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The Trouble with Travel - Part II

Avatar_GregHertel The problem with superstition is that it's so egocentric. The assumption is that the whole Universe cares so much about one individual that it changes the order of nature just to spite them. I have a hard time with that. I've even told friends who were convinced that the weather was their fault to get over themselves... please! Yet here I was with a nagging suspicion that that I had a special black cloud following me! This is not a good thought for a man with a science background. Proof? How about rain on the Kona coast?

You want more proof? OK, how about the trip to the World Superbike Races Memorial Day weekend this year. They are held in Utah and I was looking forward to the dry drive across eastern Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada. I took the Blackbird sport bike and got ready for a fast, fun ride with a best friend from college who had just bought a new motorcycle at my urging. I rode to his place in Vancouver on a Tuesday and got doused as I pulled in but it was west of the mountains so to be expected. Wednesday it poured so we waited it out. Thursday it showered on us in the Columbia River Gorge but we looked forward to a dry ride once we got east of the Cascades. What we got monsoonal rain!

We rode 250 miles through the hardest rain I've ever ridden in. A submarine would have made more sense than the motorcycles we were on. 20 miles out of Pendleton we are headed up the crest of the Blue Mountains, so called because of the color of the bikers riding on I - 84, when disaster strikes. An oil line on my buddies normally reliable Honda cracks and coats his front tire. As we pull over at a rest stop his wheel skates and he goes down! He's shaken and a little bruised but the bike is down for the count. A guy in a following pickup truck sees it happen and stops to offer help. Eventually, he hauls my friend and his bike 70 miles to Baker City. He's out of the ride and the races so he takes a bus home the next day and I press on through the looming rain. The weather at the races was OK but the ride home was a repeat of the ride over.

Then there was the time in mid - June I took my geology - loving friend on the back of my bike to LaPine Oregon so she could buy a motorcycle. I promised to show her Mt. St. Helens and some other volcanoes along the way. We saw fog, clouds, and of course the ubiquitous rain!

There's a volcano back there somewhere!

Not giving up, I took my fearless wife to the Olympic peninsula to achieve her dream of seeing Hurricane Ridge. We saw vampires in Forks, werewolves in La Push. But going up the ridge we saw the thickest fog I've ever seen. Visibility was 100' and we had to feel our way along the road.

Our view of the Olympics!

And then there was our trip to Tucson Arizona. This was in April but all the climate data said to expect mid 80's temperature. This would be guaranteed to warm us up after the winter following the Winter of Snowmagedon. I packed my little used tubes of sunscreen and then started looking for things to do in the Tucson area. There were desert hikes, air museums, and of course there was Tombstone. I have a pair of Colt .45 revolvers that deserved good holsters and what better place to find a set than Tombstone! I investigated and found that it wouldn't be a problem to fly the pistols down with me. You use special locks on hard cases that allow TSA to open check the firearms. You tell the agent as you check your bags that you are traveling with firearms and they give you a small form to fill out and away you go. If anything, your bags are safer with guns in them than without. The last thing TSA wants are baggage handlers stealing firearms. Sometimes at the trips end they even bring your bag out to you rather than putting it on the carousel. You may fly coach but your bags fly first class and all for no extra fee.

The month before we left, I pushed to get a few jobs done at home. One was installing the trim on a friend's house and on a windy day, I got some of the cedar sawdust in my eye. At least, that's what I thought. Day by day my right eye was more and more irritated. I went to the clinic on a weekend, and then my own doctor and he sent me to an ophthalmologist in Anacortes. A through exam revealed no obvious splinters so the possibility of a viral infection called shingles was raised. Yikes! That's a long term and painful condition. In Anacortes my eyes had been dilated for the exam and of course on the way home the sun came out. I was almost incapacitated. The next day I went back to my doctor and after some more exams and research he told me I didn't have a case of shingles coming on.

"Don't start celebrating," he said. "You may have a nerve condition called trigeminal neuralgia. It's very painful and it's life long."

"And the good news is?" I ask.

"It may be treatable but not for a few months until it stabilizes." This is sobering indeed.

I go to the drug store and get my new meds. One is an anti - convulsion that will make me very sensitive to the sun. The other is a powerful narcotic that makes oxycontin look like baby aspirin. We leave for Tucson, sunny, sunny Tucson the next week. Did I mention that bright lights give me shooting pains in my head like the worst migraine? Of course the tickets are non - refundable.

My Fearless Wife and I discuss it and decide that I can be drugged up and miserable in Arizona as well as Friday Harbor so let's just go. I told her, "If I want to see the desert, I'll just hike it at night." I figured that she could visit the quilt shops by day and that I could hike at night. We wouldn't see much of each other but with the meds, it didn't matter!

In fact, there is this about flying when high on prescription narcotics, nothing matters! Crying baby? No problem. Tight legroom? Who cares? We arrived in Phoenix on a warm afternoon, rented a car and headed out. Me as the passenger of course. I was way too medicated to drive. Everything had gone smoothly so far. Even the guns had come through TSA without any hassles.

As we drove along we listened to local radio to get the flavor of the place. We had arrived in interesting times! The Arizona immigration bill had been passed by the state legislature and was awaiting the governor's signature. The state was overwhelmingly in favor of it. Even the Hispanic population of the state favored the bill. There was a real disconnect between what we were hearing locally and how the national media was portraying the bill. We got to Tucson, checked in and started touring.

Tombstone was interesting for a visit. A single gunfight in 1881 sealed the town's history. Everything revolves around the OK corral now. Reading the reprint of the Tombstone Epitaph newspaper published the month following the gunfight, I was struck by how political the whole affair was and how murky the real truth can be. It's worth a day to dig and really try to understand, to get by all the tourist stuff.

Of course I had other errands beyond western history. I had the pistols with me. In fact, I was wearing them because Arizona is an "open carry" state and any law - abiding citizen can simply strap on his shootin iron and walk down the street. Not only that, but people do. There are exceptions posted by some restaurants but I wouldn't eat in those cowardly joints.

We looked around and I did find a great holster maker and had a classic two - gun holster set made for the old Colts. Of course then the next step was to find a place to shoot them. Of course the TGN was still with me so a night walk was going to be my only option.

Locals did warn about the real danger of running into a Mexican smuggling gang in the desert at night but I figured that an old desert rat like me could handle them. After all, I had TWO guns so those dang nabbed outlaws just better steer clear of me if they valued their hides!

"Let me get this straight," my Fearless Wife said. "you are high on prescription narcotics, you have a condition called the Suicide Disease because the pain is so intense people used to kill themselves to be over it, you have two .45 revolvers, there may be Mexican drug smugglers in the area, and you want to go wander around the desert at night?"

"Yup." I was in my John Wayne mode of speaking so I kept it simple. Besides, she pretty well had the situation nailed.

"Is your life insurance paid up?"


"OK, but close the door when you leave and try not to wake me when you come back."

As evening approached, I checked the guns and made sure I had all the ammo I might need. I pulled on my boots and said a prayer for the poor bandits that might be unlucky enough to blunder into me.

It was almost dark when I left the condo and started hiking south. The spring had been wet and the cacti were blooming so there were lots of new odors in the air. As nice as they smell though, the cactus still needs to be treated with respect! One in particular is truly the plant from Hell. It's called the Jumping Cholla. The name comes from its seeming ability to leap out and skewer you with barbed spines. I encountered one with my ankle and jumped back thinking a rattlesnake had bit me. As I jumped, a branch on a shrub flicked my glasses off and I was immediately in the dark, blind and dancing on one foot yelling my head off.

Suddenly I stopped. There were shapes looming in the darkness! A Mexican gang had surrounded me. Like lightning I drew my trusty Colts and yelled, "Reach for the sky!" And they did!

Now what? It was the classic Mexican standoff. I had the drop on 'em but there were too many for me to try to tie them up. I could give them my meds and drug them but they might be used to drugs and besides, I didn't know if I had enough pills. I couldn't see very well because of the missing glasses but I could see well enough to know that I was in serious trouble. Still, they waited, probably recognizing my superior firepower and the moral superiority I had as an armed American.

We waited... and we waited. I wondered how long before me Fearless Wife would come looking for me. Even if I had been killed she needed to find my body to collect the insurance.

After a long night - .45 Colts weigh 2 ½ pounds and get heavier by the hour - the eastern sky started to lighten up. As the day came on I realized how tight a spot I was truly in. I was badly outnumbered and to top it off, the bandits were huge. Suddenly I heard a car coming. I must have been closer to a road than I thought! More bandits, police, or just tourists? Rather than take my eyes off the gang, I decided to chance it and hoping for the best, I just waited.

"Are you ready to come back for breakfast?" a familiar voice said. Hot damn! Of all people, it was my Fearless Wife.

"Quick, take a picture of these Mexican bandits so we can turn it over to the Border Patrol then let's get out of here." I shouted.

"OK." She said with a chuckle. I couldn't see the humor she was seeing but then I didn't have my glasses and she hadn't stayed up all night holding two pistols on a well-armed Mexican drug gang.

"Alright, got it. Let's go," she said.

I dove for the car and said, "Quick, get us out of here before they can get to their guns."

"How are you feeling?" she asked.

"Very tired and my head hurts."

"Well, take your meds and I'll drive us back but there is a surprise INS sweep up ahead so we may get stopped and delayed for a bit."

"Good, we can tell them about the bandits and maybe get a reward for helping to capture them."

She started to answer but sure enough, we topped a rise and there was the border patrol check station. I rolled down the window as we pulled up, "Buenos dios amigo," I said.

I figured that if they were Border Patrol they would speak Spanish so I pulled up all I that I had picked up from B-Westerns, Mexican restaurants, and border bars I had spent some of my misspent youth in. "Por favor senor, banditos el real."

The patrolmen looked puzzled so I figured that he was hard of hearing like many foreigners so I spoke louder and slower. Finally he said, "Sir, are you a U.S. citizen?"

Ha, he was trying to trick me! "No hablo anglesh," I replied.

Then he noticed my pistols and suddenly he demanded that I get out of the car. My meds were kicking in pretty good and I must have been slow to comply because he and a couple of buddies helped me out and onto the ground. I kept trying to explain that I wasn't the bandito but by now my Mexican had devolved into only the more colorful phrases I had picked up in the bars. These I thought were complimenting his sister and mother but he, in his ignorance of Spanish mistook my attempts to break the ice and I was rudely handcuffed and my Fearless Wife had to go in to the office and explain what was happening.

After awhile she came out. She was laughing pretty hard but things must have gone well because I was allowed to stand up and the plastic cuffs were cut off. We were allowed to leave. Then and in a friendly spirit I shouted, "Via con hueavos!" out the window as we drove away. The next day, the governor signed the immigration bill and I felt bad that the border problem would be solved and the nice officers would now be out of work.

There was one really good thing that came out of my long night in the desert though. I attribute it to me sleepless showdown and the time spent staring down the Mexican bandits in the cool night air. The head pains I had been experiencing started to ease. By the end of the trip I was down from taking meds four times a day to twice, then once, and I finally, I stopped completely. A trip to a neurologist in the week following our return gave me a new diagnosis, I had simply suffered from a severe migraine.

"A month long?" I asked.

"Yup," he replied. He must have watched those John Wayne movies too.

"So what caused it, Doc?"

"I can't say. There was no obvious organic cause. It could have been something in the environment. Hell, I don't know, maybe you were just unlucky, maybe you were just jinxed but you probably don't believe in those old superstitions."

"Oh, you'd be surprised Doc, you'd be surprised."

The Old Squid fearlessly holds off the Mexican bandits (well, they looked like bandits... at night... without my glasses.)

The Old Squid


Last modified onThursday, 22 September 2011 12:36

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