This is the third of a 3-part journal entry, beginning with Off The Grid, followed by The Storm Approaches. -Paz
For Saturday night’s dinner we motored over to Joe’s camp a bit before dark. Joe filleted the fish that were not eaten as they sat on the stringer in the water. We decided it must have been a cayman that ate our fish, even though they’re not indigenous to our area.
We gorged on fresh-cooked foods as the light faded into darkness, and upon finishing our meal we felt a couple of raindrops fall. Then pat-pat-pat they picked up their pace. Then, BLAM! It started to pour!
We must preface this with two backstories.
First: While I do my best to shun possessions in a zen way, I am one of those over-prepared people, and this is especially true when on a sojourn. For camp, not only did I bring three changes of clothes in a barrel bag (and like a hundred pairs of socks because I can’t stand wet socks), but also a dry bag with the “last bastion” set of emergency clothes (head-to-toe including briefs, tee, pants, shirt, sweatshirt and dry shoes). Additionally, of course I brought my slicker, just in case we had to strike camp and pack out in the rain forecast for tomorrow. I brought none of these things when boating to Joe’s camp for dinner, and was wearing just an overshirt, trotting off into the cool July evening.
Second: Joe & Bowin are “absolute minimalist” campers. They each carry a pack of their own gear, and one pack of camp gear. They sleep in hammock tents, hammocks designed for camping that have a mosquito net and rain fly. So at Joe’s camp, there is no tent. There’s no tarp, no pop-up, no lean-to. Nothing whatsoever for shelter.
BOOM! Goes the thunder, as suddenly, before we could toast an after-dinner marshmallow, a storm rolled over camp like a bulldozer. Rain fell in torrents as Joe & Bowin scrambled to put their blankets in the privy, the only place hereabouts that will remain dry in this next hour. We huddled under a tree, and as the thunder rolled again I doubted the wisdom of doing so.
“We should leave now!” I said to Ryan. “This could keep up for hours. We should get back to camp before it gets any worse.” I’m a bit nervous, frankly, that we’re across the lake, in the dark, in the rain and lightning, without shelter, a change of clothes, a fire or even a jacket. I don my fishing vest as an extra layer, some minute measure of rain shedding and warmth.
“Let’s wait it out. I think it’ll pass.” Ryan replies, as he nurses a beer relaxedly from his 32-year-old, peak-of-fitness, immune-to-rain-and-cold perspective.
The rain continues. It came up so fast Joe didn’t save his clothes, only his blankets. The fire was hissing its way to an early death as the firewood stacked on either side of the stone fireplace soaked up the water. I realize that our camp is not rain-prepared. Our firewood, too, is getting a shower, and even if—I mean when–we get back to camp, there would be no warming flames. I can’t recall what else is on the picnic table; lanterns, the camp stove, and..?
Another roll of thunder and the rain keeps up its steady downpour. Now I’m just starting to work on panic. There’s no trail out of here, so our only exit is via boat across the lake. My light-duty clothes are soaked. I curse myself for not even wearing a sweatshirt, let alone remembering the slicker. For not covering the firewood (even though rain was not expected). For putting myself out here on the edge with a 15-year-old and a couple of thirty-something, husky guys in their prime. Now here am I, at 55 years old, with a bit of a heart condition if you must know, stranded from camp without as much as a trash bag to hold over my head. Honestly, it’s not my head I’m worried about. Too much rain for too long, and a guy like me is going to get a serious chill. This is not good when your blood-pump is half worn out. A little hypothermia could spell trouble. Okay, so maybe I won’t die on the spot, but I have only three nitro pills around my neck, and we’re hours away from any kind of medical facility. In my best zen sense I am at peace with dying, but I don’t want to spoil the camping trip.
Generally, I’m pretty cool in a crisis. I can assume control of a hazardous or emergency situation and think faster than a rabbit in headlights. Problem now was, if I become incapacitated before I can take over, I’ll be useless to the entire party.
“I’m hiding in the privy.” I said, as I made my way to the outhouse, expecting a couple of takers to follow me. We’d figure out how to fit and it would be a great story to tell. No one followed. They waited and stood in their overly-manly, carefree way (even the 15-year-old) under that tree. Talking, soaking up the rain, waiting for lightning to strike the 70-foot poplar that was their shelter.
What if I’m stuck here for hours? Well, it really was not uncomfortable in the outhouse, now that I wasn’t getting rained on. I started thinking about how one would sleep in a little outhouse all night, still worried my wet clothes would plunge me into a trembling chill. About then, just as the other guys had suspected, the rain started to let up. I suppose the whole shower couldn’t have lasted longer than half an hour or so.
As the squall line moved off to the southeast, the lake quieted to a calm, and the night air seemed to feel a bit warmer. We made our wet way to our wet boats, pumped the bilge water out of the AquaMarie, tied a line to Sparky’s canoe, and bade farewell to Joe & Bowin. They refused all invitations to come to our camp, sleep in a dry tent, get some dry clothes.
“We’ll be fine.” Joe said, in his usual manner, taking everything in stride and making us believe they would, in fact, be fine.
We towed Sparky’s canoe under the running lights of the AquaMarie and a waxing full moon. The water was smooth as glass as Ryan rode shirtless in the bow seat, embracing the evening air, the spray of the boat, the light of the moon and the adventure of it all.
The little flashing light we posted at our camp, thankfully surviving the storm, appeared in the distance. Home! We docked the boat and tied up Sparky’s canoe for him to retrieve in the daylight. I dug around in the bottom of the wood pile for the driest pieces of wood and found a wax fire starter. In a few minutes, we had a little fire going and were in dry clothes, the storm just a memory. Sparky returned in dry clothes to share some of the warmth and the first retellings of the tale. We wondered about Joe & Bowin. Hoped they, too, had a fire by now.
Tomorrow we would strike camp. Joe & Bowin would roll up their hammocks and be at our camp for coffee in the morning. Sparky would pick up his canoe, way early, as I was just waking in the tent. Ryan would be eager to get home to his wife and my 18-month-old granddaughter Ellie (and her big sister Maddie).
And I would regret leaving this place. Take one last look around, then another. Maybe one more. I would not be in a hurry to escape Forked Lake, the High Peaks, the Adirondack Park, our beloved time in the piney woods. I learned a bit about myself on this trip. I faced my limitations.
And the best memories, the “moments” we are bound to remember and relive, were not of sleeping in a tent or catching fish, nor of boating or cooking on the fire.
This year was a great trip, filled with stories that can be exaggerated and amplified as the years pass.
“Did I ever tell you about the time a cayman ate our entire catch of the day and we almost starved?”
How about the time we weathered a hurricane by mustering in the outhouse? Or the time we crossed the lake at night in a storm? Or the time I flipped the canoe and could have drowned?
Sit down, if you have a few minutes, and I’ll tell you about the most wonderous time I had with just a few of my favorite people, and some amazing adventures.
Oh, and how I almost died. But I didn’t.
Be at peace,