Friday, January 11, 2008

A pint-sized epic journey.

Anyone who knows me is sure to have heard at least one of the epic tales. I list them briefly here now in no particular order.

Fireworks Quest in Myrtle Beach
Street Fighter II with all Characters
The Bamboo jungle epic.
The ultimate swimming comeback story - 12 month intro
Bloody Whitney
Worst trip ever
Arms Race
High Risk, High Reward - The last Halloween
Quitting the Spiritual Addiction
Quitting the Physical Addiction
The End of the World (of Warcraft)
Fair Coin original draft.

I'm sure these dozen tales, all which can no doubt compete with the 12 labors of Hercules or Finn McCool's similar tasks, are worthy of at least one post. Some have already been addressed. These are the stories that live in memory and are told and retold many times before.

The other day, after reminiscing about the bygone days of bomb building and gallivanting around in the woods I decided to pay a visit to google earth and revisit the third item on the list.
The ill-fated expedition to the bamboo jungle. Care to hear more?

Well settle in dear reader, for this is no small tale. Read on to discover heartache, bloodshed, fear, panic, cows, exploration and finally conquest. We begin, like most child hood stories, with a very bad decision.

As a 12 year old I thought myself reasonably intelligent. It seemed the biggest issues I ran into were not those of my own making, not yet, but rather when I decided to do something without first thinking about the consequences.

In this case it was too late in the day for an epic undertaking. When Brian and Paul showed up with younger brother Wade around 5 o'clock and announced their intention to go to the bamboo jungle I knew for a fact that we would be turned back. All we had were our clothes and no food, water, flashlights or anything else should the worst happen. But I was bored and decided to go along. We might be able to make it, I thought. If we move quickly...
If you look at the first picture closely, and I don't expect anyone to do so, you can see the crucial details. Basically the Bamboo jungle was a clump of rocks and trees where small stalks of bamboo were plentiful and more or less free for the taking. To get there one simply had to follow the creek from behind our house downstream past the big pipes, through the bendies and past the little blue pipe.

After the pipe the creek joined with another and at that point became about 30 feet wide and mostly shallow. There were a few points where sand banks or fallen trees or even some big rocks would carve the flow into deeper and narrower channels.

We began by walking south down the road and then headed west through woods. At the time there were a few less houses. The one we cut through was under construction at the time.
The area described by the blue arrow is our path through the woods. Remember that house was nothing but a frame and it was fall so the surrounding woods were sparse and easy to traverse. I know they look impenetrable but this part of the journey provided no serious challenge.
The above picture is simply the next chunk of land to the west of where we left the road. After the woods there were some cleared fields and if you notice the long strip of field above the yellow push pin icon *placemark, whatever you call it* you see the airfield. It's weird but it is actually a grass landing strip that our neighbor would take off and land from. We headed south, over the blue pipe.
If you look closely at this picture you can see where the pipe stretches over the creek. If I remember correctly it was about 8 feet over the creek bed and there was some underbrush to contend with. Paul was scared and we had to cajole him to walk across the pipe. I believe we usually walked on it but at least once I know I shimmied across to avoid falling into the nastiness of the creek.
From there it was a straight shot to the Bamboo Jungle. We skirted the woods along side the creek looking for a place to cross the whole way down. Normally we would have knee-high waterproof boots to make it easier but this was spur of the moment so it was nothing but sneakers. We looked and looked and finally we were there, staring across at the object of our quest. So close and yet so far. There was still nowhere to cross just yet. We decided to go with a fairly narrow part of the creek.

The Red X indicates approxiamtely where things turned decidedly against us. Those three trees played a role in a different story, one alas, for another day. The cows merely bore witness to the unfolding tragedy as we began to cross the creek.

I wish I had a picture to illustrate exactly the terrain that we faced here. Instead you get a crappy illustration via MS Paint.

It was a good 6-8 feet down to the sandy creek bed. This was easy enough to get down. Brian and I crossed first, taking off our shoes and socks to keep them dry. At this point it was already twilight and we should have already forged our way back to civilization. Brian blazed the first trail and for his troubles got a HUGE thorn stuck inside his foot.

I mean the thing was in at least an inch and it was almost as thick as a friggin' pencil. Panic and Chaos ensued. I told Wade and Paul to get back up the bank (easier said than done) and that I would pull out the thorn and Brian and I would head back on the other side.

The logic wasn't exactly there but at least I was making decisions...the first was probably the best. Removing a HUGE thorn in a friend's foot is something to be done with the utmost care.

"I'm going to count to three," I said. Brian nodded, he was in hell with pain. "Ok, 1...2...[yoink!]"

Screaming followed. We had watched "Alive" recently and I remembered one of the guys did something similar so the person wouldn't be expecting it. Brian tied his bloody gaping puncture wound off with his muddy sock (medical community cringes) and we set off back up the way we came.

Paul and Wade climbed back up. As we were leaving Wade had already made it and Paul was struggling to get up the embankment.

The cows, now on our side of the creek watched passively. It was hard to see much of anything now. We ran, fueled and fanned by adrenaline over the plains dodging rocks and cowpies with admirable dexterity.
This might be hard to see but the red lines indicate our journey homeward. Those three lines of trees each happened to coincide with a 4 foot tall barbed wire fence. There were three total, no injuries were sustained by them.
In the dark of new night and our maddened state of panic and fear we didn't quite notice that we passed the fork and just kept running up the creek. After passing another 4 fences we calmed down enough to realize that we were lost and panicked all over again!

After the 4th fence we noticed some lights and decided we'd take our chances rather than spend the night groping through the dark knowing full well the smelly and prickly horrors we would face. Cautiously we stepped out onto an open space with regularly spaced lights along each side.

The airfield! Life and liberty at last! There was just the problem of sneaking past a well-lit mansion. I think they had some dogs and we were fearful of getting mauled after such a harrowing escape through the woods.
Creeping carefully, and ridiculously, we made our way past the tennis courts and around the huge imposing house. House noises and the weirdness of being able to see more than just vague gray outlines. Finally we were able to creep out to the driveway at which point we launched ourselves back towards the road. The 'end point' is a stone ring that served as a decorative roundabout. I never used it once I started driving. Brian's mom, mounted 'top her mini-van found us here and we were shuttled back to safety. Wade and Paul had to make their way back another way.

Everyone made it home safe and sound, Brian got a tetanus booster and no one was seriously traumatized by the events. However in the interest of objectivity I wanted to see just how far we traveled to come across such a memorable ordeal. The result...
Yeah. 2.08 miles. STUNNING.

Now here we are faced with a decision. Do we decide that the journey was still epic in scope and detail subjectively but not objectively? Or do we, confronted with the inescapable evidence determine that it was not a worthy tale to tell?

(Stop here if you don't want to read my inescapably atheistic reasoning below.)

This tale, one of many many many experiences I have faced is the strongest personal argument I can muster to answer the question: If there is no God, Heaven or Hell then what's the point of life on Earth?

Pessimistically one could argue that there is no point and it makes just as much sense to be good as evil. Or negating those concepts one could say that life exists only to serve self and that any other goal is detrimental.

I'm not renowned for my optimism but age is mutating my personality in ways I did not expect. This tale was not just an idiotic trot through the woods. Nor was it some heroic deed worthy of song and praise. It was a learning experience. Yes looking back it was laughable and anti-climactic but it stands out in great contrast to the rest of middle school.

I'll never forget the next day. On the bus to school Brian recounted the whole tale to Tabitha, a girl our age, who listened to a truncated version and then immediately changed the subject back to more sociable matters. Never mind that brush with tetanus and danger, forget the turbulent adrenaline rampage through the woods and fields of our neighborhood. No what Sally thinks is so much more important.

I already liked girls at that point but I have never given up on the idea that they are just really weird. I still think so.

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