Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Our lives can be easily represented by our accumulated stories, the stories we have to tell, good stories usually, since we forget the boring day stories, the dull lusterless grey stories. We live to accumulate stories. We can remember the good days and the bad days; the better or worse the day, often the better the story. I remember the first time I drove a car, Big Frank’s brand new 1971 Cadillac. I was 13. And it was really stuck in the mud on Airport road just west of Colusa, CA. Everyone else was pushing that car, me being the smallest person, I had to drive.
Sometimes, it’s hard to find a good story to tell, despite challenging environments and meeting interesting people, when nothing good or bad really happens. It’s not like I got frostbitten, I just got wet last weekend in a rainstorm because my tent failed. I have several stories to tell about getting wet …
When I was younger, my father used to say that if there was puddle within a few miles I would find it and fall into it. He wasn’t entirely off the mark. Once, when we went goose hunting, I stepped out of the car into a three foot deep post-hole (the only puddle for miles around), sending my right leg in that puddle up to my testicles. What he never knew despite all his story telling, was that I could set my tent up in it too, and usually I would. I have been every variety of wet in the wilds … in over my waders … nude swimming in the icy Couer D’Alene … showering under a hand pump in a desert campground … falling drunkenly out of a canoe … and genuine difficulties, like the plank bridge snapping below me over Rock Creek one cold April morning, or me in the water with a bunch of rattlesnakes swimming very near there later that summer. I’ve been wet so many times, for so many reasons it’s often been a joke to those that know me. There’s a whole other story about me and broken glass …
When I was younger and I got wet it was often a problem. When I was about 16, I went to Yosemite for spring break; with a few of my high school friends. Ron Kauk might have been there trying to unlock the famed Midnight Lightning. My friends all hitch-hiked to the valley. I wanted to, but my mother insisted I ride the bus. I went to Sunnyside (now Camp 4) where we were all supposed to meet and I set up my gear. My friends didn’t show. I set my tube tent (my first of many bad tent decisions) up in a wash between two trees, which, ummm … filled with water when it rained during the night.
I moved into the heated bathroom at Camp 4 with a wet sleeping bag and my aspirations; aspirations of being in the wilderness and being a naturalist and a guide and a savvy outdoorsman. Ron Kauk might have come into the bathroom and given me advice about how to dry out my bag. “Go to Housekeeping Camp and use the dryers.” I tried to stay in the bathroom, but it was busy and the Ranger threw me out repeatedly, and threatened to find me a “Warm place to stay.” It was impossible.
The next morning I was soaked. It was cold and getting colder. I tried to find a place to dry out my gear. By noon the snow level had dropped to right above the valley floor, and I was still struggling to get my gear dried out. By dark it was snowing heavily on the valley floor.
At about 9 or 10 that night I called my parents and they came and got me – I had had enough. I never got my gear dried out, and I never really found my friends. It was cold and I was starting to suffer from it. So much for my aspirations.
My aspirations. To be a savvy outdoorsman.
Here I am many years later, and I haven’t lost my touch. I set my tent up in what would later become a puddle, left the fly door open and was drenched by morning. Additionally, the tent failed miserably. It leaked through the floor and ceiling. I was seriously wet. There’s one small difference. I was warm. I was wet, but warm. These days I can afford a lot better gear. Soaking wet in Patagonia Capilene base layer and a North Face Snowshoe 0 degree bag, in 35 degrees winter wetness, and I was toasty warm. Mostly.
Setting up my tent in the yard to dry it out, I realized that the paint that said “Sierra Designs” on the side was wearing off, indicating the obvious age of the tent. It has been through a dozen rainstorms, several windstorms and several snowstorms. It’s seen better days. So now I am looking at a new tent.