Bonafide Bonehead

In the course of telling you about my recent cellphone catastrophe, I mentioned the boneheaded moment I decided to rinse my cellphone off in the sink before trying to… rescue it from the effects of excessive moisture.

I wish I could tell you it was an isolated incident.

It is not.

My nonsensical idiocy runs the gamut from obvious (to everyone else) poor fashion decisions to actual life and death matters.

In eighth grade, I wanted to look like, I don’t know, Molly Ringwald or something. I wanted to look like a hip young girl in tune with 80s chic, and I thought I had exactly what I needed to pull it off. Unfortunately, no matter how bright and preppy your shirt looks, if you combine an ultra-short black leather mini skirt with hot pink tights and little heeled silver boots, you look like you belong in the red light district, not on the red carpet. It wasn’t until I noticed all the whispers taking place that I realized there was more to style than just color coordination.

Childhood can perhaps be excused, but adults are supposed to know better. Before we had kids, I got in a huge fight with my husband about whether or not we should wear face masks while playing pick-up roller hockey. He insisted we should. I insisted that no one else even wore helmets and we’d look like over-concerned fools if we added face masks. That night – I’m not kidding you – that very night, I found myself in the urgent care center at the hospital getting 11 stitches in my eyebrow after colliding with someone on the rink.

I obviously didn’t learn my lesson because sometime after that, we arrived at an indoor skating rink for pick-up hockey with a rougher crowd. I dug and dug through my large hockey bag but couldn’t find my rubber mouth guard. Oh, well,  I thought. It’ll probably be OK to play without. Not too far into the evening, a show-off forward approached me with the puck. I stood my ground (perhaps a boneheaded decision itself) and he smashed right into me. As I picked me and my freshly broken stick up off the rink, I noticed that there was a bit of something on my tongue. Part of my tooth. I found the mouth guard as I put my stuff back in my bag.

Then there was the moment about a month after my first child was born when I loaded her and the dog up in the car and went to pick up a car part from a dealership for my husband. By the time I got there, I had… well… basically forgotten I had a child. I was standing in line at the parts counter when all the blood drained from my face as I realized I had left her in the car. Did I run back out and get her as any normal person would do? No! I stayed in line because I didn’t want all those other people to think I was a bad mom when I re-entered with a tiny baby. So… I became a worse mom… by leaving her there. {For the truly aghast among you, it was neither too hot nor too cold outside. She wasn’t in danger just by virtue of being in the car.}

While deep in a secluded section of Grand Canyon, requiring a steep uphill climb and several miles of walking to get anywhere close to a ranger, I once tried to take a close-up picture of a cute little baby snake… rattling its cute little tail at me… Until my panicked husband yelled as he approached and I backed off. In my defense, none of the people standing around watching had said anything at all. My husband made sure to give me all the grim details of what would have happened had I been bitten. And he was quite amused that I had gotten so close to the snake that the pictures I had taken were all blurry.

But perhaps the most boneheaded decision I made was when I was a Junior in High School. My boyfriend at the time asked me to marry him. Well, I didn’t know if that was a good move – I was fairly certain it wasn’t. I didn’t know if I wanted to marry him or not. And I certainly didn’t know what would happen if I said no. What I did know was that I didn’t want us to break up. And I knew that wouldn’t happen if I said yes, so I said yes. And he was oh, so happy.

Fortunately for me, many of my boneheaded moves did not have disastrous consequences – this one in particular. That boyfriend was the last one I ever had and we’ve beaten all odds on many fronts to have made this marriage work. And I truly couldn’t ask for a better person to be there laughing like a hyena whenever I do something really, really dumb.

In the Middle of Nowhere

I found myself behind the wheel somewhere east of Albuquerque during what turned out to be naptime for the other four members of the family on our long drive from the Grand Canyon to our home in East Texas.

There isn’t much east of Albuquerque. In fact, you are lucky to have cell reception. And forget data. There’s no checking Facebook or sending emails or anything that you are used to being able to do with your smart phone. (Most of that was discovered while not driving, btw. For the most part, I avoid my phone while driving.)

Radio stations are hard to come by as well. At one point, scanning through all the FM stations presented me with three different static-filled choices. And that’s it. No music.

I even got desperate enough to try the AM band and stumbled across some people talking about the plane that had disappeared just before we descended into the canyon. I stayed, hoping to get caught up, but they soon turned to politics and it became clear that the host and his two “experts” were cut from the same cloth and no meaningful examination of the issues from all sides would happen, so I returned to FM to try again for some music.

I finally hit pay dirt, when Lorde’s “Royals” came through. Yes! I thought. I’ll take top 40 pop. I was a bit surprised when The Beach Boys’ “Help Me Rhonda” played next. And then I couldn’t help but laugh when one of my favorite classic rock hits “Turn The Page” by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band was next on the playlist. I guess when you are the only radio station around, you have to appeal to a wide variety of tastes.

At one point, I asked my Shazam app on my phone to identify a song for me. It churned and churned and churned and eventually responded with:

I’m sorry. I don’t know if you realize this, but you are in the middle of nowhere and I can’t contact the mother ship to get an answer for you. I’ve saved the recording on your device and you can try to send it again when you’ve returned to civilization. Thank you.

Or, something like that.

My husband had told me that he thought we’d have enough gas to get to Amarillo but thought I should keep an eye on it. Judging by the road signs, Tucumcari was going to be my best intermediate choice, should I decide we couldn’t make it. As I drove through Tucumcari, though, we still had four bars on the gas gauge and everyone was still asleep. There was another town big enough to be given distance on the signs so I figured I’d check again there.

San Jon, as it turns out, is more of a village than a town. As I approached the first exit, I looked down at our mileage and the two bars on the gas gauge. I wasn’t sure we could make the remaining 85 miles to Amarillo, even driving a Prius. When I looked up, however, the town was fading behind me. It only has one exit.

I decided to wake my husband to get his opinion and as I did so, the gas gauge dropped to one bar. The next exit claimed a town name that didn’t even show up on our Google Map and there was nothing but fields as far as the eye can see. Still, I took the exit and returned to the sprawling metropolis of San Jon.

San Jon offered two choices for gas: a Valero and an un-branded truck stop that claimed to offer fine Indian Cuisine (dots, not feathers, as Good Will Hunting would say). We chose the Valero and as I pulled into the parking lot, my husband exclaimed, “Is that a dead dog?!”

I looked over, and sure enough, there was a dead dog lying behind two parked trucks.

“Okaaaayyyy…” I said. “I think I’ll take this far pump, away from the dead dog.”

My husband got out to pump gas and I approached the building to use the bathroom. I steered wide of the dog but tried to look for signs of injury. I found none. How had it died? I thought. And why is no one doing anything about it? And how did those two trucks manage to park there without running over it? Or did it die there after they parked? How long have they been parked there?!

I walked into the station and looked around. I thought about asking someone about the dog but it all felt so surreal that I just went quietly to the bathroom. On my return, I resolved to watch the dog closely for signs of breathing. Maybe it wasn’t dead.

I stared at it through the glass doors and kept staring as I walked out of the building. The chest was not rising and falling. Common sense and analysis of the situation had told me that the only logical conclusion was that the dog was not, indeed, dead, so I kept walking toward it. I walked between the two trucks and when I was almost to the beds of the trucks, it slowly lifted a lazy eyelid. The skin sagged and showed the red flesh around the eye. The dog did not lift its head, nor twitch any muscle in its body. The only thing that moved was that one eyelid. The dog then dismissed me and closed its eye.

I exhaled the air I had been holding in my lungs and rushed to the car.

“The dog isn’t dead,” I told my husband. “But it’s still kind of creepy.”

When he returned from the building after buying snacks, he told me that an old man had walked out and the dog looked up before jumping to its feet. The man said, “Come on, old girl” and the dog jumped into the back of one of the trucks.

How small of a town do you have to be in for a dog to be able to just lay in the middle of the parking lot without getting run over? And exactly how old does the dog have to be to lay that still?

Grand Canyon 2014: Time Zone Math

I personally think that everyone should go on vacation to someplace in a different time zone, right smack in the middle of the change from standard to daylight savings (or vice versa – it doesn’t matter). To make it more interesting, you should drive through areas that have a different time zone than yours yet you should end up in… Arizona, which doesn’t observe daylight savings. Oh, and you should pick a region where the network can’t update the time on your phone and then plan an activity where it really doesn’t matter what time it is (like hiking).

During our hikes, my husband would frequently ask me, the wearer of the watch, for a time check. I would usually answer “X o’clock central time” since that’s what my watch was set to, but every once in awhile I’d say “X o’clock local time.” All he wanted was a differential from the last time he asked anyway.

This drove Jane nuts.

“Why don’t you just change your watch to match local time?!”

We both answered her with the same reason: if I never change my watch, I always know for sure which time zone it is reading. Otherwise, I’m asking myself, “Did I already switch to mountain time or is this still central?”

Smart phones and other devices that are supposed to update the time automatically based on the time reported by the network they are connected to were supposed to make things easier for you. And as long as you keep it simple, I suppose they do. It can get complicated, though.

For instance, my daughter’s iPod updated automatically but not her phone, which she then changed manually. My phone, once we climbed out of Grand Canyon, informed me that the network was not providing a time so it was switching me to manual. Fine. So my phone is still Central. Good.

Except my phone – and my watch – were still set to Central STANDARD Time and the entire country (except Arizona) had switched to daylight savings the day we descended into the canyon – a fact that we conveniently ignored because it really didn’t matter at that time. Still, no problem at first: my watch (and phone) were an hour ahead of local time. Just like they should be for the way my head remembers the time zones.

But then we drove east – to Gallup, NM and got a hotel room. They, of course, had clocks in the room that reflected Mountain Daylight Savings Time, which, incidentally, happens to be the same time as Central Standard Time. Or, the time on my phone and watch. Even though I instinctively knew that they shouldn’t match.

So at some point in the evening, I noticed that the clock in the room said it was 10:00. If that were what time it really was, that’d be really bad because my kids were still awake watching the Disney Channel. So I checked my phone. 10:00. How can that be? My phone was on Central Time. This hotel room should be Mountain. Ohhh! Unless my phone updated for the network. I bet that’s what happened. I checked my watch to verify my theory. 10:00. What?! Maybe the hotel forgot to move the clocks forward last Sunday – I mean, they forgot to remove the large empty vodka bottle that we found on the floor behind the trash can, so I wouldn’t count on them remembering to reset all the clocks. But wait, if that was the case, the clock would show an hour earlier than I expected, not later. Oh, wait. We aren’t in Arizona anymore and… oh, yeah! I haven’t changed my watch yet and my phone gave up on automatically updating the time zone while we were in Arizona!

For awhile, I truly thought I might be going crazy.  In this age of technology, it was really disconcerting to me that I could have a half dozen time sources at my disposal and still not be sure what time it was.

Grand Canyon 2014: Up is Mandatory

Society has rules. Life flows better, for the most part, when people follow the rules. Now, I know that some people get a kick out of not following rules and oftentimes it’s not a problem. Until it is.

Backpackers and hikers have rules. Or trail etiquette, as it’s often called. One of the most fundamental is that people going uphill have the right-of-way. If you stop and think about it, the reason is obvious. Going uphill is work. Constant downhill can be trying too, don’t get me wrong, but it’s always easier for a downhill hiker to move out of the way or stop and then start again.

My husband likes to laugh at me while we are in “the corridor” of Grand Canyon National Park. The corridor is the “tame” below-rim portion of the park. The two main camps there are staffed. One even has a canteen and cabins. People can ride mules down to the bottom. This area gets the most traffic. But the bulk of the people are what we call “front country” people (as opposed to “back country” people, who you find backpacking and sleeping rough outside the corridor).

I get easily irritated with front country people. My husband once asked me several years ago, shortly after we entered the corridor after hiking for days outside it, “What’s the matter? Are there too many front country people in your back country?”

Most of them are easy to spot. Or smell. Perfume? Really? You put on your perfume and makeup before hiking down into the canyon? You styled your hair? Designer jeans? Wait. Are those dress boots you are wearing? Are you really carrying your purse?!

One thing that really makes them stand out though is their ignorance of trail etiquette. Trail etiquette is particularly important in the Grand Canyon. Why? Think about it. Most hiking areas either have varied terrain or you are hiking a mountain. When hiking a mountain, you go up while you are fresh and new and come down at the end. So even if a downhill hiker doesn’t pull over for the uphill hiker, the uphill person probably, maybe, hopefully has the energy to put up with it.

In the Grand Canyon, however, going uphill is the last thing you do. And it’s a beast of an uphill hike, no way around it. They have great signs all over the tops of the trails that say “Down is optional, up is mandatory.” And if, like us, you just spent several days on the trail, you are starting that uphill hike already sore and stiff and tired. And no matter how much fun you had while you were down there, you are so ready to be out. Oh, and since they are starting at the top – usually later in the day than you – and you are starting at the bottom, you encounter most of them in that last mile. When you’ve lost any sense of humor or patience.

I become a belligerent trail hog at that point. I have the right-of-way. I get to choose where I am. If you pull over and stop moving, I look up gratefully and say thank you. If you don’t, I tend to puff up like a cat trying to look bigger. My elbows go out to the sides as I work my trekking poles. I put my head down and barrel forward, straight up the center of the trail. Given the opportunity, I’ll bump you.

One perfumed woman in pink turned with an indignant “Excuse me?!” as I brushed past her, my face red and sweaty, a fully loaded large pack on my back. Finally! A chance to rant.

“Uphill has the right-of-way!” I called back.

You have the right-of-way?” she asked, incredulous.

“Yes!” I said, turning back to look at her, “Uphill hikers always have the right-of-way.”

I wondered if she’d get a slight hint of why that is during her walk back up. Of course, if she only goes a mile or two down the trail and isn’t carrying anything with her (apparently, it’s up to her man to carry her water), then she can’t fully appreciate the growing desperation I was feeling. She can’t appreciate that my thirteen year-old daughter is in tears and my ten year-old son says he can’t make it. She can’t appreciate that I am struggling not to join them in that mental black hole, despite this being my fourth time to exit the canyon. She can’t appreciate why people like her make my blood boil while I’m trying to hike up and out with burning muscles and fatigue taking over.

During that moment, it doesn’t do any good to remind myself that it’s just ignorance. They aren’t trying to be rude. It’s not that they are self-absorbed jerks who can’t follow the rules or consider what’s going on around them. Or… is it? I walked out of Wal-Mart today with my tote bag of groceries. I had trouble exiting because a horde of nearly a dozen people – at least 3 or 4 distinct groups – were entering through the exit doors. There was plenty of room over at the entrance doors, but that would have forced them to walk a few extra feet, and what does it matter if the woman trying to use the exit has to wade through a thick sea of bodies? So, no. Sometimes I think it wouldn’t matter if those front country folks knew trail etiquette. I’m still not sure that all of them would respect it.

Grand Canyon 2014: Night Hike

Our last night in the Grand Canyon, we planned to hike out to Plateau Point from Indian Gardens to watch the sunset. The sunset in the canyon is a lot different than other places. The more interesting place to look is the East, not the West. The way the sun hits the canyon is magnificent.

But people were sore and tired and not very motivated. And then a ranger stopped me and the boys and offered a Junior Ranger challenge. That ranger was hiking out that night but the other ranger could verify their work, only he was leaving early in the morning, so… we decided to do the workbooks instead of hiking. It didn’t take much to convince us.

After the Junior Ranger swearing-in ceremony, my husband and I hiked the short, steep path uphill to the bathrooms. From that vantage point, I could see a great view of the sunset against the canyon so started taking some pictures. The boys ran up asking if we were going to go out to Plateau Point now.

“Please! Please! Can we go?!”

“It’s probably going to be dark before we get out there,” we said.

“That’s ok! Can we go?! Please!”

I looked my husband straight in the eye. Neither one of us wanted to go.

“I’ll take them,” I said, still staring in his eyes. The boys leaped for joy.

We hurried to the campsite (well, they hurried – I hobbled). We gathered jackets and water bottles and headlamps. With excited goodbyes to their sister, we hit the trail.

The first part of the trip was full of excited chatter and a quick pace. I warned them that we likely wouldn’t see the sunset. The Point was 1.5 miles from where we were camping. They didn’t care.

The sun passed below the edge of the canyon and everything turned a shade of gray. The temperature dropped and the wind picked up. I warned them it’d probably be dark and we wouldn’t be able to see anything. They didn’t care.

And I didn’t either. I was walking with my boys and I was at peace. The walking on the gentle, even trail was stretching out my tight muscles. I was comfortable and they were happy.

Before long, we were crossing the plateau and I kept thinking we had to be getting close. We didn’t need our headlamps yet but I was getting concerned about getting too far out. Eventually, Daryl decided that the wind was getting too strong and we turned back. I’m guessing we were probably 5, maybe 10, minutes from the Point. Oh, well.

About 10 minutes into our 30 minute return trip, I busted out the headlamps and fitted them on their heads. Showed them how to direct them to the ground and not shine them into people’s eyes. Then we resumed our walk.

Everyone walked in total silence. It was one part wonderful, one part spooky. As the last person on the trail, I kept irrationally looking behind me as if expecting a crazed axe murderer or rabid mountain lion to jump out of the bushes. The boys weren’t talking anymore, just focusing on the trail.

Then suddenly, Hal farted. The boys giggled. And the rest of the trip was filled with the noises of fake farts and other sounds amusing to young boys. I don’t know how special the evening was for them, but for me, it was magical.

Grand Canyon 2014: The People

Backpacking can be a relatively solitary activity. Depending on where you are hiking, you might not interact with any other humans outside of your crew for several days. However, you have absolutely nothing else to do except interact with those people, so the time is always special.

When hiking in more populous areas, like the corridor area of Grand Canyon National Park, you are going to encounter many, many people. Again, these interactions tend to be very special, even if brief.

Now, there are annoyances, mind you. You aren’t going to like everyone you come across. I could have done without the girl giggling during sex while I tried to sleep. On the other hand, seeing them earlier in the evening, sitting on a bench, staring soulfully into each other’s eyes… while making me want to roll my eyes, also made me smile. They were in love and chose to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon together. So there was a bit of a smile behind the eye rolling.

I definitely could have done without the two women I dubbed “The Valley Girls.” They cut short my attempt at a nap the last full day in the canyon because one of them had chosen that afternoon to show the other one some pictures she had taken. The other one loudly proclaimed, “O. M. G. These are so {shrieking}WONDERFUL!! I can’t believe you brought these. These are just. So. Awesome. I simply can’t believe it.” Every conversation was loud enough for me to hear and I simply wanted to strangle them.

The folks we kept leap-frogging with on the second day were ok. They kept giving us encouragement like “you guys are doing great!” Of course, they lost some kudos when they told me that I sure have some tough girls there. I think they were embarrassed when I said it was actually one girl and two long-haired boys.

Then there’s the perfumed women in designer jeans. Come on, people. I know you are just day hikers, but some of us are actually trying to rough it here and we really don’t need a nose full of your flowery scent to remind us of our own reek.

And there’s the men who asked me if we had flashlights when the boys and I were heading out on a trail at dusk. On the one hand, I appreciated their concern for our well being. On the other hand, I wondered if they would have asked the question if it had been my husband chaperoning the children. I would hope they would but I couldn’t help feeling there was a bit of condescension in the questions.

But for all the annoying people, there’s always really cool people to balance it all out.

One family was hiking with a trail guide. We encountered them on the trail several times, but more importantly, they took the campsite we had initially thought to claim the first night. We had deposited the children in that site and then walked on, found a different one, and had them move to it. That meant when we discovered our children were missing items, it was this family that we checked in with and they had indeed found the all-important walking sticks and sunglasses.

When the kids and I went to the sink by the bathrooms to rinse out our dishes without soap (it was the only night we’d be using those dishes so we didn’t bother to pack soap), a nice man about my age offered us use of his soap and scrub brush. He and I then visited about hiking with kids. His level of friendliness is something I’ve come to expect in the back country.

Another family at that initial campsite was doing a whirlwind Spring Break. I first saw the 10 year old girl limping up the trail to the bathroom and smiled. I knew she was sore.

Sure enough, as we entered the bathroom, her mom was exiting and the girl remarked on how sore she was. I struck up a conversation and learned that they had hiked down that day and were hiking back up the next. And then going skiing.

“I think we might be crazy,” the mom said. Barely able to walk myself, I agreed.

Then there’s the rangers. It takes a special person to be a good ranger and we had incredibly good fortune on this trip. The boys did the Junior Ranger program at Phantom Ranch the first night and the woman who gave them their Ranger vows was great. She made them swear not to whine on the trail and that ranger rule came in handy on subsequent days.

They also did the ranger program at Indian Garden after a ranger stopped me – I initially thought to chastise me for letting my kids be too far away from me. Turns out she wanted to give them the Junior Ranger books.

A different ranger gave them their vows that night and was then hiking out the same morning as us. We enjoyed visiting with him when he caught up to us. I teased him about having planned to leave out earlier that morning. He confessed to being reluctant to leave his coffee.

He then questioned some boys heading down with knives and scarves as if they were going into warfare. They tried to act all macho and insisted they knew what they were doing. “We like to be prepared,” one guy declared as they all hurried to get away from the ranger.

“Are you expecting to fight a mountain lion?” asked the ranger with a twinkle in his eye. We smiled at each other as the boys headed on down the trail.

There is a special comradery on the trail. You find interesting people from all walks of life, with one common trait: a great love of the outdoors and being in the thick middle of it.

Grand Canyon 2014: A Good Night’s Sleep

Nighttime is always the hardest for me on backpacking trips. I simply don’t sleep well on the ground. Actually, especially here lately, I don’t sleep well period – even in the comfort of my own bed. So sleeping on the ground… and without the benefit of the quieting effects of my husband’s C-PAP machine… is terrifyingly daunting.

Our first night at the Grand Canyon, we slept on the rim in Mather Campground. It’s always the worst night because it’s so freakin’ cold up there! We arrived after dark and setup the tents: girls in one, boys in the other.

As I rolled over onto my side, my butt bumped my daughter’s sleeping bag.

“Ooh!” She called out, “You touched me with your bottom! Don’t do that!”

The night was cold and I added layers of clothing through the night. I kept my face tucked up into the sleeping bag. I rolled over frequently to regain feeling in whichever arm had previously been on bottom. I stretched out when my legs felt tight, only to retract them quickly because of the freezing temperatures in the foot of the bag. Sometimes when I’d move, cold air would rush in through the top of the bag and chill my entire body. Oh, and I learned that my daughter snores. I was miserable, pure and simple.

Jane was cold too. By the morning, she didn’t mind my bum one bit. In fact, she was nearly spooning with me when it was time to get up.

Daryl chose that night to talk in his sleep. Shout, actually. And then later pick a fight with his brother. Apparently both of them move a lot and don’t like to feel crowded by the other.

The second night was better. At least it wasn’t as cold. I had trouble falling asleep though. In part because the lovebirds in the campsite across from us had retired to their tent and she was giggling uncontrollably. I contemplated walking over there and asking them to have sex more quietly. When I told my husband that the next morning, I learned that he had been having a similar but less charitable reaction.

That night was also the night Hal did one of his I’m-not-awake-but-I’m-also-not-happy hissy fits. He fussed and fussed and fussed and kicked about while Daddy demanded to know what was wrong and what he could do to help. It was both frustrating and hilarious to listen to.

The final night was the best as far as sleeping went. It was warmer – so warm, in fact, that I almost sweated in the sleeping bag. The primary disruption was Jane waking me up about 4 am to ask permission to go to the bathroom.

Of course, that was also the night that I forgot my phone was still on Central Standard time and we were now in Arizona. I dutifully powered on the phone and set the alarm for 6 am. When it went off, I woke everyone else and quickly packed my sleeping bag and rolled up my Thermarest.

As I got out of the tent and our voices began to rise (quiet time ends at 6 am), Jane asked, “Mom? Did you reset your clock? My phone says it’s 5:15.”

Oops. The two adults decided, much to the children’s chagrin, that we’d stay up but just move about quietly. This ended up getting us on the trail and out of the canyon that much earlier though so I don’t think there were too many regrets once the day was done. And everyone slept beautifully in the hotel room that night.