Friday, August 27, 2010

Big Bend 6 of 6

Day 6

Austin. Around 5AM, I heard a crunching outside my tent just before a flashlight spotlighted into the mesh roof. Good thing I wasn’t nude. “Carlos?” I heard. It was Scott. He’d be leaving within the hour and wanted to know if I still wanted a ride. Yes. It was either leave with Scott or not leave the park at all. He vanished and I packed my gear in the dark.

The mountains circling the basin cut into the starry horizon like jagged blots of ink and I lost a lot of time just staring at what I could see of the universe. Stars without light pollution make so much more sense. Of course humanity would create time and navigation and mathematics and religion and pure wonder in a world without lights. Things are recognizable in a dark sky. Constellations and their paths are not impossible to identify and follow and if you’re a creature on the brink of reason, you’re going to incorporate into your life what you see in the night as you would prevailing winds, tides, weather patterns, and animal migrations. The sky as a system in our cognitive development seems to be lost these days. It doesn’t affect us the way so many natural systems have in the past and we forget that it’s there, like a season that warms and cools the mind alone. It’s like a combination lock, spinning in billions of independent dynamos and of all the beasts on this planet, it’s ours to figure out and explore but we’ve forgotten about it. Where would we be, I wonder, if our faces weren’t cemented to so many luxuries that simply ease the slow passing of our time? Where would we be if humanity’s attention had never left the stars? Don’t know. Meteorites streaked across the sky. Five in three minutes. It sounds like bullshit, I suppose, seeing so many meteorites in so few days, seeing them every time I’ve ever hitchhiked, but they’re there. I promise. All you have to do is look up. I’ve met adults who have never seen one.

Scott and I left Big Bend and he dropped me off on I-10 where he’d picked me up. He disappeared toward Indiana and resurfaced as my Facebook friend. I’m okay with that. I walked a couple of miles to an underpass that in the blistering heat, never seemed to get any closer. There, I constructed this sign and sat for the next 4 hours.

It was the only shade as far as the eye could see and you could see in all directions after you left the mountains and wandered in the flat of an all-around desert. I stood for a while. I sat. I read. I stretched my back. I paced in bored circles. I despaired. Shortly after arriving, this bizarre creature appeared:

I obsessed over it for about an hour. It looked like a wildcat of some sort but it had a long snout like a fox. At first it lazily watched the chattering birds that swarmed the underpass then it slept. I could have crept up and had a closer look while it napped but I left it alone. What a total asshole I’d be to chase it away from the only comfortable shade for miles. Anyway, I named him Mr. Aesop.

After several hours of doing nothing, the heat began to overtake my senses and I started nodding with sleep. The occasional jerk wailed an amplified and elongated horn as s/he (likely he) passed, and the fox and I would snap awake, wag our heads with bewilderment then eye each other with suspicion. During a moment of wakefulness, I turned in the direction of traffic that had judged me and passed and saw a beat up red truck reversing on the interstate’s shoulder. I sprang off the road, waved au revoir to Mr. Aesop, and met the truck half way to my bridge.

Jimmy Ortega was a long-haired Mexican-Indian looking man with a red bandana covering much of his forehead like an indigenous outlaw of yesteryear or Axl Rose. He wore a sleeveless tee shirt, exposing a massive black widow tattoo down his right arm and an equally sized snake down the inside of his left. His eyes beneath the red bandana held a comatose vacancy and his right hand held a tall can of beer. I hopped in. Jimmy was a kind and generous but tragic man who admitted alcoholism and drug addiction and celebrated a life of aimless rebellion, strife, and self destruction. I hated his tragedy and even though he was born in 1969, 11 years before me, I wanted to grab him by his shoulders and shake him until he realized he’s a man who’s been pitted against himself since the day he came out of his mother’s womb with brown skin. I think I’ve transcended feeling angry over race and class and gender discrimination. I’m just overwhelmingly saddened by the ignorance of their victims now. Family, friends, and myself included. Jimmy had two sons, one freshly paroled from prison, the other freshly put in. He lived with his daughter and because he didn’t have his own, he gave me her cell number in case I couldn’t get a ride by nightfall. We rode 100 miles into his hometown, Ozona, where he was “hot.” He asked me not to tell cops how I got there if they stopped me. “Just tell them I was looking for work and I picked you up 12 miles out of town. That’s it.” I agreed. “It’s because I’m hot in this town,” he repeated. I said I understood.

Jimmy dropped me off and I lugged myself into a restaurant for my first meal of the day. The usual stares followed me to my table and with satisfaction, I recognized familiar faces I’d seen pass me in countless cars on I-10. I don’t blame them for not picking me up but I do hope they felt ridiculous for not stopping. I’ve picked up rides that way.

The walk back to the highway proved to be too much for my old hiking boots and the sole on my right foot ripped half off. I had noticed their decline while at Big Bend and hoped they’d weather the trip, but alas, outside of Ozona, Texas on August 17, 2010, shoes that have seen upwards of 10,000 miles in three different countries died. A moment of silence please. . . .Thank you.

I was walking like a man in clown shoes, searching for a shady place to duct tape my flapping shoe when Jody stopped for me. I liked Jody. Within the first few minutes of our ride together, he pointed to the side of the road and said, “Oh that looks like a good place to hide a body” and laughed hysterically. “I was thinking the same thing,” I told him. He and I had a lot in common, personality-wise. In everything else, we were markedly different. He was 40, married 13 years, a business owner, and a father of two children. He was a successful foil of me. We ranted, laughed, and generally enjoyed each other’s company. He even drove me an hour past San Antonio, the junction by which he intended to change directions and continue to Houston, and took me home. Decent man. Also a new online friend.

So yeah, I made it back. And for those of you who worried so much about me, here I am, and I didn’t just survive. I made it back alive. More alive than many. More alive than most.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Big Bend 5 of 6

Day 5
It never rained and I spent the sauna night peeling my unclean and sweaty body from the foam bedroll I’ve learned is a hitchhiking luxury I could never live without. I was still worn out by the time the sun came up and my body not only ached with weariness, but I was mentally fatigued as well. I needed a day to rest, but I didn’t have one. Scott had offered to take me back to I-10 the following morning and I had accepted. Judging by the park’s few campers and my little stint in Fort Stockton, I recognized my stranded predicament and appreciated the luck in meeting Scott. So I scrubbed my skin with a wet handkerchief, cleaned and duct-taped my new and old blisters, and set off on the Laguna Meadows Trail to the Colima Trail to the Boot Canyon Trail and down the Pinnacles Trail for 9.5 miles of Big Bend goodness.

This was probably my favorite ramble. It pretty much covered the terrain of the Chisos Basin and it was the only place that I felt completely separated from other people. The trail cut through sandy desert, cool mountain forest, rolling hills, and steep canyons.

I also saw a lot of wildlife:

Oh yeah. That's a tarantula
Vinegaroon, aka Whip Scorpion
Desert Cottontail Wabbit (click for a closer look)

To fulfill some childish need, I spent some time whistling into this canyon.

The echo was gratifying for really no reason at all and it upset pockets of Mexican jays who squawked back from seemingly every direction but it was pleasant. When was the last time you stopped and listened to an echo? It had been a long time for me.

One more day, folks.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Big Bend 4 of 6

Day 4: Emory Peak

I was glad to be in Big Bend, don’t get me wrong, but I was mildly disappointed with the cupcake feel of it all. (mildly because Death’s (or at least Pestilence’s) hot breath had never been heavier than it had been two days prior, and I’d amended my ideals for the sake of being alive.) The trails through the most scenic areas were preconceived and if I didn’t hike them, I knew I’d be missing something. My ridiculous pouting came to an end, hiking the 12 miles of Emory Peak. (12, including my march to the trail) You might be thinking that 12 miles is nothing to sing about, and it’s not. But, the Emory Peak Trail starts at the basin and climbs 7,825 feet to the highest point in the park. We’re talking 6 miles straight up and 6 miles straight down with dozens of spotty-visioned breaks in between, in at least 106 degrees of heat. (That’s 41.1C for all you sensible non-Americans)
It was tiring.
After hours of solitude, the gnats and flies that swarmed my delicious stink started taking on human characteristics and I’d often pause and listen, thinking their buzz was someone speaking to me. I just ignored them after a few false stops. They weren’t, after all, in my head and they weren’t instructing me to murder anyone so I knew I’d be fine. The trail seemed to go on forever and I spit out exhausted expletives pretty much from start to finish, though not out of frustration or discontent. You could easily replace my gasping “f” words with “hallelujahs” and understand the same appreciation. Pain aside, the mountains were so imposing and sheer that being among them was simply marvelous. That’s such an underappreciated word: marvelous. But they were marvels and I was overwhelmed by them.

Mexican Jay
Agave havardiana
The trail ended near the peak so I climbed over boulders and under low-hanging tree limbs to a sheer rock face. It wasn’t the 360 degree view I had expected. Sure I could see in a wide half circle but there was a giant rock wall in my face. If there hadn’t been a pair of hikers 30 feet at its top, I would have assumed I went the wrong direction. “Hello there!” a man said from the top. I was looking through a gap in the rock at what scenery was visible from my position. “It’s a much better view from up here,” he said. Pampered by the pre-cut path I had enjoyed for the past few hours, I told him that I couldn’t seem to find the trail. “You have to climb up,” he said. Climb? I watched in disbelief as the man and woman slowly inched down the steep rock face. This wasn’t a hill, people. This was a damn near vertical climb and my legs already felt like noodles from the miles of zigzagging switchbacks. I sagged against the rock in despair.
Heights and zombies are my two things. I jumped out of an airplane once. I was stoked too until I opened the tiny plane’s hatch and saw the ground thousands of feet below. In fact, “jumped” out of a plane is probably the wrong word. I went rigid in paralyzed fear and my tandem partner shoved me out. On Emory Peak, I was experiencing the same moment of dumb paralysis.
The two hikers reached my level and began a long trudge away from the peak. My thoughts immediately searched for a rational excuse not to climb that rock, and it didn’t take long to find one: if I fall, I’m dead. It was that simple and there was no question about how dead I’d be. This was the highest mountain in the park and I was 30 feet from the top. I wasn’t fearfully exaggerating the severity of a fall. You fall, you die . . . unless you fell in one small area. Then, you’d just break some bones or your crown or whatever and have an even more uncomfortable hike back to camp.
What a bastard. Victory 30 feet up and I was too terrified to even try. The ascent was doable. It was the descent that had me frozen in indecision. Do you know how many rooftops I was rescued from as a child? Lots. I could always find impossible ways to the tops of buildings and trees but getting down often required a shrieking leap or the assistance of a grumbling adult.
I peered over the cliff where I’d potentially be free falling and sighed. The hike back would be long and shameful, and I knew that because it was pure cowardice that kept me from reaching the peak I would obsess over my self-inflicted emasculation for a long, long time. Chickening out would be a severe blow to my ego and could potentially take years of personal recovery. This moment could ruin the whole memory of Big Bend. So, I packed my water skin and camera into my daypack and reached my nervous hands for the rock.
5 feet.
10 feet.
15 feet.
I looked down. The sloping mountainside, hundreds of feet below, hypnotized me and I became dizzy. I tore my gaze from the fall and stared at the rock I was holding with my white fingernails. My mouth was dry and my backpack felt like a swinging lead ball.
20 feet.
Made it.
If I’d had a flag, I’d say then was an appropriate time to wave it around and plant it, cautiously of course.
There was no wind or sound at the top and the rocky circumference was probably a narrow 10 feet. You could see the whole park from that tiny spot and by George, I did. All it took was the shriveling of genitalia, the tightening of orifices, and the unforgiving American stigma of failure.

Notice my stabilizing foot? Safety first.

The descent was as horrific as I expected. On the more shelf-like outcrops, I inched down on my clenched buttocks. For the more vertical spots, there was no way to avoid hugging the rock tightly and blindly lowering my feet to jutting fractures an inch wide. I did a lot of quiet reassuring on the way down. “Okay. Okay. It’s okay. Just don’t look down. You’re almost there. Who’s the man? Who’s the man, Carlos? You’re the man.” When I reached an acceptable level of injury, fear completely vanished and I made it to the bottom with hand-dusting bravado.  “That wasn't so bad,” I thought. “I could probably even do it again!” I didn't, but I started my stroll down the mountain with a whistling strut. (I reached the basin a few hours later practically crawling with exhaustion (and I napped and read until the sun went down))

Scott drove by my campsite before total darkness and we kept each other company on the balcony of an employee lodge until I was too tired to keep my eyes open. A storm rumbled and lightning flashed all around the mountainous enclosure and with a heavy heart, I staked the heat-containing rainfly over my tent so I wouldn’t have to do it in the middle of the night, in the rain. I’d figure out my next hike in the morning.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Big Bend 3 of 6

Day 3

As the sun came up, I was walking the couple of miles back to I-10. In the night, I had resolved to offer my third day as a final push for Big Bend and if I wasn’t picked up, I’d continue west to Balmorhea, the campground Alicia had told me about, and try camping on the lake there. By mid morning, I was sitting in the shadow of the underpass beneath the interstate, reading a book and propping up a piece of scrap cardboard that said “B. Bend” in blue ink. I wouldn’t chance rides from anyone not going directly there.

My shoulder’s were tender from the excess I had packed and my feet ached from the blisters I had drained and duct taped before setting off, but the morning was breezy and cool and I had plenty of water as long as I wasn’t burning it out of my body in the sun. Hours went by before Scott picked me up. Here’s how I remember him:

Scott was a 23 year old college student from Indiana who had worked in Big Bend over the summer. He was on his way there to pick up his remaining belongings and had he not stopped, I probably wouldn’t have made it to the national park or I’d still be there trying to get back out. Conversation was pleasant in our two hours together but our topic of discussion quickly turned to something I had hoped to avoid: politics. It was inevitable, I suppose. He was a business student at a Christian college, and I’m a heathen quasi socialist but we remained civil, he not directly revealing his Christian conservatism and I not directly revealing my liberal desire to choke Christian conservatives until their eyes bulge from their heads and they are dead. He let me out at the Chisos Basin and I found a campsite to call home for the next few days.

The Chisos Basin is a beautiful volcanic crater surrounded by orange mountains, the remnants of magma cooling directly into igneous rock. (That’s not why the mountains are orange, you silly animal. I’m guessing that’s due to the oxidization of molecular iron in the rock, but I could be wrong. Feldspars in granite are kind of the same color and they’re not rusty, so . . . whatever.) Their encapsulating grandeur will have to just live in my memory because these images lack the four other senses that made me spend so much time with my eyes skyward.

I stopped at the ranger station and bought a topographical map of the area that showed area trails in the basin. “The Window” was apparently a sight not to miss and since my ambitious Grizzly Adams agenda had been castrated by the sun, I equipped a daypack and hiked the 4.4 miles to this point of interest I’d heard so much about. This is the only picture I took of myself:

Spectacular. A small stream cut through shadowy canyons to trickle out into the vast open. A strong wind blew in through the Window's steep aperture and between it and the bubbling spring, there was only nature. It was getting dark and because I had an irrational fear of being mauled to death by a black bear or mountain lion, I started back. I was just becoming comfortable with the fact that an animal would not kill me and, in fact, was enjoying the rare sighting of a slate-throated redstart when I heard a thrashing in the sloping vegetation beside me. I instinctively made a guttural protest in its direction and it thrashed even more. I walked faster, careful not to run. There was another rustling as whatever the thing was kept pace with me so I stopped moving and the sound continued on. I was rethinking my ignoring a trail warning that advised not to hike the Window near dark, when the ominous sound stepped out of the bushes and became a black bear. I surprised myself by not panicking, though I did take a few absent steps backward. It was a juvenile and what filled me with the most dread was the potential for a bigger and more aggressive mama bear into tow. But manliness aside, there was still a bear blocking my path. The ferocious man killer stood in the trail and stared at me with demonic red eyes, blood and gore (in my mind) dripped from its bared jowls and it pawed the earth with only just contained energy, so I took the opportunity to slowly uncap my camera and snap this picture.

It didn’t move and I certainly wasn’t going to squeeze past it so I reached down and picked up several rocks then raised my arms above my head and roared. The poor thing bounced in dopey surprise and clumsily tried to hide its awkward bulk in the bushes, where it could still watch me. I ventured a few steps and guiltily tossed a rock at the ground where it was hiding and it ran off for good. I didn’t hear much brush rustling, though, so I knew he was probably just hiding better. I still feel guilty for scaring it. It was just a curious kid.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Big Bend 2 of 6

Day 2

I awoke as the sun was coming up, walked another mile, dumped my pack off my shoulders, and sat. There was really no reason to waste energy. The next town, Marathon, was unwalkable in the heat and I could see the next couple of miles held no shade. Here’s what my situation was like:

Trucks full of men rushed by for hours but no one stopped. Bunch of chicken livers. I gauged my water and noted that I would be out soon with no way to refill so with a painful and begrudging realization that I might have to abandon Big Bend, I started back the few miles to Fort Stockton. My plan formulated around getting a cheap motel room, laying out my map and rethinking my strategy. The walk back was dangerously exhausting. There was absolutely no shade. No breeze. No clouds in the sky. Just sun and its shimmer on every horizon. I’d find an occasional mesquite tree and burrow under its thorny branches for even webbed shadows away from the sun. The heat was so intense I even risked sharing the dried vegetation beneath each tree with snakes and ants so big you could see their mandibles without bending your knees.

There was no escaping thirst nor the dust that streaked my body and backpack and dried my throat and sinuses and after a while, my breaks stopped being restful. By the time I made it back to Fort Stockton, I was out of water, lethargic, stumbling, and I had a headache. The constant gnats and orbiting flies were not even bothering me anymore. Never underestimate the desert, people. I found a rundown place and checked in, guzzled water, cranked the window air conditioner on high, stripped to my underwear and took a delirious nap. When I first awoke, I experienced what I can only describe as heat-induced amnesia. I opened my sun-drunk eyes and the room was spinning and out of focus and completely unfamiliar. I couldn’t remember where I was or how I got there. No big deal. Everyone has awoke naked in a strange place at some time in their lives . . . right? Right. What was new for me was the total loss of identity. For at least 10 eternal seconds, I was without reason, a pure animal. I had no culture, no language, no morals to rage against or uphold. I had no recollection of who I was or what history had brought me there. It was like being born. Suddenly, I was and in this startling existence I was . . . confused. I couldn't even understand that I didn't understand. A moment longer and I might have burst into infant tears but gradually every signifier I’ve ever compiled to create the thing that is Carlos came back to me, and in its blanketing security I crashed back into sleep. When I awoke for good, the light from my drawn curtains told me it was late afternoon.

More water.

I showered, taking notice of the dark tan I’d received through my tee shirt, washed my clothes with a bar of soap, and sat with monk-like tranquility, contemplating the desert baptism I had endured. I felt worn but relaxed, more so than I can remember in a long time. Extremes. I love them. Truly. They are the basis for my most profound experiences, both joyous and tragic. It was then that I affirmed to myself that if I never made it to Big Bend, I would still celebrate my strange cleansing in the sun.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Big Bend 1 of 6

Okay, so here’s how the first day went.

Papa Alderete drove me to Junction on I-10 and abandoned me there, shaving two uncertain hours off my trip to Big Bend. I took a picture of this Mexican free tail and solemnly noted that the sun probably killed it, not necessarily rabies. It probably wouldn't have been out in the sun if it hadn't been a little crazy in the first place, but perhaps with a socialized healthcare system within its colony, the group could have prevented this tragedy. Who knows.

About 20 minutes after my old man dropped me off, Alicia picked me up and drove me four hours to a black hole of a town called Fort Stockton. She was a nurse from Houston who was on a camping trip to Balmorhea, an hour west of where she left me. She’d solo hiked many places around the US and we got along famously. Here she is: 

I walked miles and miles into and out of Fort Stockton to State Road 385, an isolated but direct route into Big Bend. Darkness arrived and still, no one had picked me up. Luckily, I had 50lbs of gear on my stooping shoulders so I unrolled my sleeping bag beside this random gravel pile and fell into restless sleep.

Did I mention it had been over 100 degrees outside? It had been over 100 degrees outside. I woke up each time a car passed in the night or a gnat buzzed into my ear but meteorites burned across the sky with each time I stirred so it wasn't all bad. After a while, I stopped hearing cars and the bipolar desert became too cold for pesky bugs. Around midnight a cop showed up and positioned his car’s spotlight on me. I propped myself up with an elbow and shielded my eyes. A second squad car arrived. Then a third. The first cop was completely stupefied as to why a man with a home and car would hitchhike across the desert, and throughout the course of our conversation, he asked if I was homeless three different times, in three different ways. Then he just stared at me, holding his hands in front of him. I knew I wasn't in trouble and they couldn't make me leave, so I got comfortable and laid back down while they spoke to me. The second cop asked fewer questions but had a smile on her face the whole time. I think she got it. The last cop behaved as though we were old buddies and cautioned against snakes and illegal immigrants. They stuck around a few minutes longer and fulfilled their curiosities, acting more like an audience than a trio with guns and tasers and mace and beating sticks. The second cop offered a ride to a park in town for the night: "It's real nice," she said. I thanked her and asked for a ride into Big Bend instead. They laughed under the spell of my amazing charm and then they left. My buddy cop said he’d send a trooper out the next day to take me to the county line but I never saw one. Probably because the county line was between nothings and leaving someone there would likey be some kind of manslaughter if and when my jerkied remains were discovered.

I half expected not to make it to Big Bend the first day but I spent two nights not there and the next day would be Hell.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Test run for when I abandon society

Folks, I’m taking a holiday. There are exactly nine days between responsibilities, and if I don’t take advantage of them, the tempest in my mind will swirl to disaster.

This trip is fraught with danger, but since I’m a moderate recluse, my every outing tends to be extreme but memorable. So Thursday at noon sharp, I’m leaving behind all electronics,* no phones, no timepieces, no Facebook, no blog, no goddamned cable news, and I’m hitchhiking to Big Bend National Park.

I love nature and I love quiet and I’ve always enjoyed a strange exhilaration in distance hitchhiking. Can’t quite explain it. I’ll also attempt primitive camping in the Chisos Mountains and possibly at the Rio Grande. We shall see. Aside from stinging insects, thorny plants, venomous reptiles, bears, mountain lions, and racist drivers, I’ll also enjoy a few triple digit days in the west Texas desert. I’m most concerned about that. The sun can kill your ass before you hit the ground. But all things considered, I’m really looking forward to it.

Sooo, if you don’t hear from me again, it’s because I’ve experienced death by one of the above mentioned antagonists and it’s been a pleasure knowing you.**

*camera excluded
**I'll be fine

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Busted Car Blues

5:30AM. Night. A dark walk to my first bus stop. Cool humid air. Crickets. The long and steady exhale of an occasional car rushes by, killing the night with its brightness before dying itself. A spider’s midnight engineering webs across my face and chest and I sputter and slap myself. A man shadows by on the opposite side of the street and heroic fantasies of self defense occupy my mind until I reach my standing place. At the bus stop, the early morning gradually turns to early day and the romance of my adjusted routine sours to reality: busted car blues. The expensive kind. The bus smells of heat and dust. Harsh florescent lights mirror out the morning and all that can be seen outside is the brightest neon of commerce. The coach wobbles forward and stops, forward and stops, forward and stops, as though it is a coach, drawn by frowning beasts of burden. Graffiti is etched into the windows with diamonds. Advertisements of who to call for schizophrenia or depression (Press #4 for veterans). English and Spanish. Elevator pings of stops requested. I see the O’Reilly’s, where I struggled to change a brake light then gave up and drove away angry. There’s the Half Price Books I visit for unfamiliar copies of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. I collect them. Don’t know why. I bought a puzzle at Great Hall of Games so I could relax. 1000 pieces. There’s a piece count where relaxation ends and high blood pressure begins. There’s her house, a woman whom I've known for years but only in the night. Austin Books, my favorite comic book store. The Drag. I’ve hiccupped down this road many a twilight, whiskey bubbles popping in my vision, pink elephants haunting my steps. There’s Einstein’s, the arcade I went to after resolving to finish an 11th grade school day, then changing my mind and leaving . . . on a city bus. There’s the Whataburger I visited the morning Craig wouldn’t speak to me because I made him spend the night in a strange house while I called on a lady we’d run into that evening. Breakfast taquitos. There’s Town Lake (which is now called Lady Bird Lake, which isn’t a lake at all but a river. The Colorado River) where I used to run every day. 5 miles.

4.5 hours of fun. Every day.
The bus is now filled with proletariats, I think as I open a copy of The Communist Manifesto. Brown and black men and women with leathery skin and droopy faces. I try not to think of their commonality because it’s too early for outrage. I read and after 30 minutes, I’m carsick.

Related Posts with Thumbnails