Sunday, September 16, 2012

Pesky Varmints

I like to think that I've always enjoyed nature, and after living most of my life in the more arid western part of the United States, I have been absolutely delighted with the abundant vegetation found here in northern Virginia.  The colors in spring and autumn are so vibrant, so lush, it's simply amazing and I have loved it.

The downside of said flora, however, is the accompanying fauna.  And I'm not talking about the typical stuff we've dealt with everywhere we've lived--ants, spiders and geckos, and house mice.  We even had a rat get into our home in California.  That stuff's normal.

What I'm talking about critters that I never saw in the wilds of suburban Salt Lake Valley.  Apparently Virginia is the squirrel equivalent of Florida, because they are everywhere.  Our first year here we had a very persistent raccoon that took undue pleasure in tipping our trash can over and spreading rubbish over the back yard.  Every night.  EVERY NIGHT.  One Saturday afternoon I was taking out the trash and there it was, ready to demonstrate it's well-honed trash-can-tipping technique.

Then there were the two separate occasions when chipmunks got into our house.  We were able to chase one of them out, we never did find the other one.  My kids tell me a snake lives under the neighbor's concrete stoop--oddly enough, he says he doesn't appear to have any problems with chipmunks...

So anyway, this past spring after I got back from my trip to Thailand, I noticed there was a big hole on the backside of my garbage can.

Those holes are special-order.
I thought maybe someone had cut it with a saw (yes, I suspected my children), but then I looked at the ground near the garbage can and saw a lot of shavings, which leads me to believe that some stinkin' varmint chewed a hole in garbage can!  As if the one hole wasn't enough, I noticed while taking the garbage out today that there's another hole, as seen in the picture above.  And I know this one's new, because it wasn't there on Friday when I took the trash out.

Messing with my rubbish bin apparently wasn't enough, though.  Mali hosted a party last night, and I got the barbeque grill out so that they could cook some meat.  I noticed a small hole in the grill cover.

Yup, that's a varmint-chewed hole!
My initial thought was that the cover itself was of lesser quality and and somehow torn when I moved the barbeque.  But then I opened up the grill and pulled out the trap under the burners--you know the spot where all the grease and the occasional burger patty fall.  The grease trap itself was clean.  I mean clean as in completely dry, not a drop of grease to be found.  The larger trap itself was also clean, as were the shields that cover the burners themselves.  My initial thought was that I had gone out one night in my sleep and cleaned my grill.

Except for a few telltale droppings I probably would never have figured it out.  So, whatever varmint was responsible, I'd like to first of all say thank you for cleaning off my grill.  But next time, please don't chew a hole in the cover, just ask and I'll let you have a go.

Lest I go all Yosemite Sam on your furry little carcass.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Playing in the Mud (or "I Promise I *Am* an Adult...I Think")

Because I haven't done enough crazy things in the year since we returned from Bangkok (see here, here...oh, and here), this past weekend I participated in my first Tough Mudder event.  For those of you who haven't yet heard of the Tough Mudder, I will refrain from asking what cave you've been hiding in, because these things have become incredibly popular and you are probably sick and tired of hearing your friends talk about their "Mudder experience" and how cool they think they are because they finished it.  So for those of my intrepid readers who aren't familiar with Tough Mudder, I offer from their own website the following blurb:

TOUGH MUDDER: Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet
Tough Mudder events are hardcore 10-12 mile obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces to test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie.

And you know, with obstacle names like Arctic Enema, Dirty Ballerina, Kiss of Mud, Trench Warfare, Berlin Walls, Boa Constrictor, Mud Mile, Everest, and Electroshock Therapy, you have the nagging suspicion that these events are fact designed to really test you.  And if the names aren't sufficiently foreboding, you have to sign a death waiver before you can participate.

So of course it was a totally enjoyable experience.  It was physically demanding--you can't complete the course without some physical preparation and mental fortitude--but it was also an awful lot of fun.
That ground was dry when we started.  And we were clean.
A huge factor in making the event so much fun to do was attacking the course with a great bunch of guys (Alan, Clark, and Dan, you guys rock--and Roger, you were there with us in spirit, brother).  It is a simple truth that many of the obstacles are impossible to complete by yourself, and there is a tremendous amount of camaraderie between all the participants; the assistance from complete strangers, coated in as much mud as you are, is invaluable.  Where it totally helped to be there with great friends was while running between obstacles, when we could encourage each other, talk about anything and everything, all while getting ready to take on some new challenge guaranteed to get you wet, muddy, sore, and maybe a little chagrined.

Not to brag--which should be a total telltale sign that I'm going to--but we have a tougher Tough Mudder event than the organizers may have intended.  While the morning weather was fabulous, overcast and warm with tolerable humidity, the afternoon was another story altogether.  We could see the storm clouds heading our way, and as they marshaled our group to the starting line, the heavens opened and it rained.  Like Southeast Asian monsoon kind of rain, like the Vietnam scenes in Forrest Gump.  And it rained for at least an hour, with varying intensity, but with the end result being that pretty much every step of our 12-mile course was in mud.  I didn't see any participant letting the rain get them, and for our team, we agreed that it set a tone from the start that we were in for an experience.

By the way, it was incredibly inspiring to join with about 500 other people and enthusiastically sing "The Star Spangled Banner" in a torrential downpour.  Gave me the chills, the good kind.

It was tough.  A day later I'm a little sore, but not debilitatingly so.  And sure, you have to be mentally strong to get over being wet and muddy--although the kid in me openly reveled in getting completely covered in mud.  The trail was slick the entire time, and parts of the course got flooded.  In the end it was so bad that the organizers had to cancel the Sunday event, in large part because emergency vehicles would be unable to access parts of the course in the event an emergency evacuation became necessary.

But with all due respect and apologies to the Tough Mudder folks, this was not the most difficult thing I've done.  The trail marathon I ran in June was much more challenging, both physically and mentally, for me.  I attribute the relative ease of completing this course, again, to the fact that for the entirety of the Mudder, I was with friends, I was never alone.  There's a Sunday School lesson or ABC Afternoon Special in there, I'm sure of it.

In the end, of course, it was awesome.  Naturally I will be finding leftover mud in places I didn't realize were humanly capable of getting muddy.  So of course I'm already looking forward to doing it again next year.
Oh yeah, I'm totally a serious Mudder