Angle to Key West: Bad Days (12/10)

Goodbye Tent

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.

11 responses to “Angle to Key West: Bad Days (12/10)

  1. Your journey to Key West is a metaphor for life, full of delightful pleasures and significant frustrations, highs and lows, elation and depression. I am enjoying every post and trust that now, 15 days later, this episode is like a bad dream and you are warm and replenishing your suntan on the gulf coast.

  2. As you know, you will always be protected from lightning by Thor! From Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge: “In Norse mythology, Thor (from Old Norse Þórr) is a hammer-wielding god associated with thunder, lightning, storms, oak trees, strength, the protection of mankind, and also hallowing, healing and fertility. The cognate deity in wider Germanic mythology and paganism was known in Old English as Þunor and in Old High German as Donar stemming from a Common Germanic *Þunraz (meaning “thunder”).”

  3. I suppose that if you are in a plastic kayak on the water and lightning is striking nearby you might be better off than with your feet on the ground anywhere…whew! What a choice! My personal worst case scenario for you was this…tornado watch time and out in the wilds. Good thing you had all that paddling experience behind you to deal with the waves and darkness. Good thing you have such a strong mind to be able to think when all is warping around you. Good thing that I know that this journal entry is at least a week behind where you are now! :) FA!!!!!

  4. That is as close as I want to come to my tent being ripped wide open by a tornado bearing storm. As a kid, I wondered what it would be like riding out a hurricane outside. You did it Daniel. My question from this post… Did explorers stop exploring because they covered all available ground or because they got hammered by mother nature one too many times?

    Glad you are safe. Once you get to the Gulf, you will be able to burry yourself in the warm, white sand and sleep soundly through a storm or a swarm of insects.

  5. I love this post most of all. I imagine you could do a lot of writing just about this one night. This night really tested you. I don’t see this night any different than a life and death struggle on top of a tall, jagged mountain. You were very exposed and I’m glad that luck was with you. It sounds like you just paddled through it. You did it Daniel, now you can tell the story.

  6. Daniel, I’m catching up on your journey. This post reminds me of a time in the late 70′s or early 80′s when Mike and I were camping down around Homasassa Springs and one of those fronts came through. Our tent blew out from around us and in pouring rain and incredible wind we tried to find the zipper, pack up our belongings and get to safety. But we had a vehicle, breakfast in Crystal River, and snow when we finally got back to Tallahassee! I cannot imagine being on the river. I am so enjoying your incredible adventure and your wonderful way with words. Anticipating your return to Tally to hear about the last legs of your journey.

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