Monday, June 6, 2022

Day 102: "I thought I was gonna die!"

July 31: It was a wet and miserable night. I had found a piece of wood, maybe 18 inches long, that I used to prop my tarp near my head up so I'd have a little breathing room, but then the wind changed 180 degrees and the wind-blown rain started coming right in. So I removed the wood and lost the little breathing room I had.

The rain continued on for hours and hours, a hard, steady rain that slowly seeped through the tarp covering me. Normally I expect a bit of water to seep through the tarp, but when it's set up properly, it'll roll down to the edges and drop keeping me dry. But with the tarp thrown over myself like a blanket, that wasn't happening. It was just seeping onto me and all of my gear. Fortunately, it wasn't a cold rain and the nighttime temperatures weren't particularly cold as well, so I wasn't too worried about hypothermia. I was wet and miserable, though. There was no avoiding that!

What did shatter my perception of safety, however, was the lightning which enveloped me during the night. BOOM! Ear-shattering crashes striking dangerously close. One after another. Boom! Boom! Boom! I was under the tarp with my eyes closed, but the flash was so bright, it blinded me! I pushed my eyes into the crook of my arm to cover my eyes with something more substantial than a thin tarp and my eyelids. Even then, I could still see a bit of the flashes of light, but at least it wasn't positively blinding.

Camped on this old, sudden road turned out to be a great idea in a lightning storm!

I felt fortunate that I was camped down in the slight depression in the otherwise flat, featureless terrain. And the fact that I couldn't even set up my tarp properly was probably beneficial given the lightning since absolutely no part of my camp or myself was more than a few inches high, and--in the slight depression--I was actually lower than the surrounding terrain. Only by a few inches, but still..... with as much lightning striking so closely, keeping a low profile was the name of the game and I was about as low as one could get without digging a trench!

And it continued for hours this way. Heavy rain, booming thunder and blinding lightning. It was a wet, miserable night.

But the storm finally passed, and I survived the night. Near sunrise, I started cleaning up the mess and assessing the damage. Well, mostly just a lot of wet gear. My camp clothes and sleeping bag were my biggest problem. They were all thoroughly wet and would need to be dried out at some point, but it was still overcast, cool and humid early in the morning. Not ideal for drying out gear.

I wrung out as much water as I could. No sense carrying more of it than I had to! My electronics and journal were safe and dry in their Ziplock baggies, so no permanent damage done. But still.... Not a great night.

Dealing with the water slowed my departure, and I wasn't ready to get up and start hiking until closer to 7:00am. And, although I didn't want to do it, I was planning to backtrack 2.1 miles in search of my lost trekking pole. I thought about leaving my pack at camp and traveling without it. What would be the chances of some animal getting into my pack in the hour or so it might take to do the 4.2 miles round-trip? Not like I had to worry about bears out here, but there were definitely other animals that could try checking it out: rabbits, coyotes, pronghorn antelope, etc. 

In the end, it wound up not mattering. When I stuffed my tarp into its bag, I discovered my trekking pole hiding under it, along the left edge. I had it the whole time! I was so mad at myself! I had literally looked under my tarp twice the evening before while looking for it but hadn't spotted it. The trekking pole is several feet long so I thought it would be easy to see when I looked under the tarp, but it turned out to lay precisely along the edge of the tarp, and when I lifted the tarp to look, a few inches on the sides kept it covered. I knew at the time there were a few inches I couldn't see very well, but it seemed impossible for something as long as a trekking pole to hide under such a small area so I didn't actually look as close as I could have. And it wouldn't have been so well hidden, except that it followed precisely along the edge of the tarp. If it had been laying just a few degrees further in any direction, I'd have seen it easily.

My campsite was pretty sad, wet and miserable by morning. I still hadn't found my trekking pole when I took this photo, but can you see it? It's under that narrow, thin spot on the left, under my tarp. How can you blame me for thinking a three-foot trekking pole couldn't possibly hide under such a small area?!

So I was kicking myself when I realized that I had my trekking pole the whole time. It definitely could have been used to keep me much drier during the night if I had it available. However, I was thrilled that I didn't have to backtrack 2.1 miles. I hadn't even left camp yet and already saved myself 4.2 miles of walking! 

The day's hike was largely uneventful. The morning was basically cloudy and depressing. The clouds never really went away, not completely, but they seemed thinner in the afternoon and therefore everything felt a bit brighter and less depressing. The humidity was absolutely awful, however. Temperatures were certainly lower than they had been, but it didn't really fee like that.

If you don't get zapped by lightning, there's this electric fence to do it for you! I swear it was the only electric fence I saw the entire trail. Why here?!

This section of the trail is kind of interesting. Since about Rawlins, I had been hiking through what's known as the Great Divide Basin. It's an interesting area because none of the water that falls here as precipitation ever reaches an ocean. It either evaporates or is absorbed into the ground water. It seemed shocking to me that all the rain that fell last night, absolutely none of it would ever reach an ocean. This is one of the reasons that water is so scarce along this part of the trail, though. There are no rivers or creeks leading from the mountains towards the oceans. The only water sources generally come from underground, which generally come from wells installed so the cattle on the ranches could drink from. There are occasionally cow tanks where runoff water can collect. Not exactly great water from those, however. I definitely prefer the wells!

Late in the afternoon, I caught up with Sweet Tooth and Bugs drying out gear next to one of the cow tanks, and we stopped to talk about the storm last night. They said they had camped on a small bump on the terrain, and Bugs turned to me and said, "I thought I was going to die. I really thought I would die! It would be my last night on Earth!" It was a wild night for sure, but I was glad they didn't get struck by lightning. If they had been, I'd have been the ones to discover their bodies. And, you know, it's not like I wished them ill-well either, but if they were going to die on the trail, I'd just as soon prefer somebody else find their bodies.

Although I found the lightning particularly frightening, I didn't really believe I was in serious danger from it--mostly because I was in that slight depression where it looked like an old road was worn into the ground and had such an incredibly low profile. The lightning was definitely very close and definitely a major annoyance from the deafening booms and blinding flashes of light, but I felt like I was in the best place one could possibly be in such a situation on this featureless terrain. They were actually camped on a small rise, and in tents that stood a few feet high. The idea sent shivers down my spine. They might have been a lot more dry than I was, but their night was a heck of a lot more scary!

But they didn't come out completely dry either, since they had their sleeping bags out now to dry. The wind-powered rain did infiltrate their tents to some degree.

I was ready for a good, long break and pulled out my tarp, groundsheet and come camp clothes to dry as well. We were next to one of the few water sources for the day, and I planned to cook dinner right there next to the water when I had all the water I needed readily available. Bugs and Sweet Tooth had been there for awhile, though, and continued on about 5 or 10 minutes after I arrived.

Dinner was great, and I lounged around for an hour or so letting my gear dry. My tarp and groundsheet were pretty much completely dry by the time I left again. My camp clothes were mostly dry. I figured they'd dry out after I wore them for a half hour. My sleeping bag was a bit more persistent holding in the water, though. It didn't want to dry very quickly at all, but at least some of the puffiness of the down was finally returning. At least it could partially do its job, and fortunately the nights weren't especially cold. I'd be fine. Maybe by morning, my body heat will finally get it fully dried out.

I pushed onward a couple of more hours before setting up camp. The terrain grew a few hills to break the monotony of before. They weren't particularly massive, but definitely noticeable!

The weather forecast didn't call for any rain or storms during the night, so I camped high on a small hill with wide open views. I didn't set up my tarp since rain wasn't in the forecast, but I hoped the wind wouldn't pick up during the night. At the time I stopped, the wind wasn't bad, but who knew how that would change during the night?

A little after sunset, several other thru-hikers passed by including Janice Joplin, Twain, Tumbles and Captain Jack. I had wondered what happened to Twain and Captain Jack. I last saw them the day we left Rawlins and figured they were nearby somewhere, but somehow we never saw each other. Janice Joplin and Tumbles I had no idea were even around, and this was the first time I even met them.

They mostly just admired the view from my camp and said, "Wow! This is pretty nice!" I said that they were welcome to join me, but they wanted to push on a bit further, which they did.

The rest of the evening I had to myself. I ate a few snacks for dinner, then read my Kindle deep into the night.

Stagnant cow water, not the best, but beggars can't be choosers!

Drying out my gear. And look at that beard! Where did that come from?! =)

The sunset turned out nice, but a little muted. =)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Could you use your umbrella as a very short post or just prop it over your head under the tarp? Or use it to block the wind-driven rain? I’d worry about flash floods while camping in a sunken area but nearby lightning wins over flash floods for a choice of a sunken area!

How maddening to discover the pole was there all along!