Last Friday, I headed out to Fort Kearny State Recreation Area with a juicy novel, a couple of New York Times crossword puzzles, firewood and a skimpy 20 percent chance of rain.
As I sat by the campfire, I listened to the buzzing of the night bugs. I watched the nearly full moon rise. Then, warm and drowsy, I crawled into my tent, zipped up my sleeping bag and flicked off my lantern.
Then the wind began.
I can’t figure out why Mother Nature keeps charging like a crazed bull into my camping weekends.
At New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon a few years ago, I went camping with friends. As soon as we put up our tents, it began to rain. It rained for seven hours. With nowhere to go — the rough dirt road leading into Chaco is impassable when it rains — five of us crammed into one tent and began playing cards. There was nothing else to do.
In 2014, I was camped at Chadron State Park when a vicious storm rolled in at dinnertime. I took refuge in an old barn in the park. I’d pitched my tent on a little knoll in the campground’s tiny tent area, but when the storm passed, a moat of water 2 feet high flooded the base of that knoll. It was too deep to wade through to get to my tent. I spent the night in a Chadron motel.
Two years ago, I headed out to remote Gallagher Canyon State Recreation Area in Dawson County. At 3 a.m. I was awakened by the low growling of distant thunder. Soon deafening thunder boomed and fierce lightning raked the ground and wind was howling. I fled to my car. The wind yanked the rain fly off my tent, but at dawn, when I emerged from my car, I found the fly in a heap nearby.
A few weeks later, during Labor Day weekend in 2017, I pitched my tent high on a spectacular hill at Niobrara State Park. The weather forecasters had promised a dry and sunny weekend, but Sunday night, a brutal wind moved in. Howling, it began picking at my tent stakes. My tent billowed up like Marilyn Monroe’s dress in that famous photo. The tent held, but I barely slept. On Monday morning, dark clouds rolled in. Fearing rain, I quickly took down my tent and packed up. Then a ranger drove by. “It’s not a storm,” he said, “This is smoke from the wildfires out West.”
Last year, I camped at Victoria Springs State Recreation Area west of Broken Bow. As I lit my campfire, the wind picked up, and by the time I crawled into my sleeping bag, it was howling. It shook my tent violently most of the night. Then at 4 a.m., abruptly, it stopped.
Last year, I camped at a state park north of McCook. I watched nervously at sunset as clouds sneaked in. At 11 p.m. the wind began to moan, then whine. Soon, its fingers yanked at the tent and tried to tear out the stakes. Terrified, I crawled into the back seat of my car and spent two hours curled up like a pretzel waiting out the storm.
You can understand, then, why I was so skittish about rain last weekend at Fort Kearny. All day Saturday I kept watching the forecast on my phone, but those predictions jumped around like a grasshopper. The weather gurus said storms would start at 2 p.m. Saturday, then 4 p.m. Saturday, then 7 p.m. Nothing happened. Then storms vanished from Saturday evening’s forecast, but threatened to douse Kearney overnight.
I’m a wiser camper now. Rather than risk hail, wind and another night in the car, I packed up and came home at dusk Saturday evening. In the middle of the night, when I woke up warm and dry and safe in my bed and heard it raining, I felt redeemed.