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My Flying Tent

I was exhausted when I arrived at the Chief Joseph Campground in Harlowton, MT, last Saturday just after dark. I’d been driving since 7 am; it was time to stop and sleep. A pleasant breeze whistled through the cottonwoods as I staked down all four corners of my tent, snapped the poles together, popped up the body, threw the fly over the top and anchored it all down. I tossed a sleeping pad and bag, pillow, book, headlight, gallon jug of water, and a can of Pringles through the door.

My little dogs opted to sleep on their plush beds in the truck. Borage, my husky, decided to start out the night with me – eventually, he gets too hot and scratches lightly on the screen, wanting back outside to sleep in the cool grass.

I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

An hour later I woke up in a disoriented stupor, pushing up in a panic on whatever was now plastered to my face.

“What the…” I said wrestling with the thin fabric like I was a fly caught in a web.

And then my foggy brain put it together – my tent was shrink-wrapped to my face, my entire body, by a fierce, roaring wind.

“That’s some serious wind,” I said to Borage. I couldn’t see him but felt his panting body across my legs, his thick fur between my fingertips.

This wasn’t the first time I found myself prone on the ground wrapped like a mummy in ripstop nylon. My friend, Mo, and I spent my 26th birthday flat out on the side of a mountain in Virginia, waiting out a storm as it cracked lightning all around us, dumped rain, and bent and warped our spindly structure across our bodies like a heavy wet blanket. Talk about feeling vulnerable.

And then a few years later on the Iditarod Sled Dog Race at the primitive Cripple checkpoint, race volunteers decided to provide us mushers with some privacy for our privy. A tall yet narrow tent (reminiscent of a telephone booth) was pitched around a port-a-pot that was basically like sitting on a fancy bucket.

After discovering some poor chap parked on the can in a 40 mph windstorm, another musher and I decided the Alaskan bush was all the privacy we needed. The worthless tent was blown over the musher’s body and wrapped so tightly around him that he looked like a gift-wrapped sculpture stuck in a snow bank.

My friend and I couldn’t stop laughing. I have no idea how he ever got untangled from the crapper.

It had to be blowing 30-some mph in Harlowtown. When the wind would subside, the tent would pop back up on its own only to be slammed back down seconds later with even stronger gusts. I would have waited it out longer, but eventually mother nature came calling.

I unzipped the tent just wide enough for Borage and me to crawl out onto the grass. Borage ran to the truck and stared at the tailgate until I flipped it down. He jumped in and curled up on his bed, pleased with the hard shell topper protecting him.

I completed my business by holding onto the side of my truck so the violent squalls wouldn’t topple me over. And then I trudged through the wind and the dark back to my tent.

But it was gone. Really gone.

My tent blew away.

I plodded around for awhile searching for it, but finally gave up. I joined my dogs in the truck and we cuddled for warmth. I slept fitfully, worrying about my favorite tent and bag.

The next morning I found my beloved shelter caught up in a fence, deformed and twisted like roadkill. My tent is done, but thankfully the contents were still zippered inside safe and sound.

Even the gallon jug was still full of water. Now, that’s an impressive wind.

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Added: October 04, 2009. 05:13 AM CDT
One of the first camping trips my wife and I took after our marriage was in a really cheap canvas pup tent. 'Didn't even have a floor.

We camped at a lake amid RVs and massive "family tents" feeling like poor relatives. But the second night the thunderstorm from hell roared through, one of the worst squall lines I've seen in a lifetime of Midwestern storms. We later learned there were 90 mph winds.

We got in the car to ride it out and afterward the camp ground looked like a war zone. During the height of a storm, a huge cabin tent had gone by, rolling like a bright green tumbleweed. I hoped no one was inside. Afterward, massive limbs were creasing the top of RVs and not a tent was standing--except for our pup tent. The heavy canvas had gotten wet and was too heavy to move easily. The small size caught little wind. It was interesting.
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