Perhaps I was wrong to state in a previous post that there is no such thing as normal weather, because it seems that right now we are actually experiencing normal weather. It is cool enough at night to sleep comfortably in a sleeping bag, and mild enough by day with coastal breezes to cut the humidity and not feel gritty with salt residue and road grime at the end of the day. Nowhere was this truer than as we rode along the Gulf Islands National Seashore. The beaches, sand dunes, and crystal-clear water made for a beautiful ride.
We were so mesmerized by the beauty that we failed to consider the significance of our location along the Emerald Coast. Anyone who knows us well, knows that we have struggled with pest problems at this time of year every year since living in Albuquerque. We thought by leaving Seattle and not having a fixed residence that we would finally be able to shake these vermin once and for all. When we mapped out our journey we did not even consider there were other hot spots in the country, assuming the Emerald City was their headquarters and Albuquerque was a fluke. Alas, we were wrong. Apparently, any place with a name that implies treasure, is likely an unwitting host to legions of leprechauns. Additionally, the remnants of all the Mardi Gras celebrations have left the Gulf Coast sparkling. When you put those two things together, you are guaranteed to draw those diminutive creatures with gold on their brains.
We pulled into Pensacola and went straight to a bike shop for some repairs on Frank. As the kids and I waited outside the shop they happened to look up and see the trees draped in Mardi Gras beads. Immediately, they went about collecting any intact necklaces for themselves. Tango and Lil’ Mo could barely hold their heads up under the weight of the bounty adorning their necks. Lil Mo’s collection of beads from the Fourth of July parade in Minnesota had long since disintegrated, so her delight at being resupplied was considerable. Fully bejeweled, we went to the Pensacola MESS Hall while Frank was repaired. The MESS Hall offers exclusively hands-on math, science, and engineering activities and experiments to do at your leisure. Every single one of us was contentedly occupied for the duration.
After we picked up fully-functioning Frank, we headed to the First United Methodist Church in Pensacola for that night’s lodging. One of their ministries is outreach to touring cyclists. They offered us use of their Youth Ministries Building, fully equipped with a kitchen and bathroom. Additionally, the member that let us in and showed us around drove Old Man to the grocery store to pick up the few things we needed. It was such a treat to be greeted by a friendly face happy to help us, have so much room to spread out, check out their wall dedicated to bike tourists, and have the convenience of a modern kitchen at our disposal.
At no point up to now on this adventure had we ever considered the risk of leprechauns, despite all our years of struggling with them. Oblivious to the hazards ahead of us, we exited the Emerald Coast flaunting our leftover parade plunder as leprechaun networks chattered about our movements. Shortly after crossing the state line into Alabama, we saw a sign informing us of the protected status of the Alabama beach mouse. Not far beyond that we boarded a ferry to cross Mobile Bay to Dauphin Island. We saw more dolphins and watched the pelicans dive-bomb their lunches.
We made camp and then headed to the beach. The kids joyfully dug to their hearts’ content. During which time, Tango absent-mindedly took off his surplus of beads. He remembered this at bedtime, at which time they were nowhere to be found on the beach. Did the tide take them out? Or did it tip off the resident leprechauns that the treasure-laden family they heard about was in their neighborhood? It seems the latter was the case. The following morning, the kids woke up to find their tent partially unzipped and some of Lil’ Mo’s beads stuck in the opening. Having memorized her inventory of jewels, she quickly realized that the gold beads were missing. While searching for her missing beads, we discovered more beads hanging from the trees above our campsite. Had we unwittingly camped directly on their turf??? Puzzled by these revelations, we sat down to breakfast to find our yogurt tampered with and GREEN! A sealed box of Pop-Tarts had also been mysteriously removed from our trailer. An act perpetrated by the protected beach mouse, a leprechaun, or an alliance between the two? The kids suspected the alliance due to the protected status of the beach mouse and the fact that leprechauns are opportunists! Tango, who has started to doubt the tooth fairy, said in complete seriousness and with a bit of alarm while sitting at the picnic table for breakfast, “Leprechauns are real.” (tangent: to be fair, he has a pretty crappy tooth fairy—she is always late, and always has a list of convenient [and suspicious] excuses and technicalities for her tardiness. The leprechauns, on the other hand, reliably dish out their nonsense every year.)
We camped in Shepard State Park our first night in Mississippi. We were the only campers in the tent area, but were greeted by some RV campers upon our arrival. They asked to take our picture, welcomed us to Mississippi, and went back to their modern campground. The husband returned as we were eating dinner to deliver us a batch of firewood, commenting that he doubted we were able to carry any with us. Pyromaniac Otter was delighted and we read our bedtime book by the fire that night. Overnight, leprechauns struck again. The kids woke up with green glitter in their hair (an aside: who knew glitter on hair will ultimately settle on the scalp rather than just shake out?).
Upon further investigation, the kids discovered a fort built at the edge of the fire pit, with a leaf bed and incriminating glitter leading up to and inside it. Clearly, the leprechaun was keen on warmth and comfort, not to mention shelter from the looming rainstorm. It was a drencher and its resulting puddles interfered with the investigation! It rained steadily from about 4:00 a.m. until noon. Since we had a short ride ahead of us, we had the luxury of waiting out the rain under the campground’s pavilion while watching for any leprechauns lurking in the shadows as we did homeschooling.
Our short ride took us to Keesler Air Force Base, where we took two days off at their TLF (the military loves acronyms! TLF = Temporary Lodging Facility). We expected that a place with armed guards at its gates would be secure—that we could finally relax and process the intentions behind all the leprechaun mischief we experienced. What could they want with us? We are not Irish. We are technically homeless, so not of any wealth. Had fake news been circulated about our status or the value of our possessions? How could this be happening to us yet again?! We could not have unknowingly transported a Seattle leprechaun across the country in one of our trailers—our inventory is a 3-D game of Tetris every day with no extra capacity, and any stowaways would have been detected. We concluded there must be more cells of leprechauns throughout the country, and we must have stumbled onto the radar of one of them while on the Emerald Coast. Those tiny, myopic gold hunters wrongly surmised us as one-percenters worth pursuing. Perhaps our ability to subsist this long without obvious income or employment gave them this perception?
On our first morning at Keesler, we celebrated our fleeting domesticity with a pancake breakfast only to discover that leprechauns had meddled with our eggs! Fortunately, the contents of the eggs remained unharmed.
Historically, all of the tomfoolery had taken place under the cover of darkness at night, but one of them was bold enough to contaminate our pancake batter that morning, in daylight, while we were distracted with other breakfast preparations and outside searching for clues of the scoundrels’ whereabouts. The lack of evidence outside cemented Otter’s conviction that the rodents were in cahoots with the leprechauns. The leprechauns were likely riding them like horses and utilizing their tunnel networks.
The following morning, we awoke and breathed a sigh of relief. No evidence of a leprechaun breach and our food supply was untouched. Then we looked outside…. All of the sidewalks surrounding us for blocks were marked with green arrows leading to our unit. At our doorstep was a rainbow and a large arrow pointing at our door. What could this possibly portend?!
We stood at our doorstep and looked around in a state of disbelief (and with a bit of trepidation) not knowing how many miniature sets of eyes were watching us at that very moment. I suggested we consider yielding. We only had one more night there, and we could just accept whatever they dealt our final night and flee in the morning. Sissy looked at me incredulously and said, “Mom, [our family] always chooses the harder road no matter what. We can’t give up.” Lil’ Mo lightened the mood by pointing out that the arrows could actually be useful in preventing any of us from getting lost. Her rational ability to see the silver lining and Sissy’s call to arms broke the spell we were under and spurred us into action. We were NOT going to fall victim to leprechauns AGAIN this year. We have ridden our bikes over 7,000 miles—we have seen a lot, learned a lot, and are a lot stronger than we were in years past. We were not going to take this lying down anymore! If we could trap just one of them, they would never consider messing with us again!
Tango quickly adopted a strategy of reverse psychology, loudly praising the leprechauns and announcing his intention to build them a very comfortable house. Behind closed doors and in whispered voices we concocted a plan. Our resources were limited, but we had ample heart, brainpower, and adrenaline pumping to help us. Every year the leprechauns have bested us and defeated our traps while we slept. What if we did an overnight watch, where there is always someone awake to ensure their ensnarement? It was genius, and undoubtedly a game-changer. This would be our year. The kids brainstormed trap designs, submitted and presented them individually to the family, and then decided on how to combine everyone’s brilliance into one trap. This is what they created:
Take note of the details: a pot of treasure in the back to lure in the single-minded villains, a sticky tape floor to trip them into the trap door that lays in front of the desired treasure. The entire contraption is rigged to a pulley that will raise the trap to the ceiling to prevent their escape once contained or risk death from such a foolhardy jump. Should the caught leprechaun be extra wily, the boys placed spikes on the roof surrounding the fishing line to prevent any unwanted tampering with the line while suspended in the air. It was foolproof.
As the discussion about overnight shifts was underway, enthusiasm for the plan began to wane. Sissy admitted that she really likes a full night of sleep and was not committed to staying awake at random hours. The boys were incensed that she reneged on the arrangement and immediately renegotiated her shares of gold upon their success.
Bedtime came. Tango continued his loud reverse psychology strategy as we set up the trap. The boys were on the pull-out sofa by the front door and the girls were tucked away in the bedroom. Otter volunteered for the first watch shift. Everyone agreed that dark and quiet was best, so the leprechauns would not suspect anything was amiss. Old Man and I retreated to our room to watch a movie while our brave boys kept watch. At about 9:30 p.m. we went out to check on them to find this:
Since there was no inkling of leprechaun mischief we did not interrupt their sleep. That was a mistake. We woke up in the morning to a ransacked suite. All cupboards were open. Green footprints were everywhere. Our pannier bags had been dumped out. The trap was defeated—two of the gold pieces (chocolate) were missing with the wrappers discarded on the floor, the beads were found outside, and the fishing line had been cut near Otter’s handle. How could this have happened? Again?!
In hindsight, we should have thought to wash off all the green arrows on the sidewalks to reduce the lawbreakers’ ease of targeting us. We licked our wounds, ate the remaining chocolates, cleaned up the suite, and hastily abandoned our compromised residence. We headed to Buccaneer State Park. We were warmly greeted by our RV neighbors. In an act of neighborliness, they gave us a bag of candy and some snacks for the kids. We shared stories of our camping adventures and forgot about our humiliating defeat that had taken place not even twelve hours prior. Thinking we had put this year’s chapter of leprechaun antics behind us, we slept soundly. However, when we awoke in the morning we discovered these cryptic ads written all around the bath house that suggested the presence of yet another band of leprechauns.
Perhaps they live there to carry on the thieving works of French Pirate Jean Lafitte? Fortunately, these ruses posed no direct threat to us. We did our best to stay off their radar and quietly left the campsite, finding some comfort in knowing that this pest problem is not uniquely our own. With this knowledge, we know we must remain vigilant until the dreaded St. Patrick’s Day passes.