Drifting and rowing

Burt looking for bugs.
Burt looking for bugs.

Our days went like this. Everyone but me was up before the sun. They drank warm beverages in the dark and damp. I lolled about in the warm sleeping bag and dryish tent. Why get up when all there was to do was murmur and sip? Every morning was soaked with dew and we’d wait hours to let our tents dry or else we’d have muddy and wet tents. Best to go for dry dirt if you have a choice. So around 8 or 9 we ate breakfast. The first four days of food was provided by team M and M. This happened because we had originally planned a trip in Mexico and Burt and I would not be able to buy fresh food. So we volunteered to do the canned and dried meals. M and M took on the fresh food meals. Usually they cooked and I washed dishes. Their meals were very tasty. Burt maintained the groover and all of us did chores as required. Margaret managed the kitchen infrastructure, an onerous job that she handled with expedience and good nature.

Halfway through the trip food quality dropped and Burt and I prepared meals of impervious ingredients and M and M washed up. Tastee Bites Indian Meals in a pouch are quick and  palatable and easy to clean up. There was also some dried lentil soup and spaghetti and bean burritos. Most nights there was chocolate in some form for dessert. Note to self: Mark does not like fancy chocolate. More for me.

Every morning we’d wait for stuff to almost dry and then pack up our kitchen, groover and personal campsites. Then we’d load it all back onto our boats. Take off varied from 11:20 to 10:20. As the trip progressed and the ground dried up we left earlier and earlier. Around 1:00 PM we’d stop for a lunch. Shade was a bonus. The meal was usually cheese, crackers, fruit, salami. Early on there was bread, later it was all crackers. We’d sit on the ground and huddle around a cutting board of sliced snackage. Pringles, the traditional river snack, lasted four days. Sometime around 4:00 or 5:00 PM we’d start looking for a suitable camp. Suitable camp meant a safe landing zone and a dry place to pitch our tents. We’d want a place to lash the boats, too.

The low point for the trip for me was slipping on my boat and crashing to the deck while barking my shin. I crawled into the weeds and cried it out. The mud was infuriating and dangerous. Every step required care. I recovered.

During the course of the week the water level stabilized and the ground began to dry. The dew was lighter and hope dawned that maybe we had a handle on the mud. Or maybe we just got better at picking campsites and accepting our fate.

Most nights we had a fire, sang a few songs and headed to bed by 9:00 PM. Repeat.

A bug I missed. A katydid.
A bug I missed in the previous album. A katydid.
A type of blanket flower.
A type of blanket flower.
Burt and M singing
Burt and M singing
Dew on the grass. It was such heavy dew that it made mud.
Dew on the grass. It was such heavy dew that it made mud.
The general state of my shoes.
The general state of my shoes.
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Day 2 through….

Stick bug or walking stick
Stick bug or walking stick
I must have just washed my shoes. This was a rare moment mud free.
I must have just washed my shoes. This was a rare moment mud-free. Note mud-free does not mean free of mud but you can move as though you have no mud.

Our first evening was spent counting stick bugs (phasmatodea) is the shrubbery. Bug sticks, walking sticks, whatever you call them, stick bugs are herbivorous and generally adorable. The recent rains appeared to have ignited a bug bloom of the most auspicious kind. There were beetles and mantids and spiders and butterflies but nearly no mosquitoes or biting flies. The bug wonderment continued all week and I’ll have a separate bugs only post. As dark descended Margaret fed us a bacon laced spaghetti and Burt and I played some tunes. The water continued to rise and we presumed more easy sailing for the rest of the trip. Everyone sang. We were on a new river and we had it all to ourselves.

The next morning we woke to find a big increase in flow and the news that Mark had saved our boats when a 4AM ramble revealed a messy situation. I can’t recall the details. The Rio Grande flows from northern New Mexico through Texas to the Gulf of Mexico. It is fully dewatered in a couple of sections so flow isn’t really the correct word. If you wanted to traverse the entire Rio Grande you’d need to hike a few hundred miles of dry stream bed. Upstream of us the river flows from El Paso to the gulf with one intervening dam below our location. The river is one of the most polluted I have ever floated since the industrial effluent and domestic wastes of Juarez and El Paso are added daily. The high flows we saw were bringing with it a parade of plastic and styrofoam containers. While plastic trash is unsightly it is the unseen contaminants pose a greater danger.  The park service strongly advises against submersion in the river’s noxious water to avoid contracting some waterborne disease. This and the mud were why we carried our own water.

The stream side is a nearly impenetrable wall of cane and mesquite and tamarisk but just beyond the banks lies the glorious Chihuahuan desert. It’s a wilderness on both sides of the border. The river is a part of the border between the United States and Mexico. Building a wall here seems fantastically ridiculous, terrifying, and stupid. The first few days of our journey took us through thick cane on a sluggish brown river. Our scope of vision was very narrow. Rarely we could see a bird. More frequently we spotted turtles on the banks. We’d camp when we found a gravel or grass lined opening in the wall of cane. We’d pop up and see the horizon above the tunnel and remember we were traveling through a massive landscape of open space. Shore line mud threatened us bodily and spiritually. I imagined how death by quick sand really worked. All you need is two feet of mud and 6″ of water and a slip. You could  drown just trying to regain your feet.

The weather predictions were accurate. The rain stopped and the flow dropped and with the drop in flow our pace slowed. The mud did not go away. As the water receded from the bank wide tracts of saturated silt yawned between us and dry land. Even when we found a spot where we could land the mud wars were not over. Campsites that appeared dry in the evening would become saturated with dew overnight and we’d be in mud again. Resistance was futile.

We all went through the seven stages of grief. Acceptance would come and flare back into anger. Laughter mixed it up, too. Denial, as ever, got us nothing but muddy asses and wrecked zippers. It was as though everything was so wonderful we had to have this bit of hell to remind us we were still humans on earth.

We ate well and marveled at the beauty and every morning the worst part of our day was putting on out cold muddy shoes.

Sierra Quemada a part of the Chisos Mountains.
Sierra Quemada a part of the Chisos Mountains. A failed caldera.
Chihuahuan Desert
Chihuahuan Desert. Mule’s ears on the horizon just to the right of the ocotillo.
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