Tuesday, August 5, 2008

One Night Camping in Two Tents Proves Too Tense

From the July 10, 2008 Grand Haven Tribune

Last month in this column I wrote about ‘stay-cations.’ I shared that my wife and I had little travel planned this summer other than a weekend in Ludington to camp and run the annual half-marathon that goes through the state park. What with gas prices and the hassles of packing, unpacking and so on I opined that staying home right here in the glorious Tri-Cities vacation destination made a lot of sense. Well, as Paul Harvey says, now you’ll hear the rest of the story.

The day my column appeared, we headed north for Ludington. I should have re-read my own column and just stayed home.

True to form, even though we were only going away for a weekend, it took us til late afternoon to be ready to leave. We got up to Ludington, set up our tent and the gazebo tent over the picnic table, and went for a little walk along Hamlin Lake. A family was fishing from the boardwalk next to the lake and the woman said, “Hey, don’t you live in Spring Lake?” It turned out they were our neighbors from just down the block. We talked to them for a while and laughed about the coincidence of running into them in the campground.

Maybe it was no coincidence. I think it was a sign that we should have all stayed in our neighborhood. You’ll see why in a few paragraphs.

Later that night, after having dinner in the great outdoors, we were discussing what to do for the remainder of the evening when a few drops of rain started to fall. We decided to head into the tent and read for a while before getting a good night of sleep.

Then it started to rain harder.

An avid backpacker, I tried to tell my wife that when it rains this hard it doesn’t rain long. “It will probably be a great downpour and then stop; we may even see the stars tonight,” I tried to assure her.

Soon, I was the one in need of assurance. The rain kept coming, and it kept coming hard. “It’s really coming down!” one of us said, as if we expected it to come up. It was like a fire hose trained on our tent. Even right next to each other, we had to yell to communicate. The rain was accompanied by thunder and lightning. Loud thunder. The kind that makes your chest pound with each roll and peel. The lightning was bright and nearly constant. It was as if airborne paparazzi were taking photos of our campsite.

We know that our tent can withstand rain pretty well. But this Mason County Monsoon was no ordinary rain. Because of the force, drops started coming in where the zippers come together in the tent doorway. Because of the volume of rain, pools started accumulating by each of the tent’s two doors. Just before midnight, the rain ceased momentarily. I took an absorbent towel and used it as a shammy to mop up and ring out the water in the tent. No sooner had I finished this task than it started raining again. Hard. It lasted til after 3 a.m.

We made the best of it. We tried to read for a while. I was reading about Hemingway on some adventure in Africa. He was in a tent too. He had guides to take him on his hunt. He had wild game cooked over an open fire and exotic beverages to enjoy as he surveyed the landscape. I know Ernie is from Michigan and I enjoy his writing, but I would respect him more if he had endured a night in a tent during this kind of thunderstorm. I made a note to myself: write a novel called “Middle Aged Man and the Michigan Monsoon.”

I had other thoughts during the night too, as I alternated between dozing, feeling around to see if water had spread on the floor of the tent, and being shaken awake by thunder and lightning. I re-examined my position on water boarding as a means of getting prisoners of war to give up vital information. I tried to remember the last time I reviewed my life insurance policies. I thought about my bed at home in Spring Lake, in the house that just had a new roof applied.

In the morning we learned that 11 inches of rain had fallen. There were reports of tornados touching down just north of us. We learned the campground did not have a tornado warning siren. When we had set up camp, we envied those with lots right along the shore of Hamlin Lake. Not in the morning—those lots were now part of Hamlin Lake. Water had risen to the level of picnic table benches. Campers were wading knee-deep on their lots. Canoes that had been set next to campers were now “beached” on the campground road. Several dozen boats from the public beach in the campground had been carried up by the rising waters and floated through the dam and out toward Lake Michigan. Water was soon at the top of the dam, and several boats were wedged into it. Water started coming up more in the campground, across the road and to the middle row of campgrounds. Ultimately, the sheriff drove around and announced a mandatory evacuation of the state park. Because of this, the half marathon run was also cancelled.

We complied willingly. We collected our race shirts and headed home. Our one weekend of camping had turned into a one-night ordeal. Relaxation in two tents had proven to be too tense. Our vacation turned into an evacuation. I should have taken my own advice and stuck with a summer long stay-cation.

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