Friday, May 31, 2013

Camping in The Rain

Laura and I, and Sami the dog, were going to go camping last Tuesday through Friday at Little Pond, a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation campground in the Catskills, New York. Unfortunately, the 10-day weather forecast informed us that that there would be between a 40 and 60% chance of rain each day we would be there. So, we rescheduled to this week.

We arrived on Monday, Memorial Day, after the Memorial Day campers had departed. The sun was shining, and the campground surrounded us with a canopy of green leaves and opened up onto the "Little Pond." There was plenty of room to set up Laura's new REI Kingdom 4 tent.

 We had our own path and area in front of the pond.
Sami was very excited about the extra large water bowl at her disposal.

Little Pond is large enough to look out across the water and see something beautiful. I personally like the Rorschach effect.
When we put up the Kingdom tent (which I sort of both like and sort of hate in terms of nomenclature), we decided that the 10% chance of precipitation was enough to use the footprint, and pull the rain fly up and over the tent - those were some chock full gromets, let me tell you (camper geakease).
Despite our best laid intention to go camping in the sunshine, it started to rain the second day mid-morning and only subsided long enough for a fire and dinner before it was time to take shelter in the tent.
Now, rain falling on a tent is a wonderful sound. To me, it's a womb affect. Not because the rainfall is even; a bu-bump, bu-bump heartbeat sort of sound filling your very memory with comfort. It's something different than that. I think it might be the very simple experience of being protected. Just that. Just protected.
I made a little audio of the rain on the tent, and the sweet counterpoint discussion about our pets that ensued - but I can't get it to upload for some reason.
But let me take you back a few hours...
That morning, we'd had just enough time to break down kitchen camp and get covered in rain gear before it started to pour. After snapping Sami into one of her outfits (she had three outfits for our camping trip - rain/reflective, cozy dress, and hiking pack), and headed out for the small walk around the pond.
We got to see the sites where campers leave their cars at the end of the road and hike in. We were close to them because I'd picked the 2nd to most remote site where you could drive in - there was a water spigot right by our site, so I though it was a good exchange for having neighbors.
The walk-in sites had wood outhouses (which made Laura balked, but I thought was sort of cool - certainly closer than the bathroom we had to huff it to from our site). Some were just great - larger spaces with open views of the pond, and wood bridges following meandering paths.
There was also a trailhead. I wanted to go up. Laura thought we weren't prepared. So, we finished our little walk around the pond and returned to our site to get more prepared for a longer hike. Laura went into the tent to change, and Sami the dog and I went into the car to wait. I was already dressed for it - well, as best I could in what I'd brought across country on my little summer vacadventure.
However, when Laura came out, Sami the dog wouldn't move from the front seat of the car. Nope. Not going.
"What are we going to do here then - sit in the tent!?" We hadn't thought to bring any cards or games - it had rained last week. It wasn't supposed to rain this week.
Anyway, I stubbornly turned and went back to the trailhead and began climbing up. And up. And up. It was apparent it is the beginning of the hiking season on the East Coast. The trails were washed out in parts, covered by brick a brack in others. There were trees in the way, and bushes that had already grown across the path.
But, I'm an old time hiker and backpacker from my childhood. My Dad used to take us on 4 to 6 or so day backpacking trips in the White and Blue Ridge Mountains. Hiking in the rain? On trails that were barely visible? Eh. No big deal.
That turned out to be an accurate assessment of my hiking and trails skills. I saw every trail marker, and didn't miss a beat when the trail required me to exercise some long unused bouldering skills.
But, it's been a long time since I hiked on the East Coast, and I forgot that there are no ridges on which there stand no tall, green and leafy trees that block your view of where you are relative to where you've come, and where you are allegedly going.
So! Hiking and trails skills - check. Navigation skills without a compass, a map or the ability to see where the sun was given the torrential rain? Not check. I just kept hiking. And hiking. And hiking. Well, you get it.
I ended up dropping down (just kept thinking, gotta' go down now that I've gone up and up) into a flat place covered by yet another canopy of green leafy tall trees. But, now, in addition to the little red (or faded out pink or just the back white part) of the round NY trail markers, there were large red and orange warning signs telling me not to trespass.
Shit - am I going to get shot!? I stood under the dripping canopy paralyzed. Should I keep going? I was on flat land. It was looking good for me in terms of getting out of the woods. But, those were big, bright, red ominous signs. I didn't know who would come out of those woods, but I was sure it was going to be unpleasant. I turned and walked back. Stopped. Fuck it. Turned back and stopped. I don't know what to do. Stood there. Then, I just went for it. (Later, Laura told me that it wasn't hunting season, and people were pretty nice in the Catskills). 
Anyway, when I started moving again, I very quickly hiked out of the woods and into a gravel parking lot. There was a map in a plexiglas and wood case, and I did my level best to read it. I am not inexperienced at this task. Again - hiking when I was a kid with my Dad (the ex-Marine Captain).
So, I'll just say this:  California hiking maps ROCK. New York hiking maps SUCK. And as a result, I ended up turning the wrong way down the street in front of the parking lot, thinking I had 3, maybe 5 miles of pavement portage. I was wrong.
However, at that point, I was blissfully ignorant of this error in the NY map and walked on for about three miles. The rain had stopped, and the hills were the very picture of verdant. There were yellow and purple wildflowers decorating every incline into every shallow - whether run-off ditch or brook - there were blooming lilacs and white Queen Anne's lace.
And, then. Right there by the side of the road, I saw them. Long, delicate spring green stems with tiny, cup-like yellow flowers bowing their blooms under the weight of a droplet of water.
If you're from the East Coast, you may remember holding buttercups under each other's chin to see who liked butter and who didn't - or if you insisted on your own test, i.e. whether you would get a yellow and white checked dress with a ruffle on the bottom and a little white vest to wear to your First Communion (the Episcopal kind) (and which I did).
There are actually articles on the web about this Buttercup ritual - here's one such link:  buttercup test 

Anyway, I was certainly distracted by the amazing bouquet of Spring flowers I had in my hand. I even fashioned a tie to make it a posey with long pieces of green, wild grass. The farms were picture post-cards - even the country homes looked like white farm houses with shiny red barns. Farms are picturesque outposts in faery land on the East Coast - I wish I'd had a camera with me to show you what I'm talking about.

On the other hand, I could feel every bone, muscle, tendon, etc. from my waist down. It was sooooo not good.  As I turned a corner, I saw a man working on his house and hollered out for a helping hand.

The man and his...wife? I think girlfriend, were so nice. They drove me back to Little Pond (I was 13 miles away - had taken the wrong turn because of the stupid and very BAD map). They dropped me off, and I had to walk down the camp lane, and I just kept thinking, "I hope she lit a fire, I hope she lit a fire..."

She did. I saw it before I saw the rest of our campsite. Of course Laura lit a fire. She's sweet. And in the Army reserves. As I turned another corner, beaming about the presence of that warm fire - wet, bedraggled, and holding a posey of flowers, Laura hustled me into the tent, helped me to drag off two layers of sopping clothes, gave me a warm towel, and had dry clothes set out for me - this time Army issue long johns and thick socks.

I had been gone about 5 hours. Maybe more. We couldn't figure it out. But, here I am about 30 minutes later, my posey of flowers already in a vase of their own. My cheeks flushed by the fire.

Needless to say, I did not have a hard time falling asleep that night. The rain had started again, as I said, and we were all huddled up in our sleeping bags, listening to the rain and talking about Sami the dog and Chester and Bellie the cats.
The next day was uneventful, and relaxed. It stayed dry until late evening. We took our time with coffee and breakfast. Sami swam in the big water bowl. We went into to town for ice and salty caramel popcorn (NEVER BUY THIS OR YOU WILL EAT ALL OF IT ALL AT ONCE).
We started hearing the thunder during dinner, and counted to 8 or 9 for the lightening strikes. We cleaned up, packed the car with everything (there were actually bear sightings while we were there) and got into the tent before there were no more seconds between the thunder and lightening.
Needless to say, that night's storm was ASTOUNDING!  I've been away from such storms for decades, and I had a blast! I got that on audio, too - but it won't upload...oh, well. Sami the dog did not like the storm, and jumped right on my head during one particularly loud thunder clap. We wrapped her in her small sleeping bag and she snuggled herself between us for the duration. It was very, very sweet.
Alas, the next day, the camping trip came to an end...
...and now I've discovered Flipboard...

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