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 After the bear scare, our night in the tent proved uneventful. We slept well in spite of the spiked rocks protruding through the tent footprint, and I arose at dawn to start coffee.  Even with the ultralight gear, we still packed up an actual coffee percolator, and it worked great with the MSR Dragonfly Stove.  Some luxuries cannot be ignored.

We ate oatmeal as the sun crept deeper into Boot Canyon, and soon the local deer were back again.  They had no problem ignoring us, so we started returning the favor, and got ready to do some exploring sans gear.  First up: Emory Peak.

Tabitha enjoys breakfast with one of the locals

Tabitha enjoys breakfast with one of the locals

When I hiked the high Chisos as a teen, we skipped the Emory Peak spur. By the time we reached it, we had 9 rugged miles behind us, and the descent down the Pinnacles yet to go.  Going down is not much easier than going up, so I had to postpone Emory Peak until another day.  24 years later that day had arrived.

It was less than a mile to the junction, and this time we only carried water, lunch, and the camera tripod. Nevertheless, the ascent up the Emory Peak spur trail started out as steep switchbacks, steeper than the Pinnacles, and we were soon winded in the thin air at over 7,000 feet.  It climbs a gulley and levels out near the campsite trail; there’s only one Emory peak site.  We turned right and continued up to the summit.

Now the trail was out of the gulley and an amazing view of the valleys of the high Chisos came into view.  We could even see Boot Canyon, and what looked to be the composting toilet near our campsite. Colima Pass spread out below us; we studied it knowing that was our intended route out the following day. The trail through upper Boot Canyon to the South Rim was easy to spot, and the desert beyond continued for miles.

Rich scans Colima Pass en route to the summit

Rich scans Colima Pass en route to the summit

Upper Boot Canyon extends through the middle to the South Rim. Colima Pass extend to the right in the foreground.

Upper Boot Canyon extends through the middle to the South Rim. Colima Pass extend to the right in the foreground.

The Emory Peak trail covers a little over a mile, but the steep grade more than compensates for the lack of distance.  And it was pushing 80 degrees, which we hadn’t felt since last September in Minnesota. We trudged on along south of the ridgeline, finding shade in an oak grove in exchange for more switchbacks. Finally we reached the top, or at least the top of the trail.  Lunch and time for some pictures of the fantastic views.

Near the summit, with Casa Grande (left) and Toll Mountain (center foreground) behind

Near the summit, with Casa Grande (left) and Toll Mountain (center foreground) behind

We met a nice older couple who arrived about 15 minutes later. The woman was German, and had a remarkable scar on her knee from some kind of drastic, ancient surgery. This apparently didn’t stop her from climbing all the way up from the Basin that morning.  Impressive.

A pleasant German woman braved the climb, bad knee and all.

A pleasant German woman braved the climb, bad knee and all.

Meanwhile, Tabitha found her way to the final ascent. If you want to actually summit Emory Peak, and stand atop the world with the radio towers and solar panels, you have to free clinb the last 75 vertical feet or so.  I was skeptical, not too worried about getting up, but getting back down. One look at my wife upstaging me on the rocks was all it took.  The views made me wonder why I ever doubted making the attempt.

Tabitha scramples to the Summit

Tabitha scrambles to the Summit

Tabitha at the summit, with Blue Canyon behind her

Tabitha at the summit, with Blue Canyon behind her

Rich is not entirely comfortable on the summit

Rich is not entirely comfortable on the summit

You can see the entire park from the top, all the way from Santa Elena Canyon to Boquillas Canyon, and the Sierral Del Carmen in Mexico beyond. Casa Grande and Vernon Bailey Peaks, once towering over us in the Basin, now stood well beneath our feet. Especially impressive from this vantage was a unique rock formation aptly named Mule Ears Peaks, to our west in the desert below Blue Canyon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Santa Elena Canyon, nearly 20 miles away

Santa Elena Canyon, nearly 20 miles away

 

 

 

 

The summit offers a spectacular view of Mule Ears Peaks

The summit offers a spectacular view of Mule Ears Peaks

 We scrambled back down the rocks; it was easier than it looked, and soon we were back on the switchbacks. Just before reaching the shade of the gulley that marked the home stretch down, we discovered there were as many German women in these mountains as there were bears.

She was much younger than Fraulein Knee Surgery, and much less prepared for this territory.  She had carried a full pack up this far, deciding not to stash it in the bear box.  It was hot, and she wore dark clothes and pants.  Her lower lip was sunburned to the point of blistering into a bloody mess.  I tried to tell her she could leave her pack back at the trail junction, but I can barely say “Good Afternoon” in German, much less “Bear Box”. It turned out we had not seen the last of her.

Down the gulley switchbacks, past the bear boxes, and back on the main trail. After I climbed up on a rock for a nice photo at the turn into boot canyon, we ran into more day hikers, this time two middle aged couples. Then men were ambitious if not rugged, while the women looked as if anyplace would have been better than there.  I tried to picture them hiking up the Pinnacles trail, and immediately felt sorry for them.  Surely the men wanted to make it to the South Rim.  That meant they still had nearly 3 miles to go…and then would have to hike back down again.  I know people who have divorced for much lesser trials. 

Rich poses at Boot Canyon

Rich poses at Boot Canyon

But rookies would learn, and we forged on past them to our campsite.  And we were reminded that we were also rookies in our own right, this being our first backcountry trip in this territory.  Arriving at camp, we started planning our afternoon hike up to the South Rim.  We looked at our water supply.  We did the math.  And we didn’t like the result.  Welcome to the desert.  Time to ration our water supply.

Our dwindling water supply forced rationing

Our dwindling water supply forced rationing

By the way, you can follow the entire path of our hikes and adventures using this map:

http://www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/upload/HighChisos-Trails.pdf

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For anyone who has never completed a marathon or other endurance event, there is a physical and emotional release throughout the body and mind when the finish line is finally crossed. The body has been taxed beyond acceptable thresholds, and the mind equally taxed as it wills the body well beyond its limits.

Reaching the top of the Pinnacles Trail, we found ourselves both experiencing this release. We grinned in admiration of the tremendous view. We felt the endorphine rush as the climbing ceased. We knew we had accomplished something few others could, and we were ready to bask in the glory of it all.

The problem was we weren’t finished yet. We still had at least a mile before we reached Boot Canyon. So we willed ourselves forward in spite of our temporary state of relaxation, and happy that at least the trail was mostly downhill from here.

Heading down from the pass, we were shaded from the late afternoon sun by oak trees, pinyon pine and the occassional Arizona Juniper. Soon two large bear boxes came into view, made available to any backpacker who wanted to stash their gear and hike to the summit of Emory Peak, the second highest point in Texas. We glanced up the trail to Emory Peak to make a quick mental note of the steep ascent, and pushed on to camp. Better to summit Emory the following morning with no gear at all.

The trail soon came out of the oak savannah and hugged a steep slope along a side canyon. We were now going down the hill deeper into the high Chisos, and started seeing amazing views into the Chihuahuan desert over 2,000 vertical feet below and several miles distant. And more than 20 miles away the Sierra del Carmen mountains of Mexico were clearly visible. These were the vistas we sought, and and what dragged us up here hauling 40 extra pounds of water amidst bears and mountain lions. But we only stopped to take a few photos; we were anxious to set up camp and rest.

Looking down Boot Canyon toward the desert below; the rock formation that gives the canyon its name is clearly visible to the right.

Looking down Boot Canyon toward the desert below

The Sierra del Carmen near Boquillas Canyon, as seen from the Boot Canyon Trail

The Sierra del Carmen near Boquillas Canyon, as seen from the Boot Canyon Trail

Tabitha admires the view from the Boot Canyon Trail

Tabitha admires the view from the Boot Canyon Trail; ; the rock formation that gives the canyon its name is clearly visible to the left.

We rounded a corner and headed West again into Boot Canyon proper. I examined the terrain as we hiked, and with a mental picture of the map I had studied, started indicating to Tabitha we were nearly there. My project management experience should have warned me this was a bad idea.

Rule #1 in project management – Always manage your client expectations. In other words, under-promise and over-deliver. Especially when you don’t know what you are talking about. Sure, I hiked this trail before…24 years before…in November…going the opposite direction.

Truth was I had no idea where the spur trail to our camp would appear, but the map showed it was a mile from the top of the Pinnacles. And despite the trail flattening out, it was still tough going over rough rocks with a full pack. So it was a mistake to say we were nearly there; Tabitha’s release after hitting the pass was wearing off (mine was too), and I knew she was nearing her limit.

So after crossing yet another wash from yet another side canyon, and telling her a 3rd time we were nearly there, I could sense the hostility walking 15 paces behind me. I picked up my own pace, hoping if I could put some more distance between us, she would be less likely to hit me with a rock. Fortunately, 3rd time was a charm, and I soon spotted the sign indicating the spur trail to Boot Canyon Campsites 1-4.

We chose the first campsite based on our group size, its location on a map, and our gut. Under the circumstances, the fact this site was the closest to the main trail was really all that mattered. Its proximity to the composting toilet (which carried its aroma straight to our tent with a southwest wind straight down the canyon), or its lack of a decent tent pad were irrelevant. What mattered most was how soon we could take off our packs, drink a liter of lemonade, and set up camp. We soon recovered from our ordeal and started enjoying the experience again.

Dinner soon followed: split pea soup with summer sausage and graded Parmesan cheese. Believe me, it tasted like filet mignon. We decided to hike down the spur trail after dinner to see the other campsites. It was obvious we had the worst of the lot, but we didn’t care. Another hundred yards would have ended in a trial separation, and Tab was willing to ignore the smell and lack of privacy to be close to the john, while other campers would have to hike back up the spur several hundred yards to use it. We left the nicer sites and hiked back up as the sun set, only to find a visitor at our camp.

This deer was checking out our camp, and didnt seem to mind our presence at all.

This deer was checking out our camp, and didn't seem to mind our presence at all.

This Carmen Whitetail deer was not afraid of us, so we went about our business making a cheesecake desert. Backpacking food has its ups and downs, usually dependent on the sheer hunger and exhaustion of those consuming it to mask its lack of flavor. But Backpacker’s Pantry cheesecakes are actually tasty at any time, and we eagerly started eating it.

We hardly noticed the deer as it continue to graze, and it was soon joined by others. After a while the novelty of seeing a deer so close wears off, and our campsite seemed to have some of the better local pickings in the midst of the severe drought. So we were quite surprised by what happened next.

We were eating desert when I heard a loud rustle in the leaves below. Boot Canyon 1 sits on the spine of a ridge; the spur trail follows this ridge beyond the campsite leading toward BC 2-4, where we had just hiked. To the south is Boot Creek, which was totally dry (which meant Boot Spring ¼ mile away was also likely dry, as reported the previous day). We were facing North, where a small ravine made up the other side of the ridge. I turned toward the noise, expecting to see another deer. But the deer were gone, and the rustle got louder.

Suddenly a yearling bear cup sprinted up the ravine at full speed, not more than 50 yards away. We started at seeing a bear so close, but he paid no attention to us. He continued at full gallop up the ravine and eventually disappeared into the trees. Just like that, it was gone. All I could think about was, “Where’s Momma Bear?”

Mother bears are protective of their cubs to the point of attacking humans, and we figured she had to be close by. But she never appeared. We retreated toward the tent, and our walking poles and a huge buck knife I carried, but there were no more bears that night.

We later learned there are currently two sets of cubs in the high Chisos, both born last year. At this age, they are basically behaving like teenagers, and Mom is trying to teach them to be more independent. Tab remarked the bear behaved like a kid who knows he’s been someplace he wasn’t supposed to be. It made sense; he ran like he was late for curfew, and knew he was in big trouble, his only hope to limit the damage was getting back to Mom as soon as possible.

So we busted out the whiskey flask and toasted to an experience most people never get to enjoy. An up-close, bear cub sighting without being spotted or smelled by Momma Bear is a rare and fortunate event indeed.

 Up at dawn again and made coffee while watching the light grow on the Window and Casa Grande. I hiked up the hill towards the other campsites and met the man who had been camping solo across the road from us. This guy had a big truck and every outdoor toy imaginable, most notably two large kayaks on the roof. He’s a retired Navy officer who just paddled the entire length of the Rio Grande as it borders the park, about 185 miles. He did it in 8 days. Solo. Rapids flipped his boat and all his gear twice. I didn’t ask about running into any Mexican drug runners, and somehow I suspected he wasn’t scared of anything. He was huge; tall and muscular, no fat I could see, and probably in his early 50’s, and with a booming laugh that echoed across the campground in the morning light. He told me the wind on Saturday was gusting to 60 mph, and at least a ½ dozen tents were tossed into the campground dumpsters. We apparently had arrived less than an hour after the wind had finally subsided. Maybe those mule deer were telling us something.

Inspired after meeting such an adventurer, I returned to get Tab going on breaking camp and getting our backcountry gear ready. Our inexperience showed itself in how long it took us. Or maybe it was just nerves, but nothing we were planning seemed to rival an 8-day solo paddle on the Mexican border. We didn’t make it to the trailhead until noon, but we were finally ready.

Rich and Tab with full compliment of backcountry gear

Rich and Tab with full compliment of backcountry gear


Tabitha starts out on the Pinnacles Trail

Tabitha starts out on the Pinnacles Trail, our destination is directly above her head

Our route would take us up the Pinnacles Trail, the most direct route into the high Chisos from the Basin. It’s also the steepest and most rugged. I hiked this trail as a teenager at the end of a 12-mile loop; it was very strenuous, and that was going downhill. How would we fare with full packs and 40 pounds of water between us? In the first half mile the trail climbs steeply toward the pass ahead. We struggled adjusting to the weight on our backs and the strain on our legs and lungs. We could train for the climb back in Minnesota, but not the altitude. We rested after about 30 minutes, and agreed to rest as often as we needed to. This was no place for heroics, at least not yet.

Tabitha rests on the Pinnacles Trail near Juniper Flats

Tabitha rests on the Pinnacles Trail near Juniper Flats

The trail flattens out a little as it enters a grassy meadow full of cedars called Juniper Flats. We ran into a couple who said they had met some other backpackers who had seen a bear near the high country campsites, exactly where we were headed. Bears and mountain lions were a concern up here; nothing too dangerous if you were careful, but wild animals in a drought are unpredictable. We kept our eyes open. My thoughts drifted to the 2X trophy of a mountain lion in the Chisos Visitor Center, wondering how we would handle a close encounter. Suddenly I heard a loud SNORT! I nearly jumped out of my boots it was so close and loud. I turned to my left and saw a whitetail doe not 20 feet away in the brush. She was telling me to stay back, and I obliged, grinning to myself at how jumpy I had become at the thought of a cougar at a similar distance.

 Juniper Flats ended all too soon, and we found ourselves on the switchbacks that marked the steepest part of the trail. For the next 2 miles it cut directly into the steep slope, blasted out by the CCC long ago. We each carried a single trekking pole; we originally thought to use them to check questionable steps for snakes, but they came in very handy negotiating the steep climb. The trail was rocky too, and it wasn’t long before each of us knew this would test our endurance. While I had a brief passing thought in the first ½ mile this whole thing was a terrible mistake, now it was a challenge to get to camp, like an endurance race. I knew Tabitha was taking the same perspective just by the look of determination on her face.

We started well below the green water tower, visible on the right.

We started well below the green water tower, visible on the right.

 We broke on a hairpin switchback for lunch. Food and water in our bellies lightened the load in our packs a little, and we were better able to take in the spectacular views behind us of the Basin and the desert beyond. Finally some reward for our ordeal, but the steepest part was yet to come. Back to work.

Vernon Bailey Peak and the desert beyond from Pinnacles Trail

Vernon Bailey Peak and the desert beyond from Pinnacles Trail


Nearing Pinnacles Pass, the trail cuts behind rock formations

Nearing Pinnacles Pass, the trail cuts behind rock formations

 The last ½ mile the trail continues to ascend up a steep rock face, until it finally blasts through behind rocky points that give the trail its name. People with a fear of heights need not attempt this trail, nor anyone not in the best of condition. We saw many people heading down after their earlier hike up, and it’s not any easier going the other way. Most faces were not smiling so much, but focused on the cautious route down, and on the pain in their feet and legs. Tabitha and I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. We’d been climbing nearly 3 hours now, and we knew we were close. Finally the trail flattened out, and the slope was no longer steep to the side. Instead we could see into a small valley filed with oak trees. Toll Mountain was to our left, and the spur trail to the lone campsite followed the ridge line. To our right, Emory Peak. Ahead was the trail down the valley to the Emory Peak trail spur. Uphill to our right and left, downhill behind us and ahead. We had reached the pass.

Nearing the pass, Rich labors on.

Nearing the pass, Rich labors on.

Woke with the sun to a beautiful sunrise from behind Casa Grande peak.  The sun crept across Vernon Bailey peak until the entire Chisos Basin was illuminated by the dawn.  The Window looks amazing at dawn or dusk, and I would continue to take photos at both hours of the day throughout the trip.  But today there were a few errands to run first.

After making coffee, I let Tab sleep while I drove up to the Visitor Center to get our backcountry permit, and reserve a campsite in the High Chisos.  We were really going in; all of our planning and investment in new gear would be put to the test the following day.  The volunteer in the visitor center was pleasant, and enjoyed engaging in conversation, though eventually his wife had to reprimand him for doing more talking than application processing.  We selected Boot Canyon 1 as our campsite for 2 nights.  I felt the BC campsites were centrally located to permit day hikes to Emory Peak and the South Rim, rather than moving our camp each day.  It would also prove to be central to a few other events, which I’ll get to later.

Back to camp for breakfast and to prepare for our day.  I had to be careful driving among all the small and extremely tame whitetail deer that hang around the camp, but eventually we got back to have a good breakfast of bacon and eggs.  We were finally here, and ready to begin exploring.  The first trail on our agenda is arguably the most popular trail in the Park, the Window Trail.

The Window Trailhead at Dawn

The Window Trailhead at Dawn

The trailhead was only a few steps from our campsite.  It’s all downhill; the Window showcases an amazing view of the peaks of the Basin coming together on the west side, but the trail itself follows a dry creek bed that is the only outlet from the basin watershed to the desert below.  Within a ½ mile of the Window itself, water suddenly appeared in the creek bed from a small spring that was running even in severe drought conditions.  This permitted some of the vegetation we saw – Oaks and Mexican Juniper primarily, along with lots of Mockingbirds and Mexican Jays.  Some early wildflowers popped up, along with insects and birds seeking nectar.

An unidentified butterfly feeding from an unidentified flower

An unidentified butterfly feeding from an unidentified flower

 

 

The last ¼ mile descends through a slick rock canyon over steps created from the rock by the Civilian Conversation Corps back in the 1930’s. This is a busy area; tourists jockey for position to capture photo opps in the narrow slit leading to the desert below.  We were both a little nervous for the other people who got closer than we would have advised; a fall down the 200 foot drop would certainly be fatal.

Tabitha at the Window

Tabitha at the Window

Rich negotiates the slick rock steps of the Window Trail

Rich negotiates the slick rock steps of the Window Trail

After a few quick pictures, we left the crowds to explore the extension of the trail above the Window; this is the Oak Spring trail that exits the canyon along the lower slopes of Vernon Bailey Peak. A short climb to the trail crest afforded us a spectacular view of the surrounding desert. It’s worth the climb for the spectacular view, one of many we would see on this trip. We even encountered several hikers who had started from the desert below to do the strenuous one-way trip to the Basin.

Tabitha rests on the Oak Spring Trail

Tabitha rests on the Oak Spring Trail

 

 

Tab on the north face of Vernon Bailey Peak

Tab on the north face of Vernon Bailey Peak

Rich and Tab on the Oak Spring Trail

Rich and Tab on the Oak Spring Trail

The hike back was all uphill, but not difficult, even in the heat of the day, which was a pleasant mid-70’s. We experienced great views of Casa Grande from this part of the trail, and were soon back at camp for a cold beer and a nap.

Casa Grande from the Window Trail

Casa Grande from the Window Trail

We were still recovering from the drive, and we knew we had a tough day ahead tomorrow. But tonight we were going to organize our backcountry gear while cooking steaks and drinking wine. Only charcoal fires were permitted, but this was sufficient to cook NY Strips on the grill, along with potatoes and veggies in foil. We took a walk around the campground, and saw lots of people-friendly deer.

Chisos Basin Whitetail

Chisos Basin Whitetail

We eventually made our way to the evening’s ranger program, usually conducted from the Basin ampitheater.  I had fond memories of these as a child camping here with my grandparents, but I was concerned the program might be more for retirees and kids than for two experienced outdoor enthusiasts.  Fortunately, this program was an excellent introduction to our experience, as it was all about the stars and constellations one could see in the West Texas sky.  Though the moon was still setting, we could see some amazing stars with the naked eye and our binoculars, as well as through a telescope the Ranger had set up.  She pointed out key constellations and nebulas, such as Sirius, Cassiopeia, Andromeda, and of course Ursa Major and Ursa Minor (which we would see in the flesh later in the trip!). We had to relearn a few that were in different places in the March sky at 29 degrees north; very different from the July skies in the BWCA near Canada where we usually did our stargazing. I couldn’t even find the Big Dipper until I was shown it was on the opposite side of the North Star and upside down (which subsequently I could then find the Little Dipper). We spent the rest of the evening stargazing from camp, and eventually went to sleep with eager anticipation of the next day’s adventure in our heads.

So I am officially referring to the Drive as “Day 1”, though it covered 27 hours on the road, as well as a few errands on the way out of town.  Of course, we couldn’t leave without a final stop at REI; Tabitha accidentally left there not an hour before without the ultralight cooking pot she had bought for our backcountry trip.  Lucky for REI we couldn’t retrieve it without buying more gear, including a nice lightweight tripod that we would come to love over the next week.

We were on the road by 830pm, and things were uneventful until we reached southern Iowa.  A sudden snow squall reduced visibility, forcing us to put along around 45-50 MPH.  This improved in Missouri, but after driving 30 minutes in Kansas, the snow returned, and with a vengeance. Conditions deteriorated rapidly, and we were forced to leave the road and wait for the Kansas Highway Department to get involved before proceeding safely. We weren’t comfortable driving at 25 miles per hour, or having 18-wheelers passing us at twice that speed.  Does anyone know what Kansas has against using road salt in a snow storm?

So after spending nearly 2 hours at a truck stop near Lebo, KS, we were back on the road at dawn with improved conditions.  We breezed through Oklahoma (as one always should), and finally entered Texas, where the real driving would begin.  You’ve never really experienced wide open spaces until you’ve driven in West Texas.  But there is now a new phenomenon – plastic bags.  Everywhere are plastic bags from Wal-Mart and other stores, trapped in barbed wire and mesquite branches across the prairie.  Whatever happened to “Don’t Mess with Texas”?  Apparently people with the best of intentions to clean the trash from their cars are losing their bags to permanently pollute the prairie (nice alliteration eh?).  Back when Texas was covered in road trash, at least transients could collect beer cans in the ditch for money.  These ripped up bags are worthless, though we did see cattle eating them, much like our cat does at home.  Perhaps there is nutritional value in plastic bags yet to be disclosed to the public.

So we thought we were home free after getting through the Kansas snow, but darkness brought more trouble.  Between Fort Stockton and Marathon, TX are more mule deer than one can count, and they all come to the highway at night to graze.  We didn’t want THIS to happen, and we were in Tab’s tiny car to boot:

Teal Steel after hitting a deer on MN 61

Teal Steel after hitting a deer on MN 61

We took down our speed, and finally arrived at our reserved campsite in the Chisos Basin at 1130pm Saturday night. A sight for sore eyes was the name “Bailey” posted at the site in anticipation of our arrival. We quickly set up camp, drank a cold beer, and hit the sack, here in Big Bend at last.

Road Trip

So Tabitha has Spring Break starting next week, and to my surprise she told me she wanted to go to Big Bend National Park. I happy to oblige, having been there twice myself.

Now, Big Bend is the least visited National Park, primarily for two reasons: 1) it’s incredibly isolated, and 2) most of the prime vacation months it’s unbearably hot.  But Spring is ideal if you can beat the Spring Break crowds by going just a little early.  That was our plan: we’d avoid the desert heat and the masses by arriving on the last day in February.

We considered flying, but the closest airports are Midland/Odessa and El Paso, either of which would require at least one connecting flight, a rental car with several hours of driving, and taking the bare minimum of gear. We did a fly-car camping trip to Zion and Death Valley a few years ago, but that was before we had a mortgage, and before airlines started charging to check bags.  This would be abudget-conscious trip, so with gas prices hovering under $2 per gallon, we decided a good road trip would take our minds off of our work and the late-winter blues that had settled over the Twin Cities. And as if Old Man Winter wanted to get in his last jab before we left, last night he dumped 7 inches of snow on us.  This severly interrupted our packing and errands, as someone had to fire of the swow-thrower at 630 this morning, instead of getting ready to leave.

Without electricty or an Internet connection, I will be posting trip reports upon our return. After work today, we expect about 22 hours in the saddle to get there.  We can’t wait.

Flickr image from troubledog

Flickr image from troubledog

Why My Loved One Deserves a Bathroom Makeover

Never mind the cheap imitation plastic tile sheets, systematically falling apart. Disregard the awful wooden toilet seat resting on a dated, water-guzzling antique commode. Pay no attention to the old wooden window that would rot in weeks if we could only use the shower. And for that matter, ignore the shower that doesn’t work. I can summarize why my wife deserves a total bathroom makeover this Valentine’s Day in one word – Bats!

No not the Louisville Slugger kind. I’m talking about the mosquito eating, night flying, icon of your worst nightmare bats. Some have bats in their belfry; we have bats in our bathroom.

Just before Christmas, I came home late from work one Friday and headed straight to our dilapidated downstairs bathroom. Having just ridden the light rail with hundreds of Holidazzled tourists, I had urgent business. But I hesitated, as I could hear something… splashing. Yes, splashing sounds permeated through the door from the darkness within. What could be splashing in our bathroom?

I turned on the light, and carefully peeked around the bathroom door. To my shock, I saw a live bat swimming in our toilet. OK, so maybe it wasn’t swimming; frantically struggling was more like it. I guess bats can’t swim very well.

I’ve had encounters with bats before, in a run-down apartment on St. Paul’s West Side. But this was our home, our castle, and bats aren’t supposed to be here. And in our bathroom, where the most private and personal matters are handled. Such an intruder is most certainly not welcome. Now what?

I called Minneapolis 311, but apparently they don’t do bats. “Be careful,” she said “bats carry rabies.” Thanks, like that never occurred to me. Plan B was to try to save this pitiful creature, but at 10 degrees, surely it would freeze in minutes. I would also be required to handle it in mid-thrash, which I did not covet (remember, rabies!). I decided my only option was to send the bat to its maker. Tempted at first to flush it to Kingdom Come, I suddenly envisioned it coming back to spill on the cheap linoleum floor. Then I’d need a plumber as well as an exterminator. No dice! So I went with the simplest solution; I closed the lid, and covered it with a large pot from the kitchen, sealing the rodent in a watery tomb.

The invasion had been repelled, the enemy defeated. Next morning, my nemesis lay floating stiff in the bowl. I felt bad for the poor thing…for maybe 3 seconds.

How did he get into our bathroom? There could only be one explanation – the tile! Where my 102-year old house has settled, the cheap plastic tile has split, leaving a gaping crack. The previous owner had tiled over the fan vent to the outside, and this crack had to be the only way in.

So you see, it is imperative we remodel our bathroom. Forget about the ugliness, the non-functional and the corroded. We aren’t vain about décor, and have survived until now using only the shower upstairs. But another bat invasion is intolerable, and must be prevented. If it happened once, it could happen again.

Tub and shower do not work so well

Tub and shower do not work so well

Crack where Bat accessed the bathroom.

Crack where Bat accessed the bathroom.

The Bat, post mortem

The Bat, post mortem