Thursday, August 7, 2008

Day 15: What are you going to do about... Storms?

It was long in coming.

I spent the morning blissfully repairing everything that had gone wrong so far with my canoe. There were inwhales to screw in place, ends to be patched, bicycle hardware to be replaced, and so on. In Medicine Hat I was sure to stop at a hardware store to pick up everything I could to make the repairs I would need. Now my canoe seat was higher, my bicycle well tuned, and everything cleaned and reorganied.

It was sure to come.

I saw a dragonfly just beginning to emerge from its nymph state on the beach. These amazingly large, bright green insects have been little friends of mine on the journey so far. And all the more so knowing that they hunt my enemies, mosquitoes, in water and in air. For the nymphs of the dragonfly live underwater, feeding on insect larva and other small things, and then with no pupal state they simply crawl onto land and emerge as dragonflies - air out their wings, expand their tails, and then fly off to chase what insects they missed in the water. These nymph shells are common on the river, but I rarely get to see the dragonflies make the actual transition.

But I didn't think it would come.

"We don't get real storms here," I told Marty at the Police Point Park interpretive center just the day before. "Not like in St. Louis." Several times that day in Medicine Hat I had assured people that storms were no issue. And they hadn't been - not on any camping trip I have ever taken, nor on my journey so far. One mentioned the storm of the previous night - but that was nothing where I was. Half an hour of weak rain, a flash of light, and then a bright double rainbow to finish things off. At no point did I even think shelter was necessary.

After fixing up all my stuff and staring at the dragonfly, I took my time getting to a large island that wasn't much further on my map. There was no great place for my canoe, but I trudged over a ditch of mud and rocks, and a field with more mud, to find a sandy patch to plunk down my tent. The sky wasa bit busy so I took a step back to read it out.

"There is a thunderhead there, but it is incomplete -- probably too cool for anything serious. There's no visible rain anywhere. It doesn't look like much to worry about, but I'll go ahead and peg out the tent, put up the rain fly, just to be safe." Having done so, I retired inside to strip for the night and read.

It was strange. One whole side of the tent just lifted itself up and then sat back down. And the wind picked up. The corners had ripped out their pegs and were flapping about, as the top of the tent wanted to lie down on top of me. I had to get out to try to get my tent standing up again, properly. So I crawled out, and that's when I saw the lightning. Big in the sky.

There being no shelter in my tent, I ran over to the ditch and laid down in it. But I kept looking up and noticed that my tent was slowly walking across the hill. So I got up,ran over, and dropped some large rocks on it to try to keep it still. I alternated between lying down in the ditch to protect myself from the lightning and dropping rocks in my tent to stop it from flying away. Once I noticed the rocks were successfully holding down my Thermarest mattress while the tent was letting it go so it could fly off. I put the heaviest rock I could carry inside the tent and zipped it closed, and then ran back to my ditch.

Now, I was sure glad this storm only had wind and lightning, and there was no rain to go along with it. But there I was lying nearly naked in a ditch as the wind went howling over me, stealing heat off my back as the muddy stones I was lying on took heat from my front. I didn't know how safe I would be from lightning in my tent, but hypothermia was a sure thing lying in this ditch.
So I ran back to the tent, and arranged the rocks at the inside corners which seemed to stand it up properly. I closed my -12 mummy bag tightly around me to warm up, as I huddled near the middle of the tent in fear of lightning.

It was a real storm, and I did not sleep until it had passed.

Day 15 ended: 50*11.241N, 110*34.317W

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