• Mary Anderson

Walking Through the Storm


Mary Anderson is hiking the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail and writing a book about it. She is now within 200 miles of South Pass, Wyoming, her endpoint. This post was written shortly before she reached Pinedale, Wyoming. —ST

 

By Mary Anderson

This trail is not letting me go easily into the night. After a rough night of sleeping, I woke up to an ice-encrusted tent. Inside and out, everything was coated. I allowed myself the little luxury of snuggling in my sleeping bag before putting my feet into my cold boots and going out and retrieving my food bag, which is the official start to my day. I did not hurry at doing the morning chores. I had purposely camped where the morning sun would hit my tent, and I was waiting for it to show its face. I wanted that sun to work its magical powers and dry out my tent before I packed it.


It mostly worked, and by 9:15 I was off, an uncharacteristically late start for me, but I knew I could make the hoped-for fifteen miles before nightfall. Little did I know what lay ahead.

There was a bear down in the meadow, in the direction I was heading. I wasn’t too worried. I’ve been getting used to seeing them, and usually they move off before I arrive. This one was staying pretty still, so I tried to keep one eye on it and another on the “trail,” which at this point was little more than a rough cowpath.


It was while I was focusing on my feet and the bear that the real fun began. A huge booming rumbling startled me. I turned around and realized that while the path ahead of me was sunny, I was being encroached upon by some really ominous dark clouds, clouds that were spewing lightning and thunder at an ever-increasing rate.


I hadn’t even gotten my rain gear on before it hit me. Rain at first, turning to some of the hardest hail I have ever experienced. It wasn’t big as hail goes, pea-sized at most. But it came in a hard blowing wind that whipped it against me and caused it to bounce back up off the ground and hit me a second time on the knees. It came so thick that it reminded me of trying to see in a blizzard. The thunder was booming so loudly that I literally could not hear myself talk. I tried a few times, and while I knew what I was saying I could not hear my words over the booms of thunder and clacking of hail on my umbrella. To make things worse the trail was not well marked nor easy to follow. I had to keep pulling out the GPS on my phone to orient myself. Luckily I was covered somewhat by my umbrella, which kept my phone dry, although I was not crazy about using an electronic device in this weather.


I was counting between the lightning and the thunder. I seldom got past “three one thousand.” Much too close for comfort, especially since I was the tallest thing by far for miles and miles. I was in a huge meadow peppered with very short sage, crossing stream after stream while the lightning flashed around me. I did pass pretty close to the bear, who had not moved too far off, but by now I was more concerned about being struck by lightning than I was about being attacked by a bear.


To make matters worse I had to pee. Because I was wearing long rainpants, this would mean stopping, taking off the hip belt off my pack, pulling down all the layers I had on, and squatting with the pack on my back while the lightning flashed around me. I seriously thought I might prefer peeing in my pants.


There was a short lull in the lightning just about the time I hit a dirt road. I decided now was the time. I tucked my poles under one arm and struggled to get my pants down to where I could avoid peeing on them. Just about the time I had succeeded, two side by side ORV’s came by. I tried to discreetly get my pants back up, though by then I barely cared who saw my bare butt. By the time they were gone the hail had started back up in full force. I succeeded in peeing without hitting my pants, but it hardly mattered because my butt was so wet from the hail.


I figured out which way I was supposed to go on the road and set out, only to slip in the mud. Walking on that road was like walking on ice. It was thick and clay-ey, topped with a lovely layer of cow pies, which became really slick when mixed with the melting hail.

All I could do was take one slow careful step after another. I slipped more times than I counted. I tried walking along the sides of the road. The footing was rough but not as slick. But it meant I had to brush up against all the pines along the road, wet pines that were more than happy to dump their load down my legs and into my boots. Sometimes I walked in the channel of water running down the road, as this was less slick than the drier places.


About the time the hail stopped, I reached a lovely mountain lake. At any other time I might have sat and had a snack here, but with the ground and logs soaking wet I decided to move on.


I realized that what I really felt like doing was crying. Being in that meadow with the bear and lightning and hail had taken a lot out of me. Having to focus for over a mile while walking on that slippery road added to my mental strain. Now that the worst was over, or so I thought, I could feel myself shifting from survival mode to recognizing how hard it had been for me to keep going in what I had been experiencing.

Luckily, I did not have much time to wallow in self-pity. Before more than five minutes had passed I was once again in lightning, booming thunder, and pelting hail. I was off the slippery road, but I was on a blowdown-infested trail. I picked my way over the soaking wet logs, trying not to slip on them.

Finally, I had had enough. As the wind picked up I found a small space between some tall fir trees and set up my tent. I only hesitated a minute to survey the dead trees, hoping they had been through enough other wind events to not get blown over while I was sitting under them in my tent. I did not have it in me to look for a safer place. I was getting chilly and this little alcove was a bit protected from the elements raging around me. I couldn’t even reach “two one thousand” between lightning and thunder. The wind and hail were fierce. I had only walked about five miles, but what a five miles they had been! I threw my pack, food and al,l into the tent, crawled in after it and waited out the storm, grateful that one thin layer of fabric could protect me as much as this little tent has.

 

Above: The sky just before all hell broke loose. Below: Shelter from the storm.


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