Since we left the tent mostly uncovered the night before, we woke up early with the sun. I again found myself awestruck with the sheer size of the sky. I swear, somehow, it’s bigger out here. Still a bit groggy, we attached the empty side bags to the bike and rode the 30+ miles back into Moab. It was time to introduce Gianna to my favorite cafe in this town, the Wake and Bake Cafe. Aside from the awesomeness of their name and logo, which features a very stoned looking sun, they also serve up really good crepes featuring local ingredients. Like most of my friends who have been through Moab, Gianna now has the Wake and Bake shirt, featuring the aforementioned stoned sunrise.
If you haven’t been to Moab, you probably have the wrong idea of what this town is like, based on the fact that it’s in Utah. Moab is an adventure sport mecca populated largely by what I like to call Adventure Hippies. These are the people that smoke a fat bowl, then go cliff diving, rock climbing, or kayaking. A noble calling. The town is dotted with adventure supply stores, wilderness guide operations, and hotels. Tens of thousands of people live there seasonally to work as rafting guides or in other nature-tourism positions. You can barely tell you’re in a state that is 60% Mormon. Plus, the geography is spectacular in a totally otherworldly way. A must see for anyone anywhere.
We needed a couple things for camp, so we headed out to find an adventure supply store. There were several in town, though the first one we tried was very small, and actually suggested we go to another one. The store we ended up at was actually a very cool little gear shop, with an incredible density of products on the shelves. They probably had 80% of the selection of REI, in 10% of the floorspace. They also had a high flow filtered water spout with a “high score” board of the most water people had ever taken. I think the record was around 500 gallons. We filled our camelbacks, and I bought a nice shade hat, and a slightly larger version of the camp pillow Gianna was using. Mine was complete and total shit, and had been preventing me from resting for going on 2 weeks now. Now better equipped for the harsh desert climate, we decided it was time to find a spot to smoke a bowl. There was a crick flowing through the middle of town with a bridge over it, and a walking path going along it. We walked down the narrow stairs from the bridge, and sat underneath it, facing a really sweet mural. I was having a great time so far, just because I really like Moab from my previous time there. The look on Gianna’s face said she was enjoying it so far, too. There were quite a few dready folk walking around the main street. Almost always a good sign.
I really wanted to do some rafting while we were here. I was 9 years old the last time I went rafting, but I remember it being a total blast. We asked around at the adventure shops we went to, and got a recommendation for Canyon Voyages. We rode over to their shop to see what the options were. There was an all day rafting tour we could do tomorrow with several rapids, and that included lunch. Sounded good to us, so we signed up, despite the kind of steep price. It was pretty early on the trip, so we still had a good amount of money, and this was something I really wanted to do.
It was now getting into the late afternoon, and clouds were starting to form up in the sky. We’d left the tent uncovered, so it was time to hurry a bit. We headed to the grocery store for some food, and picked up one of those insulated fabric bags they sell there to keep your cold stuff cold. We didn’t need much, just enough to keep stuff fresh for maybe a whole day and night. We also picked up some firewood, as we finally had a firepit we could use.
The winds really started picking up as we wound up the narrow canyon switchbacks. Lightning flashed in the sky, and thunder rumbled past, the delay decreasing as we rode higher and higher. There was that intense energy in the air that always precedes a truly ferocious storm. It hadn’t rained on us by the time we reached our tent, but the sky was truly epic to behold. The sky was black with storm clouds except for a small opening above our camp. Through this opening, we could see hundreds of stars, just twinkling peacefully down at us. The eye of the storm. We could see that the downpour had begun all around us. Bolts of lightning thousands of feet long arched across the sky, and sometimes down to the ground. The thunder deafened us at times. We quickly got a fire going, as we had bought chili and hotdogs for dinner. As the dogs finished cooking, a few large drops of water had started to make their way into our vicinity. We ate as fast as we could, and secured the rainfly over the tent. It had been blowing around a bit just with the mesh, but when the rain-fly was added, it became too much for the rocks holding it up.
Our tent is an 8×5 rectangle, supported by a single pole arching over the top through the center. The actual structure of the tent is provided by tension at the staked-in corners. As I said before, we were unable to stake in at the place, and instead were relying on heavy rocks to keep the tent taught. We filled the saddle bags with rocks, and bungee corded the tent corners to them, and this helped some. As the winds picked up, and the rain started to fall harder, we retreated into the tent. Not more than a couple minutes later the storm arrived full force. It was a display of natures fury like I have rarely witnessed before.
Lightning flashed nearly continuously for hours, and the thunder resonated deep within my chest. Howling winds flattened our tent down around us as we huddled for warmth and comfort. Raindrops slammed into the ground like artillery shells. We covered our ears against the onslaught of noise from rain on the plastic cover protecting us. Well, almost protecting us. The fierce winds were steadily forcing a cold mist through the seams of the rain-fly, and we quickly became rather damp.
For the first time this trip I felt real fear for our safety. We were in the middle of a powerful electrical storm, taking shelter under a metal pole, at one of the highest points around. Not particularly safe, and it felt that way. It was a long night with little rest, as we were battered by the tent and sprayed with water. The rainfly was blown clear off multiple times, requiring us to run out of the tent to re-secure it.
The storm let up a couple hours before our alarm went off, and we tried to make the best of what little sleep we got. For the first time, we had encountered a situation our equipment was really just not up to par for. I guess that’s what the extra few hundred dollars pays for between our tent and the better ones at REI and the like. What desert storms lack in frequency, they more than make up for in intensity. Now that we’ve already survived it, I look back on that night fondly as a time I truly experienced the awesome power of nature, and what a small fragile animal I really am.