Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Camping in the Back Yard Part 2

Having frozen and been revived by my wife at the end of snow-drenched May, I refused to be deterred.  I would take this camping experience to the next level.  I would bring out the big guns.

Two years ago, on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, I had gone to Dick's Sporting Goods to get a sleeping bag and tent because I was going to backpack into Rocky Mountain National Park with a pair of my teacher friends.  They were going for the fly fishing.  I would write and hike--I did end up writing a few chapters to Radical Equations, my latest Bonnie Pinkwater mystery.  The tent was a piece of cake, a one and a half pound backpacking tent that was little bigger than a coffin.  The sleeping bag was another story.  Dick's had a number of spiffy bags on sale but the one that finally caught my eye was rated for forty below.  That's right campers, forty degrees below zero.  With this mother puppy I could conceivably sleep in a snow drift.  Truth was I had no intention of camping anywhere near a snow drift.  I was heading into the mountains in the dead of summer, first Rocky Mountain National park then a campground just outside of Leadville.  In both cases, the bag would prove to be just too damn hot.  I ended up just laying it across myself and even then the darn thing was an oven.

But with the winds blowing 50 mph in my back yard and three inches of snow on the ground, AS GOD AS MY WITNESS, I WOULD NEVER BE FROZEN AGAIN.

Now the accouterments were waiting - a four-man cabin tent with an eighteen inch thick air mattress, and a big hunker flashlight - when I boldly walked ten paces out my back door.  It was cold, sure, and got colder as I took off my warm clothes and wiggled into my snug sleeping bag.  Except for my nose, I got warm in a hurry.  After finding a way to bury my chilly nose in the bag, it was time to get comfortable and settle down for a long winter's nap.  That's when things got complicated.

You will never get me to admit to being chubby but I had gotten bigger than when I last used the rated-forty-below sleeping bag - things were a bit snug.  I sleep on my side and I just couldn't come to an understanding with this bag to allow me to turn sideways and still have my nose not turn into an icicle.  First I tried to turn in the bag.  It is a mummy, so the feet portion is considerably smaller than the rest.  The overall effect was that my body only turned with great difficulty. and then I discovered that the flap would no longer reach my nose and it was growing frigid.  With an equal amount of difficulty, I returned to my original position.  I halfway convinced myself that I would just sleep on my back. I lay there waiting to sleep.  Minutes past that felt like hours.

Then an idea came to me.  Why not turn everything, me the bag, the necessary flap, the whole kit and caboodle.  Easier said than done.  Before I go into the grim details of this next escapade, there are two things that need to be said.  Thing 1: I wear glasses.  Trifocals that allow me not to be blind as a naked mole rat.  These were laying on the floor of the tent next to the flashlight.  Thing 2: The air mattress, thick as it was, was only a single, not as wide as the bed in my bedroom only thirty paces away. Me and my sleeping cocoon filled this surface area quite nicely but there wasn't much room left over for doing the tango.  Keeping the necessary flap in place I tried to turn.  The slicky bag wanted to stay in place - I believe this is called inertia.  This would never do.  Idea number two.  From the inside, I would grab hold of the bag and kind of hop/roll onto my side. Believe it or not this worked marvelously - for about a second.  I launched myself off the mattress into free fall.  Still twisting sideways, I tumbled onto the flashlight turning it on, which was handy because I was in kind of a fix.  I had gotten myself tangled up in the bag, kind of half turned but not all of me.  My feet in the smaller section of back were going one way while the rest of me was turned ninety degrees.  And I was face down on the cabin floor, the flashlight shining into my eyes.  Then an awful thought presented itself to my bedazed mind.

Where were my glasses?

After an eternity, I disengaged myself from my captor sleeping bag and tried to gingerly roll.  I found my glasses.  At first glance they seemed relatively unscathed.  They fit my face - mostly.  Then I looked around the flashlight lit tent.  Something wasn't right.  The big red writing on the tag that told of how to care for the tent fabric was indecipherable.  And now the glasses weren't feeling so right on my now cold nose.  My hands crept to my face and I realized the awful truth.  One of the lenses was missing.  And I was maybe too blind to find it.  Oh my God, did I shatter it when I fell?  Was I, even now, walking on the broken shards of my trifocals?  Like a madman I tossed aside my rated-forty-below sleeping bag and felt around the edges of the air-mattress.

I found the lens.  It wasn't broken.  But I was.  In my underwear, holding my lens I stumbled back to my house.  My wife was waiting.  She took one look at my glasses, part on my face and part in my hand, and gave me a tender hug.  Have I ever mentioned that I have the best wife in the world?  She took me to my bed, tucked me in and crawled in beside me.  She even helped get my nose warm.

A Day at the Doorly Zoo

I had been reading about this Omaha, Nebraska zoo for over two years.  It had a reputation for giving the one in San Diego a run for its money and for the most part it lived up to its rep.  I had just gone to the zoo in San Diego nine months previous and am a huge fan of our own zoo (Colorado Springs) up on Cheyenne Mountain, so I reckoned myself a bit of a zoo connoisseur.  First of all, this bad boy is big, so if you go get ready for a lot of walking, although there is a train, a tram and an overhead sky ride, but for my money to be really savored, a zoo needs to be walked.

Things I liked:

They have a night area.  There's something sooooooooo cool about walking around in a place that perpetually dark.  I'm not talking about dim, it is flat out dark in there.  Obviously, this pavilion houses creatures that prefer the dark and if you're like me, you think bats.  I LOVE BATS.  I LOVE BATS.  There I've said it.  They had six species of bats, including (drum roll please) vampire bats.  The little buggers were even lapping up blood.  How cool is that!!! But my favorite was the giant fruit bats.  These guys had wing spans of like four feet.  Now that's a bat.  Oh yeah, and Naked Mole Rats.  Who doesn't like them?

Lots and lots of bears.  What's not to like about a bear.  Every time I see one I think of the folk song, 'Mama's Taking Us to the Zoo Tomorrow.'  "Bears walking round with their woof, woof woofing."  Polar Bears, Brown bears, Grizzly bears.  Cool beans

Tigers.  One tiger roared over and over again and paced around it's giant enclosure.  Loud, impressive.

Lions.  It must have been some sort of day care/school day because there were a ton of kids running around that day and one particularly, shall we say expressive young girl, insisted on shouting, "Wake up, wake up you."  After a minute of this abuse, the lion opened one eye and fixed it on the girl as if to say, "Please come a little closer, darling, so I can show you what waking up really looks like."  The little girl was appropriately cowed. And one mama lion had four baby lion cubs.  All spotted and cute.

They had a Komodo Dragon.  I love these guys.  They look like they just want to bite you with their nasty bacteria infected mouths.

The Jungle River pavilion was extra cool.  Can you say pigmy hippo?  This little guy had his own river and looked like I feel when I'm on my first day of vacation in Florida.  This place even had an albino Alligator.  Huge, white, with a terrific overbite.  We walked on rope bridges, along a winding river, and looked down on very cool monkeys from the tree canopies.  It was even appropriately hot and sultry.

Bird Sanctuary - a giant enclosure, I'm talking massive.  Pink birds, striped birds, huge birds, tiny birds, birds in the trees, floating on a river, flying from branch to branch, AND NOISY.  It seemed only fair.  This was their turf.  They should be able to sound off as much as they want in their own home.  If I didn't like it, I could leave.

Orangutans.  Not much to say except one young guy just hung there with his legs spread as if to say, "Ladies and Gentlemen, this is my penis."  I recognized something of myself in his demeanor.  This area also enclosed one of the most beautiful silver-backed gorillas I had ever seen. Magnificent!  He was just regal in his large run.  a small gibbon braciated from branch to branch like it took no effort.

Of course there were giraffes and penguins, rafts of monkeys, even a butterfly pavilion.  But I'm not going to go on much longer.  You probably already got the picture.  I had a the best time I think I've ever had in Nebraska.