The tent was breathing. That was how my husband described the tent during the storm we had just survived. The wind was so strong our tent would collapse and then it would spring back, then collapse again, like lungs.
The roar ended and the tent was still standing. My hands were still shaking when I picked up my phone to check the weather – it was not great news – we still had four hours of storms before it cleared. It was only 8:30 pm. However, when I turned on my phone for the weather, I saw two texts from friends. As I sent them messages, it felt like some weird lifeline to the outside world – they were safe in their homes we were in a tent waiting for the next big blast. While the storm did continue to rage we were all safe.
On this particular trip we had been camping for 6 days and had sunshine every day. On the evening of day 6 we heard some thunder and had a bit of rain. We even saw the rain coming up the lake, which was very cool. On the morning of day 7 we had big storm that lasted about 2 hours. We woke up to sunshine, had breakfast and started talking about packing up to head to our next site – but then we heard thunder. I ran to the tent with our dog because he is afraid of storms. Everyone else stayed at the picnic table under the tarp. It was more rain that I had ever experienced while in a tent. We even had water under the ground sheet which made the bottom of the tent feel like a waterbed. We had a bit between the tent and groundsheet as well that I tried to scoop out while staying inside the tent – not an easy task.
After the storm we noticed a flooded area of the campsite. It was one of the spots we had considered for our tent. It was a lovely spot but we ruled it out because of the potential runoff from the rocks. That turned out to be a very good decision.
The day cleared. We were happy because the sun dried the tents before we packed up. We had a great day with lots of sunshine. It was windy but the paddling was fine. The forecast was for storms in the evening, but it was hard to imagine given the sunshine. We had a late lunch so we all decided to have a light dinner of soup and crackers. We also decided to prepare for a potential storm. If the forecast was right we might need to make a quick dash to our tents.
We were doing dishes when the thunder started, but having camped near Georgian Bay many times, we know that you can often hear storms coming for a very long time before the storm actually arrives, and sometimes it never arrives. But suddenly the wind dropped, everything was calm and you could feel the air change, it felt different. Someone said, “It is way too calm right now.” We started putting dinner things away quickly and finished up the dishes. Then we looked up the lake and saw that the solid gray sky had turned pink. We also saw this ‘cloud’. We’ve seen this ‘cloud’ before and knew it was time to get to the tents. Of course I had to stop to take a few pictures. That was likely a mistake, but I just needed to capture it. I am glad I did – it really was beautiful. While I was taking pictures my husband was yelling for everyone to get to the tents. I made it to the tent just in time. One of our camping partners had stopped to pee and his wife was also yelling “get in the tent”. He said it was hard to stand up the wind was so strong, so he cut the pee short and dove into the tent followed by a cloud of leaves.
Then the roar began and the tent started breathing. I was not doing a good job at keeping the dog calm, he knew I was nervous. The wind was so loud we couldn’t hear anything. We didn’t even know if everyone had made it into their tents. When the wind dropped we yelled out and were happy to hear everyone was safe. We made the required ‘Toto and the Wizard of OZ’ jokes and there was laughter which felt good. But we were all feeling unsettled. The storm continued into the night but there was a long time between the thunder and lightning so we all managed to get some sleep.
At one point during the storm we heard a bang that sounded like someone had slammed the KYBO lid shut. But we were all in our tents. So what was this sound? There was no other campsites near by. We found out the next morning that the sound was one of the canoes being thrown against a tree. The canoe was in a bay, in a low area, behind some trees, yet still the wind found it and tossed it like a leaf against a tree. There was damaged but luckily no hole however, a trip to Swift for repairs will be needed. Good think to keep in mind when you have a very light canoe.
We have been in the tent in big storms before, but this wind was wild. We were glad we had secured the tent, fly and tarp. Given all the times we have camped we have really been lucky. We do think that this type of storm will be more common given climate change so we will just need to be prepared and I need to find a way to be calm and brave.
Earlier in the year on another camping trip we had one very rainy day, with heavy rain for 12 solid hours. The people we camped with had two tents – one for them and one for their 16-year-old son. His tent leaked. He had to squeeze in with his parents – oh the horror. After that trip we decided to waterproof our tent – we used this How to Seam Seal your Tent video. Very helpful. We were thankful that we were proactive. (Well one of us is more proactive than the other.)
We have had rainy trips, but usually only a light rain when we need to move between sites. I wonder how you would ever move sites during 12 hours of heavy rain. We have seen people do it. Once on the Chiniguchi River we had our canoe fill with water. We had so much water in the canoe that it sloshed back and forth as we paddled, but we were heading home so it wasn’t too much of an issue. Since then we keep a sheet of plastic handy so we can keep a bit of water out of the canoe if needed.
One story that has been retold for years is my brother-in-law getting a tornado warning on his phone that coincided with his decision leave the tent to go to the KYBO. He got up. Not sure I would have.
We always look for tent sites with good drainage and away from large rocks, even if it means passing on a flat tent pad or a pretty view. Never in a ‘bowl’ or on ground where the water will sit rather than soak in. We check that the trees above us are also healthy. We do take a tarp and ropes so we can sit under the picnic table during the rain. We also take fire starters ever since we had an all-day rain and hadn’t put any wood under a tarp to stay dry.
It is best to plan ahead if you think a storm is coming. One time the people on a site near us had bears visit because in the rush to get into the tent they left garbage out.
Another story told on every trip was the story about the time I almost got hit by lightning. It was years ago, on the portage between Spider and Three-Legged Lake. It was our last day and we packed up and left early because of the forecast. The paddle out was nice, everything was very still. But the thunder started and followed us up to the portage. I have always been mesmerized by ‘the cloud’ behind us.
We arrived at the portage and met people coming the other way. They decided to sit at the portage waiting for the storm to pass because they definitely didn’t want to be on the water. We discussed waiting it out or just going ahead with the portage. We decided it was one of those 6 of 1 decisions and being on the move and spread out sounded like the best option. As I climbed the hill near Three-Legged Lake, lightning struck right beside me. It was terrifying. My husband and sister-in-law were behind me. They were far enough behind they couldn’t see me but close enough I could hear my sister-in-law scream. She was sure I had been hit. I wasn’t, but it was very close, and my heart was pounding for a long time after. Although I think huddling together is likely not good, not sure about portaging. Perhaps there is no right answer.
One time we were paddling up Wolf Lake when a storm hit. We were so close to the cars we could see them. We decided to stop and sit on shore. Everyone else in our group continued paddling. As we sat on shore surrounded by trees and rocks, we wondered how safe we were. Another time in the exact same stop on Wolf Lake we could see a wall of water.
One time we were on an island and the rain must have flooded the mice out of their ‘homes’ because the mice were running everywhere. It was like the ground was moving.
It is easier now with weather apps on our phone, but we have found they err on the side of the dramatic. Good to have advanced warning, but the weather if often better than predicted. Perhaps it is just getting harder to predict. hmmmm
While the rain and storms can be scary, inconvenient, a pain, they do make for great stories to be retold around the campfire. Nice sunny weather for 10 days is not nearly as memorable. It is also a big celebration going home without rain on the last day. Going home wet seems to add at least a day to the task of unpacking.
So even though we will face more storms, there are many other risks in life.