March is sucking

OK, so I know March comes in like a lion and is supposed to go like a lamb. Kids, it’s March 23, and the forecast frankly sucks ass. This year, I think March is going out like a rabid badger. I am officially not amused. It’s almost hiking season for the love of God. Anyway, to remind me of warmer climes and happy paddling, here’s something to tide us over until spring is actually here.

Cudjoe Key

Cudjoe Key

The young and the reckless: alligator wrestling in Big Cypress

Big Cypress National Preserve is one of my favorite haunts over the winter. With the water levels up and the mosquito population as low it gets, this is a good time to visit. We’ve been many times and it never gets boring. We decided to do the Loop Road Scenic Drive off of the Tamiami Trail. This is not particularly close.to anything as you are about halfway between Miami and Naples. Scenic drives can be a relative term, so we proceeded with the knowledge we might be wasting our time.

This is a 25 mile dirt and gravel road that in wet weather would be a disaster. It is not easy on the suspensions either. We drove it weighted down with kayaks because we roll like that.  If you complain about the ride in a Lincoln on an interstate, you will freak out on this road so don’t drive. It will take a minimum of 2 hours to drive, so plan accordingly. 

The first few miles are boring. You will begin to despair. Finally, just as the road begins to curve, you will come to a low water bridge with open vistas into the cypress forest. Park your car and get out. Do not be a jack ass and drive by and miss out. The water is absolutely clear and loaded with fish. You will see lots of birds – egrets, ibis, anhinga, herons, etc. You will see lots of alligators.

This is your view:

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What you can’t see is just how clear the tannin-stained water is. If you peek over the edge of the bridge into the water, you will see alligators hanging out waiting to eat fish. 

While we were admiring this view, a beat up car drove up. Out came three guys with a DSL camera, an old man and a guy wearing a wet suit and a mask. Looking suitably self-important, they announced that they were filming a show they couldn’t talk about, but that they were going to film wet suit guy getting in the water with the alligators. Troy and I shook our heads as these people were clearly not rocket scientists. Then they said to us that we should not call the police or anything (side note: there’s not a phone signal to be had for love or money here, so whatevs) and that they were not going to “molest” the alligators. What he meant by that I think was that he did not plan to have sex with the alligators, because he sure as hell fucked with the alligators. This dumb ass jumped in the water and proceeded to chase a 7′ alligator all over the place, finally grabbing him and lifting him out of the water. It was somewhat hard to believe.

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Then one of them told him to say something for the camera. So he intoned, in what he felt was a voice of suitable gravitas, “The American Alligator. This animal is not dangerous. As you can see, he just wanted to get away from me.” Yes, as do we all. As do we all. 

I hope someone recognizes him and he gets nailed with the $5000 fine for fucking with wildlife. The days of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom when Marlon Perkins would sit in his jeep and make Jim go out and fuck with hyenas with a turkey baster are long over. It’s not really cool to mess with an animal that just wants to hang out and eat some fish. Just take a picture for the love of God. 

 

 

The magic of bears: Wekiwa Springs, Florida

Florida is one giant strip mall in many respects and you never have to go more than 2 miles in any direction to find a Panera Bread. It’s also oddly like God’s waiting room, full of old people on their last leg. Surprisingly, it also has some outstanding natural areas that are truly wild, even in urban areas. Exhibit A: Orlando. Nothing is worse than Orlando. Tons of tourists spending their last dollar to entertain their hopeful children whose fantasies will be crashed on the shores of reality. (Note: my parents never took me to Disney World, so I am still bitter about this). Endless shopping malls and outlets where you can buy crap you never knew existed or that anyone would ever want. Concrete, traffic, noise and people everywhere. It’s loud and there’s no headset in the world that can drown out the incessant hum of tourist noise. All this is to say I was shocked by Wekiwa Springs.

The main pool of Wekiwa Springs.

Wekiwa Springs State Park is located smack in the middle of Apopka, Florida, a northern suburb of Orlando. On hot days, the spring fed pool is packed with screaming children splashing everywhere. We arrived on a Tuesday and stared at what seemed at first to be our worst nightmare come true. We hate crowds and we hate noise and there was a lot of both on display. I had heard of the fabled clear waters of Wekiwa Springs which hook up to St. John’s River and I had always wanted to kayak the area. On arrival, we parked in an asphalt parking lot and looked down on this pool which the State of Florida has thoughtfully rocked in around the sides. The manicured feel to the main attraction did not engender much hope in me that this was going to be something I wanted to do after all the hype. There is nothing natural about this pool. It’s nature that’s been made safe for the masses. It is of course, beautiful. The water is crystal clear and the scenery is drop dead gorgeous.

The water is really this clear.

As luck would have it, the launch for kayaking the river is at the bottom of about a 1/4 mile fairly steep trail. There is zero car access so this means kayaks and gear have to be carried down and what goes down, must come back up later.  The State of Florida has a park concession here that rents cheap kayaks, canoes and these ridiculous “exercise” boats you pedal and sit up in.  It didn’t seem to be very expensive for those so inclined, and I confess part of me wanted to just rent gear rather than haul it down and back up. This is because I am a whining sissy.

The majority of people who hit the river stick pretty close to the launch area. About a mile down the river is a commercial marina/bar just outside the park boundaries where drunk college students lay in the sun and occasionally, launch boats to go into the park to annoy older, more sober people. Once you get past this, it’s pretty quiet and you won’t see much except a lot of wildlife in the form of birds, fish, turtles, and the occasional alligator. The current is moderately strong going down the river which makes the paddle seem much easier than it will be on return. The water is very clear. You will see tons of dead trees in the water which I hope were left there to capsize drunken morons who high center their canoes on them. It pays to paddle in the middle of the river to avoid all the deadfall in the water, but you will have to work hard to avoid the incompetent masses paddling out of control.

Taking a left about 2/3 of mile down stream will take you to the Rock Springs Run, which is an 8-mile, narrow, winding and fast-flowing, spring-fed stream with amazing scenery. It is very frequently impassable after 2 -3  miles upriver as the water is very, very shallow. The current is strong and you will be fighting to go upstream against it. On the plus side, you will make record time on the return. Most of the crowds will disappear after a quarter-mile in and if you are quiet, you will see amazing amounts of wildlife.

Rock Springs Run in Wekiwa Springs State Park

This is the very best part of the park. Because I am lazy and wanted to turn around 1 1/2 miles in (paddling against the current is hard, kids), I sent Troy onward and told him I would meet him at the launch. Three minutes later, I got the absolute thrill of a lifetime. Because the current was strong, I was able to practically just rudder to get back without paddling and I was making no noise. With no one near and the only sound being the water and birds calling, I rounded a bend and came face to face with a beautiful cinnamon bear who was at the water’s edge. The moment was surreal and I paddled back to keep myself stationary in the water which was no more than 12 inches deep.  We sat there, the bear and I, five feet apart for five minutes or so, just watching each other. He was curious, but wary and I was mesmerized.  Finally, something startled him and he ambled off into the forest and I watched the sun sparkle on his wet fur. Naturally, the moment was rapidly ruined by drunken frat boys who saw him heading into the forest, but I got my golden moment with just me and the bear and it was fucking awesome. Suck it Disney World. You can’t compete with a bear.

Troy went on to this campsite on Rock Springs run about 2 miles upriver. Sadly, he had the camera when I had my magic bear moment. It's lovely, but it's no cinnamon bear picture.

Also, just because it amuses me, I snapped this quick shot of an actual douche canoe on the river. Seriously, the people in the canoe were BOTH on their cell phones.

Hang up your fucking cell phone. I did not come out here to say "Can you hear me, now? Good."

The Subway: Nature 1, Troy 0

In one of my rare fits of sanity, I decided I was in no condition to handle the hike through the Subway.  This hike is the kind of hike where you take a map, knowing there’s not a lot of trail to follow and it’s long with lots of scrambling over obstacles, swimming in very cold water and some minor rappelling. Since my hike through the Narrows left me with crystal clear knowledge of every single muscle connection between my toes and scalp, I did not think I could pull myself up to anything other than a bar. The ever-intrepid Troy went alone.

Scenery along Kolob Terrace Road on the way to Wildcat Canyon

I agreed I would pick Troy up from the bottom of the route and I spent a pleasant morning strolling the red rock desert of southwestern Utah.  Zion is of course named after the promised land the Mormons thought they had found. I did not see a single Mormon, but I would bet that the European to American ratio is something like 8 to 1 right now. Those Germans are serious hikers and they are here in droves. I spent a fun day playing the game “gay or European hipster?” (they are hard to differentiate but it’s all in the shoe choices) and then it was time to go get Troy.

I arrived at the Left Fork Trailhead and waited. I brought my Kindle and read. I read a lot. Hours went by and I finished the Beautiful and the Damned which I had always meant to read and never quite did. The park ranger came by. We chatted. Troy is largely invincible in the woods so I have never been all that concerned, but in the back of my mind was the fear I might have to go down the trail and look for him. It’s 400 feet straight down at the end of the trail.  Right around 6 pm as I am thinking about going to look for him, up hobbles Troy and announces he has broken his ankle.  No matter what Troy says, I am an awesome wife. I brought him dry clothes to change into, I got the shoe off his mangled foot and we set off for the hospital.

Hurricane Utah is a small town with a clinic-type hospital and they got him in and out within 2 hours. Had this been a Nashville hospital, we’d probably still be there. Troy did not in fact break his ankle, but he sprained the crap out of it and it is now a rainbow of pretty colors.

I think the Scorpion tattoo adds a lot of visual interest to his bruising

Troy claims to have defeated nature plenty of times, but not this trip. Nature 1, Troy 0.

The Subway

 

Shark diving on the cheap and other really bad ideas for vacation adventures

It is indisputable that sharks are extra cool. Every time I go to the beach, I look in vain for a shark. I’ve never seen a real shark in the ocean, not counting the two-foot-long baby shark I saw during my disastrous canoe trip with my sister. Naturally, Shark Week is a big geek-out time of year for me and I never miss the episodes reenacting the attack on the poor slob at the beach. For those of my morbid followers who just want the link to the shark attack videos, here you go.

Since I am such a shark geek, I am dying to go shark diving. This week, I got an email offering the trip of a life time to go “Budget Shark Diving.” This causes me some concern. I think that economizing to save money is not really my primary concern when picking a shark diving outfit. If you need an explanation why, take a gander at this outfit’s liability waiver you have to sign before you hit the cage. (Note: this dive group did not offer a discount trip to me). Keep your hands in the cage kids!

If shark diving on a budget strikes you as a bad idea, how about having a guy hold you by the ankles so you can look over the edge of Victoria Falls?

This hiking trail in China looks like it was built to last. I definitely want to try this one.

I think that zoos that allow visitors to simply walk into enclosures to pet the lions are charming, and also, operate to remove stupid people from the reproductive pool.

If you are brave and/or stupid enough to want to canoe a remote part of Africa, remember that hippos are not your friend.

Yachting around the Horn of Africa is lovely, and also, exciting as you attempt to outrun the natives who would like you to the their “Guest” while they ransom you. This site as some helpful tips including Somali phrases to memorize for your captivity.

On balance, the budget shark dive seems alright.

The Grim Reaper Report: National Park deaths

I have noticed an uptick in people who find this blog with searches for people who die in various national parks or as dinner for a shark or grizzly bear. Y’all are clearly a morbid, bloodthirsty bunch. This morning, these searches found this blog:

Searching for dead people

As a public service, for those of you with morbid curiosity wasting time looking for information on people who have died in National Parks and how, here’s where you need to go:

Yellowstone deaths

This bear in Yellowstone did not eat us as we stayed a long way away. If you surprise a bear with cubs, you can expect to be dispatched to the hereafter. Note the grainy picture which denotes long distance away from danger.

 

Yosemite deaths

3 people just died here. We didn't, but we stayed behind the rails.

Zion National Park deaths

This is why people die on Angel's Landing. It's 1200 feet off to one side and 900 on the other. I'm not insane enough to climb this, but Troy was. He's alive.

Grand Canyon deaths

Death Valley National Park deaths

Mount Ranier National Park deaths

Great Smoky Mountain National Park deaths/statistics

People die in Great Smoky Mountain National Park every year. Mostly because they are stupid. Waterfalls are dangerous.

 

Acadia National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Channel Islands National Park

Biscayne National Park

The water at Biscayne National Park is crystal clear. You can drown here or be eaten by a shark. According to Troy, who has to my knowledge, never set a toe in the ocean.

Big Bend National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

I did not drown, fall off a waterfall or get eaten by a mountain lion in Rocky Mountain National Park

Grand Teton National Park

Troy hiked all 19+ miles of this trail in Grand Teton without dying

Badlands National Park (click on the compendium for details by year)

The Badlands are named that way for a reason. Troy survived it. Because he's not an idiot and took water and knew where he was. Also because I was not there for him to argue with about which way to go.

Canyonlands National Park

Just past the arch is a drop of over 1500 feet. Don't go to the edge and pose.

Haleakala National Park

Crater Lake National Park

Sequoia National Park

Kings Canyon National Park

Denali National Park

Sadly, there’s no statistics kept on who had it coming. Darwinism may be at work in many of the deaths.

For those of you even more determined to track down who met their fate in the form of being dinner for a wild animal, here you go:

Mountain lion attacks

Black bear attacks

These baby bears are adorable. Mom is pissed off. We stayed a respectful distance away.

Grizzly bear attacks

Polar bear attacks

Shark attacks

Killer bee attacks

Snake bite deaths

You’re welcome.

Yosemite, Day 1: I look like a drowned rat

Mark Twain once said the coldest winter he ever spent was summer in San Francisco. I get this now. It was 59 degrees here yesterday. In June. The only good thing about this was an unexpected benefit for my fellow travelers as this means it is too cold to show off my extremely white legs in shorts as they will have to be encased in long pants.

Yosemite is not quite what I expected. I saw the news before I left about the sheer volume of water spilling over Yosemite’s very famous waterfalls. I was stoked to see them  as they have said it is a once in a generation chance to see that kind of volume. I was not prepared. It is loud. Jet engine loud. These are very, very big falls and pictures do not do them justice. I’ll try with a short video:

What this all means is that I got soaked. Drowned rat kind of soaked. The kind of soaked that when your hair finally dries you look like Chaka Khan on a bad hair day. I brought a change of shoes but not clothes. Planning wisely is not my strong suit and I would have sucked as a boy scout.  Good thing I was never required to be prepared.

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Something new to add to my list of things that suck: cicadas

Troy and I were married on Friday the 13th thirteen years ago this coming June 13.  I had forgotten that the year we were married coincided with the arrival of the 13 year cicada invasion which is probably some sort of omen. May started out kind of cold here and the cicada invasion was on hold which was perfectly fine by me. I hate flying bugs. I especially hate mass legions of flying bugs. I knew trouble had started when I spotted the first one:

Loud, obnoxious and gross. Look at those beady red eyes.

One is bad enough. Millions of them are intolerable. It is hard to describe the sound so I have thoughtfully recorded it here:

Seriously, this sound will haunt me for years.  It’s like a million rattle snakes hanging in trees shaking their rattles simultaneously. This afternoon, I went to wash the kamikaze cicada debris off my car at the local car wash. Bad idea. I was attacked by dozens of the damned things. One flew down my cleavage. The outrage. As I gingerly tried to locate and remove the buzzing insect from underneath my sweaty left breast, I noticed I had attracted the attention of a few fellow car washers. In my mind, I bravely stared them down and flung the carcass of the dead insect at their feet. In reality, I probably stuffed my not quite as perky as it once was boob back into the sports bra and hid behind the car wash vacuum cleaners. What the hell were they staring at anyway? It’s not like I was picking the underwear out of my ass or something.

Road trip to Miami: Part I

It’s been a hectic month. So I got a call from my niece who was on board a cruise ship in the Caribbean to tell me that my sister Susan was being pulled off the ship by Coast Guard cutter due to extreme illness. To normal people, this would be horrifying. My first reaction was “Seriously, you’re fucking with me” to which my sensible niece replied “I would never joke about something like this.” I only occasionally wonder if she’s really related to me.  My second reaction was to break into a Kathy Lee song “If they could see me now..” which is also probably inappropriate.  Sure enough, Susan got on board the ship 48 hours after having a shunt put in her liver. To most normal people, that would mean you would not get on the ship. Not Susan. I guess she was dying to sit at assigned seats for dinner, play shuffle board and be entertained by off off off Broadway musicals.

I would rather pull out my own toenails and drink them from a glass of sweat than have to cruise.

This created great consternation in the family since someone had to go get her. I made mention of my trial calendar, depositions, etc., but my Dad and uncle played the age card. Clearly, the writing was on the wall. Nashville to Miami is closer than Kansas City to Miami so I drew the short stick. I would drive to Miami since Susan could not fly.  To those who have only looked at Florida on a map, Miami is a long way from anywhere. The state of Florida is a really long state and it takes a long time to drive through.  It is full of old people who drive 30 miles an hour on the interstate and insane Yankees who drive 85 on the interstate and Europeans who don”t know which side of the road to be on. Seriously, my hat is off to the Floridians who drive there daily.

Florida has "Silver Alert" posters. To help find old people behind the wheel. For real.

To say that I was less than thrilled with the drive would not do justice to the word “annoyed”. Rearranging my calendar was not easy and also I had to drive through the entire state of Georgia. I should get some kind of medal for that. I had one major concern about where I would stay. This trip occurred the third week of March at the height of spring break. I should have known I would end up in Ft. Lauderdale. During Spring Break.

My personal nightmare. Katy Perry totally rules y'all!

Drunken twenty-year olds were far less traumatic than the legions of unbelievably cut gay men parading around in tiny swimsuits. If you would like to feel inadequate, put a swimsuit on and walk South Beach in the company of the gay beach brigade.

This man's ass is smaller than mine

I could never ever live in South Florida.

I have no reason to live

I have long subscribed to the theory that I am bulletproof and immortal. This despite multiple orthopedic surgeries which I have largely lumped under the heading “design defects” which have no real impact on my immortal status.  So on Monday when I could not stand up straight due to stabbing pain in my stomach, I forced myself to visit the doctor. Since I had spit up blood and no one having met me could ever accuse me of wasting away from consumption, it was a fair guess that I likely had an ulcer. I’m no rocket scientist (I went to law school which pretty much excludes extra smart people), but it kind of seemed obvious that this was an ulcer since I don’t have a flask in my desk drawer and despite my claims that my liver fled to live with Keith Richards years ago where it’s less toxic, my drinking days are largely now the stuff of myth.  The ER doc was less than amused by my self-diganosis and insisted on “tests”.

The tests included the following:

1) Stabbing me repeatedly in both arms and hands (which sucks epicly) attempting to take blood.

2) Realizing I am a lawyer and have no blood.

3) Stabbing me again for good measure because the nurse just realized I’m a lawyer.

In the end, the learned doctor determined I have an ulcer.  Thank you Captain Obvious. Aside from forcing me to take medicines, he laid down the following edicts:

1. No alcohol. I argued that no self-respecting lawyer can make it through to Friday without a martini?. He did not care about my problems.

2. No chocolate. I protested this was un-American and he told me to suck it up.

3. No caffeine. I attempted to rebel at the thought of no morning Red Bull, but could not stand up straight to kick him in the balls.

The end result of this is that I have survived for an entire four days on entirely healthy, non-caffeinated substances. I would cheerfully roll a nun for a Red Bull right now. They tell me this is part of a “lifestyle change”. I’m not sure I see a continued reason for living without caffeine, chocolate and vodka.

I am one step away from “Help I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up“.

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