Tuesday, March 4, 2008

How to Set Up a Tarp In the Wind

I meant to describe some things I did differently to set up my tarp with such strong gust of wind to consider, but those stupid PocketMail limitations cut me off...

First, one side of the tarp would face directly into the wind to act as a windbreak. Its edge I staked right at ground level. Usually I leave several inches which I can look under, but not this time. At most, that left a two-inch gap under the edge of the tarp, which was small enough to block the wind.

I kept the inside height low as well, so less of a profile was there for the wind to hit. That's as far as I ever took matters in windy situations before, but these gusts were so strong, it was yanking the center of the tarp down ridiculously low, like a wind tunnel over the middle of the tarp.

I took some extra rope and tried tieing down the 'lifters' on the side of the tarp, but that just helped push the tarp down lower.

Took that rope off, then decided to run it from the top of my trekking pole, over the top of my tarp through a loop in the middle, and cinch the other end high on the tree trunk on the other side. It would pull up in the middle of the tarp and give me head room to work with.

I left the end where my feet would be low--it was at the head and in the middle of the tarp I wanted enough room to move around in.

With that final rope in place, the tarp rose in perfect definance against the wind. Another tarp job well done. =)

Of course, the real test would be sleeping under it that night....

I cooked dinner on the far side of the tarp, using the pitched tarp as a windbreak for my stove. It worked reasonably well, but being outside of the tarp definitely provided less protection than under the tarp.

I saturated the ground around my stove with water before lighting the stove. Given the strong winds, I didn't want to inadvertantly start a wildfire! I also kept a particularly large amount of water nearby--just in case.

Dinner turned out fine, though, and no wildfires were started in the process of making it.

At sunset, I crawled under the tarp and was swarmed by mosquitoes. I think they were hiding out from the wind under my tarp! On with the mosquito netting and gloves, and all was right with the world.

The wind continued blowing strongly all night, and by morning it included a few drops of rain. Or maybe it was condensation that had shook loose from the handful of palm trees around the site?

Looking out, it seemed like a foggy day, until I realized that I could see some distant trees, well over a mile away, while the sky was grey and menacing. It wasn't fog--it was rain.


At least I stayed dry and warm under my tarp. I was quite proud how well it held up during the blustery night. I did get up to pee and tightened some sagging ropes.

The bugs under the tarp were merciless, though, so I didn't loiter long after that. In my sleeping bag and covered with mosquito netting, I was quite fine. It was when I needed my hands unemcumbered to make breakfast (a bowl of ground up Raisin Bran) or eat it that the bugs pounced on me.

The rain mostly threatened a few sprinkles on and off for the next hour or two, never very long and hardly worth the effort of taking my umbrella out for.

I pushed on to St. Marks, where I planned to get off the trail--for one night, at least, maybe two. I had one worry, however: the St. Marks River.

The trail crosses the river into the town of St. Marks, but there is no bridge across. The river is much too large to be swimming across, and anyhow, I'd probably drown if I tried to swim with my pack on.

No, the expected way hikers are to get across is to hail a passing boat and ask them to ferry you across. There is a local one can call to shuttle you across for a fee, but my resources say it's "usually" easy to hail a boat during the day.

It was the word "usually" that bothered me. I've never been to St. Marks before and really didn't know what to expect. How busy is the river with boat traffic? Does that include windy, cloudy weekdays? I had my doubts, but the only information I was was that it was "usually" easy to hail a boat. I hoped they were right.

I could have called the local to pick me up from a nearby visitor's center, but that was a mile off the trail and he wanted 24 hours advanced warning, so I din't go that route.

Anyhow, hailing a boat to cross the river seemed quaint and fun. I'd probably be disappointed if I didn't at least give the option a try.

So off to the river I hiked, having no way to cross it.

The river wasn't nearly as wide as I imagined it to be. I might have been able to throw a rock across. Maybe. With the wind blowing in my direction. But I definitely could not cross it on foot.

I took off my pack and sat down at the water's edge, waiting for a passing boat to take me across. It was a little before 1:00, and I decided I'd give this hailing a boat thing a try until at LEAST 2:00 before I started making alternative arrangements.

The only boats I saw were in their slips on the other side of the river. I ate some snacks for lunch, while waiting.

Ten minutes later, I still hadn't seen a single moving boat, and I began thinking today might be an "unusually" hard day to hail a boat.

I could now hear thunder in the distance, which I figured didn't help my chances any. I don't know of many people who rush to their boats when a thunderstorm hits.

I looked downstream, hoping to spot a boat, perhaps coming back for the afternoon and saw the calm surface of the water near me turn into a splatter from heavy rain not more than 200 feet away.

The sheer ferocity of the splashing river startled me into action, and I grabbed my umbrella and opened it, tucking my legs and my pack under it.

A half second later, sheets of rain hit. It was a drenching I'd seldom seen before in my life, seemingly an inch of rain in mere minutes.

A flast of light lit up the sky, and a shockwave of thunder followed another second later. BOOM!

A particularly strong gust of wind nearly blew the umbrella out of my hands, and I clenched onto it tightly.

The rain was so thick, I could barely see the town of St. Marks anymore. And I'm huddled with all my possessions under a flimsy umbrella at the edge of a river I couldn't cross.

Frankly, I felt like an idiot sitting there, and an audience was somewhere, indoors and dry, watching me on a large screen TV and laughing.

It was still 20 minutes to 2:00, but I'd had enough. For nearly an hour I sat there, and I hadn't seen a single boat with an occupant. It was time for Plan B. I called it the 'hail a car' plan.


Anonymous said...

so Ryan, How may more times are you thinking of conquering this trail?!
Yikes. I'm just hoping that umbrella of yours isn't/wasn't a target for 'flashes'.
Brr, I feel cold and wet just thinking about being in the middle of the storm. Nothing near what you have had to actually endure.
Hope all goes very well. Hope the traverse across the river went very well. Bravo on such a great tarp. You will have to add some online workshops.
take care.
Hope the weather quickly makes a turn for the better.
blessings be upon you

Anonymous said...

ok,,,,,,,,,i call this the leaving that aq followers on the wait and see plan.....

did amanda come to your rescue, did a boat make it finally in from somewhere at the onset of the storm, did a passerby come by, did your 24 hour dude let you slide on the rules.........

are you eating a big steak and thinking some day i will fill them in on the rest of the story.


Anonymous said...

I don't know how you can sleep under a noisy tarp, whether windy or rainy (or both). I love camping, and am getting the boys used to it in the back yard each summer, but even if it is dead-calm at 8pm when we set it up and I tighten down everything possible, inevitably a breeze kicks up and there I am at 3am, looking at the stars out the skylight while piece of fabric is flap-flap-flapping in the breeze. And I won't get back to sleep. Maybe 25 miles of hiking would wear me out to the point of not caring about it! ;)


Anonymous said...

The ads at the bottom of the page are particularly ironic, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

too funny, i didn't even notice the ads before.


Anonymous said...

Holy cow.. it's starting to sound like the Great Southern Death March! Or at least the Great Southern Windy Rainy Itchy Buggy Snakey Boatless Crippling Hike of Despair!
But, as long as you're having fun. Woo!
What kind of tarp is it? Canvas? That bright blue stuff? And how big? Amanda do you know?

Esmerelda, trying to get a better mental image of the tarp adventure

Anonymous said...

Ryan makes his own tarp from super light weight waterproof nylon that we buy from a nifty fabric store here in the Seattle area. He also sewed his own mosquito netting gear. He is such a crafty guy. :-) I don't have the dimensions in front of me. Again, check out the AT adventures on http://www.ryansatotalgoober.com at the start of his AT hike We camped underneath his homemade tarp at a campground in the Atlanta area. There might even be photos there. :-)

-amanda from seattle