Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dust and wind and tents, oh my!

Back in camp, there was socializing before we took off for the showers. The strong winds had tossed my tent on its head, so I righted it and anchored the corners with large rocks (inside the tent).

After a few minutes of standing around Doug from Eugene shaded his eyes and looked west. "What IS that thing?" he said. It was a classic horror movie intro. Mundane camp scene, unsuspecting victims, middle of the afternoon. A huge, nebulous cloud of unknown origins was advancing across the valley, toward the campground.

I snagged Chuck Schroyer, who had a ton of experience with Death Valley. "Hey Chuck, is that dust or rain headed our way?" "Dust!" he said. "Better get in the tent".

And so we did. But not before Scott reminded us it was time to put away anything we cared about, like the bikes. The Waterford opted to go in the bathroom, which was a fixed concrete structure. I wished I could have done the same.

News Story: Haboob strikes Death Valley National Park

Instead I got in the tent (grimy jersey and shorts and all) and zipped everything up tight. As it turns out, being in your tent is the best way to save it from collapse or flight. At 1:40 pm the dust storm, or haboob, hit camp. Aside from the day of the accident, I had experienced nothing like it! It certainly felt like our survival was at stake. Here's some video of what it looked like from inside my tent, and from a car parked next to camp.

Thanks to Doug Ben for the footage from the car!

Inside the tent may have been the best place, but it was not exactly reassuring. Looking up, at least 3 clips were not attached to the tent poles! The clips are really only effective when attached. The fly wasn't staked, nor was the tent. The ground around my tent was so rocky and hard I couldn't drive the stakes into the ground. They just bent. So the fly was flapping wildly. I wondered how many tent clips had to be attached for this particular tent to stay up. It was also easy to imagine the fly just lifting like a kite and being taken by the storm.

To secure the tent I reached one foot down into the right corner, then grabbed the tent wall and the fly together with my right hand. I kept this position for maybe half the storm, 30 minutes, grabbing tight. It made me feel better, to have a hold on the fly. Over and over, wind gusts pounded the tent and the poles flexed in response. I was scared.

Finally I heard Scott outside taking care of the tent next door, Harlan's, which had collapsed. When there were no more gusts I unzipped and poked my head out. All seemed calm. Several tents were completely down and several had their poles damaged. At least a couple were ripped. Mimi, our cook, watched from her car as her tent went down. Tents with lots of mesh for ventilation now were full of dust and sand. Phil and Gary, who were on their bicycles on the road when the storm hit, got picked up by (of all things) a compassionate FedEx driver.

No injuries or serious damage. What a relief to have a quiet camp again. Hey, a little adventure! It turns out that dust storms like this one are not that common. Someone talked to a ranger who said this was only the sixth or seventh he had seen in something like 13 years. Comparing notes, it turns out that many of us spent the storm bracing our tents with feet and hands. And taking videos to post on the Internet!

Later, some people would say it was fun... I wouldn't go that far, but no real harm done. Overall:

  • This laptop survived the tent upheaval during our ride to Badwater.
  • My 20-year-old 4-season tent made it unscathed through the dust storm.
  • We got showers. 
  • And supper!

Someone suggested that next year tent companies should sponsor us to test their tents at Supper Tour...

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