Day Three... The Rain Cometh
A float trip down a river for the RRR is not an adventure, it is a quest. But on any real quest there are many adventures. The RRR continues the story of the river trip with the story of Day Three.
Tuesday, May 22. Again the light and birds awakened me. And again the swarms of mosquitoes and gnats welcomed me as I low crawled from the tent. I was glad I was wearing my long sleeved canvas shirt. Shermona, upside down near the tent served as my breakfast table and kitchen. I sat on one of the padded lid buckets and made my milk, Gatorade, grits and coffee. Doing the dishes was easy. One indulgence I allow myself boat camping that I cannot backpacking is to bring along a couple rolls of paper towels. I use the macho blue shop towels available from auto parts stores. They are expensive but as tough as cloth and even somewhat reusable. So I dipped one end in hot water and with a small squirt of liquid camp soap washed my cup and cook pot and used the dry end to dry them. One more blue towel partially dampened served as washcloth and towel for what Dolly Parton calls a “Possible Bath”. You first remove your shirt and wash from the top of the head down as far as possible. Then replace the shirt and drop the trousers and wash as far up as possible. Then, after looking all around to be sure you are offending no one except the wild creatures, you quickly wash Possible.
The two blue towels and the ones from supper the night before, plus all the cooking trash of empty bags, etc. went into the bio-degradable plastic bag that lined the toilet bucket. The last act before loading the boat and hitting the river was to bury the bag far back in the woods in a hole dug with the entrenching tool. Riverside wooded areas that have been flooded make this very easy. The swirling waters scoop out depressions around the roots and trunks of fallen trees and one need only drop the bag in and cover it up.
At first the Day Three sun was hot and bright. I wear only a tee shirt under the life vest on such days so I had to use sun block. I have the remains of a “No-Ad” brand bottle of SP30 that youngest son and I “borrowed” from Mrs. RRR years ago when we took the first of the River Trips. The gnats and skeeters being the worst I've ever seen this year, I ran a bead of SP30 down each arm and squirted DEET onto it and rubbed the lotion into the exposed skin. I came home from the trip darkly tanned, but not burned.
But the sunshine did not last. Long before noon, thick gray clouds were threatening. I got my rain pants and poncho and rubber boots close and ready and waited for the storm to hit. But the threatening weather seemed to bring out the wild life. I've never seen so many birds. It made me wish once again for a waterproof spiral bound edition of Peterson's bird guide. I saw the usual blue herons, geese and ducks, but hundreds of others that I could only guess at. Beaver and muskrat shared the river with me. Raccoons trundled along the shore, fishing and looking for crawdads and minnows and shellfish. I saw otter slides and their dining places piled high with shells. Deer came down to drink. As they often do before a rain, owls stayed awake low on tree branches and shouted back and forth with me as I mimicked their liquid hooting. Fish jumped in the river. Carp nuzzled the shore spawning. Squirrels danced over snags looking for edibles and sipping from the river.
You would think that such experiences would make me joyful. Instead, the magic that starts to happen on about the third day was beginning. It takes that long for a human used to high speed four lane highways and alarm clocks and schedules to begin to slow down to the 2 m.p.h. speed of the river and the pace of walking animals. The man or woman on a float trip without sail or motor is no longer an observer of nature, but a player. You enter the wilderness, but the wilderness also enters you. The pre-storm anxiety that had infected the wildlife, causing them to scurry about eating and drinking and chatter nervously was affecting me also. I kept glancing over my shoulder at the darkening sky and doing some scurrying of my own with the oars. Foolishness, but foolishness based on what I was absorbing from my fellow creatures.
There was a sudden silence. The wind died. The tree leaves which had been turning “inside out” from the gusts of wind down the river channel drooped. The only sound was the continual and suddenly more intense buzzing of the gnats and the ever closer grumbling of thunder. The world turned bright pink, blindingly, with a near flash of lightening and the thunder crashed almost instantly and the rain poured like from a faucet. I sat stunned and deafened for a moment and scrambled into my rain gear. Then, as silly as the cliff swallows swooping desperately along the water, I began rowing like crazy. I stopped, panting, chuckling at my foolishness. The rain poured, often so hard that the drops seemed to bounce and explode off the surface of the river. The gnats who had gathered under my hat brim to escape the downpour tried to feast on my face. I brushed them away and rested on the oars watching, learning. I found myself praying, not asking or anything... just talking to God about His creation, His sky, His weather. “The skies declare His handiwork and the firmament His glory”, the Bible says. It was a phrase I found myself repeating almost like a mantra for much of the rest of the trip.
Of course the rain stopped. All rain stops. The sky became merely cloudy. The sounds of nature returned. Sometime during all this I had eaten my trail mix and a couple thick slices of summer sausage. My canteen beside me stayed cool from the water accumulated in the bottom of the boat evaporating through its cover. I sipped and steered with the oars and watched the ever changing panorama of the river bottoms glide by. The anxiety was gone. The fear of storm and shipwreck evaporated. As the time passed I naturally looked for a place to spend the night, but without the desperation of before. Sure enough, just at the right time a sand bar appeared on the left, or should I say?, port side. Shermona ran aground easily. I gathered the rain gear I'd shed and walked about my new little island picking out spots for cooking, tent etc. I had one worry. The sky still looked like rain and the process of rigging the tarp as a fly had been a time consuming hassle with a tree to tie to and here would require double guying of my walking stick/push pole. In the picture you can see it stuck in the sand as I tried to figure the easiest way to do it. Then I had an inspiration. I'd spread the tarp on the ground to keep the sand off my bed as I prepared to shove it into the tent. Why not make the tarp part of the bed? So with the tarp spread out I first unfolded the East German Army closed cell foam sleeping mat on it, then unrolled my sinfully indulgent self-inflating air mattress, and on top of them rolled out my blanket bag – the French Army wool blanket fastened with blanket pins. I folded the tarp up over the sides and ends and folding the whole bunch lengthwise, slid the whole “burrito” in through the door opening wiping the sand off as I did. Once inside the diminutive tent it flopped open. The rain problem was solved. Water could and did run down the inside of the tent later, but the tarp kept me up out of it and I slept dry every night. Once, when the rain poured so hard it misted through the nylon roof of the tent, I pulled my poncho over myself and again the rain ran down to the sides.
It was time to cook supper. According to my journal I cooked instant brown rice with chunks of summer sausage and made pancakes. This time I got the mix correct. On the pancakes... Parkay margarine and dried maple syrup crystals. Oh readers... what a meal. My journal also states that for the first time I got out my new Coleman ultralight backpacking lantern and that it started a little finicky, but worked fine. The padded carry bag Mrs. RRR had sewn for me worked fine. The mantle was not broken nor the globe cracked. Fishing my cell phone from its waterproof bag, I called Mrs. RRR and told her about the day. Then I called Grandpa Ranger and let him know how far I'd gotten so he could share the trip vicariously. That done, I sat on my cushioned bucket reading some passages from the Bible and from the AA Big Book. Darkness fell and the gnats left. Even the mosquitoes diminished. Owls hooted. Bugs and swamp creatures sang their songs. All was good. I worked my feet into my new burrito bag and fell asleep to their music. It was the end of Day Three.