Monday, July 21, 2014

86. Taking Your Rainfly Off

Huh, I didn't expect that my computer would recognize "rainfly" as one word. Maybe I always thought it was two words, and all of us hikers just squished it together because we're lazy have other things to do! Like hike and stuff! I guess even us grunting nomadic cavemen get it right sometimes.

As a general rule, it's great to sleep without getting soaking wet. Ask any 5 year old! I think we take our roofs for granted. Most of us sleep inside, somewhere, and if we sleep outside while it's raining, we figure out some way of keeping ourselves as dry as possible. Have you ever actively tried sleeping while water is being poured on you either from rain, a hose, or from a bucket launched by your mother because you're a teenage boy and you DO NOT WANT TO GET UP FOR SCHOOL? Successfully willing oneself to nap in any of those situations is very difficult.

I was living in New York City during both Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irene, but during Sandy, I went to my friend Jessica's apartment in Harlem to ride out the storm. Her roommate, and our good friend, Meredith, happened to be out of town for the night so I slept in her bed. Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up to my pants and shirt being completely soaked in horrible brown water. After the first few seconds of blind, insane panic that I had somehow wet the bed so thoroughly that even my shirt was wet, I realized that the water either must coming from somewhere else or I was having some sort of cataclysmic medical problem. The water was coming from the ceiling, to be precise. I leapt out of the bed in the dark, fumbled around for the painter's tarp I had seen earlier in the evening and threw it over the bed to protect the sheets and mattress.

Somehow in my bent-limbed sleeping floppiness I had perfectly arranged my body to catch all of the water that was pouring down from the ripped-out bubble of paint in the ceiling, and nary a drop got onto the bed. I wish I could take credit for this, but I can only credit the burrito I had eaten for dinner, as I'm sure it allowed my body to thrash around (in the epic throes of digestion) just enough to put itself into the exact right orientation.

As it turns out, the epic rainstorm raging outside had not actually caused the rip in Meredith's ceiling that led to the waterfalls of brown water. It was the batty upstairs neighbor who'd accidentally left all of her taps on all night long. The crashing storm had kept her from noticing that the sink was running, it overflowed and soaked through the floor and down to the room below (where I was sleeping). It's hard to say whether it was Hurricane Sandy that caused the brown water river, or outrageous New York City apartment prices leading to disgruntled tenants taking out their wacky revenge on the downstairs neighbors, but in either case, I was very wet.

Other than that time, there have been very few times in my life when I've had to wonder if perhaps a thunderstorm will soak me in my sleep, except of course, when I've been hiking and camping. Rainflies are a fabulous invention: a simple lightweight waterproofed canvas sheet that perfectly covers your tent and allows you to sleep as snug as a bug in a tugboat. The downside of rainflies comes during summer thunderstorms.

Imagine, if you will, a long summer in which every day is blisteringly hot, damp and humid. This thick humidity leads to nightly thunderstorms, but every night when you get home, you have to close all of your windows and lay down underneath a stifling tarp in the tiniest room of your house, with no air conditioning and no air flow whatsoever, while a cleansing rain falls outside, but you can't open any windows or get any breeze or you'll get 100% soaked in water. As you lay there and sweat, your sweat evaporates and collects on the underside of your tarp, coalescing into drops that gather enough moisture to become victim to gravity again, and rain your own sweat down on you while you try to sleep.

That's what having a rainfly on your tent in the summer is like.

Right after a thunderstorm at night, the humidity drops dramatically, and a delicious cooling air will usually settle over the forest. But unfortunately, I'd usually already be fitfully asleep at this point and miss this little window of perfect temperature. But once or twice I got really lucky. I'd wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning, realize the rain had stopped, and poke my head outside my tent to see a dark sky with a blanket of stars, indicating that the storm had passed. I'd crawl out of the tent, slip on my camp shoes, and shuffle around in a little circle, unbuckling the rainfly and hanging it up on a tree branch to air out. Then I'd climb back into my tent, dry because the rainfly protected me from the storm, but wonderfully chilly, because I'd been able to take the rainfly off after the storm. It was like turning on the air conditioning.

Clever Girl

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