Brandon and Gwen's Adventure

Brandon and Gwen's Adventure

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Baby Animals!

It's not uncommon to hear Kokopelli's barks resonating in the background. A 12 month old Yorkshire Terrier, she is as spunky and vocal as any other sub 20 pound dog. So, I didn't really think much of it when she kept on for five minutes straight. Afraid the neighbors would take offense to her yapping, I went outside in an attempt to usher her back into the house. She's still young and, as such, is quite strong willed and not exceptionally keen at coming to the door when called on. Pre-coffee and puffy eyed, I slid into a T-shirt, slipped my flip-flops on and headed out the backyard, completely unaware of what lied ahead.

It seems that young "Pelli", as we often like to call her, had dug up a den of mice that were cuddled together in a tight ball the size of my fist. In her infinite wisdom, defying centuries of maternal instinct, their mother had placed them against the exterior wall of our house, right in our garden. From the sunroom I could see what all the fuss was about. One of the poor bastards had managed to crawl outside of the nest in a feeble attempt to escape what must have been the loudest sound he'd heard in his few days on earth. Pelli was six inches away, her derrière and tail pointed to the sky, nose to the ground, barking as loud as she could muster at the motionless pest. She didn't intend to harm the tiny creature, only to play with it. However, the mouse, who was not privy to this fact, was understandably terrified.

I hurried to free the small rodent from his personal hell and ushered Kokopelli out of the garden before inspecting the little guy. I scooped him up into the palm of my hand and gave him a once over. Shaken but otherwise unscathed he had successfully endured his first encounter with a predator. Lucky for him it was Pelli and not Ninja (our "adult" Yorkie) who would have produced a much different, and far more morbid outcome. 

Having passed a quick visual inspection, he joined his three siblings in their den. I did my best to reconstruct the damaged exterior of their home and brought the dogs back inside. I had noticed a ton of ants traveling in a row across the wall above the den so I took care of them before returning inside as well. I'd check the mice again later on. 

That evening, just before the sun dipped below the horizon, I returned to the tiny den for a head count. It was hard to tell at first as they were sleeping in a pile (reminiscent of Where the Wild Things Are), but there were four little heads packed tight and soundly sleeping -I breathed a sigh of relief, they were all accounted for. A closer look at the brown fur balls revealed a black stripe across their eyes. These weren't mice! They were chipmunks! I took some quick pics with the old iPhone and headed inside to post them on Facebook. 

It didn't take long for the internet to correct my follie.  As it turns out, I had neither mice nor chipmunks, but rather baby bunnies on my hands! This, of course, elated my wife and daughter who couldn't wait to meet the fuzzy stowaways. They would have to wait though, Gwen was on night call and Victoria was still in 9 hours Beaufort, SC. They would have to settle for a few pics and a short iPhone video until they could get here. 

I worried that they wouldn't be safe or warm with their nest in such disarray. I decided to craft them a crude bunny hutch. Making my way to the garage, I gathered some scrap plywood from the teardrop camper project and fashioned the pieces into a rudimentary shelter. 

It's no Ritz Carlton, but should keep the wrong critters out and the right critters in. 

The next morning I left for Beaufort to pick up Victoria. It's a nine hour drive so I set out early. Before hitting the road I took one last peek. All four babies were still inside the hutch and appeared to be doing well. A few hours after I left, Gwen arrived home. Apparently, she had done quite a bit of research online the night before and learned a ton about baby bunnies. She decided that it would be best to place the bunnies back into their nest and covered them with grass clippings, similar to how their mother would. Gwen found that the mortality rate for bunnies whose mother's abandon them is 80%. As it turns out, they depend on their mother's milk to provide the necessary gut bacteria to remain healthy. The alternative would be mixing kitten formula with some of momma's rabbit poo to help infuse them with this bacteria. Needless to say, were weren't excited about this prospect and crossed our fingers that their mother would return soon.

Victoria and I came in late that night and we were both too tired for bunny duty. The next morning I couldn't wait to check on them. I was pleased to report that they were doing quite well, but there was no sign that their mother had returned. We decided to give her one more night just to be safe. The next morning we went out to check on them and fresh green grass clippings mixed in with a little rabbit fur had replaced the faded clippings Gwen had placed a few days earlier. This was a much welcomed sign as it meant their mother had returned. Rabbits feed their young twice a day, five minutes each time. Once at night just after the sun sets, and then again before sun up. For the next week we checked on them once a day. Each morning, we would carefully push the top of the nest to the side so that we could inspect each bunny individually. We made sure their tummies felt full and that the ants hadn't returned, and that none had wandered off. Then they were placed back into their nest and the top was as carefully replaced as it was removed. After a few days their eyes opened and, if it were possible, they were even cuter.

After that first week, they grew fearful of us, so we made the difficult (but necessary) decision to leave them be, but to continue to keep an eye on things. So as not to disturb them, I would place a few grass clippings over the top of their nest in the shape of an asterisk. That way we would know when they were dug up for feeding. Each morning when I took the dogs out, I took the opportunity to check on them. By the end of week two, they had either left the nest, or it had been moved. It would be two more weeks after that before we would see them again, nearly fully grown. Occasionally, I catch a glimpse of them feeding at the end of our yard. I'm happy to report that they are healthy and, most importantly, afraid of humans.

We were excited to have such a rewarding experience, but it could have ended much differently. If you find yourself in a situation where you feel the need to care for feral bunnies yourself (dogs dug them up, lawnmower destroyed the nest, etc.) be sure to do a ton of reading. These little guys are as fragile as they are cute and the odds are stacked against them that they will survive without their mother. The best thing to do is to put them back into their nest and let nature take its course. Mother's will return each night for a week to search for her young. Use your best judgement.

Just look at that little foot!

Gwen refers to this event as the "cutest thing ever".

Victoria, all smiles. 


Monday, May 18, 2015

Buffalos, Bears, and Boots: Wyoming. Here We Come!

Marry up and marry your best friend. It's the only way to go fellas. #blessed #islandinthesky

The year of effort it has taken to make the move to Wyoming happen has nearly come to fruition. We are now one month out until the big push to move "out West", and we couldn't be more excited. Our new home has been selected and boxes have begun to pile up on our spare bedroom floor at our soon to be old house. It feels good to know that in just a few short weeks the fresh air of Wyoming will soon greet us as we reach the next stage of our lives -and I can't think of anyone else I would rather be taking this adventure with than my loving wife.

It's only been ten years since Gwen and I first met yet I can't think of what life was like before we were together. Her beaming personality, support, and affection toward me has infused itself into the cracks of all past memories; leaving a positive mark on the once familiar ups and downs of life -she is truly my best friend. Of all the things Wyoming has to offer, the potential for adventure is what tugged at our hearts the most. But the appeal of returning to small town life is a close second. I grew up in small town Summerville, SC (pop. 8,600; circa 1980's).

It's now a booming city as business giants such as Boeing move into nearby areas. The last check of the U.S. Census Bureau website showed nearly 70,000 residents are now calling Summerville their homes. Gwen also grew up in a small town: Hilton Head Island, SC. As an island and golfing destination, most of the property is accounted for and the population remains fairly stable. Having lived in small towns as children one can imagine our excitement at moving to a city with a population of some 10,600 people.

Unlike many low populace cities in the U.S., Riverton does not have the luxury of tapping into the infrastructure of a larger nearby city. Other than Lander (which has a slightly smaller population), the next major city is well over an hour and a half away. This means no shopping malls, IMAX Theaters, or Zoos. I doubt we will be missing any of these things. Our shopping malls will be replaced by the farmer's market; the IMAX, by glorious sunsets and sunrises; and the cages and fences of zoos will be replaced by seeing animals both born and raised in their natural habitats (Like bears! Bears! They have bears! ...and Buffalos!!!). In preparation for moving to a new lifestyle, we have begun to prep our wardrobes. 

Wyoming is a much colder environment than we are accustomed to so one might assume we picked up some long underwear, thicker coats and at least some warm gloves -no, not the Libby's. Instead, we both purchased Cowboy boots and hats in order to assimilate ourselves with the local people -we wouldn't want to stand out too much, right? Of course not everyone wears these things anymore, but we don't mind being a bit cliché or a touch ironic. After all, we don't see much point in taking ourselves too seriously. It's going to be fun to arrive in town looking like a pair of giddy tourists arriving to a new land for the first time. It's only right that our outward appearance displays the inner joy we are feeling towards our new home in Riverton, Wyoming! 


We met this guy on our first trip up just outside of Thermopolis, Wy. he was so cool! PSA: I should mention, these are wild animals and should not be approached. We never left the car and our car never left the paved road. 

A few months ago, we visited the site of our honeymoon, Fontana Village.
On another note, our 7th wedding anniversary is almost here as well. I couldn't love this woman more!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Special Announcement

I am honored to be taking part in a monthly Google hangout discussion called Overland Roundtable. The event is hosted by Dan Cole of 4x4 Podcast fame and will take place on the third Sunday of each month. We will be discussing products, vehicles and other overland related subjects. There will be a total of five regular presenters in addition to guest speakers. If you would like to know more about the show, please tune in for the second episode which will occur on Sunday, May 17th at 8:00 pm Central.

You can also leave a questions and comments via voicemail at 904.600.DIRT, or if you prefer, email us at

We look forward to hearing from you!


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Easter Jeep Safari 2015

Easter Jeep Safari 2015

I packed the Jeep up while Gwen was working nightt call at the hospital. I managed to pack "ten pounds of .... in a five pound bag". It's impressive how much stuff you can fit in a two door JK if you get creative. Once Gwen got home the next morning we loaded up Ninja and Kokopelli, punched the directions into the GPS and headed out. Gwen tried to catch up on sleep by catching short naps as the miles ticked by in the rearview mirror. 

We made it as far as Oklahoma before popping up the tent and grabbing some sleep. Before we left I had modified the cap to our air mattress to accommodate a valve stem so that we could fill it up with the ARB compressor rather than the silly little battery powered pump that came up with the mattress. With the mattress inflated and the tent popped we settled in for the night. 

The next morning we arose as frozen burritos. What was originally supposed to be 46* ended up 29* and our sleeping arrangements turned out to be seriously inadequate. After packing the tent  and air mattress back into their respective bags and rolling the sleeping bag back into a swiss roll, we hit the road again in search of breakfast and more importantly, coffee. 

With the Jeep refueled and our stomachs full, we rolled on again with memories of the cold night fading with each mile. We were more than two thirds of the way there when we made the decision to to find a pet friendly hotel rather than braving the cold in our cheap ass sleeping bags -we really need to address this reality before our next outing. It will certainly make our nights more comfortable and our willingness to camp during the cooler months will be greatly increased. 

We arrived at Kokopelli Lodge in Moab around three o'clock, checked in, and unpacked all of our gear in preparation for hitting the trails on sunday. With the dogs walked and our Jeep unpacked, we headed over to Eddie McStiff's for a bite to eat and a cold beverage before heading back to the Lodge and getting some much needed sleep. Sunday morning we headed over to the Spanish Trail Arena to pick up the information needed to join in on the three trails we signed up for over the week: Seven Mile Rim Trail, Fins 'n' Things, and Dead Man's Point. 

We met up on Main Street just below the Sunset Grill where we receive the obligatory waivers and instructions regarding where we would rendezvous shortly. Waivers in hand and respective CB channel assignments passed out, we headed for the trailhead. We arrived at the trail where tires were aired aired down and a safety meeting was conducted by the trail leader;  a member of the Red Rock 4-Wheelers -the respective event host. We were asked to stay on trail, tread lightly, and to avoid stepping on the crypto biotic soil. Apparently, this is the first stage of life in the desert and it creates a stable environment for larger plant life to deposit roots. 

With the education process complete we headed onto the trail where problems began almost immediately. One participant had rented a Jeep from a local rental agency, which will remain nameless for professional reasons, and nearly had a wheel fall off on the first hill climb. Gwen and I were riding behind him and I noticed his left rear wheel was wobbling badly. I honked the horn and flashed my lights frantically before he finally came to a stop. As it turned out, there was one broken stud, a missing lug nut, with the remaining three loose. I had seen this many times before when I used to work pitcrew for a Porsche team. More often than you might think, wheels are over tightened which leads to stretched wheel studs. Once the studs are stretched, it is only a matter of time before the lug nuts work themselves loose. The only remedy is to replace them with new studs and to tighten them to the proper torque with a torque wrench. These specs can usually be found in your owners manual. This phenomenon isn't exclusive to wheel studs either, any bolt that is over torqued will lose strength and eventually fail. Just a little info to keep in mind when you are cranking down on the hardware on your latest project. 

About halfway through the trail, the wheel worked its way free again and the client called the insurance agency where the consensus was reached to leave the Jeep on the trail. So he and his copilot hopped into a generous participant's JKU and we continued on our way. That is until the only non Jeep broke down due to a faulty fuel pump. It was an early 80's, late 70's Chevy pickup that was built up and capable rig. The owner got it up and running during lunch and finished the trail without a hitch. It was a lot of fun and we really enjoyed ourselves.

I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking....