We had one of those nights at the campground last night that we’ve heard stories about but always just laughed about and thought would never happen to us. The sky started growing dark in the west around 7 or 8 in the evening, and it looked ominous. So ominous that we rushed through our showers and got set up to have our dinner in the tent. Gradually, not rapidly, the storm came on. First there was the premature darkness. Then gusts of wind buffeted around, and distant thunder came to be heard, continuing for the better part of an hour. A few pitter-patters of rain hit the tent, but nothing sustained. We started to breathe more easily, thinking the main body of the storm must have passed to the north or the south, and got into our sleeping bags for bed. But this was not the case.
Barely after we got into the bags the rain started to hit the tent in earnest. First it was hitting on the foot end of the tent, which was most able to withstand weather forces. You’re supposed to pitch this tent with that end facing into the expected direction of the weather, which we had. But then things took a serious shift to the south. Soon we were being broadsided on the south wall by absolutely vicious, furious wind and rain. The tent started to dip, and I unzipped to door and grabbed onto the front pole, which had tilted precariously into the tent but was somehow still standing. Päivi held her hands on the wall, which by now was spraying in rain, whether through the seams or from underneath I’m not sure. We shifted some miscellaneous items from Päivi’s side of the tent to mine and I scooted my down sleeping bag over to her side to try to keep it dry. I was still thinking that maybe we could stick it out this way, if the intense part did not last for too long.
But in another couple of minutes a wave of water washed into the tent from the front. Apparently it was flooding outside, and at this point we quickly decided to abandon ship. We rushed outside into the rain, which was freezing, picked up the tent from either end, and made a run for it to the women’s bathroom, which was fortunately just across the road. We got the tent in, emptied out the water, and while Päivi started sorting out our soggy items, I made a dash back out to get my boots, which had been standing in the tent’s vestibule. I brought those in, poured out the water therein accumulated, and together we salvaged what we could of the situation. We ended up stretching our mats on the bathroom floor, and before we crawled miserably into our sleeping bags (which, mercifully, had remained relatively dry) I scared the daylights out of a couple of innocent women coming in to use the toilets.
Thankfully the morning dawned clear and sunny, and we were able to dry most of our items before heading out. The people in the RV next door even kindly had us over for coffee, explaining guiltily that they would have invited us for the night if there had been any room (which, admittedly, there wasn’t). The amazing thing was, despite the inches received the previous night, there was no standing water anywhere, even in low-lying areas. This is the nature of the Great Plains, where the earth is made of sandy soil and no rocks to stop the water from going down, down, down, ultimately replenishing the great Ogallala Aquifer.
We took a hike while our clothes dried, then resumed heading west. First through the green and sandy hills of Nebraska’s Pine Ridge region, then through the drier areas of southeastern Wyoming. The emptiness of both of these areas, but especially Wyoming, was something to marvel at. Just grassy hills out as far as the eye could see. Usually ranch fences – two or three strands of barbed wire strung between meter-high poles – stretching between these and the road, although we rarely saw any cattle.
At some point we turned south to follow US 85 down towards Colorado, and the land became emptier still, until finally we arrived in the town of Torrington which had some services. We had been running from rain clouds we’d seen looming in the west, but it seems they were moving south to some extent as well. We had planned to camp, but after our experience of the night before, we weren’t so sure. A check of the radar at the local library finished talking us out of it, and we got a motel in the run-down downtown area.