(Excerpt from our forthcoming book Dear Bob and Sue: Season 3 – not yet available for sale.)
January 7, 2018 (Sunday)
Chiricahua National Monument
Dear Bob and Sue,
Last night we were tired from the excitement of becoming RVers, so we called it a day early—like 7:45—and figured out our sleeping arrangements. The dining area converted into a twin bed, and Karen had already claimed that spot, which was a good thing since it’s a little shorter than I am tall. My bed above the cab was a double with about three feet of headroom. I practiced how to climb down from my perch so that in the middle of the night I wouldn’t step on Karen’s face when I had to go to the bathroom. She propped up a couple of pillows against the back of her sleeping cubby and began reading a book on her iPad. After a few minutes, she asked, “Does it feel like the RV is listing to one side?”
“Well, since you mentioned it, it does feel uneven.”
“Is there anything we can do about that?” she asked. “I’m worried I’m going to roll out of bed in the middle of the night.”
“I think our opportunity for leveling the RV has passed. It’s not a good idea for us to be maneuvering around the campsite in the dark. I wouldn’t be able to see your fist circles.”
“They weren’t fist circles; I was signaling for you to turn the wheel.”
“Still, we’ll have to wait and deal with it tomorrow,” I replied.
“I noticed earlier that the guy next to us has blocks under his tires on one side. They look like giant Legos. That’s what we need to do: put a couple of those under one side of the RV.”
“Ok, goodnight, Sweetie.”
Karen exhaled deeply, which I interpreted as her disappointment with my RV leveling skills and went back to reading. A couple of minutes later she asked, “Are you cold?”
“I’m getting cold,” I replied.
“Maybe we should turn on the furnace.”
“That is something we can do. Let me see if I can remember what Ben told us about using the furnace.”
Fortunately, the furnace was easy to figure out, and in no time it was blasting warm air into the cabin. It couldn’t have been cozier. As soon as Karen put away her iPad, I closed the interior curtains to my sleeping nook so that the light from my laptop wouldn’t keep her awake. I was expecting to hear a thump from her rolling out of bed, but that never happened. Instead, she said softly, “Matt, are you still awake?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“There’s just one more thing.”
“You know how I never complain, but the microwave clock is super bright, freakishly bright; it lights up the entire cabin of the RV. Do you have anything you can put over it, like duct tape?”
I knew if I lived long enough, she’d ask me that question. My triumph was short-lived however when I searched my backpack and realized I’d left my small roll of duct tape at home.
“No duct tape, but I have some Band-Aids. Let’s try one of these,” I said.
“No duct tape? Who are you and what have you done with my husband?”
“Hey, Band-Aids are what we’ve got; they’ll work just fine,” I said as I put a medium-sized one over the light.
“Wow, it’s still bright. I think the light is boring a hole through the Band-Aid like a laser,” Karen said.
“Here, I’ll put a blister patch over it. That should dull the light enough so that we can sleep.”
I considered putting Band-Aids over all of the LEDs inside the cabin–there’s got to be a dozen or so in here–but even for me, that seemed a little too weird.
It’s a good thing we’re camping in an RV with a bathroom; Karen refused to go outside until the sun came up this morning. Before we turned in for the evening last night, we met the camp host, Gary, whose campsite is across the road from ours. He said to Karen and me, “If you leave your RV after dark, be sure to carry a flashlight with you and watch for skunks. We see a lot of them around here, especially at night. People trip over them on their way to the bathrooms.”
“People trip over them in the dark?” Karen asked.
“It’s been known to happen. They’re pretty easy going, but you don’t want to give one a reason to be upset,” he replied.
Later Karen said to me, “I’m using the toilet in the RV if I have to go at night. I don’t care if it’s #1, #2, whatever, I’m not going out there at night. Tripping over a skunk in the dark is my worst nightmare.”
“Really? That’s your worst nightmare? Not something bad happening to me?”
She thought about it for a few seconds and then said, “Nope. Tripping over a skunk in the dark would be the worst.”
“Since we’re on the topic,” I said. “If you do happen to run into a skunk and it sprays you, I’m not letting you back into the RV.”
“What about our marriage vows? You promised ‘for better or for worse.’ I have witnesses.”
“Yeah, you’re not coming back into the RV. I would have considered it before your ‘worst nightmare’ comment, but now, if you get sprayed, you’re on your own.”
“What if you get sprayed?”
“Sweetie, if I get sprayed there’s no doubt, I’m on my own. I probably wouldn’t even knock on the door. You’d find me at the nearest Target buying a case of tomato juice.”
“That’s what you do if you get sprayed by a skunk.”
“Buy tomato juice?”
“No, you’re supposed to bathe in it. At least that’s what people say to do if a skunk sprays your dog. Except in that case you bathe the dog, not you.”
“Ok, enough with the skunk talk,” Karen said. “But we should pick up some tomato juice the next time we stop for groceries, just in case.”
At 9:00 am sharp we were standing in front of the campground bathrooms waiting for the shuttle. Another couple waited with us, but other than them, we only saw a handful of people in the park all day. The ranger drove the four of us along the 8-mile scenic road from the Bonita Canyon Campground to the Echo Canyon picnic area. Not only did the drive to the top save us many miles of hiking, but it also cut off about 1,400 feet of elevation gain. Adjacent to the picnic area, we found the Echo Canyon Trail and began following it downhill into Chiricahua’s “Wonderland of Rocks.”
At the top of the park (the east side), several trails loop around the spires and hoodoos, creating a maze through the rocks. Following the map the ranger gave us, we hiked nearly all the trails in the maze area, took a side trail to Inspiration Point, and then descended to the visitor center along the Lower Rhyolite Canyon Trail. Despite it being generally downhill, several inclines along the trail made it a strenuous workout. It was an incredible hike; there were crazy rock formations and lots of balanced rocks that looked as if they might topple over at any minute.
After hiking through the park, we could see how someone could get hopelessly lost without established trails to follow. Legend has it that Chiricahua warriors, including Geronimo, hid in these mountains to evade the U.S. troops who were sent to the area in the late 19th century to run them off their land. Nearby, Fort Bowie (now a National Historic site) was established in 1862 in the aftermath of violent encounters between Apaches (Chiricahuas are a band of Apaches) and Union forces. Eventually, Geronimo and the Apaches surrendered to the U.S. government, who banished them to reservations.
We ended up hiking a total of 9.5 miles, which took about all the energy we had today. Our only wildlife sighting was a scrawny tarantula. I had taken a picture of it, and I showed it to the ranger at the visitor center when we went in to pick up our pins. She told me it was a male. “The guys are little,” she said. “It’s the females that are large.” I looked at Karen and opened my mouth to say something, but before I could speak, she said, “Choose your words carefully.”
“Uh, what I was going to say was, uh, we should be heading back to the campground. It’s beer time, don’t you think?”
The trail to the campground was far enough away from the park road that we felt like we were back in the wilderness for about a half mile. It was a flat walk through a grassy, scrubby area with a couple of small creeks crossing the path. Karen said to me, “Keep your eyes peeled, I’m hoping we’ll see a coatimundi.”
“Just so that I’m clear on this; your worst nightmare is to trip over a skunk, but you’re hoping to see a coatimundi?”
“Yes, they’re rare, and they live in this area. They’re also called coatis.”
“What’s so special about these coatis?” I asked.
“For starters, they’re half raccoon, half monkey,” she replied.
“Ok, I’m calling bullshit on that. There are no monkeys in Arizona, not even half monkeys.”
“Alright, they’re not half monkeys, but they look like a cross between a monkey and a raccoon. They supposedly hang out around this area of the park. I’ve read blog posts of people seeing them in the campground. Maybe if we’re lucky we’ll see a whole family of them: a mother with her babies.”
As with the skunks, we didn’t see any coatis on our way back to the RV. (I’m beginning to wonder if there’s any wildlife in this park.) We did, however, see a couple of beers in the refrigerator, so we grabbed them and sat outside relaxing before dinner.
Being that this is our first time in an RV, we didn’t know what to expect cooking-wise, so we planned, at least for the first couple of nights, to keep it simple and have Mountain House freeze-dried meals for dinner. It’s been less than a year now since we’ve begun camping and backpacking, and I’m surprised at how willing Karen has been to eat meals that require rehydration. She’s grown fond of the Mountain House Chicken Casserole, even suggesting one night that we have it for dinner—at home. I’ll have to admit, some of those freeze-dried meals are pretty good, but they also can have a lot of sodium. Tonight I had a double helping of the Chicken Casserole, and as I’m sitting here typing this email to you, I can feel my heartbeat in my ears. That’s probably a warning sign that I should back off the salt.
Since we’re on the topic of having to pee every hour, Karen and I decided to switch beds tonight. Even though I have to sleep curled up on the dining area bed, I prefer that to climbing down from the sleeping area above the cab several times in the middle of the night. Last night, I nearly killed myself, more than once, as I attempted to make it to the bathroom in the dark. I wasn’t joking when I said I was worried about stepping on Karen’s face.
Besides being in a fetal position all night, another trade-off of sleeping on the lower bunk is that my head is right next to the furnace. It’s loud, and every time it kicks on, which happens every ten minutes, it scares the bejesus out of me. But I’d rather get used to the sound of the furnace than freeze; it’s supposed to dip into the low 30s tonight.
Tomorrow we’re moving on to our next campground at Catalina State Park. Karen was in charge of planning that part of the trip, so I don’t know much about Catalina; it’ll be a surprise to me. On our way, we plan on stopping by Saguaro National Park east of Tucson; it’s been seven years since we’ve been back there and we’re anxious to see it again.