Soaking and Smiling

This morning I lay awake in my tent, hoping just a little that the rain will let up enough for a quick dash to clean up camp in relative dryness. Little did I know that from this point on in the trip “dry” will become a relative term.

This is the first serving of a heaping portion of rain, starting on the third day of our five-day backpacking trip through Pisgah National Forest. Pisgah has chosen this day to re-remind me of its status as a temporate RAIN forest. Okay, I get it already.

I wake the group up as gently as possible, by singing at the top of my lungs. It does not escape my astute companions that the thunderous rain from last night has continued into the morning, with no sign of letting up, *sigh* but it’s time to go for it anyway. I steel myself for the complaining.

Dashing around the campsite trying to savor the dryness of various items which we need. I take a moment at my tent to steel myself for the long day ahead.

I know the group I’m leading isn’t going to like this, hell I don’t like it either, but with the bus a two day hike up the ridgeline and the shuttle car another two-day hike down it looks like we’re all stuck with these cards. I’m willing to slap on a smile and bluff like crazy if it means improving my hand.

A thought pops into my head

Are you sure this is what you want?

The question surfaces, absconding with my attention for a moment.  I squat by my tent struck with the realization that I don’t need to subject myself to this relative misery.

I’ve got a college education after all, and no shortage of work experience for any well-to-do cubicle job.  Indeed, signing up for a summer of leading backpacking trips has put me in this exact situation, and likely will again, but I don’t have to do this.

I feel my mood sliding down, in tune with the slick droplets of rain bleeding through the back of my not too waterproof splash jacket.

Determinedly, I push my fatalistic questioning back into the recesses of my mind and continue stuffing my relatively dry sleeping bag into the most valuable piece of waterproof gear I have, a trash bag.

I finish with my personal gear just in time to greet the first camper emerging from her tent. With stooped posture and a none too cordial smile she informs me point blank that everything is soaking wet. I smile, and we proceed from there.

Taking down tents in sloshing rain is a different beast all to its self. Sleeping bags and precious dry clothes safely stowed in trash bags the group sets to work taking down each of our three tents one by one.

Five girls hold the drenched rain fly up while the two others take down the only damp inner tent, folding it up and rolling the soft shell within its water ‘proof’ tent footer. At this point in time waterproof has also become a relative term, and most of our gear operates more as water funneling material than water repelling.

We’re still on the first tent. A puddle is collecting in the convex roof of the rain fly and is now dribbling through the water funneling material, and rapidly decreasing the relative dryness of the inner tent underneath.

My campers are noticing this too. Standing around the circle holding up my corner of the rain fly I can see each girls face begin to fall and I can feel the weight of the day beginning to settle heavy with it.

Are you sure?

That question wells up within me, taunting and teasing me with thoughts of roofs, carpeted rooms with artificial climate control. The pained glass windows of my 18th floor office space in New York, buffeted by sleet and snow while I sit smug and comfortable behind layers of industrial protective shielding.

Abruptly, my attention is drawn back, to the present moment, the rain, cold and despondent campers, or what I thought was despondent campers.

Weather by accident or intention somehow the rain fly has started moving, waving up and down and the girls around me, the ones with faces rapidly falling into despair are wiggling with it. Their making waves in the fabric, the pooled rainwater and spraying, merging with its fellow droplets still in the air.

It’s infections, the girls begin waving the rain fly more vigorously, and giggling as the water sloshes over the edge. Just like that game we all played in grade school with the rainbow parachute and multiple bright rubber balls bouncing around and around on the undulating mountains of canvas.

They’re full out laughing now, water spraying their faces from above and below. The two previously rolling up the inner tent are finished and join the rest around the circle of the rain fly. All together we hoist the sopping cloth up over our heads and run to the center, creating for ourselves a small bubble in which everyone is drenched but also smiling. These two conflicting ideas held captive in our private world.

This is the moment when I know it’s going to be okay, dare I say good. We can get through this day, through the relentless rain and into tomorrow. But we don’t have to stick our heads down and wait out the storm I think we might be able to find some joy here, in this contradiction we’ve created for ourselves. Where a person can be both wet, cold and laughing. We can do this!

The mood continues to lighten as the deluge remains consistent. Gear packed and ready to go, we break camp with a dance circle, keeping ourselves warm with giddy motions. Just yesterday the girls taught me to ‘floss’ a move which we all use liberally, cracking a smile with each new bump of the hips.

Suited up and tromping up the trail we begin singing, our boots splashing in time to the steady beat. Boisterous voices cutting through the white noise of crashing water droplets. When we run out of songs I break out the harmoinica, continuing the beat with whatever musicality I can muster.

It wasn’t all parachutes and smiles all day. There were definitely frowns, even tears on this first of many rain soaked days on the trail. We faced those discomforts. My co-leader and I both showed our campers how to lean into discomfort and learned from them how to giggle with infectious enthusiasm.

After that morning, the question of whether or not I’m doing the right thing, whether I might enjoy sitting at a desk all summer instead of carrying a heavy pack up mountains, didn’t surface again. Banished by the certainty that this is exactly where I need to be both for myself, and for the small group of campers turning to me for guidance.

And to the Pisgah National Temporate RAIN Forest I say: bring it.

I’ll be here all summer.

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