Nomads can’t evacuate .aka. Living in a tent

Life for our hunter gather nomadic ancestors must have sucked at times. I know this because sometimes living in a tent can suck. Camping for most of eight months across Europe it was inevitable that we would get rained on at some point…

It’s not always the case that camping sucks. Initially, there is the novelty factor of living outside, the fabric of your tent wall maintains the illusion of privacy and you are happy to share your home with bugs, condensation and dirt.

In these circumstances, camping can be amazing. It gives you freedom to stay wherever you want. You can carry your home on your back, like a snail or hermit crab. You can spend the night in the most amazing places, with the most amazing views.

Camping allows you to immerse yourself fully in your environment, to be closer to nature. It probably appeals at some genetic level due to the millions of years our ancestors spent living a nomadic lifestyle (minus the following luxuries).

Camping, can in fact, be awesome. Maybe your tent is palatial, with multiple rooms and campbeds. Perhaps, you have a campervan, with a flat screen T.V. If you are well prepared, you might have a BBQ and a fridge. If you are in Europe, most campgrounds have hot showers, wifi, games rooms etc. Hopefully, the weather is good.

But our predecessors had no such luxuries and in this case camping can be a different tent of fish.

Maybe, instead, you have a tiny, lightweight hiking tent, the inside of which is composed almost entirely of mesh to save weight.

Bedroom view of our two person trekking tent

Maybe you are camping for a long time, like 8 months. During this time your tiny tent has to function as your bedroom, living room and kitchen.

Maybe it rains…

Thunderstorms

A tent can survive a little rain. We are luckier than our forebears as we have the ability to dig up crude oil and make laminated, plastic, waterproof materials, (ironically, this has the side effect of destroying the same natural environment where we are attempting to enjoy a dry experience).

This technology means your tent can survive a downpour or two. Some specially designed tents can survive alpine storms tied to the side of a mountain at 7000m.

This tent did not survive. Source:Alan Gavan

What my tent cannot survive is a continuous thunderstorm. The type of storm with sky to ground lightening that turns night to day for several stark seconds. Where the rolling thunder generated by electricity breaking the sound barrier is so loud, the sound waves shakes your tent walls and vibrate through your body.

Source: Access camping

This type of storm can generate winds so strong you need to reinforce your tent with your hiking poles, as the sides threaten to cave in.

So much rain falls, that the ground becomes saturated and water floods under your tent fly, then under your tent itself.

It soaks through your expensive waterproof footprint, through the waterproof material of your tent floor, rises around the edges of your waterproof air mattress and licks at the edges of your not waterproof sleeping bag.

It waterlogs the waterproof fabric of your tent fly and pushes itself in reverse osmosis, H20 molecule by H20, through the material to drip down onto your semi dry head.

GoreTex waterproof testing in a ‘rain chamber’ . Not quite the real thing Source: UKC gear

Technology cannot combat this type of weather. Expensive waterproof material has failed under the inundating onslaught of nature. It seems like the environment is seeking redress for the damage humanity as done to it and takes revenge by proving that our laminated, artificial, plastic skin made of dinosaur souls is no match for its fury.

3000 tents were destroyed, and some airborne, when a storm hit a gymnastics festival in Switzerland. Source: Gear Junkie (2013)

Our nomadic predecessors survived by huddling in caves and under animal skins. Like us, they would have got wet. Unlike them, we had the option to evacuate.

Evacuation

Twice, while camping through Europe we have had to evacuate when we were flooded out of a campsite.

Evacuation takes places in several stages: initially, there is the belief and hope that the rain will pass quicker than forecast and the sun will return to dry everything out.

Next, there is the determined and stoical suffering, where you remind yourself that you chose this, that this is part of camping and that everything will dry out eventually.

Finally there is the resignation and depression that everything is now wet, the rain is not stopping and there is no way you are going to try and sleep another night in your flooded bedroom, with damp clothes and a soggy sleeping bag.

Abandoned campsite in Paklenica, Croatia

The last stage is the freedom that comes with having a decision made dor you. Abandoning all dignity and after wringing everything out, you pack up all your worldly possessions, then seek refuge and shelter somewhere it is not wet.

Evacuee status

Having evacuated, circumstances now force you to rely on the kindness, hospitality and goodwill of others.

Your experience as a evacuee begins with the disgrace of walking past the remaining tents in the campground, where bolder or better prepared fellow campers huddle under shelter in varying degrees of dampness.

Your walk of shame becomes tempered with jealously as you sneak passing peaks through the windows of camper vans and view the warm, dry luxury inside.

Tent and footprint drying over another ‘refugee’s' windsurfer

Having escaped the campground you are now forced to throw yourself at the mercy of friends, family or other form of emergency accommodation. If it has been raining for some time, accommodation options can be scarce and expensive, adding financial insult to the emotional injury the weather has already dealt you.

The charign of your newfound situation reaches its embarrassing epitome, standing in your personal puddle in the foyer of a swanky hotel you could never afford to enter under normal circumstances.

Literally, anywhere out of the rain is better than in it

The degrading look the receptionist gives you when you ask if there is somewhere you can hang your sopping tent drives gives you a small taste of how a real refugee must feel.

France

In Chamonix, we evacuated after three days of thunderstorms, when the water began to soak through the tent floor and drip through the fly in equal measures. Our emotional and mental state frayed from two days of huddling around a gas cooker for warmth, and cooking with 40 others in the campgrounds small communal area, we begun to seriously consider alternatives. With rain forecast for the rest of the week, the nail in the coffin of camping was when Philippa began to get sick.

Chamonix weather forecast: Friday morning

We evacuated to the nearest hotel, which while being simple, relatively cheap (3star) and dry, completely blew our budget for the month. I had to borrow a mop to clean up the water from our entrance and where I had hung the tent in a downstairs corridor (I never admitted to this tent being ours and the staff never asked). We cooked on a gas stove on the window sill of our room with all the windows open and the bathroom fan on to prevent the smoke alarm from sounding.

Another evening, another storm brewing in the mountains

It rained for the following three days, (two of which Philippa spent in bed) and we spent almost the entire time in a room only three times as large as our tent. But it was warm and dry, and we could enjoy all the first world luxuries denied to our ancestors and more authentic refugees, such as hot showers, espresso coffee and bingewatching entire seasons of our favourite shows on the hotel wifi.

Croatia

In Paklenica, we had gotten smarter. After the first 48 hours of storms, more storms where forecast and I had already found it necessary to dig a trench in the mud around the tent to channel water away. Things were damp, but not everything was soaked, yet.

After another 12 hours of lying in our 4x3m tent or sitting in the steam and smell of 25 wet people compressed into the cramped communal cooking area, we evacuated early, instead of being forced too.

First world refugee camp: warm, dry luxury with room to stand up

We were luckier than in France, as we had a friend of a friend in town who also managed a resort apartment complex. This meant our 'refugee’ experience was cheaper than in Chamonix, but more personally mortifying.

Our host had lived in a tent himself, while working at a campsite and knew how the cramped, damp misery can pile up. This made it no less humiliating to rely on a stranger’s goodwill and hospitality, just because it rained (a lot).

Source: INDEX HR (translated by google chrome)

It stormed for two days and flooded all along the Dalmation coast. The nearest city, Zadar went underwater and became international news. The military was mobilised by the government to assist.

The national park where we were climbing flooded and closed. I can only guess what happened our former campsite. Meanwhile, we were able to dry everything, wash clothes, drink wine and post pictures of us climbing on facebook. I read two books.

Almost all the time, being rained out of a campsite was not fun. There is a certain amount of indignity and embarrassment to being so grateful to be warm, dry and out of the weather. But the hardest stage is returning to the scene of your despair.

After slinking back to the campsite (we couldn’t afford the hotel now the sun had returned) I hoped the stigma of evacuating was at an end. All I had to overcome was my lack of fortitude in comparison to those campers who had 'stuck it out' and were now drying everything they owned draped over their tent guide ropes.

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