Thursday, February 11, 2010

DV footrace pt III

During the post-race nap several things happened:
  1) The world became colder and grayer.
  2) Someone snuck into my tent and surgically replaced my legs with wooden replicas.
  3) All of the other campers on my side of the tent loop had packed up and left.
  4) I became incredibly hungry
  5) My MP3 player lost all charge.
There was also a lot more mud. It was impossible to avoid the mud, and it stuck to everything it touched.

Behind the campsite there was a large open area. By large I mean a hundred or so square miles. The visible portion was an irregular beige surface devoid of vegetation. The low irregularities were filling with water. The low spots were puddles, but they threatened to fuse together and form a shallow inland sea.

The sky had fallen partway. There was an impenetrable mass of white suspended about 250 feet off the desert floor. Beneath the ceiling it was clear enough to see 50 miles.

I stood in a band of clarity between the encroaching dissolution of reality. The ground was melting into liquid; the sky was solidifying into white goo. The sun was also setting. Actually I only imagined it was setting as I could not tell where it was. For all I knew someone had found the cosmic dimmer switch and was slowly turning out the lights.

I hopped in the car and drove to Badwater. I had never seen Badwater in the rain. Now I have. It looked like rain falling on a puddle.

There was something about the sound of the raindrops plopping into the hypersaline pool that was hypnotic. I could theorize that the unique auditory effect was due to the difference in density of the water and the drops. Perhaps it was the density of the 284 foot below sealevel air that caused the phenomenon. Most likely it was the combined effects of my being tired, well fed (I had been eating since I woke up), wet, alone, and in a place of rapidly dissolving immeasurable vastness. I was soaked when I noticed the ranger and his small knot of interpretive program audience.

Something terrific has happened to rangers of late. They all appear to be reasonably talented showpeople. Everything is a performance, and the performances are given with such enthusiasm that I swear the NPS has stopped random drug testing. In asking about the weather I was treated to dramatic readings of computer printouts. These new rangers are seriously good at outreach, and not just one ranger, but almost every ranger I spoke with.

There appears to be a steady decline in the lifeforce of the park-going population. I swear the ratio of RV slots to tent slots has doubled. Much of the campground was an RV parking lot. Little paved pullouts all in a row. Each RV seemed to have its own generator and satellite TV. The shapes of the occupants were a likely as not to be sexually amorphic due to obesity.

I would later momentarily regret having not pitched my tent on a paved RV berth.

I decided against walking out onto the salt flats with the ranger’s group. I’m sure that it would have been entertaining, perhaps he would have done an interpretive dance to demonstrate mineral cycling?

For me the salt path from Badwater was just too white. It looked like a bit of the sky had already fallen there. A braver man might have attempted to stop the ranger’s tour:

“STOP, LOOK WHAT THE WHITE GOO HAS DONE TO THE MOUNTAINS! IT DISOLVES ALL IT TOUCHES! DO NOT STEP OUT ONTO THE WHITE GOO!”

When I returned to furnace creek I had a few hours in the dark to walk around before I wanted to sleep. It drizzled and drizzled. I was soaked.

When I returned to the campsite the mud was bad. Several of the campsites were completely flooded. There was a huddle of road cyclists who took up connected campsites on the far end of the tent loop. They had a lake between their tents and their cars.

It rained through the night. The puddle that formed inside my tent was warm. The hard ground underneath the tent became soft and comfortable. I was sleeping on a highly viscous leaky waterbed. I slept very well.

The morning’s world was six inches deep in creamy peanut butter. Every step threatened to steal a shoe. I picked up the tent whole and moved it to the parking lot to disassemble it. I rinsed the mud from the groundtarp and my shoes in the asphalt parking lot’s puddles. I felt like I was retreating from an unspeakable defeat. I left the campground as soon as I could and drove halfway to daylight pass before stopping.

It was dawn. Firstlight had yielded to the disk of the sun peaking over the Funeral Mountains. The white goo had gone and wisps of fog retreated before the intense light. Everything was shiny.

I was changing out of my wet clothing into dry duds for the long drive home. I stood for a second in my birthday suit and shoes to look out over the valley. It did not look wet; it looked like it had been pimped with chrome bling. I do not think it would have looked the same had I been fully clothed.

I personally cannot stand for long in the middle of a two-lane road without being clothed. The moment passed. As I rearranged the car for the trip home (getting fresh caffeinated beverages and snacks handy) I thought about how often I let my attitudes interfere with more complete enjoyment of the opportunities that present themselves in my life.

I had just escaped from the mud hell that was my campsite. Why did I not pause to enjoy it? That ground is only mud like that once a year at best. I could have stripped down to my skivvies and jumped in. Instead of dreading the stickyness I could have used that property to cover myself head-to-foot in the mud. Instead of plodding around the deeper puddles hoping not to lose a shoe I could have slithered snakelike and shoeless through the middle of them. Instead of defeated and low I could have been exhausted.

I do not think that it requires a belief in some kind of invisible friend to alter one’s attitude. I doubt many of the god-fearing RV inhabitants would be wallowing in that exquisite mud. I am interested in how I can see opportunity in the world and respond to it with a more inviting attitude.

I think that if I had a travel partner with me, who had offered to clean the mud off of me enough for the trip home, that I would have returned right then to the mud and wallowed in it. Part of the ability to change one’s attitude must depend on preparation.

I would say that the drive home was uneventful, but I would only do that because this post is too long already. Since my MP3 player was dead I sang to myself. I had been listening to Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” album before the MP3 died and the songs were fresh in my head, so I sang them:

       They saaat togeether in the paaark
       As the evening sky greww daaaark
       She looked at heeeem and heee felllt a spaaark
       Teeengle to his bone
       ‘Twas then he fellt alooone
       And weeshed that heee’d gone straaaaight

I howled like a tone deaf coyote whenever I thought it appropriate.

There was snow on the roads.

In Beatty there was a man in an electric wheelchair tooling along in the center of the right-hand lane. He had two small American flags taped to the back of his seat. The flags fluttered and gave him the illusion of a speed greater than that he could have achieved with the chair alone.

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