After a week so busy I had to schedule showers, I was determined to “Disappear Completely and Never Be Found” for the weekend. I had reserved my spot at Frog Lake weeks in advance, collected my camping equipment from the family homestead, and was more than ready to pack the car and be on my way.
That it was less than ideal weather conditions in Portland upon pulling away from the curb wasn’t top of mind. L and I were leaving town, what did it matter that the sky in Portland had been torn asunder by torrential rain?
I didn’t find it necessary to check the weather before packing OR leaving the house. Because to me, in my state of get-me-out-of-here, camping = sunshine. It had to. I’d been camping since I was old enough to fall in the mud, I knew what I was doing.
Aside from the necessary underthings, the contents of my bag:
In addition to packing light, I also packed smugly.
To pack smugly is to assume that everything we would ever need is not only packed, but packed complete, with all necessary parts and accessories.
What did I pack, you ask? Let’s take a look.
one tent, sand rainfly pole
fire pit grill accessories
2 sleeping bags from the 1990s
I had no disaster ready plan.
The drive up Mt. Hood was awash in a gloomy cover of cold rain and deep grey clouds, but inside the car we were dancing to happy sunshiny music and radiating positivity, drunk with the belief that we were leaving the nasty weather in our wake.
As we reached the summit, the rain began tapering off, and finally stopped as we pulled into Frog Lake camp. We circled the sites, searching for our reserved site, number 32. A tree, easily over 100 feet tall, had fallen onto our site, extending from the firepit over to the worn paved parking space.
The sweet old camp hosts, Fred and Jane were very apologetic, and rushed to wind enough yellow caution tape in, over, and around the site to warrant a triple CSI homicide.
We were ushered over to site 7, cute, with a little creek running through it to the west, and absent of any natural disasters
L set about building a fire, and I began unrolling the tent, accompanied by a cold, steady drizzle. Within minutes we’d broken out the emergency ponchos, purchased on a whim at the last-chance gas station before hitting the mountain.
Sweat pooled under the poncho, and as I finished pounding the final tent stake into the soggy ground, moving finally to erect the rainfly cover, and found the rainfly pole annoyingly absent. So I improvised, rigging a contraption that would’ve made my DIY father wince.
L was having a rough time convincing the soaked fire starters to light, spent matches, and wet, crumpled newspaper littering the ground around her. And so we retreated to the safety of the car.
The sky was dark, it was well after 8pm, we were frozen, soaked, and starving. Our once jubilant spirit long replaced by a dull, gut numbing discomfort.
We were down, but not defeated. With renewed determination, we slogged out of the campsite, and began our decent down the mountain. My lips were blue, hands long hardened into gnarled claws. One glance in the mirror revealed me as the mountain demon lady I’d become, hair frizzled into a frightening mess.
We raided the town like an invading army, pillaging the local second-hand store for survival blankets, and raiding the miraculously still open fast food restaurant for warm rations.
Munching happily on trashy food, hands again softened by the warmth of the car heaters, sky dark but clear of rain, we again turned to camp, hope renewed.
We should’ve known better.
No one can know joy in the midst of Mother Nature’s fury.
And so we arrive back at camp, relieved to see the site and tent still upright and in tact. L was able to start a small fire, but eventually the chill chased us into the tent. We huddled under our found blankets like refugees and eventually the adventures of the day forced closed our eyes.
I woke up in the dark, lying in icy water. The layers beneath me are soaked through, but in my exhausted delirium, I climb L to escape the wet. Knees, elbows, and bones sharpened by the cold, dig into me from odd angles. Bitter cold wind and bullet heavy rain hammer the tent. Yet sleep comes.
Nature woke bright and early, glinting and glittering brightly through the tent walls, the rain mercifully halted. Muscles stiff and angry, I crawled from the small warmth of the tent into the dead cold outside. L was able to start a tiny fire, which we used to cook our pitiful foil packet breakfast.
Lunch, another foil packet survivalist creation, came and went. Steak and potatoes. A feast in the forest. As I swallowed the last bit of warm potato, I felt a chilled raindrop hit my neck and slide down my back. Immediately I began tearing around camp, rolling, packing, and stuffing every bit of camp haphazardly into the car. As the trunk slammed shut the clouds drew together, the temperature dropped, and with a loud CLAP the skies again opened up, a final assault on our retreating army.
Our camp neighbor, standing warm and dry beneath his fifth wheel awning, steaming mug of coffee in hand, watched us, bemused.
“What kind of Oregonians are you?” He laughed.
“The kind that knows to leave before the mountain falls down around us,” L snapped back.
The mountain camp, now visible in daylight, told the story of what we’d braved. The day-use area of Frog Lake was flooded to the tops of the wooden picnic tables. Huge expanses of forest were covered in icy snow patches.
It rained the whole way home.
Less than 36 hours into our vacation, we returned home muddy, wet, tired, and defeated. I swung open the front door, intent on face planting into my warm bed for a much needed nap.
My house was filled with strangers, milling about, lounging on my couches, tv on, music blaring from the back room, someone was hunched over at my fridge, pawing through its contents, a soda bottle was spilling out onto the counter, laughter came from the back yard, another stranger stood at the grill, babysitting.
Our house sitter, expecting us back the next day, had thrown a party.