Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Slice of Life - Too Much Water!

It all came back to too much water. As I lay in my sleeping bag, half-asleep and cozy against the elements, I knew I would be getting up soon. I sneak a peak at my watch, the Indiglo bright searing my squinting eyes just long enough to see it was 2:58. I rolled over again and tried to will my bladder and my brain back to sleep.

As my I continued to awaken, despite my best attempts to the contrary, I thought of all the reasons not to get up.
  • It’s cold out there.
  • The zippers of my tent might wake everyone up.
  • I will have to find my clothes in the dark or turn on my headlamp.
  • There might be scorpions in my boots. 

Scorpions! For as long as I could remember, I had heard about shaking out boots in scorpion country so the little critters would not sting the five-headed monster of a foot entering the new cave they had claimed. Well Goblin Valley State Park in Utah is the desert and scorpions do live here. Had I even remembered to tell my students about shaking their boots out? An old Far Side cartoon flashes into my brain.

I don’t even know what my middle-of-the-night reaction would be to a scorpion in my boot at 2:58 in the morning. Would I scream? Would I be a “good” enough person not to smash it with the boot, honoring Nature’s creatures and all that? Or are those sentiments only reserved for daylight hours?

Too Much Water! That was the problem. Not enough and then definitely too much. With the business of managing twenty-two 10-13 year-olds during the day I had not taken care of myself by drinking copious amounts of water. Then, to relieve the “you’re getting dehydrated” headache after dinner, I had drunk two liters during the last two hours I was awake. I even knew at the time I was going to be getting up in the middle of the night. Heck, at this point in my life, I usually get up at least once anyway, why even worry about how much water I drank?

Another green flash from my watch. 3:04! Not even ten minutes have passed? I was secretly hoped this inner monologue had happened around some dreams and it would be closer to 6:00.

Fine! I’m getting up! Long-sleeve shirt and jacket first, followed by a blast of cold air as I unzip my bag and hurry into pants and synthetic wool socks. I try to quietly unzip my tent, slowly and quietly but my body is telling me now is the time to move a little quicker.

The moment of truth is upon me. I fumble for my headlamp, place it on my head, and squint while my eyes try to mange the bazillion-watt halogen brightness filling my vision. Once I no longer see pure white, I grasp each hiking boot by the toe and vigorously tap the heels against the ground. Carefully I hold them upside down expecting nothing to fall out in reality, but ready just in case because reality doesn’t always matter when it’s dark.

Nothing. I slip into my boots and loosely tie up the laces. As I trudge towards the bathroom in the campground, my headlamp lights up the inches of drying mud everywhere. While it's wet enough that my feet sink an inch or two, it dry enough that it does not squish or splash. However, the low areas where the water collects are quagmires that have already claimed five shoes from my students, who tend not to lace their shoes anyway. I hop across several strategically placed rocks and reach the pavement and begin my walk to the bathroom.

Too much water is the issue. Not only for me but also for this trip. Two days ago, thunderstorms had brought over an inch of rain to this valley that only receives eight inches of rain a year. Yesterday brought a little more and the dry forecast from last week was obviously being revised. Flash flooding had closed roads and made us change our plans on the fly. Instead of climbing through slot canyons, we had gone to Capitol Reef National Park, because a slot canyon, downstream of a thunderstorm, is a very bad place to be. The kids had been great with the changes, the rain and the mud and we had some opportunities to talk about how desert life adapts to life with almost no water and then too much water.

I reach the bathrooms and step inside…SPLASH! The motion-sensing light switch activates and as the fluorescent bulbs blink on. I hear water splashing and am glad that my boots are waterproof as I find myself standing in over and inch of water. Too Much Water! The urinal is running non-stop and overflowing and the drain is in the highest part of the floor and only just starting to capture a trickle of the flood.

First things first. I wade through to the stall and take care of business for myself. Then I start jimmying the urinal handle, hoping that will cease the deluge. No luck. I walk outside and try the service door, knowing it will be locked but imagining that I could turn off the water valve from inside. Locked. Splash back into the bathroom and flip the lever up and down some more in helpless desperation. Nothing. Outside is a signboard about the campground and I hope to find a map to the campground host or a phone number to call. Nothing but a couple of old announcements and a flyer about a few of the animals in the park, including a picture of the desert scorpion. No warning about checking boots though and I wonder briefly if that is negligent of them or if scorpions are just not an issue in the campground.

I’m about to give up and I feel like a not-perfect person for being ready to just go back to my tent and going back to sleep. I’m usually a pretty good problem solver but this seems beyond my abilities and resources for this time of night.

I go back to the bathroom and it’s clear something is different. No running water noise. My boots send ripples across the bathroom and I see that the urinal has stopped. I also notice another drain in the floor, slowly gulping down the water.

Having no idea what I did, or if I actually did anything, I give myself an imaginary pat on the back anyway and head back to the campsite, feeling a bit like a superhero. I feel that way about teaching sometimes time too. Due to unexpected reasons, I’m in the right place at the right time, doing my best but sometimes just flailing away, not really knowing if I’m making a difference. Then after stepping away, I come back and a student has taken their next step, is no longer “drowning” and the sun emerges.

For me though, it’s only 3:16am. Time to catch a few more Z’s and hope the sun does come out in the morning.

The school bus and a very muddy campground as the sun works its magic on the clouds


  1. The only thing I ever worried about on these trips were the scorpions in the boots. Glad it wasn't an issue. This is terrific Max, the linking together all those things under "too much water". Love the ending too, winding back to what's really important, the students. Love that picture-nothing sweeter!

  2. I grew up in India where scorpions were fairly common...and always terrifying. An exhausting slice, Max - bet you couldn't wait to get back to civilization.

  3. The responsibility of so many middle-schoolers - wow! I am impressed! And not the least bit surprised that you were wide-eyed with thoughts. What an extraordinary adventure for one and all - and so glad there were no scorpions.