Monday, November 28, 2011

Weren't expecting a post from me, were you? First I feint by saying I'm going down to Birch Creek, but then the sudden jab comes from nowhere, landing a direct hit on another post! Actually, this turn of events was completely unforeseen, but here I am, leaving again at one. Before that story though, I have another to tell you.

Normally I take my days off on Thursdays, but this week we did our three day hike, spanning from Thursday to Saturday. These hikes are normally one of the highlights of the ranch, taking place in beautiful desert environment that puts even the Havasupai hike to shame. Coyote Gulch and Death Hollow, our two normal destinations, were hit with severe flash flood warnings, putting a bit of a damper on going there. Sure, they're great hikes, but death probably isn't worth going. Instead, we loaded up the boys and shipped them off to the San Rafael river. In any other conditions, I'm sure this would have been a spectacular hike. Absolutely amazing. The only problem was that the entire way there, rain was falling from vicious black clouds. Luckily, the canyon's wide enough to avoid flash flooding, but the entirety of the hike becomes thick, thick, molasses mud. My Chacos were caked in the stuff by the end and weighed at least three pounds a piece. I didn't mind the hike at first though. Sure, we had to cross some slightly muddy rivers and trudge through mud, but it wasn't that bad. Even falling down the surprise Jeff's-leg-wide four-foot-deep-hole didn't darken my spirits. I was hiking, baby! Then I got trapped behind Jackson Sanders. Jackson is an interesting kid. At twelve years old, immaturity still has a strong hold on him. He stays in his room all day and plays with legos and makes stop-motion movies. That sounds pretty cool, but he has some strange fascination with mythical creatures in fantasy stories he listens to on books-on-tape. Still, he could be a normal twelve year old. He's not. His brother, Jeff Sanders, is at the ranch too, and Jackson feels some abject need to be with him all the time. It's almost magnetic. Jeff doesn't really care too much, but Jackson is always with him. Or the ranch's vicious cat. The kid acts like he's eight, and an abnormally self-centered eight-year-old at that. He also happens to be the slowest hiker in the entire existence of everything. I asked him if he could walk faster, because I know for a fact that he could have, and he responded verbatim that he was focusing on walking faster (he wasn't) and asking him would only make him angrier. At this point, I was starting to get angry. And I really don't visibly get angry at people. Not good news. After all, we had been taking the wrong trail for two hours, only to have two other counselors catch up with us (long story) ten minutes after they had started, and now there was this slow-walking, complaining kid who refused to like anything about the ranch. To round the package off, I had forgotten to pack a cup and spoon to cook ramen and oatmeal in, and we camped in a patch of cow pies because it was the only place with an overhang not suffocated with mud. My mood lifted later that night after me, Dolan, and Chris, a camper, had a good conversation, followed by a good dream.

Bam! Sun's up, time to move! Praying feebly to the powers that be, I asked that please, please let there be no mud. I'm begging you. The river had indeed lost its chocolate milk appearance and consistency, but gave way to my old enemy mudder. Mudder is water mixed with equal parts mud, meaning that every time you cross it, mud attaches itself to you like CNN to Obama. Impossible to wash out, since there's no clean water, it also starts to dry and harden if you're out of the river too long, making hiking an absolute blast. Sarcasm, by the way. Halfway through the day's journey, we found Virgin Springs. Sort of. I don't really understand what happened, but there was no spring where we were. There was however, a non-silty pond to swim in and wash off in, and a good place to eat lunch and pump clean water. Below though, was where the fun was. At the river, we threw off our packs and shirts and jumped in the water. Screw mud! Immediately inside the water, a miraculous discovery was made. Mud makes you float! Sure, you couldn't drink it, but the river's buoyancy gave the Dead Sea a run for its money. The water was impossible to drown in, even if you tried. No matter what, you were thrown upwards with no effort at all. We had float races galore, and started soaring down this river, laughing till my gut hurt because every so often, a rock came up out of nowhere and landed a hard smack on your butt. The water was so muddy, you could catch fish while you were floating too. One counselor raised his hand and said bewilderedly, 'Hey guys, I caught a fish.' Fish weren't the only blind swimmers. Crawdads covered the banks in unbelievable numbers, climbing their way up hills to some sort of sermon on the mud. Easy pickings for teen boys, they landed in tin cans before they knew what was happening. The fun lasted until we camped again that night, when one of the boys developed a fever of over 100. Crap. We failed at building a shelter for him, thanks largely to our main support beam snapping halfway through construction, but he had fallen asleep by that time. He woke up feeling fine, but it's harder to sleep than you'd think knowing he might wake up with a critical fever and five miles left to hike. To complement the pit in my stomach, it rained that night. Not too hard, thank goodness, but it was like nature was sticking its tongue out at us.

Yesterday we packed out to find that, to no one's surprise, the other group wasn't at the rendezvous point. We expeditioned our way through more mud, this time in a car, and found no one. We took a truck we had left there to save the counselors there the trouble of driving it and went back. Enoch and Dolan stayed at the rendezvous point while everybody else left. Thank you so much, guys. I was dead tired and wanted to shower more than I have in my entire life. Back at the ranch past five, much later than when we had arrived, we finally heard from the other group. They had taken a wrong trail also and were an hour away by car. Well, at least they were safe. Then Adam asked me if I wanted to take Jose to the airport that night. Jose, a camper, is from New York, and had a flight this morning at 12:01. I said heck yes, free gas, and a nice mattress to boot. Only problem we had was that Jose had personal belongings in the backpack he was using that were still in cars that hadn't arrived yet. To bide time, we all went to the Spring City Bluegrass Festival, which was totally awesome. Not that I really love bluegrass, but there was such a feeling of fun and community there. To top it off, the official coolest guy in the world, Tennessee, the mayor of Spring City, was being incredibly nice to the boys. He gave them free goat meat which was seasoned to absolute perfection, topped only by Rodizio's prime rib. It was that good. Steve Peterson bought everybody a homegrown melon to share, and Tennessee just kept being the person everybody wishes they could be. Then, the drive home. I somehow lucked out and found my way to the airport despite my awful navigation skills, mostly by trailing an airport shuttle. I said goodbye, and then I was home. A happy ending to a happy story, eh?

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