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

 

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Zion National Park: How not to die in the Narrows

Zion is world-famous for several hikes, but none is more famous than the Narrows. Basically, take a fast-moving river in a very narrow slot canyon and take intrepid people who want to hike in the river and you have the famous Narrows hike. People die in this place on occasion  as there is just no where to go in the event of a flash flood. The walls are a thousand feet of towering, smooth, sandstone cliffs and barring Spiderman- like abilities, you’re pretty much screwed if you get caught here in a flood. Why do it? Because it’s awesomely beautiful.

Gorgeous, isn't it?

Being married to a man with a butt smaller than mine is bound to make me look bad in a place like this. This is a hard hike. The water is cold (yesterday, a balmy 58 degrees) and it’s running fast (68 cfs) and you are slogging upstream against a current. If you have a brain in your head, you either rent appropriate canyoneering shoes and neoprene socks  (Zion Adventure Company rents both for about $20) along with a decent hiking stick or you own your own gear and you use it. Plenty of morons get in the water and decide to head upstream barefoot or in open-toed sandals or flip-flops. This is a terrible idea. The rocks are slippery and the footing is uncertain, and thousands of pounds of rushing water are trying to topple you. Not wearing appropriate gear can be dangerous. I know this because I broke my neck here in 2009.

In May of 2009, this rock broke my neck.

In 2009,  I decided to wear a pair of water shoes from Merrell in the river. It seemed reasonable, but these are not canyoneering shoes and they lacked the grip of better shoes designed for canyoneering. The flow rate was also almost 140 cfs which is about as high as it can be and the park will allow you to get in the water. I lost my balance in the water and in a freak accident, ended up slammed against the rock with a broken neck and a blown disc. I was about 1 1/2 miles into the canyon at that point. If you hike in, you have to be able to hike out. I did not realize I had broken anything and thought I had a shoulder injury. Not quite.  By the time it was over, I had a bone graft, several screws and a titanium plate in my neck and a permanent loss of strength in the right arm from nerve damage. This is unfun. Don’t do what I did. I got injured because I was careless and because I decided I did not want to wear the less comfortable 5-10s in the river. The only redeeming thing from the experience is no one can question my toughness as I hiked my bad self out of the canyon under my own power  (I will admit it is a damned lucky thing I’m not paralyzed).

If you do this hike, you will see a ton of Europeans, some of them hilariously over-outfitted. (Drysuits in August are not necessary and you will have sweat running down your ass crack in ways you did not anticipate). You will also see some girls in bikinis far up river in very cold water. They are Swedish or Danish and think 55 degrees is toasty. Pay no attention to these blonde glamazons as they are not of this earth and they exist to make you swear to hit the crosstrainer daily while subsisting on lettuce and air. If you slog up river far enough, you will be rewarded with this:

A much better version of Wall Street

Expect to get wet (chest deep in a few spots) but most of it is hard in the water and trying not to fall over hiking.

Troy in the river

This is a bucket list kind of place so unless you are in a wheelchair or dragging oxygen, you should do this before you die.

Vegas or Bust: it was a bust

Troy booked my flight to Las Vegas. Because we have a zillion frequent flier miles on Delta courtesy of American Express, Troy booked Delta.  Delta sucks and I totally do not like the way they fly. To start with, it’s disconcerting to taxi down the runway and then to return to the gate being told that there is “a problem with the brakes”. Good to know.  This is one of those things you would hope they would have noticed before they started to take off. Hours later, we took off.  As we were descending into Las Vegas, we flew through the mother of all thunderstorms. The plane went up and down and sideways. I puked. Twice. The shame.  Fortunately for my fellow travelers, I am apparently good at puking into a paper bag in extreme turbulence as I did not puke on myself or them. You’re welcome Indian guy next to me.

On arrival, I headed for the Flamingo. I chose this hotel because I was either going to stay in top flight digs or old Vegas with mob connections. I opted for old Vegas. This was a mistake. The hotel does have the cool old neon Flamingo out front that’s been there since time immemorial.

The Flamingo at 6 am. No neon.

The original Ocean’s 11 was filmed here. I don’t think they’ve done much to it since then. I suspect that the carpet is exactly the same (hot pink and brown stripes) today as it was when the Rat Pack puked there back then. I think this property has taken a dive in standards since Bugsy met his great reward. On arrival, this hotel which has 3000+ rooms had one, yes one, valet guy.

The casino is smoke-filled and full of middle-aged women in packs. This is not your destination for anyone under 55.

Our room was a sad attempt at updated. Troy and I are still trying to figure out the vinyl headboards:

Troy is a slob. I made my bed.

Is the head board supposed to save you from a really bad headache in the event of head-banging sex? At 6′  x 6′, who needs that big of an area padded? This is a design element that needs more thought. Also, the 9 bare bulb fixture directly above the bed. I would ditch that.

Blinding you, 100 watts at a time

We ditched out of Las Vegas as fast as possible. We have arrived in Zion National Park and all is well in the Harrison world.  Big thunderstorms this afternoon and a downpour., though. Tomorrow, the Narrows.

I have no caption here.

Beating your kids in national parks

As always, B2BNL is always on top of the National Park deaths.  If I don’t post it fast enough, one of you is always thoughtful and sends me an email asking why I haven’t posted the latest dead guy.

Today, we have a new twist for bad things in national parks. Apparently, some sick  jerk took his young grandkids to Grand Canyon and then force-marched them without water for 20 miles and beat them when they dropped in 108 degree heat. In court, he said it was for their own good because they were “overweight”. Here’s a newsflash: how about some simple exercise and maybe no Twinkies?  I’m just sayin’ that rather than a brutal 20 mile march up Bright Angel trail, maybe taking the grandkids out for a nice game of touch football and then no fast food might be a better idea.

I don’t have kids (unless you count the dogs and Troy), and I do confess that there have been plenty of times when I wanted to kill someone else’s child in a public place, but the Grand Canyon is not the place to take out of shape fat kids with no water on a hot day hike.  Out of shape people without water die in this park. One out of shape guy without water dropped dead on Bright Angel trail earlier this week.  This is not for sissies:

I stole this picture from Wikipedia because I have no business being on this trail taking pictures in my current condition.

If you want to toughen up someone and get them in shape, get a crosstrainer, put them on it and yell at them.  Don’t take them to a national park and torture them.

I think he is trying to kill me for sure

We are heading to Zion National Park in less than two weeks so that I can attempt to finish the hike that quite literally broke my neck. This is where I broke my neck in 2009:

Canyons are excellent places to kill unwanted spouses

Because my stubborn streak exceeds my intelligence, I am going back to do it again, this time (hopefully) without all the injuries. Currently, there is very little Troy can say to me because I hiked out of a canyon under my own power with a badly-damaged neck. Any time he complains about pain, I just tell him, “Yeah, but I hiked out of the Narrows with a broken neck.” This tends to quiet him down.

Just some cool scenery (Emerald Pools) where Troy won’t try to kill me because there will be witnesses.

Of course, Troy is driving out alone because a) I hate driving 26 hours anywhere and b) he is going to take his time on the way back so he can attempt to kill himself  do Blue John Canyon. For those not in the know, this is the remote Utah canyon in which Aron Ralston cut off his own hand to free himself. I am flying out to Vegas and will meet up with him. Troy booked my flight. On 9/11. I told you he was trying to kill me.

Wildlife on parade: things not to fuck with

Summertime is the time that hordes of tourists head to the national parks to enjoy wildlife. The key modifier in the term “wildlife’ is ‘wild’, meaning not tame. Mr. Badger does not want to be petted. Trust me. As you travel in late summer, here are some things you may see and some handy tips.

1. Elk.

Big elk hanging out in Rocky Mountain National Park

Elk are generally fine to be near. Except in the rut. “Rut” is defined as ‘an annually recurrent state of sexual excitement in the male mammal’. Think of it like going to a bar at 2 a.m. on drink and drown night and getting between two drunk guys fighting over a bleached blonde in a tube top. You want to be nowhere near an elk during the rut as they will hurt you. These are big animals and they are not Bambi. The rut gets ramped up by August.

2. Grizzly bears.

Grizzly Bear in Yellowstone sitting on a log, contemplating dinner

Grizzly bears do not want to be bothered by you. They do not want to maul you. They will, however, take time out of their daily schedules to maul you if you fuck with them. The most dangerous place to be is between a Mama grizzly bear and her cubs. This is why the tourist died in Yellowstone this year – he inadvertently violated rule number 1: do not fuck with Mama Bear, even if by accident. Bear spray is a very good idea.

3. Polar Bears.

I have no pictures of polar bears taken by me. This is because I have never been close enough to a polar bear to take a picture. I do not want to be near a polar bear, and certainly not close enough to get a clear picture. The Coke ads aside, polar bears are hard-core predators. Polar bears will seek you out and try to eat you. It doesn’t help that their habitat is disappearing. Avoid the polar bears. Also, do not climb over the enclosure at the zoo to pet the polar bear. He doesn’t like you and he is not smiling at you.

4. Black bears.

Black bear Mom and cub minding their own business

Black bears are generally shy and will avoid you. They are not inherently deadly and they aren’t out to eat you. They can kill you if you mess with them. The same rule applies to all bears in the lower 48: do not mess with Mama and cubs. (See special rule for polar bears above which is basically stay the fuck away from them). I have seen morons in Great Smoky National Park throw things at Mom and cubs to get a better picture of the cubs. This is a spectacularly bad idea. Also, these people deserve to be mauled. Alas, they rarely are.

5. Bison

Where does a bison go? Answer: Anywhere it wants.

Bison are big. Really big. Bigger than the car waiting for it to cross the road. Do the math – that’s 2000 pounds plus. It would be a really good idea to not get in their way. Every year, someone in Yellowstone gets it because they think this is a big woolly cow in the field. Not so much. Bison do not want to be messed with. True story: a tourist in Yellowstone wanted to get a picture in front of a sleeping bison. It was laying down and she thought the picture would be better if the bison was standing. So she kicked it so it would stand up. The bison killed her. Bison 1, stupid tourist, 0. Bison also have a rut season and you would be well-advised to stay the hell out of their way then.

6. Snakes

A water moccasin on the trail

Snakes do not want to be fucked with. Most people get bitten because they are not paying attention. Do not stomp through the underbrush in a pair of flip-flops. If you come upon a snake, do not fuck with it. This means in very basic terms, do not get a stick and poke at it. If you lived in Africa and did this, you would die quickly because their snakes are lightning fast and mean business. Pay attention to where you are and don’t mess with them. Unless you are a herpotologist, odds are you couldn’t quickly identify any poisonous snake other than a rattle snake.

7. Badgers

I have never stuck around long enough to take good pictures of a badger. I don’t have a good enough lens to take them from far away either. Badgers are not friendly and they do not enjoy being disturbed. Think of them like you would your Great Uncle Elmer who hates everyone and would like to hit them with his cane. Badgers are small, but they have sharp teeth and they can haul ass when they want to. Badgers will stick up for themselves and size of the opponent has no bearing on what they will take on. If you happen to cross paths with a badger on your way through the back-country trail, get to steppin’. To get a sense of what I’m saying, check out the video of Mr. Badger versus the Bear.

8. Fire Ants.

I don’t have a picture of these either because every time I get close enough to a mound to take a photo, the bastards swarm out to sting me. Also, ant mounds are boring. Fire ants suck. They are aggressive and they will swarm out in defense of their colonies. For those north of the Mason/Dixon line, you have no idea how fortunate you are. Best line of defense when hiking is wear hiking boots and avoid their mounds. Wikipedia has some pretty pictures of what you will look like if you get swarmed.

9. Alligators.

This alligator is lazy, but he will bite morons

Alligators generally do not want to bother you. They are like middle-aged women in Vegas – they want to soak up the rays by the water during the day and at night, they’re out looking to get lucky. Alligators will not mess with you unless you mess with them or unless you are stupid enough to enter their world. If you’re on land, they are big enough to eat you if you venture too close, but they generally are only after your dog. Do not let your dog go to the water’s edge in alligator areas to play or drink. Don’t be stupid – do not swim where alligators are. Alligators will eat you if you are an idiot. The grim reaper report of fatal alligator attacks is here. Note how many deaths were attributed to people swimming where alligators lurk.

Other animals I would not want to fuck with: killer bees, sharks, wolverines, minks, seals, snapping turtles. If it falls in the animal kingdom and you are alone with it in nature, decide if you could take it bare-handed if you had to. If the answer is either ‘no’ or ‘not without a boat load of collateral damage’ then do not mess with it. Keep in mind that even the smallest animals can be quite vigorous in their defense of self. The Russians did not fare so well in their battle against kung-fu hamster. Size is not everything.

** All photos here were taken by Troy, many in the process of him trying to kill me.

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.