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!

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