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Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
"No, really!"

My Favorite Bit of Paper Cup Philosophy

The Way I See It #76

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fear and Darkness

I was a somewhat experienced camper by then. Certainly no longer wet behind the ears. I knew how to light the stove and lanterns, fill them with white fuel, pitch the tent. I was pretty creative, inventing ways to wash and dry dishes efficiently if we were to stay out for more than one day and night. I was talented at packing the cooler properly so we could have chilled foods over a several days' outing. I developed an effective way for us to "shower" without getting ourselves gritty while wet in the desert sand. I was into this stuff by now. No, I didn't 4-wheel us into the desert on the jeep trails. But I was pretty self-sufficient, otherwise.

I had a badly infected toe. "What do you think, Limes, should we maybe just stay in this weekend?" "No! I can't hike, but you can. I can read and wear sandals and hobble around in camp. A bad day in the desert is better than the best day in Las Vegas!" And so it was decided. We determined we would try a location we had not yet visited in the Preserve - The Cow Hole Mountains. I wasn't thrilled that he'd take the first hike there alone, but a bad day in the desert . . . .

Little Cow Hole Mountain isn't actually so little. It stands alone in a low, flat dry lake bed. There aren't any other formations nearby. We set up camp in the dark on Friday night on the side farthest from the highway in the distance. Saturday was warm, not hot. We had coffee, breakfast, read quietly in our camp chairs - the normal routine. Finally, he decided he'd take his hike. "You good, Limes?" "I'm good. Go hike. When you get back you can tell me all about it and I'll get to hike it the next time." He gathered his water, camera, camera bag, tripod, Clif bars, and the Garmin GPS device. He checked his watch, patted the pocket of his shirt to feel for his pens, for the Badger carries fine fountain pens wherever he goes. He patted the gun on his hip, made certain the location of his Swiss Army knife and binoculars. He set off. "See you in 2-3 hours!" I did in-camp housekeeping, read awhile, took a short nap in the tent, did some drawing with the colored pencils, wrote in my journal.

It should be noted that we don't camp without investigating the weather conditions expected, the topography, reviewing maps, measuring distances from other locations where we have stayed. We monitor weather for days ahead of time, sometimes the weather of a few different spots in the vicinity. We are keen observers of our surroundings. We probably plan and pack for our outings with more attention to detail than most. Before we go to some destination the first time, he plots out hikes and can tell me to prepare for a hilly 6 miles with a 7% uphill grade and an elevation gain of 1,500 feet on the way out and a pleasant downhill hike back into camp. This trip was no different. He'd plotted and re-plotted the distance around Little Cow Hole Mountain. We knew from research and now could see with our own eyes that he'd be hiking on low flat hardpack. It would be a pretty long hike, but he couldn't get lost or go astray - just circle the mountain.

He knew something was awry long before I did. For he'd walked and walked and walked, but seemed to make no progress at circling that mountain. By the time I was already expecting him back, he hadn't half circled Little Cow Hole. To his amazement, his cell phone rang. Folks, we don't camp any place where one gets a signal, but out there on the flats, it rang. His Ex called a lot in those days. Usually at inopportune times. This time when she said, "Hi, what are you doing?" he replied, "Hiking in a remote desert location." He used the time to let her chat, vent, or whatever it was she needed on the phone that usually drained him, but now simply didn't matter. When they ended their call, he decided to see if I, too, had cell phone signal.

I nearly leapt from my camp chair when my phone rang. I looked at the display - the Badger? What the heezy? "Hi, what the hell?" "I know, I'm surprised, too. Ex just called and talked for 3 miles. I decided to try you. Limes, this isn't going well. I'm not half way around the mountain." "What do you mean?" "It's obviously a lot longer distance than I calculated. I'm not halfway around. Every time I angle around a little more I think I'll have rounded the bend and be comin' 'round the mountain, but there are deceiving little outcroppings and inlets. I way miscalculated." "Badger, it won't be long before the sun will start to drop. What do you think you should do?" He had already given some thought to reversing his route, using the Garmin to retrace his steps, like Hansel & Gretel following the bread crumbs. But he landed on "Keep moving forward. It's just a circle. Keep going and you'll land at camp eventually." "OK, Badger. Keep letting me know your progress."

The sun set soon and quickly. I lit the lanterns. He called me. "There won't be enough light to see much longer. If the moon comes up quickly, I'll be able to see the mountain's curvature." "Do you have any water? A Clif bar?" "Yes. I'm good. I sense that I still have a long way to go." "Badger, I'm going to build a big fire. Give it 15 minutes. See if you can see the fire across the desert floor." The visibility was likely more than 10 miles under clear skies. "OK. I'll call you." He couldn't see my conflagration 15 minutes later, even though it was a mighty fire. I was scared for him. I had everything I needed and more. We didn't know what he was up against.

He called again with a grand idea. "Limes, turn on the headlights - high beam - and blow the car's horn. I can try to get both sight and sound." I did both. The XTerra's horn nearly blew the hair off of my head. But he couldn't hear it. He couldn't see the high beams or my huge fire. I began to think about getting into the XTerra and driving toward him. I had keys. The flat hardpack required no specialized, skilled driving, although one doesn't want to drive off of the roads and trails. And what if I simply, completely missed him? Or what if I landed in an unexpected sandy wash right up to the axles? I decided I needed to stay right in place until he said differently.

I am a cryer. I have often stated that this is a good thing, for without the release that crying brings, I would have exploded decades ago. Everyone who knows me has seen me cry for one reason or another. I have cried in the desert many, many times because I was sentimental or because I was looking at such beauty my eyes were about to burn out of their sockets. I have cried in the desert a handful of times from fear or freezing. This was one of those five times. I began to pace that campsite and I began to cry. From fear. Not for myself. For him. He needed an assist, and I had no way to help him. That hurt me. I cried and I paced, sore toe and all.

The phone rang again. "I can see your fire, Limes! It's still a long way off, but I can see it. I'll aim toward it and pay close attention to the ground I'm hiking on." Drying my eyes and working on chirpy presentation, "Good, Badger! I'll light the stove and start dinner. Call me when you're closer. I'll shake a cocktail and have it waiting for you." "OK!" I ran to turn on the XTerra's high beams for a few minutes. I wanted to guide this ship into port with all the technology I had at hand! When he called again, he said , "I'm fairly close. Your fire looks a lot bigger." I turned the headlights on again, shining out into the vast expanse of desert in his direction.

Despite the lights, I heard him before I saw him. I heard his tired, slow footsteps on the hardpack. Heard the crisp desert floor crackle as he walked. I started to walk, then jog, then run toward the sound of him coming into camp. "Oh, Badger, give me the camera, the tripod, the camera bag! Come on, I've got a drink ready to pour for you. Come and sit down." "Limes, I am pretty beat! It is damned good to see you!" "Come on, Badger, I've got Bear Creek Damn Good Chili and a Mercedes-Benz margarita ready. Want to play some cards after dinner?" He did! We did!

I don't recall how many miles he actually walked, or how much farther it was than he thought it should be. I don't know exactly why his good , usual mapping skills went south. Maybe it was just some of that Mojave Magic, like the place we camped that had mountains that disappeared and reappeared. Perhaps if he comments to this post, he'll tell us what ailed him. And yes, I call that a fun camping trip!

In my ears right now: REM - one of many favorites. Losing My Religion is one of the best tunes on my personal hit parade.

Something that charmed me: In Las Vegas, we have some of the funniest and most unusal street names. I book jobs all over the valley and I use a "Directions Book" to locate addresses. I see a lot of street names. I sent the Badger an e-mail to say, "Hey, I just booked one on Copious Cactus Court!" He popped back with, "I'd like to live there if the name is truly descriptive!" "I wouldn't count on it, Badger. The job I booked earlier was on Ocean Breeze Way, and we know that's not right."


  1. The hike ended up being about nine miles. It wasn't so much that I miscalculated, but rather changed plans. Originally I wasn't going to go all the way around, but when I was about 3 miles out I could see that I could cross the lower end of the mountain cross country and pick up the road on the other side. That's where the miscalculation came in, as it was much further than it seemed it would be. Outside of losing daylight, it wasn't really a problem. However, darkness brings its own share of distress.

  2. It does, indeed, Badger. I was truly distressed for you.

  3. A Mercedes-Benz margarita? Isn't that what Janis Joplin drank?

  4. No, Kirk, you have it slightly askew. Janis wanted the lord to buy her a Mercedes-Benz, but what she drank was Southern Comfort. I know this because I emulated her and ended up being one very sick young lady for 3 days after my 18th birthday. When we camp, we do not sacrifice the quality of the evening cocktail.

  5. Not necessary! It's not like there's a test to be given or anything. I love Janis. The Badger brought over a custom mix recently and he'd put her in it. It was a nice revisit. We talked about all of them who died at age 27 due to their excesses: Janis, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison . . .

  6. I believe all in 1971. Not a very good year.

  7. VERY credible attempt, Kirk. You've redeemed yourself. Jimi in 9/70, Janis in 10/70, Jim in 7/71. I remember how sobering it was to hear the news that yet another YOUNG icon had died. It probably taught me I WASN'T bulletproof because they weren't bulletproof and they had a lot more going on than I did.