Friday, January 29, 2010

Childress, Texas

Childress is white. White sky, white roads, white everything. What was walkable terrain yesterday is now likely a lot of ice, and that means finally using my Yak Traks. The Weather Channel has predicted flurries from the system moving through the region, and from the looks of the day, they're probably correct.

Night before last, I camped in this weather. I wanted to know what it was like to be in an ice storm. The day had been in the 60s and 70s, and when the weather's good, it's hard to feel anything but confident. While nothing much happened, this is obviously a dangerous attitude to have.

I rigged my tarp up between two bushes and staked the corners. This worked fine until the wind started blowing hard. After about an hour of trying to manage this from the inside of the tarp, I got up, didn't bother putting on pants, put my shoes on with no socks, and tackled the problem from the outside. Had it been raining, I wouldn't have been so careless, but the temperature was probably still 40s at this point and not unbearably cold. I made several new stakes and made sure there was something in every grommet. This, I felt, would do the job.

While I was working, I could feel the temperature dropping. Some people are naturals at knowing about what the temperature is, and while I've never been good at this, I've gotten a lot better on this trip. Five degrees can make a world of difference. I hurried my work, then got back in my sleeping bag and tarp before the rain started. I was dry and warm, and while I would remain such during the night and morning, things started to go very very wrong.

I got a few hours of sleep before a corner of my tarp whipping back and forth in the wind woke me up. I was a little frustrated. How many stakes would this job take? I wondered. As the night wore on, more and more stakes started coming out due to this strong wind. I would put them back in, albeit in a different spot where the ground wasn't loose, and weigh them down with my shoes. Fifteen minutes later, I'd have to repeat the process. I could've started a farm for all the tilling I'd done.

During all of this, not much of my stuff had gotten wet. I was still warm, dry, and in good spirits. My tarp structure had been reduced to junk, but I had not. When the sky turned from dark to white, I ate some ash bread I had made the night before and snacked on some trail mix. Whether you're home by the fire or in the middle of nowhere, life seems pretty good when you're eating homemade bread.

Then my body started churning. The party was over. I knew that sooner or later I would have to go out in the storm.

So I changed positions and procrastinated as long as I could. Trains went by in the background, likely carrying several nice bathroom facilities with them. The wind and rain continued like an inexhaustible orchestra. One last gurgle, and I got dressed.

From the outside, I could see what had happened. The freezing rain had coated everything with an ever-increasing layer of ice. The ice had weighed down the mesquite bushes I had tied my tarp to. This created slack in my tarp which the wind started blowing into like a kite. And that's why the stakes kept coming up.

My tarp was almost completely collapsed. While I had enjoyed a certain measure of warmth and dryness from the inside, I'm not sure how much longer it would have lasted. The side of my tarp had accumulated lots of water and hail, which was turning into a huge slab of solid ice, and after I had done my personal business, my rain gear was a little wet too. I decided to hoof it.

The rest you can guess. It was a long fifteen or sixteen miles to Childress, though I walked fast. My gloves and shoes, which both had claimed to be waterproof, were not. My hands which at one point had started to heat up, lost all their warmth and started to go numb. I took off the gloves, put my poles on my pack, and stuck my hands in my jacket. I could feel the water in my shoes, but because I was walking, my feet generated enough heat to be okay.

Perhaps the most important thing I did was an assessment every twenty minutes or so. I'd go through each of my body parts and say how cold or warm they were and whether this was an improvement or not from the previous assessment. Then I'd assess my spirits, my will to continue. While my levels of warmth fluctuated due to weather or gear, my overall attitude never faltered.

I made it to Childress. Half the city lacked power, so I continued until I found a motel with the lights on. When I took my pack off and looked at myself, I found ice all over me. When signing my name, I lacked the finger dexterity to make it look like my signature.

From all I've heard, I'd say it was an appropriate introduction to the Texas Panhandle.

Until next time...

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