Plan B


From Jane's World

The fog is so thick I can’t see the rain falling or the big lake that I know is across the street. The world is gray and shapeless; the only distinguishing feature is the outline of the trees becoming visible as the sun tries to penetrate the darkness. Dampness seeps in through the metal screen door while rain pelts the tin roof and thunder booms and cracks around us. 

Dane and I are on vacation.

I awoke this morning thankful we’re not in the tent. At the eleventh hour, I broke down and reserved a tiny house. Looking ahead at the weather forecast, I felt we’d need a solid roof over our heads. I’m not disappointed. I hold my mug of hot chocolate in both hands next to my chest, and its warmth soaks into me as I sit watching out the screen door. Will the sun poke through the grayness? Will there be a glimpse of blue? Will the birds ever start to sing again?

My mind drifts back to nights in my tent that seemed like they would never end. On one of those nights, I was on a Bike Wisconsin trip, a week of touring the state by bicycle with others. I was warned about storms that evening and could have easily moved inside to shelter, but I was younger and foolish. Also, I needed privacy. I preferred to sleep with my head on the ground. So I decided to stick the night out in my tent rather than with hundreds of mature and smart bicyclists all hunkered down and sleeping peacefully inside the school building gymnasium, halls, and auditorium. 

After each full day of biking, our gear was laid out on the playground pavement in a sea of colors stretching from one side of the playground to the other. Rows and rows of duffel bags, backpacks, and even a wheeled suitcase or two. Once I snagged my bag, I’d stake out my spot away from the masses and quickly set up my tent. I wanted to get to the showers before the hot water was used up. Freshly showered meant time to eat. Each school where we stayed not only provided showers but also had a group making and serving us dinner to help fund their projects.

This particular evening, I waddled outside after dinner, feeling full with the good kind of tired you get from a long day of pedaling the back roads of Wisconsin. The sky had grown dark, the atmosphere thick and dreary during my absence. Soon, a voice over the loudspeaker urged tenters to get indoors. The speaker was mounted to the SAG (supplies and gear) vehicle, and someone was driving through the makeshift campsite warning us of a coming thunderstorm. “Grab your sleeping bags and head inside!” Mass pandemonium ensued. People were trying to walk-jog with their bikes, hanging on to their sleeping gear, as big fat drops of water began to fall from the sky.

But I decided to tough it out and stay in my tent. Not long after, the rain became serious, loud, and continuous. Lightning and thunder flashed and bellowed, and there I was, on my knees, my tent too small to let me crouch on my feet in the traditional lightning safety stance. I moved all metals as far as I could away from my body. Although thrilled that my tent wasn’t taking in water, I was terrified at each flash and crash as the storm raged on through the early evening into the night. I found myself praying, making promises, and chanting “Please stop” like an eight-track tape stuck in a loop.

I don’t recall sleeping. I do recall the next day being murderous as I tried to pack up my drenched tent and forced myself to get back on my bike and pedal fifty miles of Wisconsin’s loveliest roads with my eyes heavy from lack of sleep.

A similar ordeal was in 2006 on a solo backpacking trek across Isle Royale in Lake Superior. Only this time I was backpacking and had no choice but to stay inside my tent. I was hunkered down for the evening in the Hatchet Lake Campground off the famous Greenstone Trail, without another person or tent in sight, when a kick-ass storm blew in. My body was shaking, my teeth were rattling with fear. I was petrified as the wind whipped, dropping rain-soaked tree branches around me while the lightning and thunder seemed to be playing encore after encore to roaring fans. I made it out alive the next day—barely, it seemed.

This morning, stepping into the gloom of the day outside the tiny house door, I notice my hot chocolate has turned cold. Setting down the cup, I shake my head and think, Thank goodness I had a plan B. Although not too old to sleep in tents, I’m grateful I’m no longer foolish enough to try to sleep outside in storms if I don't have to.

After all, we’re on vacation!

Originally Published November 2nd, 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout