Friday, January 30, 2009

Phantom Canyon (or The Worst Camping Trip Ever)

Back when I was fresh out of college, I moved to Colorado for a year with my boyfriend. (Who later became my husband and later still my ex-husband.)  While we were living there, my sister and brother came to visit us.  Being young and adventurous, we decided to go camping together up in Phantom Canyon.  Now, Phantom Canyon is exactly as it sounds.  Picture, if you will, a rock strewn dirt road clinging to the side of a mountain with a sheer drop on one side of the road.  There's room for only one car on the road at a time, so in the unlikely event you meet a car coming the other direction, one of you has to back up until you can find a spot wide enough to pass by each other.  There are no actual campsites, but rather a few sparsely scattered areas where you could pitch a tent.  (If you actually had one.)

Intrepid campers we were not.  We had three sleeping bags for the four of us and no tent.  My brother insisted he was hearty enough to use just a bed roll made up of a couple of old indian blankets we had around the house.  So, we packed the car (an old white BMW 2002) with the sleeping bags, bed roll, water jug, two boxes of Kraft macaroni & cheese and a pan to cook it in, a can of green beans, matches, a cooler of Dr. Pepper and a bag of marshmallows. 

We cheerfully set out on our journey on a warm, sunny day in early June.  The road up the canyon, as I indicated, is a tad bit treacherous without 4-wheel drive, but we were undaunted. We'd already made the drive up the canyon before several times, just not loaded down with four people and camping gear.  We hit bottom a few times, but this was to be expected.  After about 40 minutes, we saw a clearing that might accommodate our car and suffice for our campsite.  

We parked the car off the side of the road and carted all the gear to the clearing.  Out came the sleeping bags, the bed roll, the water jug, the two boxes of Kraft macaroni & cheese and the pan to cook it in, the green beans, the matches, the cooler of Dr. Pepper and the bag of marshmallows.  We started to set up camp and were quite happy with the location we found until we heard the buzzing of insects.  You name an insect, it was there.  Swarms of mosquitos, gnats and some bees made our beautiful campsite uninhabitable.  

So, we once again packed up the sleeping bags, the bed roll, the water jug, the two boxes of Kraft macaroni & cheese and the pan to cook it in, the green beans, the matches, the cooler of Dr. Pepper and the bag of marshmallows.  Back into the car we squeezed, only to find that the car had overheated on the rough ride up the canyon and wouldn't start.  There was nothing to do but wait for the car to cool down.  By this time, the sun had warmed the air sufficiently to make the interior of the car rather warm.  In my great wisdom I decided it was the perfect time for a cool, refreshing Dr. Pepper.  I proceeded to pop the top on the can, only to have it explode in a spray of amber colored, sticky droplets all over the inside of the car.  Everyone was drenched and screaming as the soda dripped back down off the ceiling.  Needless to say, I was not the most popular person at that moment.  We were now all hot, tired and sticky and the car still wouldn't start.

Forty-five minutes later, after we were all done glaring at each other, the car started and we were once again on our way.  We drove further up the canyon for about another 30 minutes until we came to another clearing.  To get to it you had to follow a steep path down from the road.   We started getting out all the equipment again.  Yes, the sleeping bags, the bed roll, the two boxes of Kraft macaroni & cheese and the pan to cook it in, the green beans, the matches, the cooler of Dr. Pepper and the bag of marshmallows were carried down the steep hill.  The last thing to come down the hill was the jug of water, which my brother proceeded to drop about half way down.  The water came flying out of the jug and my sister started screaming at my brother because she needed the water for her contact lenses.  (Never mind the fact that without it, our two boxes of Kraft macaroni & cheese were going to be a little crunchy to eat with no water to boil the macaroni.)  

About the same time, one of us noticed that the steep path we'd been traversing up and down was covered with poison ivy.  Many expletives were invoked before we started talking civilly to each other again.  At long last, we had our camp set up.  We made a fire ring from rocks we gathered, started a fire with deadwood we found, laid out our sleeping bags and bed roll near the fire, and started to cook our evening meal.   There was just enough water left in the jug to make the macaroni & cheese, although it did taste a tad bit gritty from the dirt that clung to the opening of the water jug.  

As night began to fall and we were roasting marshmallows over the fire, we began to contemplate the many wild animals that lived in Phantom Canyon, including small mountain lions.  We figured the rattlesnakes had all gone to their dens for the evening.  Nonetheless, we did discuss the merits of circling a rope around your sleeping bag to keep the snakes out. Whether that was an old wives' tale or whether it had actual merit was a moot point, as we didn't have any swell cowboy lariats anyway.  All the same, the more we thought about the mountain creatures and the darker and colder it got, the more nervous we became.   

That's when we came up with the great idea of the rocks in the pan.  It seemed obvious to us that if we heard something approaching we could simply shake the rocks in the pan to make noise and scare away whatever it was.  Everyone agreed it was a brilliant plan.  So, we all snuggled down comfortably into our sleeping bags with the rock filled pan next to us and prepared for slumber.  Unfortunately, our sleeping bags weren't as warm as we anticipated and we all started to shiver.  About the same time, we became painfully aware of all the small rocks we were sleeping on top of.  The more uncomfortable we got, the more sleep eluded us.  Even the beautiful night sky failed to relax us.  Finally, we all covered our heads and tried our darnedest to fall asleep.  

After what seemed like hours, a rustle began nearby.  The sound of sticks snapping came next as the creature neared.  Being cold and shivering and sure that whatever was out there meant to bite any exposed hand that came out of a sleeping bag, we all pretended to be asleep in the hope that someone else would be brave enough to shake the pan.  Two minutes passed, five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen.  Still no hand was seen making the supreme sacrifice for the good of the group.  Twenty minutes later, someone ventured to whisper, "Are you awake?"  Immediately we knew that we were all cowards and had been avoiding being eaten alive by a mountain lion, all the while hoping that one of our camp mates would provide a tastier treat for the vicious creature.  (Yes, we really cared deeply about each other.)   Upon making a pact that we would all look out on the count of three, we were amazed to see that this time we all came through!  We had done it!  We had faced our fears and faced down the creature....  which, as it turned out, happened to be a steer.  

Range cattle are very common in the mountains and it never occurred to us that the thing that was approaching could be a very large, but very docile creature rather than a blood thirsty devourer of humans.  The rest of the night was spent leaning up against an old stone wall and stoking the fire until the sun rose.  When the dawn finally arrived, no one spoke as we packed up the sleeping bags, the bed roll, the empty water jug, the pan minus the rocks, the empty cooler and the trash.  In fact, I don't think any of us spoke to each other again until about six hours after we finally arrived back home.  

Rarely have I been so terrified and miserable while camping.  And I've NEVER again gone camping with my sister and brother.  Go figure!

Why Cat Ladies Don't Leave Home

You may wonder why it is that cat ladies become such recluses.  Perhaps it's because the times we have ventured forth into the world have proven to be less than successful outings.  In the next few postings, I hope to regale you with tales of misadventure.  

I have been blessed with a gift for finding myself in ridiculous situations, which would be sad if they weren't so laughable.  Looking for the humor in any situation is what keeps me going when I might otherwise implode.  Those who become cat ladies generally have a fragile hold on sanity.  Writing can help fend off dementia.  So, I share with you, kind readers, tales of where I've come from that will help explain how I've gotten to this point....

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Pajama Day

Pajama Day is a cat lady's dream.  Imagine... waking up to a day in which there are no pesky employment obligations, no creditors lurking at your door and no relatives planning to visit.  Your social calendar is completely empty.  Household chores are unnecessary as you don't plan to wear clean clothes anyway, you can live off any leftovers in the fridge that haven't yet become science experiments and you couldn't give a crap whether your house is clean or not.

What do you do first?  The obvious thing is to go back to sleep, which you do until the other inhabitant of your home, the trusty canine, decides it's time to go outside and increase the number of land mines in the back yard.  This is brought to your attention by the tapping of doggy toenails, which should have been trimmed long ago... except that he would rather bite the hand that feeds him than have his nails done.  (He obviously doesn't understand the allure of French tips.)  You try to ignore the pitter-patter of large feet until the whining begins.  Soon you realize the whining is not due to the dream you were having about work and you become more fully awake.  Again, you try to ignore the signals by putting a pillow over your head.  When the whining finally erupts into a full-fledged bark, it's time to give up and get up.  (Cat silhouettes are much more accommodating... they never tap, whine or bark.)

As long as you're up, you might as well start brewing the coffee while the dog does his thing.  In the spirit of generosity, you provide food and water for him as well.  While doing this, you naturally spill water on the floor, slip on it and strain your bum knee.  Limping to the door to let the dog in, you realize that you should probably ice the knee, so you stop off to put an ice pack in the freezer to chill.  Upon opening the door of said freezer, all the boxes of Lean Cuisine that have been crammed inside slide out and fall on your unshod foot, creating a new shot of severe pain to go along with the pain shooting through your knee.  This means it's really time to get off your feet.  You finally make it to the door and the dog comes flying in past you, (bumping into your already sore knee,) to get to the delectable taste treats you've left in his bowl.  These are scarfed down in about 3 seconds and he turns to you with a pleading look that says, "That was lovely, but what else is for breakfast?"  On your way to the recliner you throw him a rawhide chew which is consumed by the time you lean back in the chair.  The whining begins anew, so being a thoughtful pet owner you lean over to scratch him behind the ears to relieve his angst.  This results in a new pain... this one in your back where a nerve exposed by a herniated disk gets pinched from leaning over the wrong way.  Back to the fridge to put in another ice pack.

This time the cold emanating from the freezer reminds you that you have to pee.  You hobble up the stairs with one hand on your aching knee and the other hand supporting your aching back.  Once seated upon the throne of relief, you realize there are only two sheets of toilet paper left on the roll.  (Had you cleaned the bathroom like most people do on a Saturday morning, you might have noticed this before settling down.)  As you attempt to rise, you find you can't because of the pain in your knee and back.  Meanwhile, the dog has begun to whine again because he misses the scintillating conversation you'd been having previously downstairs.  Grabbing hold of the sink with one hand and the toilet paper holder with the other, you pry yourself up painfully, hobble into the spare room to procure a new roll of paper from the bulk size package sitting there and return to complete your task, which has become much more urgent.  Glorious relief is at hand and soon it's time to once again grab onto the sink and toilet paper holder to pull yourself back up off the throne.  This time the toilet paper holder snaps off the wall, falling on the remaining toes that weren't attacked by the Lean Cuisine.  New pain shoots through your toes.  

It's becoming abundantly clear that the dreams of a relaxing pajama day are not going to materialize.  The only thing left to do is to pop half a bottle of Advil, dig out a pair of earplugs from the bedside stand, pull the shades and go back to bed.  Finally you drift back into an uneasy slumber... until the tapping begins again!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Occupations for Cat Ladies

I feel part of my mission in life is to assist cat ladies everywhere in finding ways to finance their seclusion.  I was recently made aware of one such occupation... designer bags made from Persian cat hair.  For more information, check out: 

If I were to actually have cats myself, I might consider this as an occupation with redeeming social value, particularly as no harm comes to the cats who provide the silky fur.   However, I'll have to content myself with continuing to go to work on a semi-regular basis to continue the lifestyle to which I have become accustomed.  
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