Thursday, December 29, 2005

Stupid, stupid adventurer.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I had my GPS, I had my map, I had a day off and the weather was beautiful.

Now I have no knees.
The hips aren't so good either.

My plan was to hike from our house to the west fork of the San Jacinto river. The space between here and there appeared to be woods and an occasional swamp, with a distance of maybe ten miles or so as the crow flies. I set off at 9am with two liters of water, a package of raman noodles, some trail mix, and assorted other gear (walking stick, flashlight, whistle, four knives, etc...). Even though I planned to cook the raman noodles I didn't bring a lighter. I had my flint and steel firestarter kit and a Blastmatch as backup. Adventurers think matches and lighters are for sissies.

Rather than head directly east for the San Jacinto through the Spring Creek borderlands I decided to do some exploring to the north first along some railroad tracks. It was virgin territory for me. Adventurers love vi... uh, nevermind.

This is a busy set of tracks but I was still suprised by the numer of bones strewn along it. Big dog-sized bones. Little bird-sized bones. Evolution in action, I guess. If a creature is too dumb to get off the tracks when a train is coming then maybe it's just a little too dumb to live...

Eventually I got bored with the railroad tracks. The loose rocks made walking hard so I turned east towards my goal. Crossing a large open area led to the discovery of a small lake with a little island in its center. Around the lake where were a few Chinese Tallow trees and some maples showing their bright fall colors (December is still "Fall" in Texas, "Spring" starts in January). Very pretty. I was over an hour behind my original schedule, but life was good so what the hey. Schedules are for desk-bound paper pushers not aventurers. As long as I was at my desk the next day this day was mine to spend freely.

I love the borderlands along Spring Creek. You never know what you'll find. One on trip you might drag home a big peice of petrified wood. On another you might end up shooting the breeze with some rejects from a "Mad Max" movie. This time I rounded a bend to find a burned out boat an the beach. Correction, it wasn't burned out. It was STILL BURNING!

I'm guessing pirates might be involved, but I could be wrong.

I wandered. I roamed. I found paths and left paths. I bushwacked. I climbed steep gullies. I pulled thorns out of my hands and cheeks. My compass guided me east, my gps let me know where I was, my map let me know what was coming.

I wasn't getting very far. Bushwacking is fun and exciting, but it doesn't get you anywhere fast. Especially when you need to stop every five minutes to pull 1/2" thorns out of you skin. My shirt was ripped, my hands were torn. My boots were soaked from repeated stream crossings.

It was heaven.

According to my map there was a high voltage powerline that ran parallel between Spring Creek and the San Jacinto river. I figured if I could make it to these lines then I could follow the empty space beneath them to a point where they came within four miles of my goal, then start bushwacking again.

I made it to the powerlines with only minor amounts of damage and started walking through the tall grass under them. Thick woods rose up on either side of me, blue sky, vultures, and 100,000 volts filled the air above me. The going was smooth and actually a little dull.

Then something moved in the woods near me. Earlier, when I had just got to the powerlines I heard a coyote yipping in the distance. I figured a lone coyote wouldn't bother a human.

Of course, it wasn't a lone coyote. I froze as TWO creatures bounded out of the woods fifty feet in front of me. Pointy teeth, beady eyes, sharp claws, armored bodies... two armadillos were tumbling through the grass, wrestling like kittens.

I, uh, put my walking stick down and got out of my "pig-scarer" battle stance. They rolled apart and started pawing at the grass, giving me no notice. So of course I had to sneak up and poke them with my walking stick.
Ten feet away.
Five feet away.
Two feet away.
Nothing. Either they were incredibly fearless or incredibly dense. They were also really, really cute. I didn't have the heart to poke them with a stick. I watched for a while, took some pictures, then decided to continue my journey. As I walked away one finally stood up and looked at me. Cute little bugger. I wonder if Misseswether would let me keep one as a pet?

Farther along I came across a series of deer blinds and deer feeders. They are out in the middle of nowhere (GPS UTM coordinates E 271485, N 3330672) and I suspect they might be set up by some poachers. However, the were identical in design and construction to the deer-blinds over in the Lake Houston State Park so who knows? They were close to where I planned on cutting away from the powerlines and heading towards the San Jacinto, so I kept my eyes open for any promising game trails that might lead east. I found several, but each brought me to impassible walls of thornbushes. I managed to startle several squirrels, rabbits, and even more armadillos, but I wasn't making any headway towards my goal. It was about 1pm at that point, I was still miles from the river and without my machete there was no chance of getting there from here. Major disappointment!

From my position it was somewhat farther to where Spring Creek meets Cypress Creek than to the San Jacinto river, but there were trails and and sandy riverbanks leading to the junction of the creeks. I decided that would be my new goal.

I walked. I trudged. I zigged. I zagged. The paths and creekbanks meandered like a democrat's train of thought. I staggered through knee deep water and sand dunes. I was thirsty, but stopping to drink seemed like it'd waste too much time. Most of my path was along the deep sand beaches of Spring Creek and let me tell you, walking in loose sand with wet boots is tough! At 2pm I decided to cut east one last time. I have no idea why. My legs were tired, my pack was heavy, my eyes were sunburned. Sometimes being an adventurer means being, well, stupid.

I didn't get much farther east this time than any of my previous attempts. I gave up, carved my glyph in a tree to mark my turning point (UTM coordinates E 274234, N 3329009), and headed back to Spring Creek. I was 5.39 miles from home as the crow flies. It was 2:30pm. The sun was setting at 5:29pm. I was tired, hungry, and a little worried. I cooked up my raman noodles (note to self: starting a fire with a flint and steel is a neat skill, but slow. Next time bring matches!) but only ate half the package. It was after 3pm when I shouldered my pack and started home wondering if I'd still be out here in the dark. According to my GPS I was averaging about 3mph, but in some places that dropped down to under 1mph in deep sand. My thighs were burning, my hips were grinding. The closest thing to a straight path involved cutting back and forth across Spring Creek which kept my feet constantly soaked.

The sun kept getting lower and lower.

I was starting to get nervous. If dark fell would I camp out or push on? I had the equipment for both choices and if camping was necessary I could call Misseswether on my cell phone to keep her from worrying. On the other hand I had to be at work the next day. I kept moving as fast as I could. At one spot the creek made an oxbow so I cut cross-country there in hopes that it'd save me time. Luckily it did and I also came across two nice deer. Unlike the armadillos, they immediately bolted. Other shortcuts turned out to be deadends forcing me to waste precious time. Finally around 4:30pm I made it to the Riley-Fuzzel bridge. My water was gone but it was just another hour to home. I'd make it!

The sun was down and in the twilight a worn, bleeding, muddy adventurer staggered up the street to his house. A neighbor was out finishing up some yard work. She looked up and started laughing. "Another adventure?" she asked.

"No, a marathon." I responded after looking at my gps. Since 9am that morning I covered just short of twenty miles. She seemed shocked by this and told me I was nuts.

I really couldn't argue with that.

Misseswether had pizza waiting for me, but first I had to shower off the grime. I'm not sure how I made it up the stairs to the bathroom. Miniwether was playing with the chunks of petrified wood I had brought back. (Note to self, I don't need to fill my pockets with every peice of petrified wood I find, especially on a twenty-mile hike!).

After nibbling a little pizza I had to lay down. Bad, bad idea. When I tried to get up every muscle in my legs cramped up. The pain was so bad I actually thought I was going to puke. Stupid, stupid adventurer.

It's now been three days since the hike. My hips aren't grinding too badly anymore but the tendons in the backs of my knees are still screaming. I can see two thorns stuck under the skin of my left hand. My boots are trashed.

I want to try again this weekend.

Adventure! Excitement! Stupidity!

Sunday, December 25, 2005



Twas' the morning of Christmas and the house disarryed.
Wrappings and plastic and sugar, hooray!!
Opening a gift and what did I spy?
A book on whip-making, oh wonderous guy!
My brother did send it and joy did it bring.
Now on to the next present, what shiney new thing?
Ah, flashlights! Glowing tubes of mirth
from the bestest most wonderful wife on this earth!
Another gift to me she did hand,
a GPS unit, how navigationally grand!!
And finally from from Miniwether came tunes for my Apple
and a crayon drawing of me, her and something that, uh probably rhymed with "Apple".

Tonight I'll sleep, comforted and joyous.
Visions of adventure and excitement, oh boyish!
But down first I go, on knees that are bent.
And give thanks to the Son, to bring peace was He sent.

And now a wish for you all, readers, family, and friend.
May great joy be with you and may never it end.

Christmas elf


Merry Christmas everyone!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I seem to have a reputation...

Well, that was interesting. One of my co-workers just asked me to retrieve the head of Pancho Villa from a restaurant in San Antonio, Texas. This coworker is a huge Texas-history buff and through years of research has concluded that the skull of Pancho Villa is encased in a shrine located in the basement of one of the oldest continuously-operated restaurants in San Antonio. He knew I was an adventurer and figured recovering this relic this would be right up my alley. Hmmm, sneaking into a 24-hour Mexican restaurant run by Santeria worshippers to find the skull of Pancho Villa. Sounds fun. My question is is stealing something which had been stolen still stealing? I'm thinking it probably is, isn't it?

Interetsing, but I think I'll pass.

At least for now...

Adventure! Excitement! Trespassing and Blasphemy!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

And now, the pictures!

Wherein Merriwether shows you photos of the trip and tries to make them interesting:

Kansas! Hmm, what can one say to make miles of rolling nothing entertaining? Not a whole lot really. Sorry.

Okay, how about a cute girl in the snow?

Or maybe another cutie in the snow?

And now both cuties together!

I spent most of the time being a sled dog. A sled dog's life is cold and wet, but at least I was the lead dog. Note the puffy coat on my brother.

This is where I spent the some of the best parts of my youth. It is where the creek (it never had a name) joined the Crow River. It probably doesn't mean anything to anyone other than me but I think if everyone spent time at a place like this the world would be a better place. Mainly because a number of people drowned there over the years...

The drive home was exciting. We saw several big rigs off the road but this was the only one on its side. We lost track of how many cars had spun out into the ditch.

Back in Kansas. Still not very interesting.

Back home and coated in salt. I spent two hours scrubbing every inch of the Honda Pilot to get the salt off, then I took him to a car wash. It would have taken less than two hours, but Miniwether helped me.

Adventure! Cuties! Snow!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Correction: A shout out to Dwight Silverman!!

Dude, you made me feel like a STAR!!!

Sorry about giving credit to Mr. Campbell. His name was above the list of blogs so I assumed he was the one that tapped me.

Adventure! Excitement! Credit where credit is due!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Houston doesn't have a winter.

We're back from the Land of Puffy Coats. Poppawether keeps asking why we won't move back to Minnesota. Simple: One doesn't have to shovel sunshine!!!

While up in the Modest White North the temperature averaged in the low teens and it snowed just about every other day. Miniwether loved to play in the snow but it was a ten-minute ordeal getting her dressed everytime to go outside. She seemed to have a hard time grasping the concept of one hand-finger per glove-finger, the importance of boots, and how to steer a sled.

The drive up from Texas was pretty awesome, though Misseswether strongly disagrees with that statement. Granted, I was up front watching our beautiful country sail by while jamming to my favorite songs on a new iPod. meanwhile she was stuck in back trying to keep a two-year-old Cinderella junkie (portable dvd players are both a blessing and a curse!) happy and relatively clean. The joyous faire music of The Brobdingnagian Bards covered the sounds of the storm brewing in the back seat. The storm crashed down upon me with thunder, lightening, and screeching winds in Witchita, Kansas. Learn from this: base your travel on the capabilities of the worst traveller in your group, not the best. Apparently ten hours in the car is about three hours too many for Misseswether.

Live, bandage, learn.

Minnesota is very, very different from Texas. Not just the over-abundence of fluffy, white, hell-spawned snow, but also in architecture, attitudes, and food-preparation. Minnesota has the biggest modest houses I've ever seen. We drove by some four-story mansions that actually looked like they were embarassed and were trying to look smaller. Pretty neat trick for a house. I just felt like everything in Minnesota was designed to not draw attention to itself. One night my sister-in-law made some chili and it actually had flavor! Then I remembered she was from Milwaukee.

Texas? Well, Texans have, ah, well, let's just call it backbone. I'm not suprised that the real world's answer to Aragorn is from here! I love it. Sure, the summers are hot, but that just means the ladies wear less for longer. In Minnesota it's hard to tell if someone is a man or a woman four and a half months out of the year!

The drive back to Texas was pretty exciting. Wind-blown snow, road salt, faulty windshield wipers, and suicidal deer turned the first day back on the road into a 12-hour, white-knuckled, 30-mph crawl across Minnesota and Iowa. The ditches were filled with cars, SUV's, and trucks less able to handle the situation. Our Honda Pilot held the road like a champ, whether the manouver was avoiding donuting* fellow drivers, dancing around depressed deer, or creeping up next to an 18-wheeler to use his tire spray to clean the salt off my windows. Kudo's to Honda engineering. Jeers to Honda's chemistry. The dealer-filled windshield washer fluid froze up in Minnesota and didn't thaw out again until half-way through Oklahoma.

We had planned to spend three days driving back to Texas, especially after the slow going of the first day. Misseswether suggested that we stop for the night somewhere after Dallas then do the final four hours on the third day. This was a very smart suggestion backed with all sorts of logic and past experiences. Luckily, I was able to drown out her voice by sticking my fingers in my ears and going, "La la la!" really loudly. We made it 858.9 miles from from Bethany, Missuori to Houston, Texas in just over 14 hours. Being an adventurer means pushing beyond the limits of endurance, wisdom, or even sanity.

I have to admit, even with the assorted storms and near-crashes driving across America is AWESOME and I loved just about every second of it. The United States of America is unbelievablely beautiful. I had been warned that Kansas was dull dull dull, but it took my breathe away. We passed through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota. Each was a feast for the eyes. I'll have pictures up soon. Until then you'll just have to take my word for it. Or better yet, hop into your car and drive...

Adventure! Excitement! 2480 miles!

*donuting: a car spinning around in circles on a slippery surface.

A shout out to James Campbell!

Dude, you made me feel like a star!

Adventure! Excitement! Publicity!