Saturday, April 23, 2016
Thanks to all those that are following this blog. It has been a fun addition to the trip. I am sad to say that I must take a three week hiatus from the teardrop to return to Tucson. I hope to get a few blogs done while I am home but there will be a bit of a lull in the frequency. It is not because I have stopped blogging. If you are worried about missing any, sign up for an email alert to the right. Don't worry. I do not get a list of names or emails. It will automatically send an email when I post. Looking ahead I can't wait to get back on the road and head west to bag some of the biggies like Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, and Glacier. No doubt something will go wrong or it wouldn't be fun!
Thursday, April 21, 2016
Recent conversations have gone a lot like this.
So what is your next park?
Coyahoga. Or Cooyaga. It might be Cuhaga. (Not really sure how to say it.)
Where is that?
Somewhere near Cleveland. (Turns out Cleveland is in Ohio. Learn something new every day)
What is there?
I’m not really sure. (I assume not mountains but it seems geography isn’t my strong suit)
It’s a park?
Look, it’s on the list so I’m going.
So that is how I came to find myself in Ohio. I made a commitment to see them ALL. When Outdoor Magazine ranks Cleveland as the 6th least outdoorsy city in America, and in another article, Cuyahoga falls under the “Best of the rest” category, my expectations were fairly low. The park literally begs for context. How in God’s name did you manage to get into this beauty contest?
The park is urban to say the least. There is no fee to get into the park because major thoroughfares crisscross the park. It acts like a large sieve for those that somehow missed the exit for the Ohio Turnpike. City and county parks, including baseball fields, golf courses, and ski areas, coalesce with the national park so that to the visitor, it is one large park. On the official NPS map, it shows both county and national park as one continuous green space. In spite of this, the ranger has no idea what to recommend immediately outside of the park boundaries that only they seem to know or appreciate. She tells me with no shame that “The falls are beautiful but they are outside of the park so I haven’t seen them.” They are literally across the street. A scenic train runs the length of the park but apparently is only available on every other Tuesday when the sun shines on the north shore. There are many historic homes which have been restored as exhibits. Some homes have not. Some are still residences. It is really hard to tell the difference. I can only imagine that this makes for some very awkward encounters, which was later confirmed by yet another ranger.
The valley (perhaps a generous use of the term) is a study on how Mother Nature and man trade off control of the land. Like most American stories start, the Cuyahoga River was a major Native American thoroughfare. Then the settlers arrived and wanted to ship their goods to the rich people in New York. The problem is that this crooked river goes back and forth for miles and the impatient white men decided that it would be faster to just make a straight canal from the Ohio River to Lake Erie. So they dug one right next to the river that was put to use for a whopping 30 years before newer technology took over. On second thought, Apple has an update every 3 days so 30 years isn’t too bad. Mother Nature rolled her eyes and took over the canal. Still civilization continued to encroach and made the river so toxic it was flammable at one point. To get revenge beavers built a dam, which flooded an automotive dump yard. It is now a spectacular marsh supporting a surprising variety of species. There is a serious battle being waged for this piece of land and it is far from over.
The area became a National Recreation Area in 1974 and a National Park in 2000 thanks to the effort of two congressmen in particular. It would be worth the time to check out other key issues or appointments being determined around those times. I can only imagine the political votes traded back and forth for Cuyahoga, a la House of Cards. The park is a testament to their commitment to keeping green space easily accessible to all. It breaks up the urban sprawl so characteristic of Phoenix or Houston. Ultimately my conclusion is that the reason that no one knows what it is all about is that the park itself can’t seem to decide what it wants to be. A historic site? A municipal park? An amusement ride? A nature preserve? I walked away with the sense that Cuyahoga National Park is the child of the participation award generation. They showed up and did a lot of work so they we gave them national park status, regardless if they displayed the best of what America has to offer.
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
While there were no parks on the last stop but it was no less fun. For a complete change of scenery I left Shenandoah for Pittsburgh. Pitt is now the home of my brother, his wife and their daughter. The weekend was quiet and purposefully uneventful since my sister-in-law is currently incubating my nephews (yes, that is plural). The boys are getting restless so momma has strict instructions to stay in the nest until the coast is clear. No one is less happy about this than momma who is feeling a bit wide and puffy. My timing was serendipitous. It was my job to help keep the peace until the grandmas could mobilize.
With nothing else to do and Amazon at her fingertips, my sister-in-law went shopping. So with the house under going repairs, babies on the way and her birthday that weekend, multiple packages arrived daily. I didn’t think much of it when she began to rip into one as we were cleaning up from dinner until I read the print on an otherwise plain brown box: cast iron cat towel holder.
I considered the chance of it simply being a recycled box but it still begged the question of why anyone would create such a thing? Who needs a cast iron cat? Who buys this other than the crazy cat lady? My sister-in-law is far from a crazy cat lady. While they do keep three ancient Chihuahuas and a schizophrenic cat that hides in the basement, their home is perfectly decorated to match the turn of the century house. Hand made quilts find every surface. Distressed cabinets are in every room. It’s the only place outside of a museum where there are a dozen antique ironing boards set up. Of course in there it looks perfectly natural, like, why hadn’t I thought of it? But it is the type of thing that if I should try, people would just wonder if I was taking in laundry to pay the bills.
When the object was extracted, it was in fact a cat. The cat has its front legs extended far out in front of it and its hind quarters thrust high up so that its back is in a deep arch. It’s difficult to decide if it is just stretching or ready to be mounted. From the looks of it, the karma sutra could take lessons. The tail is disproportionately long and skinny, sticking straight up into the air ready to skewer an innocent bystander. The object had some serious weight to it. I worried for my brother. Who suspects a towel holder to be the murder weapon?
I anxiously awaited an explanation but my sister-in-law had no particular reaction to the cat, leaving it on the counter and left the room. I instantly started taking picture of it because I was so intrigued. Is this what happens in end stage pregnancy? Your judgement of cast iron pets goes totally haywire?
My brother finally took note of my activity. Checking that his wife had left the room, he demands, “What the $%#* is that and it is yours or mine?”
“Yours!” I informed him gleefully. This was better than Christmas. My brother was always the smarter one, outmaneuvering me. As children we had our fights and I considered all the ways I could extract revenge. Now, he was stuck with an erotic, cast iron cat ordered by his distraught, pregnant wife and there was absolutely nothing he could say about it. Karma at its finest! I could claim innocence.
Oddly, once the paper towels were in place, the cat looked a little less pornographic and more like a playful kitten batting at the loose end of the paper towels. So it remains in residence with the flock of tin roosters, an Aboriginal frog and a wooden rocking horse. Now if I had tried that, people would wonder if I was starting a petting zoo, but, no, at their house it looks totally normal. It isn't fair. But should you ever visit my brother in Pittsburgh, check out the downstairs bathroom!
Friday, April 15, 2016
Choosing a campsite is an art. I did not know this when I left Arizona. I figured that one cold, hard spot was the same as any other. By the time you have rolled around in the dirt and bathed in campfire smoke, we all look pretty much the same, too. How wrong I was.
My first foray into camping was in Guadalupe National Park and so mistakes are to be expected. I left Tucson later than I wanted and then I spent all day driving against the wind. My progress was slow. As dusk set in, I was in a full blown panic that I would be in the middle of West Texas searching for a place to park in the dark. So relieved to finally find the parking lot that served as an RV campground, I was happy to plop down in the middle. Over the next to days, I slowly realized that there were better parking spots than others, just like any other parking lot. Those near the edges were scooped up quickly. Any spot that could lay claim to a nearby picnic table was also coveted. No one challenged me for my spot in the middle with no grass, no picnic table and no privacy.
Now a veteran of multiple campgrounds, I can say that there is serious strategy. First on arrival circle the campground, over and over if necessary. I am like a dog now, looking for the perfect spot to squat. There could always be a better spot. Like any good piece of real estate, corner property and end of a cul-de-sac are always premium. Of course, water property and views are trump cards. However, I do suggest landing on the third round though because by lap four, people assume you are lost, indecisive or a pedophile.
Step two, evaluate the distance to the bathroom. It is important to note if they are a simple out house or flushing toilets. If an outhouse, keep your distance and stay up wind. Keep flush toilets within a manageable walk because there is no sense in flushing your own water down the drain when you could use it to take a shower instead.
Next determine how big of a spot you need. This is a test of integrity. The giant behemoths that some people insist on driving will generally give up their first born for a pull through parking spot instead of wedging Free Willy into a spot. Snatching up these spots with a tiny trailer does not promote good will in the campground. After the wife has spent an hour giving directions to her husband that had no intention of listening to her in the first place, you will likely get snide comments about how tiny the trailer is and how easy it must be to back in. Just like kindergarten, take only what you need.
Also consider how level the parking spot is. While it is possible to level a teardrop, it takes both time and effort. I am generally short on effort. I am also not an engineer. It turns out my tolerance for living on an unlevel platform is incredibly high. My father would disown me.
Perhaps most important are picking your neighbors. Considering how long I have shared a wall with my neighbors, you wouldn’t think this would matter so much to me but when there are no walls, it is a real game changer. Whenever possible, park next to Canadians. They are quiet, friendly and generous with their liquor. I have been fortunate to be caught up in their northern migration and come to the conclusion there is a reason no one invades Canada. Canadians would put out the welcome mat and hand them a drink. By the time the night was over, no one would remember why they came. Just recently a walk to the showers past a Canadian RV ended up taking an hour and a half and two gin and tonics. I still need a shower. God bless our Northern neighbors, safe travels and come back soon!
Thursday, April 14, 2016
Two days into Shenandoah and it is easy to understand its popularity. Unlike the Great Smokies where so many of the hikes are long and more amenable to backpacking, Shenandoah is blessed with many short hikes to pretty waterfalls and good views. Plus, since it is spread out over 100 miles, it does not feel so crowded. Plus, with morning temps in the 30s, the visitors have been sparse leaving me the place almost to myself. As a bonus, I have also been blessed with the best campsite so far. It is high on a ridge and has a stunning view of the valley. The Appalachian Trial literally runs across my campsite. I watch the through hikers stagger in and drop with relief at the sight of the day's destination. I can't say that it has enticed me to run out an buy a backpack but I would never rule it out.
That said, learning the history of the park left me disturbed. After the creation of some of the first parks back West, the East also wanted a piece of the action, one of their own. Because of that, there were some powerful politicians and lobbyists who saw a park in Virginia as the perfect place. A minor problem to them were the thousands of people who already happen to be living there. 3700 plots of land were inconveniently already claimed where the new park was originally to be placed. So they went about extricating them first by offering payments and then later by simple eviction. Many residents were deemed too uneducated and incapable of taking care of themselves and were re-settled “for their own good.” I have no doubt that they were poor and uneducated and lived a subsistence life. That probably characterized much of rural life in the early 1900s. Although they were trying to preserve pristine land, many plots were condemned so that residents could be forcefully removed. The CCCs were instructed to destroy family homes in order to return the area to its natural state. Ironically, I don’t get the sense that preserving nature had much to do with their motivation. The entire goal of the project was not to preserve land but to build the most scenic road. Even the Appalachian Trail was moved to accommodate its construction.
There is a lot I didn’t know about the parks starting out but for the most part I have always thought of the parks as giant playgrounds designed for those of us that just never got over the loss of recess. When I think of the national parks, I assume we are protecting flora, fauna and geology but parks like Shenandoah remind me that it is not just national monuments and historic sites that protect history. As civilization encroaches ever more on nature, preservation becomes more important but the burden of protecting them grows equally. I am appreciating the individual sacrifices required to protect land for future generations. Many voices are not heard secondary to that peculiar combination of politics and wealth drowning them out.
For many of these people, this is not just a remote memory. I ran by a cemetery today that continues to be used by families with connections to the area. It is hard not to think that these people are still experiencing the consequences of being removed from their land. We cannot easily undo what has been done but worse is to forget it happened. I have resolved to read a bit more than just the trail map for each park in order and give a silent thanks as I go to those who walked ahead of me. Let’s not take for granted what we have.
Monday, April 11, 2016
Here my brother and his colleagues train to be superheroes and we all pretend that we don’t know anything about it. I ran by blown up jeeps, burnt out tanks and a fake city that has seen a lot of bullets. It goes by the cheery name of Freedom Village. Trail running at its creepiest. I had to scale a fence to break into the area so I may or may not have permission to see such things. The threat of people chasing after you with guns encourages a fast tempo. I think it will gain popularity as a new training method.
Given my recent predicaments with fire and propane, my brother, a survivor of survival school, took pity on his big sister (Ok, older. I am not exactly bigger anymore). Always a student, I was very excited to learn from an expert.
We, of course, started with fire. This is easy, he promised me, and this is what I learned. It takes about an hour to collect all the right materials, from the pine needles to the tiny little sticks to the slightly bigger sticks to the large pieces of wood. Then it takes the perfect dead stump to find the right sap. It also requires a knife but not a good knife to dig a hole. It requires my brother’s flint and his assistance getting the spark just right. But he is right, with all that, it is very easy to light a fire. I then bought a Duralog and an extra lighter.
My brother then taught me to pick a lock. This seems useless until you have spent a day with me and discovered how much of my life I spend looking for my keys. This got much more complicated since buying my Jeep which has “keyless” entry. I still have not sorted this out. As every other electronic device has gotten smaller, key fobs have only gotten larger. You need to carry around a giant key fob that fits in no pocket discreetly but there is no actual key to open the door or start the car. I regularly find myself driving down the highway wondering where I left my keys and being content with the fact that they must be somewhere in the car or I couldn’t be going anywhere. This also has me leaving the door unlocked because locking the door would mean actually finding the key. The key remains lost and I simply come and go. This way I truly do have a keyless car. Unfortunately, I did not pass the lock-picking lesson and, thus, must continue driving around with my lost keys.
I also learned to tie knots. We discussed situations where I would use various knots. For example, when I am repelling out of buildings, I can use a Bachmann knot. I discovered bowlines for when I need to ascend a tree. I learned about an alpine butterfly in case I am climbing and my rope is breaking. I learned about a cow hitch in case I need to tie my horse to a post. I can do a square knot for when I have to tie two ropes together. I have never done any of these activities but when I finally buy a length of rope, I will be well prepared.
My shinning moment came when I learned to escape from handcuffs. I really feel like I mastered this one. As long as my captor hands me a bobby pin after placing the cuffs, I am a free bird. Considering my new hobby of running in forbidden territory, I feel like this one could really come in handy.
In between lesions my sister-in-law fed me lasagna, chicken enchiladas, better-than-crack Kahlua brownies, and Lucky Charms. I slept on a real mattress and took some very long, very hot showers. It was a five star stop on the trip and I even considered moving in. They welcomed me to be my niece’s new live-in nanny but I am allergic to poopy diapers so I am rolling on to Shenandoah with a full belly and well rested. I might have left town with the rest of the brownies. Many thanks for their hospitality!
Friday, April 8, 2016
South Carolina and I do not get along. We met in 2009 when I was applying for residency positions. I didn’t know much about South Carolina but it was relatively close to my parent’s home in Florida and the program seemed solid, so I went for an interview. Arriving the night before, I wandered around the streets, quite enamored with the historic homes, the seaside vibe and the aromas of Southern cooking. However, not long into my 6 hour “date” with the program did I realize we had nothing in common. My prospects in Junior League were dim and I had preemptively excused myself from Baptist Bible study. I gave South Carolina the Tinder left swipe (OK kids, hang on while I explain this for those over 40 and other happy couples. Tinder is a dating app. Swipe left means you are passing on a potential date. I will just leave it at that.) Boy, was she pissed.
I left the interview to discover that it had been raining for hours. As it turns out, South Carolina was built by the same people that built the Netherlands. Why build on perfectly dry land when you can build under water? The hospital was wisely built at the nadir of the city so that it never just rains there, it floods. Every exit of the parking garage was blocked by two feet of water and every time I circled around, the water getting higher. Finally, I came to the conclusion that it was a rental car and I really didn’t give a rat’s ass if it worked tomorrow as long as it got me home. The streets were no better and every way I turned, I found long lines of cars and blocked streets.
Perhaps this would have been an amusing antidote in an otherwise tedious string of interviews but one year prior to this, Hurricane Ike had wiped out Galveston. It looked something like this.
Fearing the worst, I panicked. Coming to a complicated intersection with water in every direction as far as I could see, I simply pulled up onto the island in the middle and stopped the car. Normally I consider myself a very calm person in a crisis. That is my job after all, to be the sane one when people start dying. I like to think that I maintain my composure. I do not yell during codes. I do not rush. I am methodical. I do not resort to gender norms to escape responsibility. I like a little adventure. I take pride in my self.
But that day I was getting the hell out of Dodge and used every means at my disposal. So I turned on the tears for that policeman. After hearing my story, the policeman he gave me directions then stopped all cars to allow me to cross the intersection. I finally made it out of town, vowing never to return. I now live in a desert.
So here I am in South Carolina because someone had to go make Congaree a national park. It’s like going out to lunch and running into a bad one-night stand and his proper, Southern mother when all I wanted was Tuna on rye to go.
The day started benignly enough. I met by my neighbor who kindly invited me over for tea as I was prepping the camper to leave. I hesitated. What you have to understand is that I love a good schedule. As a student, I actually enjoyed making detailed schedules in 15 minute increments to maximize my efficiency. I keep a whiteboard that dwarfs all other pictures in my house. It is easy to read because of course every event is color-coded. I believe accordion file folders can solve most problems. I cannot leave Staples without a package of sticky notes. Stopping for tea would perhaps throw off my whole day, but part of leaving a normal work life for the road was to live in the moment the best that I can. As an ER doc my conversations have developed an unpleasant habit of get-to-the-point, why-are-you-here frankness. Stopping to smell the coffee is what it is all about and so I spent an hour chatting with a very pleasant couple from Canada. After several days in relative isolation in the Great Smokies, I relished the conversation. I left the campground in an unusually happy mood.
I should do that more often, I thought. In my head, I simply adjusted my schedule. I would spend and hour less at the Biltmore mansion and arrive a little later at the campground. All the pieces still fit.
For many years I have been told that the Biltmore is a must see. This is the American equivalent of Downton Abbey. I would say that people flock to see this place because of their interest in history but then the Lincoln log cabin would be overrun as well. Perversely we are willing to pay the rich to see how rich they are. There I ran into a wall of people with black pieces of plastic glued to their ear, refusing to move until instructed by the audio guide. I felt my schedule strain under the pace of the herd. Again I scolded myself. I would not come back here so I might as well make the most of the opportunity and settled into seeing famous wedding gowns from period movies, which I take is their subtle way of drumming up wedding business.
Finally I was on my way again for just a short drive to Congaree. The drive was pleasant enough right up until the time that Siri announced that I was “arriving at destination” in her chirpy little voice. I looked around at the empty fields, a dirt road and most concerning, no little brown sign. I can only guess that when Siri has no idea what you are asking for, she just throws a pin and takes you there. 30 miles from the entrance, my schedule was really off.
I tried again. Siri dutifully took me on the most efficient route, right into a closed road. South Carolina did nothing to help here. There is nothing marking that at the end of this narrow back country road you will need to do a three point turn with your trailer in order to backtrack. I still had not seen a little brown sign.
Racing the setting sun, I pulled into the camping area. I knew ahead of time that there would be minimal accommodations but I’m prepared for this. Then I read the rules (over and over, I might add, desperately looking for some exemption) that clearly state there are to be no RVs, campers, trailers or car camping. It is still unclear to me if could have just huddled down in the parking lot for the night but the sign seemed to indicate otherwise which means I didn’t have any place to land.
At this point I resorted to calling for backup which and called my parents to have them surf for a new place to camp while I drove. Who else do you call but the people most concerned with your safety? Any why wouldn’t camping next to a military base be safe? And that’s when I found myself pulling into a rutted dirt lot where the woman spoke to me through thick bullet proof glass. The trailers next door had that distinct I-might-be-a-meth-lab look to them. To add insult to injury, after hours of traversing South Carolina’s crumbling roads, my refrigerator couldn’t take the trauma. I opened it to find that the plastic bin in the door was broken. Now I had no place to put my beer! South Carolina showed its true colors and that whole Southern Hospitality show was a load of crap!
I did finally run through the Congreve. It was a fascinating sight for someone that had never seen a swamp. I expected a creepy, horror movie feel to it but instead it felt old and wise. My only disappointment is that I did not have time or arrangements to float down the river. Notably were no “No Swimming” signs as if for once it was so obvious that it wasn’t necessary to post. I did come to the conclusion that any trail that includes the word “snake” in its name should be avoided. Unlike bears, snake encounters were in no way welcome.
I then left for safe haven at the beach to drink good wine with old friends. Of course as I write this, it is raining. Pouring, really. I am considering the sea worthiness of my vessel. How many water wings does it take to float a teardrop? I swear South Carolina hates me.
Monday, April 4, 2016
I thought my parents taught me what I needed to know in life but this trip makes me consider otherwise.
My father guided me on lawn maintence which proved profitable in my younger years. I took great pride in a well-mowed lawn with neat patterns and no missed blades. It was a job with immediate gratification and let me enjoy the great outdoors even if it was to the din of the lawn mower. We now live in Arizona where lawns are an extravagant luxury. Anything green is declared a weed and promptly removed for fear of disrupting the pale brown monotony of rock gardens.
I also learned to skin and clean deer and elk from my father, which provided my family with meat and leather. Such skills seemed to be common knowledge as most of the families I knew did the same. I have intimate knowledge of where my food came from and its impact on the environment, something I don’t take for granted. However, I don’t own a gun and do not hunt. Should life be so desperate that I need to draw on this knowledge, well, God help us all.
My first driving lesson was with a stick shift. This was inevitable as our vehicles were all stick shifts but also proved practical. I have never been stranded with a car I could not get into gear. In my recent search for a new vehicle to tow the teardrop, it became increasingly clear that this is a lost art and will soon be a relic along with slide rules and Ataris.
My mother did her best to teach me how to take care of myself as well. From middle school on, I was left to do my own laundry. I would often run 4-5 loads based on my meticulous evaluation of color and fabric so that nothing ran or shrank. This came to a prompt end on this trip. I considered the contents of my laundry bag. At the cost of six quarters per load plus drying, the colors suddenly became close enough and everything went in together. I expect my wardrobe to be uniformly grey by the end.
My mother also taught me to cook. I can roast a turkey, role a pie crust and bake bread. I am far from gourmet but no one will starve at my table and you might even go back for seconds. Unfortunately the oven and Kitchenaid did not fit in the teardrop. I do have the highest quality can opener I could find and no can has failed to yield to its force. I have perfected boiling water for my five minute rice. This is as close as I am getting to turkey on this trip.
My mother also made sure that I kept a clean house, not that I think she wanted me to be a housewife but that she couldn’t possibly keep up with five people’s dirt. On the rare occasions I was left home alone, I really didn’t mind cleaning the house and was happy to help. It is somewhat ironic that years later while living alone, the first thing I did as soon as I could afford it was hire a housekeeper. Even with only two square feet to sweep, my housekeeper may just be the person I miss the most on this trip.
My parents expected me to work hard and budget wisely. Indeed, I did this, too, right up until I decided being poor but not working wasn’t such a bad idea after all. I suppose as a parent you can’t expect all the lessons to stick.
Somehow I failed to learn the things I really need to know like how to start a fire. I am surrounded by campfires: the smoke, the popping, the warm glow, the cheery laughter. Every place I camp has a fire pit full of ashes taunting me. Finally in the Great Smokies with time on my hands and plenty of wood around, I decided to try one. Let’s just say that after running through an entire lighter, it still looks like this.
I crawled back into the camper with shame.
I crawled back into the camper with shame.
I also do not know how much an empty propane tank weighs. Never being in charge of the grill, this was not something I ever had chance to consider. After two weeks on the road and a couple of cold nights, I worried it was low. I spent all day trying to resolve this problem but still don’t know how much an empty tank weighs. That is because it is still full, as the kind man informed me.
This could be a long trip.
Saturday, April 2, 2016
I came for the bears. I found many people.
A stunning drive from Mammoth Cave to the Great Smokies sadly ended in Pigeon Forge. To my surprise, the Great Smokies claim to be the most visited park with 9 million people annually and many of them enter through Pigeon Forge, which has made the most of it. It looks like a bad mash up of Jersey Shore and Las Vegas with the miles of carnival rides and gaudy attractions. I apologize to Ms. Parton and her fans but it shocked the system after the solitude of Mammoth Cave. I scampered out of there as quickly as possible but, unfortunately after getting their cotton candy fix, everyone followed for a drive through the park. There are several stunning drives in the area and, as one guidebook put it, for better or worse, most people stick to the roads.
So there I found myself at 7:30 in the morning stuck in a long line of cars headed into Cades Coves, a drive known for its historic buildings and wildlife. It did not disappoint with its plethora of wild turkeys and deer. While creeping along at 4-5 mph, I became frustrated that I had not chosen to just run through. As some know well, my patience to sit and take a leisurely drive is infinitely greater after a 2 or 3 hour run. Thus, disregarding the advice of the ranger who pointed out the best running trails, I pulled over and picked one that seemed like a good idea on paper.
It seems relevant to point out that even well known and frequently visited trails have their risks. My experience on Pike’s Peak would certainly be proof of that. My conclusion in choosing this particular hike is that it was likely to have heavy traffic at each end of the trail and I would simply connect them to make a loop. In between I figured that I might end up venturing far enough away from the crowds to see some wildlife. As expected, I passed several people hiking before arriving at Abram Falls, taking a few pictures and moving on.
Here the underbrush got thicker and the trail was obvious but clearly less utilized. There were definitely no people. I was not as sure about bears. So far threatening wild animals had not been a consideration on my trip but it can’t escape consideration here where signs are posted at every corner to not feed the bears. I signed a document at the campground check-in acknowledging I would not leave any food out. All the trash cans have heavy, cumbersome locks. I expect the gift shop sells bear bells where I am not sure if they serve as a warning so much as a dinner bell.
I, like many, have a conflicted relationship with these animals. I love to see them but I prefer it on my own terms, from a distance and without any teeth. I am aware of the dangers of bears but I am equally aware that they really have no interest in being seen. In spite of this my paranoia grew. Every stump grew a muzzle and fuzzy round ears. Finally before every corner and at the sight of scat, I would call out, “Hello, coming through!” as if the bears would politely step aside allowing a colorfully dressed woman to pass on by when in reality I’m probably the bear equivalent of a happy meal. “Look, mom, it comes with a free backpack if you can catch it!”
I made it to the half way point with some relief. I expected the trail to be fairly benign and a little more heavily traveled as I headed back to the trailhead. And I was wrong. The climbs and descents were steeper and complicated by slick mud. Clearly it had been a while since anyone other than me had been there. I didn’t even look for bear prints at that point. There was no question in my overactive imagination that they were there and I didn’t need confirmation.
It was with some glee that I saw another hiker about 2.5 miles from the trailhead. I convinced myself he had rid the rest of the trail of bears with his presence and cruised back to the car carefree. But back at the campground, safe and sound, I wished I had seen a bear. I consoled myself with chocolate and reconsidered. Perhaps I would see one tomorrow. I ate more chocolate and worried again about running into a bear. What if it had cubs? I reached for more chocolate but it was gone. Great sadness but at least now I will be tastier bear bait.
Friday, April 1, 2016
10 days and 4 parks completed, there is a fascinating variety of wildlife. The most common species found tends to be the Snowbird. With the exception of some of the larger and more famous parks such as the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, which draw a diversity of generations and nationalities, I generally find myself as “the youngster” of the visitors, as if the parks were in fact the geriatric playgrounds. It just so happens that the toys they bring to show and tell have gotten much larger and more expensive. Or perhaps after buying their $400,000 RV, they had buyer’s remorse and are now seeking the cheapest possible places to park it. They are a social bunch though. They inevitably come in pairs and come evening this can usually be found huddled together with other couples. Politics is the predominate language although offspring also seems to be a common dialect.
While the over 60 crowd is well represented, also easy to spot another common visitor, the young adults with their ducklings waddling behind. Even this can be narrowed down to the family with three or more children all under 12. It’s as if once surpassing a family of four, the hotel room becomes too crowded or expensive and calling it camping has better curb appeal than calling it homelessness. Their migrations tend to coincide with summers or a random week in the spring and they tend to fly via minivan. The oldest invariably looks bored and the youngest is crying from the hen pecking of the middle child. The adults are expert negotiators frequently offering bribes or threats to keep children off the rail, on the path, in the left line, out the right door, quiet in the theater, seated on the bus, not standing on the flowers, hands-to-themselves throughout the tour. Offsprings’ high-pitched voices are heard well before they are seen. These birds do not fly in formation and the causal observer should be alert to unintended close encounter on their erratic flight path.
A third species is known for their colorful down coats and uber efficient, nylon nests. Found predominately in parks known for their backpacking, these juveniles have recently set out from their parents. They travel in two and threes. Converted old vans are coveted modes of flight. The males are distinctive for facial hair and rarely bathing. They are more common than female groupings but female groupings have increased sightings in recent years. They have few vocalizations and tend to keep to themselves unless they have ingested fermented grains.
Being a young and and traveling alone, I don’t fit well into any of these categories. With a distinctive camper, I often feel like a parrot in the wrong forest. I have yet to find my kind. For now given my accommodations, I tend to nest with the Snowbirds. I do hope for more encounters with the elusive juveniles. I expect further in depth study of park wildlife will prove to be educational and entertaining.