There is a tent set up in my yard. It is raining. The rain fly is laid out on the ground next to the tent, and the tent is holding probably thirty-two gallons of water, the current rainfall doubling the volume already held when the tent was set up this morning. There are tarps strung over the deck, the trampoline, and the van. The shed is decorated with an assortment of drying rugs and plastic bins. There are one hundred seventeen feet of rope lengths draped to and fro over the deck railing. Three ponchos and three nylon hammocks adorn the laundry line, three air mattresses lay dripping over furniture in the basement, sleeping bags are slung over beds, and two coolers sit upended out back, ‘drying.’ It is still raining.
Sometimes you just have to cut your losses.
We had reservations at one of our favorite northern Wisconsin campgrounds for this weekend (Clear Lake, if you’re looking for a new favorite yourself). Things looked a little iffy weather-wise, but we’ve camped in everything. A little rain wasn’t going to keep us down. Until Wednesday morning, the day we were supposed to leave. By then the weather forecast had degraded to a new level of awful. Half a day of nice sunshine and warmth for the beach before the storms and cold moved in to stay for the remaining three-and-a-half days of our sojourn. I scowled. I was grumpy.
My husband was grumpier. He was really looking forward to one last soiree at the beach – work left behind and newspapers in hand – and celebrating our tenth anniversary in a tent. When he answered his cell from the Habitat for Humanity site that he was working at for the day, I could tell that I was deflating him like a bum air mattress. All the joy of tiling that house for charity flew out the window in a frenzy of camp-deprived rage.
My daughter, though she was remarkably cool about it, was probably grumpier. She had decided two days earlier to stay home and try her hand at the complete care and keeping of herself for four days in our absence, by Wednesday pretty excited to get rid of us. And here I was canceling our reservations.
I love camping. I do. I camp in the rain. I camp in the cold. I camp in the heat. But willingly walking into three out of four days of thunderstorms is just beyond my ability.
Sensing that I had to do what I could to make up for the indiscretions of Mother Nature, I started scanning the forecasts for everywhere within a five-hour radius of home. There had to be somewhere that this storm wouldn’t reach. After two hours of searching, and calling hither and non for a locale graced with more than three hours of sun out of ninety-six and a few available first-come-first-serve campsites left unclaimed – two hours that were already designated as essential packing hours if we were to leave for anywhere at 4pm – I located a pocket of southern Wisconsin that was slated for only one nasty day out of the bunch. Doable. We threw everything together in a scary-fast vortex and headed down to Governor Dodge, only a little smug.
We got in late, set up later, and fell into our sleeping bags ready for a good weekend. Our one rain day on Saturday would be occupied with a visit to House on the Rock, a circus of fun that none of my family had ever partaken of, and that I had always wanted to get them to. The park was beautiful, our site was nice, and we were redeeming the day.
Thursday was hot and beach-like, as scheduled.
The rain started Thursday night at eight, after dinner, before s’mores, ushered in by great winds and an impressive thunder and lightening display.
Not a problem. We knew there would be some overnight showers. We had the tarps rigged already and only had to pull them over the fire. We did decide the let the s’mores wait until the next night, their constituent parts being in several different locations scattered about the grounds, all outside of our rain shelter. We opted instead to sit around the fire and enjoy the show as dry as possible before bed.
Upon a check with the ranger station in the morning (still storming), we learned that the forecast had changed. Pretty much exactly the forecast that we were trying to avoid in northern Wisconsin, had apparently migrated to southern Wisconsin, following us with beady little eyes. There was no end in sight.
And our tent was leaking. Two of our number endured intermittent drips on their faces all the night through, while three woke up with wet feet and small pools developing on the tops of their mattresses. The tent was giving up the ghost.
There was a fleeting attempt at a rescue mission, flying into the local Walmart to see if we could snap up some quality rope and another giant tarp with which to pitch a secondary rain fly (hovering about a foot over the existing pincushion). Walmart, however, only carries junk, and we just couldn’t envision spending upwards of $100 on garbage that would most likely not do the trick anyway, knowing we had a tent purchase in our future already. With sighs and stooped shoulders, we returned to camp to commence tear-down, defeated.
Mercifully, the skies lightened as we approached the campground, and we were able to fold the whole of our dripping mud-soaked camp into the van in relative dryness. Rain might have been better, at least washing things off as they were loaded up.
So it is that I sit tonight overlooking a miserable collection of hosed-down, hoping-for-sun camping gear, home two days early from a doomed camping trip, pondering how my comforters could have absorbed this level of stank from the rainwater that christened them in our tent – a level of odiferousness that a trip through the washer and dryer apparently only amplified.
We did, in case you were wondering, get to House on the Rock on the way home. There are very few words to describe that experience. Unbelievable. More amazing than I remember. I’ll let you experience it for yourself. It was a nice way to forget that we were pulling up stakes early.
If you need me, I’ll be in the laundry room, waiting for my bedding to emerge without the odor of a dead animal,