I’ve slept some very strange places in my day. I slept on the floor of a tour bus for a few months, airports the world over, lean-tos, and even a VW van at a youth hostel. But the worst, or maybe best if you’re searching the annals of your life for new blog material, is the time I built my own shelter out of sticks.
It was an overnight camping trip from my summer camp in Maine that I signed up for specially. In camp we stayed in nice cabins with toilets and showers and all the fancy things in life. But this overnight trip was going to be roughing it. Real hiking, building your own shelter to sleep in, and cooking over a campfire. Out of the whole camp only two girls signed up, but I was super stoked to prove that I was just as outdoorsy as any of those boys.
We left camp in a rickety, fifteen-passenger van that was probably not safe for children to be in and drove out to the wilderness. We found a place to pull off the road and hiked around a bit. I don’t think we were really supposed to be where we were. There we no markers for trails or a sign saying we could camp there. I think we were illegally squatting on someone’s land and the camp hadn’t cared enough to ask the counselors where they were taking us before we left camp.
Once we found our less-than-legal home for the night, the head counselor started teaching us how to build our emergency shelters. You had to use a big stick to make the top, lay smaller sticks against it to make the sides, and finally pack it in with leaves for insulation. A decent concept in an area where there are no deadly bugs or snakes that might have wanted those snuggly warm leaves for their own evening shelter.
We all built shelters and went to make our dinner over the fire. The counselors told us wonderful stories of survival before setting up the tents they were going to sleep in for the night. That’s right. They were going to sleep in tents. And they had graciously brought one extra in case any of us couldn’t hack it for the night.
Of course, all the boys immediately started going on and on about how that would be the girls’ tent ‘cause the two of us wouldn’t be able to make it through the night in our shelters.
That’s when it started to rain. The counselors told us to all bed down for the night before the storm got worse. The other girl immediately went for the tent, but I went to my little stick shelter and huddled beneath my leaves. It really wasn’t so bad. At least that was what I tried to tell myself as the water trickled into my shelter. And it wasn’t too, too cold. Except the puddle I was sleeping in; that was a little chilly.
Then the lightning started, and the wind picked up. As soon as the wind started properly howling, I decided to quit and go for the tent.
The other girl was the only one in there when I arrived, so there was plenty of room for the two of us. And over the wind we could hear the counselors arguing. One wanted to leave, but the van had gotten stuck. There was no phone to call camp for help, but they did have a little hand crank radio that said a tornado warning had been issued. Since the camp didn’t really know where we were, there was no hope of someone coming to get us in a non-stuck van. Conclusion: Stick it out ‘cause there’s nothing else to do. The other girl and I huddled together in the tent, waiting for the boys to show up and eventually fell asleep, not waking up until the storm had cleared and morning had finally come. The boys never came into the tent, and when we crawled out of our moderately dry safe haven, we found that pack of boys shivering muddy and ready to tease us for chickening out.
As soon as they started, one of the counselors happily announced that there had been a tornado less than a mile away while we were sleeping. Not that a tent would really have protected us from a tornado, but it did shut those muddy boys up.
And you know what? After we pushed the van out of the mud and got back to camp, it hadn’t occurred to anyone that there were campers out who knows where with tornados in the area. None of them had even noticed that we had nearly reenacted The Wizard of Oz.