Monday, August 18, 2008

I am my own worst enemy

You saw the photo I took this morning of myself, face flapping fleshily in the wind like a basset hound in a speeding pickup truck. You may also have seen the pic right before it, the one of my tent flapping just as crazily in that same wind.

Well... guess what happened.

I had weighted the tent down with six or seven rocks (you might have seen some of them in the tent photo), and had left a small pile of possessions inside the tent to keep it from misbehaving. Arrangements made, I collected the items I was going to mail back to Virginia and limped over to the Arlington post office, painfully conscious of my unwashed state and inwardly sorry to whichever staffer would have to deal with me.

I mailed the items off, thereby shedding another couple pounds, and limped back across the tracks to the campsite. As I was walking up a gravel incline, I saw that another camper had established some sort of tall, wigwam-like tent down near the water on the leeward side of the finger of land on which I was camped. "Smart move," I thought to myself. Then I reached my own campsite, and...

The tent was gone.

The only thing left was my backpack, which was giving me a distinct "Hey, don't look at me," vibe.

I stood there a moment, staring in shock at the rocky space my tent had so recently occupied. Perhaps because I had passed some loiterers and wasn't ready to take responsibility for my own stupidity, I was set to blame others for my plight. It was easier to think that someone had stolen my tent and its contents, or had ripped it out of the ground for a laugh, than to believe that I hadn't secured it as well as I could have.

I snapped out of it, though; my walk thus far has been thief-free, and why on earth would someone steal a used tent in broad daylight, anyway? So my brain switched into CSI mode, and I began my survey of the disaster area, intent on recovering as much of my equipment as I could.

I found most of my tent stakes right away, and recovered all my bungee cords. At that point I noticed that the debris trail was leading back down the gravel incline, toward the marina... right where I had seen that other camper's tent. Except now I knew: that wasn't some other camper's wigwam-- it was MY BIG AGNES! (Big Agnes is the brand name.)

I shambled over to the tent and immediately saw that the fly had been torn to shreds, flayed alive like a heretic in medieval Europe. No amount of repair tape was going to patch up all those tiny holes; the tent had obviously been dragged across the ground, propelled by the wind and weighted down by the objects inside it. I looked around for the tent's footprint (what in the old days would have been called a groundcloth or groundsheet), but it was nowhere to be found. The tent's main body looked better than all the other soft parts, but scratches and tears were visible through the dust and dirt. Everything inside the tent was dirty and a bit banged up, but otherwise fine.

Slowly and deliberately, I crawled among the boulders at the water's edge, pulling in the tent fabric, collapsing the Y-shaped ridge pole (it had suffered some bending, too), organizing my dusty possessions, and thinking about what to do next.

I had already been thinking about camping an extra day; my knee is still too painful to walk on. Now that my beloved tent is dead (it was a gift from my family; longtime readers will recall that it replaced a much heavier and bulkier tarp), I'll need to get a new one.

So the current plan is to remain in Arlington and have a new tent, plus footprint, rushed to me ASAP. If I can, I hope to order only the parts I need. I still have enough stakes to function well, and the main body of the tent looks, on superficial inspection, reparable. So: I need a new tent fly and a new footprint. If I can't purchase parts, I'll have to buy an entire tent, which will set me back about $300 plus rush shipping.

You have no idea how embarrassing and infuriating this is. I knew I was in a windy spot and had just survived an extremely windy night just fine. It was only when I left things unattended that matters got out of hand. The moral of this story: When you think you've stuck on enough weight to keep your tent from flying away in strong wind, stick on at least twice as much.

It's too early to check back into the motel, so I'm frittering away my time and battery power at a picnic table in a park that's away from the water-- and, therefore, away from the worst of the wind.

I can note one positive thing, though: word of my journey has gotten around. As I was walking dejectedly back toward the motel, a trucker named Joe stopped his rig and handed me seven dollars' cash. He'd heard about my walk and wanted to help out by giving me money for a meal. I'm guessing he'd heard about me from either the motel manager or the gentleman I'd met at the RV park a few days ago. Joe wished me good luck; we shook hands, and then he went on his way. Thanks, man.

What kills me is that none of this would have happened had I stayed on that green patch of ground. I went windward because I thought I had no choice: sprinklers, remember? Although that gravelly area is large enough to hold two hundred tents (trucks often park there), most of that surface is covered in rocks too large and sharp to be safe for a tent. That's why I went to the water's edge and risked the wind-- although, come to think of it, it wasn't windy when I first got to that spot. The campsite I chose had a tent-friendly surface of sand and gravel. Little did I know just how hard the winds blow here.

Live and learn. And lose money.



Anonymous said...

wow! and here i was thinking about wind with tropical storm Fay here in Florida...but I was unclear a bit...are you saying that no one had indeed stole your tent- or Kevin did it merely fly away? to get caught up into that wigmwam thing you spied? were the rest of your belongings okay?
and ,on another topic, has this trip been worthwhile? i mean for yur intent? i ams ure seeing america, etc haas been a once ina lifetime adventure ( at least the way you are doing it), but have yu had the opportunity to speak with enough folks about their religiious diversity, make this worthwhile so far?

Anonymous said...

Wait until you get the next Wal Mart in Hermiston and by a cheap tent for $20. For what you are using them for this will do fine and you can toss/replace easily if it gets worn or flatulated. REI can KMA on a lot of products.

Here's a sample:

Wenzel Starlite Hiker/Biker Tent

Lightweight, compact, and easy to set up so you'll be enjoying the campfire and scenery quickly
Lots of interior space allows you to keep your gear out of the weather and keeps you dry all night long
Size: 82" x 48" x 36"
Lightweight nylon taffeta flooring
3.4 lb. carry weight
Rear vent for added ventilation
Easy set-up design
Zippered compression stuff sack

Kevin Kim said...


Yeah, as I wrote, the wigwam turned out not to be someone else's tent: it was my very own Big Agnes tent.

And yes: no one had done anything to it. As I wrote, I dismissed that line of thinking after reasoning that no one would steal a used tent in broad daylight, and later wrote about my embarrassment-- a recognition that, as the post title says, I'm my own worst enemy.

In answer to your other question: the walk has definitely been worth it. I've met Unitarians,Episcopalians, Sikhs, Zen Buddhists, Quakers, Methodists, Soka Gakkai Buddhists, Benedictine monks, "pagans," Catholic laity, nondenominational Protestants, and yes, even atheists. It's been fun, and it's only the beginning: I've got 3000 miles to go!


Anonymous said...

thanks for the clarification , dude! and good for you!

Anonymous said...

gee, coulda just asked for the contact info for my former bfs...LOL

Anonymous said...

It's probably too late-but I recommend that nice grassy spot for tonight. Even if you get sprinkled--in that wind and heat, things will dry out in no time.

You aren't the first camper to discover the power of wind. Maybe you can tie it in with your earlier meditation and take some kind of spiritual meaning from the experience?