Mile 195 on Lower Mississippi – December 10, 2012
The tent shrunk then folded around me. I leaned against the wall. It felt like a bull raged on the other side. Fabric snapped and ripped in the air. Wind-driven rain popped through the soaked fly like it was made of cotton. It ran down my back. The floor turned into a pool.
I held for a moment, maybe thirty seconds, my body rigid, fabric wrapped around me, watching my world collapse, then I threw myself away from the wall and on my sleeping bag, wrapping it in plastic, trying to save it as water poured in like an invading army behind a battering ram.
I scrambled outside and the tent crumpled behind me, muddy, wet, and useless. The world was all fury. The sky black, rain like a waterfall, the Mississippi a sea of waves.
I tried to catch my frightened mind and think, think what to do. I could feel myself coming unhinged, overwhelmed with the storm raging around me. I threw my things into the boat and launched on the water. There was nowhere else to go and I had to do something or I would have crumpled like the tent.
I flicked the weather radio on just to hear a human voice, to try to make the world understandable again.
“…a tornado watch has been issued for the following counties…”
“…seek shelter under a work bench or table in a room with no windows…”
“…cover yourself with pillows or blankets…”
I laughed. I laughed and wanted to cry. The mockery of blankets and pillows and windowless rooms when you’re soaking wet in a kayak on a white-capped Mississippi in the heart of a southern thunderstorm.
There is no shelter here. No place to hide.
A bolt of lightning sliced down to the far bank burning my eyes blue-white. It lingered like a ghost wherever I looked.
I flicked off the weather radio and got calm with the rage around me, calm with the inevitability of it all, calm with the idea that luck would be with or against me, that the storm or I would break.
A second bolt flicked down, drawing a jagged line across the sky. It was almost beautiful.