2/1 Inside the Cyclone

Anne Hut Layover

Thank god it is finally light out.

It is 6:15, and although the sun has likely been up for awhile, the storm clouds have squelched the light. The tent rattles and snaps around us, threatening to pull out at the stakes, to bend the trekking poles, to rip where the cords are attached. Yet, it doesn’t. It has been that way all night, sounding like a sheet of tin roofing being rippled in a gale, even through ear plugs. I’m quite dubious, actually, that the tent has not succumbed to the wind, that I am not dreaming it is still standing. But, I have been watching it. All night. And it is indeed still standing, intact, the cords barely loosened. This is an awesome tent.

The worst parts were when the tent would finally stand silent, the wind spent, I could hear a new round gathering far away in the valley, building menacingly like the powering-up of an evil weapon, and I would come close to convincing myself that it was the storm moving away, leaving us in the calm behind it when……KA-BLAAAAM!!! The tent would be battered beneath the assault of a gust the size of a star-destroyer, and the reactionary adrenaline dump would leave my heart racing, eyes wide, for the next half hour at least.

It was a long night.

I peek out through the flaps in the fly, eyes leaking, so exhausted I feel feverish, and see two hikers wrapped in rain gear head out into the maelstrom. Two hikers gone is all we need to have space for us inside. I shove everything haphazardly onto my pack, and bring it into the hut, which is actually empty of everyone but our three friends still sleeping, a random stranger who will become a friend, and the German couple I suspected from Mouse’s description yesterday, the condescending man from the end of the Tararuas. I return to the tent and weigh it down while Prana shuttles his pack to the hut, and then we wrestle the tent into its stuff sack before it can escape on a wild atmospheric adventure.

“Rough night. Why didn’t you sleep inside?” is one of the first questions out of the German man’s mouth. “Well, it seemed better to sleep in the tent when the hut was full and before the wind started,” I answer factually. “Did you bring the German girl with you last night?” is his next question. My temper flares- it knows my brain is too tired to restrain it for long, that now is its chance. “We hiked here together, yes.” I answer carefully. “Well good,” he says, “it’s good you bring her. She should not be out there alone in this weather.” I am furious. I snap, “We have hiked with her before. She is tough. Whatever she chose, I am sure she would be fine.” I have to bite my tongue to keep from baiting ‘why? because she’s a girl?’ but I manage. “I’m going to sleep now.”

I crawl into an empty bunk with Prana and listen to the wind lash the hut, the sturdy wood structure even vibrating. I don’t actually fall asleep, but for the first time since arriving last night my body is able to clear out all the fight or flight hormones that have been dumped into it. I give up and get up 2 hours later, looking forward to coffee now and a nap this afternoon, and walk into the community room and a big hug from Super Mario. “I was so worried about you guys last night. I kept getting up to check and make sure you guys were still there. But the tent was always still standing!”

An extra large pot of hot coffee sure helps, and the eight of us here sit and watch the wind and the clouds while we all half-attend to our respective pass times. I try to transform my notes from the past days into readable stories; Prana reads. The wind does spectacular things to the long colorful grasses, whipping them in such aggressive frenzied patterns that it looks like snakes writhing on the ground- it looks like the electrical shadows from the solar eclipse. It is wild. Most of the surrounding hillsides are also grass covered, and the display is mesmerizing.

Much hot tea is made and drank, and we meet Matthew, a fellow hiker we haven’t seen before who has also chosen to wait the day here. He is heading north, towards Waiua Pass, and teaches engineering in Africa. He is soft spoken and insightful and obviously a kindred spirit when he joins our rounds of Super Sevens with neither a second thought nor judgement.

Prana pulls the tent out of its bag and begins unfolding it to hang on a line strung through the rafters. Suddenly he yelps, dropping the tent and holding his palm. Sting number 7? 8? I’ve lost count. This one is from a bumblebee, trapped in the screen mesh of the tent, somehow unsmooshed after being compressed into the stuff sack. Poor Prana.

A group of 12 kids comes clomping onto the porch, and everyone scrambles to collect their scattered gear lest it be subsumed into the imminent gear explosion. An adult with them comes inside and introduces herself; they are a NOLS group, and will be camping in the trees a half k below the bench where the hut is situated. Turns out she knows several of our favorite people that work for NOLS in Wyoming, and I get a little flicker of warmth at the size of the world and an ephemeral closeness to friends far away.

The afternoon unspools slowly, and much idle chatting fills the time. Bigfoot Mouse impressively naps for several 3 hour rounds. I work on assembling several emails that have been needing attention, and file a few other odds and ends into their respective places from all the random places they are noted. Finally it is time for dinner, and with hot food and a hot turmeric latte in the belly, I am ready for an early night. The bunks are five spaces across, and the five of us line up like snuggly sardines along the downstairs bunk. I feel as content as a sleepy kitten reunited with its favorite litter.

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