can see and the thing is, I don’t know if you can drive to see something like this because what you see isn’t just that thing – there’s also the seer and the relationship to what’s seen and there’s no free rides to this.

As we, or maybe I should say, as I tired, David said, “Just over this hill is a river. With meadows. Green grass. And bunnies. Puppybunnies.” (Family term) Up and down, now traversing the hills and finally we saw a few people up on a ridge to our left (west), but didn’t attach significance to them. Then David said, “There’s a house ahead.” And I realized the people were probably at the overlook over the Homer Wilson ranch and when I saw the house, thought it was that ranch – then below the ridge we saw the bear box with our water in it. That felt good! Photo: Lingam near Fresno Creek

It was about 5 miles from there into the mountains and 3pm on day three we decided to walk up to the highway and hitchhike back to the Basin. The day short of water took it out of at least me, and I was not disappointed to skip the last leg. I’m stronger than I was Thanksgiving, but still have a way to go. Thanks to David for accommodating my slower pace. At least I don’t complain (if you don’t count moaning and groaning, puffing and panting, and so on).

We were hitching and a man stopped who only had room for one person and no packs. So I rode with him back to the Basin. He’s a retired school teacher from Long Island and a long-time outdoorsman. Since retiring he’s spent most of his time on the road in a pickup with a topper or scuba diving. I don’t have in mind as much time on the road nor am I interested in scuba diving, but there were plenty of similarities between us. We had a good time talking. I did feel some sadness thinking about being away from Leslie for a month or so while I hike in the Winds and Glacier. And I’m months from doing it. But in my mind, I am committed, and looking forward to answering the call … as John Muir put it:
The mountains call
and I must go.”
The man took me right to our car - Thanks! I drove back and picked David up and we drove on out. As we pulled out of the Border Patrol checkpoint 40 or 50 miles up the road a javelina dashed out of the scrub, whirled around in the dirt beside the road and then shot across the road looking like a small, weird, narrow, hairy VW with little legs going as fast as they could. A "pig-like" creature. Driving through the scrub desert I thought about the hard lives that people out here lead and the people who’ve tried to tell their stories, Larry McMurtry, Robert Earl Keen, Willie Nelson, Pat Green …
When the sun hits it right on its way down, it was the prettiest thing in our little town.
Every hour I'd sneak a glance over at the plastic frame and cracked glass that holds the picture of Ruby's two sad daughters.
Last mill closed when I was nine and Daddy left and Momma cried again, I spent my nights cleaning Ruby's floors,
Just another café on a wind swept highway the farmers bitched, we're no good at football anymore.

In this land that knows no laughter in this land that holds no water,
We were all in love with Ruby's two sad daughters.

One went way out west, one went way wrong,
one left at seventeen and the other couldn't wait that long.
Neither went anywhere with me, not to the games or the Dairy Queen.
Both split with the first boy who lied sweet and looked vaguely mean.

In this land that knows no laughter in this land that hold no water,
We were all in love with Ruby's two sad daughters.

Why so pretty and forlorn, why so permanently blue
I guess ours wasn't much of a kingdom to rule.

Now when the sun hits it right on its way down, it's still the prettiest thing in our little town.
Every hour I sneak a glance over at the plastic frame and I fix the glass that holds the picture of Ruby's two sad daughters.

Why did hope leave town with Ruby's two sad daughters?

On the road again, stopping (where else) at the Dairy Queen in Ozona where a surly Hispanic kid lounged in a booth, eating french fries and sneaking kisses with the girl who had the headset on taking drive-through orders walking out pretending to do something for a customer and then stealing her moments in the booth. Across the desert with it's big sky and big rigs lit up like houses at Christmas running smooth into the night, into the plains and into San Antonio. Hit fog, heavy at times between San Antonio and Houston. On the outskirts of Houston, getting really tired, there was a beautiful choral Easter mass on the radio, but we could have used something a little more lively ... when the mass was over, the radio announcer said, "Next, a lute concerto by ..." and we just cracked up and put on a country station. Got in about 3am. Showered - ahhh. I slept on the floor, we had breakfast tacos in the morning and I was on the road back to Leslie around 9am.

Walt Wilkins and the Mystiqueros singing Ruby's Two Sad Daughters
I'll post this trip report later at my backpacking page. New links:


Brownmouse said...

Nice!! Love your writing style. And love this report. It is a different world. . . one I'm headed to in a few months. I love places with water. But Big Bend it is this time. I think I'll just stick with the quick South Rim Loop. Hope Boot Spring has water. Thanks!!!

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