Want to see a grown man cry? Show him a hot shower after he’s gone two and a half days without. When there are 54 hours worth of whiskers on his unshaven face and every stitch of his clothes smells like a campfire. Tears of joy, mind you – but tears nonetheless.
The good news is, we survived our camping trip! Even better? We had a great time.
But 18 hours after arriving, when we were cold and drenched and standing in ankle-deep mud around the fire, I was ready to cave in and head home. We were all pretty miserable at that point.
Fortunately, our optimism and stubbornness were rewarded. But it took time.
Can’t See The Forest For The Rain
Friday afternoon, I experienced a powerful surge of deja vu. I found myself – exactly one year almost to the minute – driving down the same stretch of road in the same direction, with the very same song playing: Lindsey Buckingham’s “Holiday Road” from National Lampoon’s Vacation. And sure enough, the Family Truckster was packed to the gills. This time, we even had a bundle on top that looked suspiciously like Aunt Edna.
For the hundredth time, I am Clark Griswold.
Instead of crossing the Bridge Of The Gods into Oregon as I had done 366 days earlier, we continued straight, passing through Stevenson and Carson before arriving at our destination, the Panther Creek Campground. We pulled up around 4:00 and though it was overcast and cool, it was also dry – a relief, considering the forecast had been calling for rain. “Guess they were wrong about that,” I remarked overconfidently. We got to work setting up our tents and building a fire. The setting was beautiful – our campsite was surrounded by towering fir trees and dense stands of maple. Right across the way, the creek burbled peacefully; we could hear it clearly from our spot. And, there was hardly anybody there. In other words, everything was perfect.
And then it began to rain.
Tara and I had driven into Carson for some firewood and snacks. Upon our return we kicked back, put our feet up, and settled down with some drinks. That’s when we felt the first initial drops of rain. Just a few at first, enough to give us hope that it was merely a passing shower.
Suddenly, the skies opened up and it began to pour. The deluge lasted all through the night and the following morning. It rained for seventeen hours straight, without a break. A constant, steady, incessant downpour that drove us into our tents early following a hasty but delicious meal of cheeseburgers and macaroni salad. The rain fly over each tent kept most of the moisture out. Well, until it began to seep through the bottom from the ground below. At least Tara and I had a nice, thick air mattress to keep us afloat. All night long we listened to the rain dripping from the trees and beating against the canvas. It was a little bit soothing but mostly just annoying.
And added up to a very long night.
My Girlfriend, The Firestarter
We woke up cold, and our clothes were either wet from the night before or damp from the moisture in the air. Nevertheless, we got dressed and proceeded to make the best of it. Tara came up with the brilliant idea of attaching our tarp to the canopy we had just bought (and which turned out to be a lifesaver; without it we never would have lasted) and fashioning a makeshift lean-to over the picnic table to help keep things dry. It wasn’t pretty, but it did the trick. I kept reassuring everybody all along that the rain was going to stop any minute. Instead, it began to come down harder. I am one of the most optimistic people in the world, but standing next to the campfire in an ever-growing puddle of water and mud while shivering uncontrollably tested even my limits. I will admit, at that point I was ready to go home.
But Tara was cooking breakfast, and pulling out all the stops. Scrambled eggs, pancakes and sausage links. I have to give her credit, too: before we left I asked about buying charcoal, and she looked at me like I was nuts. “What for?” she asked.
“To start a fire,” I replied.
“We don’t need charcoal for a fire,” she insisted. “We’ll have plenty of wood.”
I was doubtful, but ended up trusting her because she has lots more experience camping than I do. And sure enough, her fire making skills were superb. She ended up building four fires from scratch, each one with nothing more than wood, newspapers and a lighter. I could always count on her to get things blazing along nicely, and she never disappointed.
Despite the uncomfortable conditions, breakfast was delicious and gave us all a burst of energy. Rather than packing it in we decided to take a drive. Getting away from the campsite seemed like a great idea, and with the heater at full blast we quickly warmed up and dried off. It was close to noon when we left, and still raining. Our destination was Thomas Lake, one of my favorite spots in the Indian Heaven Wilderness. The original plan called for fishing, but it was just too wet and cold and nobody was real gung-ho over the idea, so we left there. We then tried to make our way to Goose Lake, but two-thirds of the way there we encountered this.
With memories of the couple we rescued from the snow fresh in our minds, we weren’t about to attempt going any further. Keep in mind that it’s nearly JULY. Summer in the Pacific Northwest is short enough to begin with, and up in the high country there’s hardly ever a time where there isn’t at least a little bit of snow around. Maybe by late August.
So we turned around and headed back to camp. But that’s when we noticed something important: the rain had stopped. Not only that, but the sun was breaking through the clouds.
In Which Things Go From Pretty Bad To Pretty Good
I love rain. It’s one of the reasons I’m so content living in the Northwest. But I have never been so thankful to see the sun in my entire life, and that is not an exaggeration. The break in the weather enabled us to salvage the weekend.
The lake that had threatened to swamp our campground had disappeared while we were away. The ground was still on the muddy side, but much more navigable. Tara built us another fire and we set up the horseshoes we had brought along, playing a rousing game while snacking and drinking. I kept waiting for the clouds to move back in and the rain to start up again, but instead we were blessed with blue skies, puffy white clouds, and an abundance of sunshine. Talk about a 180-degree turnaround from just a few hours earlier.
After another trip into Carson for supplies we returned and had a great evening around the campfire, the four of us playing charades and telling ghost stories while enjoying hot dogs, corn on the cob, baked beans and – of course – s’mores. We went to bed dry and, though we fully expected to be awakened at any point by more torrential rain, slept soundly with nary an interruption.
The Camping Nazi
To our surprise, morning dawned peacefully (i.e. NOT WET). Tara and I were up early, starting a fire and brewing coffee. (Which, by the way, was an experience. Tara has a metal percolator that makes decent coffee but, a word to the wise, does nothing to filter the grounds out of said cup of decent coffee, something I learned the hard way). The clouds parted, the sun broke through, and it turned out to be a lovely if chilly morning. After a simple breakfast we got busy breaking down camp. It took a good hour and a half to get everything taken down, rolled up, cleaned up, and put in or on the car. We backed out of our campsite at 10:30 and were home by noon.
Despite the soggy start to our adventure, I had a great time and look forward to doing it again. Camping was always one of those things that sounded nice in theory, but dealing with tents and sleeping bags and mosquitoes (which fortunately weren’t much of an issue while there) always seemed like too much trouble. Now I feel otherwise. Having survived such crappy weather even while the few other folks in the campground were packing it in and leaving Saturday morning makes me feel like we can conquer anything. And even though I learned that Tara is a total camping Nazi – seriously, she has her way of doing things, and likes to shoot death stares in your direction if you mess up her “system” – I can’t wait to go again. The kids are troopers, too. They were just as wet and cold and miserable as we were yesterday morning, plus bored, and that is not a fun combination, but they persevered and ended up enjoying the trip, too.
Even though we have no control over the weather, at least next time we’ll know that if rain is even a remote possibility, we’ll need to change our reservation to another – read, DRIER – weekend.
Here’s how bad the rain was at its worst…