Witwithwords Blog

Archive for the ‘Traveling’ Category

When I saw the devastating floods on TV a few weeks ago, it took me back to my early travel days when I was trying out camping by trekking into the real wilderness (Mexican Baja inlands) with the Sierra Club of California.

Never mind that I was the girl who got kicked out of Girl Scouts (another story for another time,) that I hated snakes or hadn’t seen a sleeping bag for more than a decade, I decided I was game for this new adventure.

On the long bus ride there, I kept asking fellow campers were we there yet, etc., like a little kid. I kept thinking that the desert landscape would resemble the dunes on LBI, NJ, where I had summered most of my life. The desert was nothing like that white sand and dune beach; instead, it was just hard, cracked brown earth with loads of cactus and large boulders.

Upon our arrival, we cooked a makeshift dinner in the dark. One bearded camper, Harvey, offered us whole cloves of garlic and red wine. We took him up on the wine.

The young Sierra dude running the excursion told us there were only four pup tents. Most of us would sleep exposed under the stars. I was not shy at grabbing a pup tent and a creosote-soaked rope (to ward off spiders and snakes.) Novice? Yes. Stupid? No.

We may have snared one of the few coveted tents, but as a result, we had to carry the heaviest cargo in our backpacks.

We slept little that first night. When you are far from civilization, early spring desert mosquitos can sound like they are “dive-bombing” you, tent or no tent. The only camper who slept peacefully? Harvey, with his garlicky breath.

The next morning, an insufferable know-it-all, Martha, in her 70s, lectured me on toilet paper usage, as I tried to find a scrub bush in the wide open desert, to discreetly pee behind. (Worst part of desert camping.)

We hiked 23 miles, climbing more than 1200 vertical feet, loaded down with 60-lb. backpacks. I was so weighted down, fellow campers had to push my rear-end up and over the highest rocks. Just when I thought my citified legs would give out, we descended into a beautiful canyon, an oasis of palm trees and stream. We cooled off in the stream, set up camp and cooked a huge feast over an open fire with Harvey’s garlic and some more cheap vino. It was a memorable night filled with laughter under clear starry skies. Tired, we gratefully crawled into our sleeping bags in the dark.

Around 3 a.m., we awoke to the most God awful sound, like a freight train mowing us down. A moment later our tent became airborne by a wall of water, as my husband and I twisted and tumbled over each other, bouncing off boulders in the canyon. At one point, we were submerged, nearly drowning. Somehow, he grabbed a tree branch and hung on, as the water finally whooshed by us. We found ourselves gasping for air, hanging precariously on a broad branch over a swollen gorge of water. Shocked, we managed to inch our way to safer, higher ground, where we located the rest of the group by dry ledges.

Luckily, no one was seriously injured. One camper did break his leg, but a few campers helped splint it. Everyone combined any leftover belongings, as most of us were left with little more than the soaked clothes on our backs.

For the next 24 hours, the swollen river crested. Our group survived simply by rationing food, treating drinking water with filter pills and sleeping next to each other, with our heels stacked along a ledge to prevent us from falling into the rushing water.

When the waters had receded enough, we made makeshift ponchos out of ripped tent and backpack remnants and hiked back to civilization. We took turns helping the camper with the broken leg.

Common sense on the part of the Sierra Club guide could have prevented this. During spring, canyons in the desert often flood and we should have camped on higher ground.

Flash forward many years. Today, sophisticated weather reports, cell phones and GPS would have predicted, prevented or made this natural disaster easier to survive. But like any natural disaster, our group survived with a broad knowledge of survival skills, teamwork and luck.

After this near disaster, my backpacking days were clearly numbered. I may still camp occasionally, if the natural scenery demands it. Otherwise, I prefer a great mattress and a real roof over my head. If I hike now, it’s with a lightweight daypack. And, I always take local weather reports and GPS seriously!


About once a month, I choose some artistic venue in Beantown and drive in from suburbia to take in some culture.  Since I have visitors about once a month, I try to do my culture-hopping and entertaining at the same time.

I recently chose the Institute of Contemporary Art http://www.icaboston.org/ because they had just launched the Shepard Fairey exhibit. This talented graphic street artist with political themes, known for his controversial Obama – used on the cover of Time  – as well as for Obama’s campaign literature, had just been arrested  prior to the opening. Fairey had also just been sued by AP, as they claimed he illegally used a photo of theirs for the Obama graphic.  Since my son was visiting for his birthday celebration and he is an Obama fan, I thought I would score big points.

The ICA did not disappoint. Most of the foot traffic that day – Americans and plenty of foreign tourists – was for the Fairey exhibit.  The ICA dedicated an entire floor to the exhibit and laid out the graphic displays and paintings in several different rooms. Despite the enormous interest, the museum did not seem crowded.    Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve always had a bad case of wanderlust. When that’s not possible (time and money issues,) I’m game when my sisters conference call me about a 4-day getaway in Florida – in dreary February, no less.

As I book everyone’s flights to meet around the same time in West Palm Beach, I keep forgetting that even though we’re older and wiser, we often revert back to well-established family roles from childhood when we all get together.

My oldest sister, the non-nonsense Matriarch, takes charge and rents a 2-bedroom condo right on Jensen Beach www.jensenbeach.com, without telling us. She spends a week there with her husband, an avid fisherman before the rest of us arrive. Read the rest of this entry »