Saturday, May 31, 2008

Reprive from the Ordinary, Part 2.

Africanized bees are characterized by greater defensiveness in established hives than European honey bees. They are more likely to attack a perceived threat and, when they do so, attack relentlessly in larger numbers. This aggressively protective behavior has been termed by scientists as hyper-defensive behavior. This defensiveness has earned them the nickname "killer bees".
-Wikipedia.org

Some readers of this blog may think I thrive on pain, suffering, and misery. This is not true. I thrive on going where others don't, seeing what others don't, doing what others don't. This overrides any hardships that I might encounter during the adventure.

At least that's what I was telling myself as I lay submerged under the waters of the San Jacinto, breathing through a venthole in my hat as I listened to the swarm circle above me.

The adventure had been progessing so nicely. It took a while to escape the maddening crowds but for the last few hours I had been alone on the river in my kayak, Firefly.

Firefly.jpg
My escape craft.

SanJacinto.jpg
The place I escaped to.

By 7pm I had camp set up and was looking forward to spending a relaxing night alone under the stars. I was looking for nice peices of petrified wood when something large and black landed on my leg, followed by a stabbing pain. I smashed it in a squirt of blood and saw it had been the biggest horsefly I had ever seen. True, its smashedness had enlarged it some but even in its pre-flatten state it had been just a tad smaller across than a dime. Luckily it was the only one. I continued my hunt for stonewood.

The sun was below the trees and shadows were falling all around me. In this growing darkness two more large bugs began circling me. As I was swatting one the other managed to land and draw blood. It took off before I could swat it and the two continued to dive bomb me.

Then two more large, dark buzzing bugs joined them.

And two more.

And suddenly it turned into a swarm of hundreds. The air was thick with a horrid drone and flying black bits of pain. They hit every bit of flesh. My legs, my arms, my neck, my hair was being attacked. The buzz was like a chainsaw which is also what it felt like. I was flailing around like a dervish trying to drive them away but this just seemed to make them madder.

"These aren't horseflies, these are killer bees!" suddenly flashed through my head.

I lost it. In a panic I ran to the river and dunked myself under the water. I held my breath as long as possible then surfaced into the hungry mouth of a buzzing monster. They were still there.

I submerged myself again and stuck my hat on the surface. I was able to stick my face in the hat and breath through its vent holes. The swarm was divebombing my hat and it'd dimple in against face when they'd hit.

I had been underwater for twenty minutes and it was almost completely dark. Both ears had filled with water but I could still here them buzzing above the river. The water was shallow but still flowing strong enough to push me downstream, not to mention filling my shirt and shorts with sand. I had to get out of the water, I couldn't stay in it all night. The large number of snakes I had passed on the way downstream were just one reason I had to get back to my camp, back to my gear. All I had on me was a flashlight and a knife, my emergency survival kit was back in my vest laying on Firefly.

I hoped my mosquito netting would protect me as I launched from the river and ran to my camp. The river had pushed me almost 50 yards downstream. I ran as fast as possible while the swarm attacked.

Camp.jpg
My sanctuary.

I dove under my mosquito netting and a few of the evil creatures got in with me. They broke off their attack and flew up into the netting where I was able to smash them. Outside the netting the rest still circled.

I pulled out my flashlight, which thankfully still worked after being submerged (thanks Clark!) and looked at the insects I had killed. It was a horsefly.

I hadn't been attacked by killer bees. I had been attacked by a huge swarm of horseflies.

horsefly.jpg
Smashed horsefly laying on my hat.

My camera was in my "tent" but everything else was outside. I was soaked, as was my sleeping pad. I covered in sand, inside my clothes and out. It had been a hot day but the night air was cool. Outside the netting the swarm still buzzed and bombed.

They weren't killer bees, but their bites still hurt like a *&%#@! I didn't want to try and get any of my gear. I decided the best thing to do was to just try and go to sleep. "Boy, my readers are going to LOVE this." ran through my brain as I drifted off.

A few hours later I woke up shivering. It had dropped down into the mid-70's and I was losing heat fast through my wet clothing. Luckily my silnylon tarp was under the netting with me and I was able to wrap up in it. I probably should have done that before going to sleep. Live and learn.

The tarp warmed me up but I wasn't able to get back to sleep. The sand in my clothing was rubbing me raw and my right ear was throbbing. The left ear had drained but the right was still filled with water. On the plus side the buzzing had disappeared. I finally fell back into a fitful sleep.

I woke again. The sun was bringing a glow to the eastern sky. There was no buzzing. I was cold and my ear hurt. I frantically stuffed everything into Firefly's front hatch and was back on the river by 6am. The whole time I was afraid I'd hear the swarm return. Once on the river I paddled with all my might to race away from that sandbar.

The sun came up, the swarm had not returned. I relaxed and went back to enjoying the river. This section was narrower so the water ran deeper. I didn't have to drag the kayak over shallow sandbars blocking the river.

morning.jpg
The San Jacinto by morning's light.

San Jacinto.jpg
A bit later.

Except for the birds, snakes, turtles and occasional jumping fish I had the river to myself. So I was a little suprised when I rounded a bend and far downstream could see someone wading in the water.

As I got a little closer I realized it was a woman.

A bit closer and I realized she was topless. Then a friend waded out and joined her, both staring back at me.

She was topless, too.

I had read about things like this but never expected them. They weren't making any move to cover up. As I came abreast of them I tipped my hat and wished them a pleasent morning. They smiled and returned my greeting and then called after me. Being the polite man, I turned and paddled back to them. On shore their boyfriends were laughing and having breakfast. They yelled "Hello!" then returned to their food and beer. The ladies had many questions about me and my kayak so we talked. At that point I had gone over twelve miles, which seemed to impress them. One commented that I must be in great shape and I returned that from what I could see, their bodies were in much better shape than mine.

They seemed to like that.

I finally decided I needed to leave and set out once more. After a few strokes I thought, "What the hell" and turned back to them. Figuring nothing ventured nothing gain, I asked if I could have a picture. They readily agreed and called one of the boyfriends down to take it.

friendly.jpg
I have no caption for this picture.

A mile down from them the river openned up again and the wind picked up. It was blowing strong against my face and paddling became tough. It took me over two hours to go the last five miles. My ear was throbbing and my skin, especially around the elastic waistband of my boxers was in bad shape from the sand. Misseswether and the Wether-girls picked me up at Edgewater Park, just past Hwy. 59 on Hamblen Rd.

Tuesday morning my ear was a solid mass of flaming jello. I called my doctor at 8:01am and he said he'd see me at 9:30am. This brings us up to my previous post. He looked in my ear and let out a whistle. "I bet that hurts." he said.

He called the nurse (Woo hoo!) over and insructed her to flush out both ears with hydrogen peroxide. She went to the freezer and pulled out a bottle and a large metal syringe. The next fifteen minutes were and agonizing blur of roaring pain. At one point I almost offered to confess, but thoughts of my military buddies in Iraq held my tongue. I figure I could be as tough as them, plus I had the benefit that my interrogator was a hot blond.

Eventually she figured out I couldn't be broken and stopped the torture. My doc came back in with a prescription for Cipro-based antibiotic ear drops. I grabbed it and tried to make a fast escape. I wasn't fast enough.

"According to your records you just turned forty." he said, blocking the examination room door. "You know what that means, right?" he continued.

"Um, you are going to buy me a beer?" I replied, hopefully.

He just smiled and tapped the chart. "You know your dad's prostrate history. I told you this was coming when you hit forty."

Crap.

The latex gloves and KY jelly came out.

At least he hadn't been keeping them in the freezer.


And now, What Has Merriwether Learned?
1. Horseflies in Texas are giant and form swarms indistinguable from killer bees.
2. The sandbar banks of the San Jacinto are popular places for people to gather and can be easily reached by roads in neighborhoods along it's east side.
3. You can become suprisingly cold even in the mid-70's if you fall asleep soaking wet.
3. A waterproof, silnylon tarp will help keep you warm if you are trying to sleep soaking wet on a cool night.
4. Sand-filled boxers suck. From now on Merriwether is going commando.
5. According to the internet, DEET is effective against horseflies, UFO's exist, and fire has never melted steel.
6. The first time you see your doctor after turning forty, go drunk, even if it is 9:30am on a work day.

Peace be with you.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Reprive from the Ordinary, Part 1.

"So, what happen this time?"
-My doctor's hot blond nurse to me this morning.

I was laying on my doctor's examination table this morning in excruciating pain wondering, "Was it worth it?"

"Hell yes!", as usual, was the answer. What's some wound-flushing and another week on antibiotics when you are an adventurer? True, I was currently deaf in the right ear, but I had complete faith medical science could fix it. Let's face it, I've seen (and felt!) them do some pretty amazing stuff.

So, let's move back 48 hours to when Misseswether let me off the short leash. We were originally planning to spend the long weekend time traveling, but at the current gas prices and food requirements we decided it cost to much (cue foreshadowing music). Misseswether had seen how hard I had been working lately and how miserable I had been inside the house. She took pity on me and agreed to let me do an over-nighter on the San Jacinto River. Due to the short notice, I wasn't able to find anyone to go with me. Misseswether was a bit nervous about letting me go alone but she trusts God will always bring me home safely. Well, maybe not safely, but intact. Hmm, maybe not completely intact, but He'll get me home in good enough shape so as to not have my money-making abilty impaired permentantly. Yeah, that's about right.

Since I was alone I took my kayak Firefly. That craft is amazing. I can load her up with all sorts of stuff and still have room for more. I swear she was designed by a Gallifreyian engineer. The launch site under 242 was filled with families celebrating the holiday and splashing once again in the river and racing up and down its banks on ATVs. It took an hour to get away from civilization. The people I passed until then were very friendly and had all sorts of questions for me. They seemed to find the idea of paddling down a river rather than just sitting in it drinking beer to be quite unique.

Finally I left the last person behind and had the river to myself. Lack or rain had left the San Jacinto a bit low and occasionally I had to get out and drag Firefly through shallow water. I didn't mind, the San Jac is a beautiful river and taking it slow just makes it better.

San Jacinto2.jpg
Beauty.

Occasionally the rusted hulks of old dreging machinery can be found. These are way more interesting than the burned out stolen cars along Spring Creek. Don't just take my word for it, snakes also seem to like them a lot!

machinery.jpg
Cool.

It's 19 miles from the launch under 242 down to the take-out at Edgewater park, just past Hwy. 59. I had used google earth to find a nice sandbar at the half-way point on which to pitch camp that night. I didn't set out until 3pm on Sunday afternoon and the sun set at 8:30pm. Normally I can make 3-5 miles per hour, depending on flow rates, but having to drag the kayak in places slowed me down, as did trying to figure out how to haul the 2/3-full keg of beer I found floating in the river.

keg.jpg
Let's get this party started!

Here's a tip (literally). Trying to pull a large keg of beer into a kayak will flip the kayak.

Tip #2: Trying to paddle a kayak with a keg tied to it is slow, hard work.

Tip #3: If you find yourself having to abandon a keg in the wild, just do it and don't look back. Eventually the pain will fade.



Sorry, that still part of the trip still brings tears to my eyes... *sniff*



Sorry. Okay, I'm good.

I ended up making camp on a sandbar two lines upstream from my original plan. Luckily I still had cell-phone coverage and was able to update Misseswether on the change in plans. This is an important safety issue with us. Sure, she trusts God to get me home, but that doesn't necessarily mean He won't need a helicopter to do it...

Camp.jpg
My camp: Some mosquito netting, a self-inflating sleeping pad, a silnylon tarp, and a machete. All the comforts of home!

It was a beutiful sandbar filled with petrified wood. I had finished eating my supper and was just hanging out looking for exceptional peices of petrified wood when things suddenly went real bad real fast.

BeforeTheAttack.jpg
Self portrait just before being attacked.

To be continued...

Coming next: Bloodshed, agony, and extremely friendly topless sunbathers.

Peace be with you!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Week #3: REDRUM

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
-Ancient Egyptian Proverb

I am going bonkers.

It doesn't help that work has been a quasi-nightmare. 60-hour weeks are wearing my thin. I've been having a lot of successful experiments if by "successful" you means "I've learned something". However, if you mean successful as in "it'll make the company gobs of money" then I'm screwed. Sometime in the next month I'll have to explain to the CEO of a multibillion dollar company why his timeframes of coming up with new products is daft. For some reason he thinks a group of four chemists can in six months solve twelve problems that have plagued the hydrocarbon industry for over thirty years.

True, we are the real-life equivelent of Buckaroo Bonzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers but then again, half of them were dead by the end of the movie.

This coming week will be even worse. Along with my normal workload I will also be attending eleven hours of class EACH DAY. On the plus side once the class is over I will know how to design and run a frac job. It is always good to have back-up skills when you are in a high-risk profession.

So what happens when an adventure is put under high pressure and not allowed to go adventuring?

He comes up with a way to adventure vicariously.

I call her Carmina Burana
CB-3.jpg

She is a Victorian-era, steam powered airship almost ready to take to the skies in search of adventure, excitment and exploration!

Please, someone take away my caffeine!

Peace be with you.

-Merriwether

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Week #2 in the Ordinary World

Today the weather was PERFECT. Low humidity, high temperature under 80F, sunny and a wonderful breeze. Better still, the flow rate on Spring Creek was prime for a river trip in my new kayak.

Unfortunately, I'm on an adventuring ban for ten weeks due to excessive adventuring during the spring.

Plus, that whole Mother's Day thing...

So, two of the ten weeks have passed. Every night has been spent sleeping indoors on a regular bed. Meals have been cooked on a stove or occasionaly in a microwave. I've showered every day. I'm starting to get the hang of this ordinary world stuff.

Of course, my Ordinary World probably isn't quite the same as yours...

Ordinary1.jpg
Houston Rockets Cheerleaders. Personally, I prefer the Houston Texans cheerleaders.

Ordinary2.jpg
Ethanol used as fuel. And it was free!

Ordinary3.jpg
The attendence record-setting Offshore Technology Conference. A good time was had by all.

Peace be with you.

-Merriwether

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Merriwether's Ladies

Watching Miniwether catch the second fish of her life this weekend really made me feel like a good dad. The fact that she caught it with her bare hands makes feel like a great dad.

Though perhaps something of a redneck dad...

We were down at Peckinpaugh Nature Preserve (sorry Wildcat, it was a spur-of-the-moment" thing) playing in Spring Creek when I spotted a 4"catfish in some shallow water. I called Miniwether and Mambowether over to see it. They watched it for a bit then Miniwether asked if she could catch it. Now, she's developed amazing hunter skills catching lizards in our backyard. For the last two years the geckos and chameleons around our house (and our neighbors' houses) all were missing their tails from their attempts to escape her grasp.

Sidenote: these lizards drop their tails as a defensive measure against birds and other predators. Miniwether doesn't just catch them and rip their tails off. She gotten to the point know in her lizard-stalking that she can sneak up and grab one by the body with out hurting it. She then proudly runs over to me with it. If Misseswether is with her instead of me then Miniwether just catches it, shows it to Mambowether, then releases it again. Misseswether isn't big into lizards/snakes/bugs or other non-cute&fuzzy critters. Which made her actions later that day all the more suprising and wonderful.

But you'll have to wait a bit on that.

So anyway, Mambowether and I go back to letting the creek water bury our feet in sand while Miniwether crouched motionless back by the catfish. A minute or two later I hear, "Splash! Splash! Splash! Daddy, I caught it!". Runing towards me through the water was Miniwether, triumphantly clutching a wriggling fish to her chest!!

And me without a camera. :-(

She showed the fish to Mambowether and I then released it back into the water.

And then five minutes later she caught it again!

HunterGirl.jpg
Miniwether's Eyes of a Hunter

We spent about an hour there collecting clam shells and playing in the sand, then it was time to go home for lunch. Misseswether joined us for a quick lunch then ran off to Chinese school. When she got back late that afternoon she was excited and wanted me to look at a picture she took at the school.

Alas, they weren't that type of photo.

snake1.jpg
A big Buttermilk Racer snake.

The snake crossed the sidewalk in front of her and rather than run away she pulled out her camera and chased after it because she knew I'd want a photo of it. This is the girl who eight years ago panicked, ran into the house and locked the door when some cows came wandering down our street. Of course, I had been in the driveway with her at the time but ended locked out of the house until I was able to convince her the cows were gone.

Apparently hanging around with me has taught her bravery.

I know it taught her excellent first aid skills.

Sleeper.jpg
Misseswether (prefered state) and the cat that almost crippled me.

And then there's Mambowether. As much as Miniwether loves the outdoors, Mambowether loves it even more. Sundays in our house can get a little house-bound between church, her naptime, me cooking big Sunday suppers, and new episodes of "The Simpsons". This Sunday evening we were watching The Simpsons when Mambo started fussing and then just howlling. I asked her if she was hurt, hungry, poopy, itchy and every other adjective of discomfort I could think of. Then I asked if she wanted to go outside. The tears and screaming stopped immediately. She said, "Yes, outside. Outside!" and ran for her shoes.

The Simpsons have been on the air since the late '80s. I can skip a new episode to spend time outside with my girls.

HunterGirl2.jpg
Spear? What spear? Oh, this spear...

So, even though I'm the only man in this household I seem to be doing okay.

Peace be with you.

-Merriwether