Friday, May 15, 2009

Flashback Friday: Midnight monsters

I love camping. There is something about temporarily living out in the natural world that both thrills and relaxes me.  The omnipresent moist greenery, a crackling fire with smoky ambiance, awkwardly changing clothes in a semi-crouched position inside the tent, a quiet card game by humming lantern-light, s'mores of course, and so many other little bits of the camping experience I hold very dear.

Several years ago, Gary and I joined another couple and their children for an overnight campout in the Columbia River Gorge.  Our friends selected the campground based on its adjacency to the arranged child-swap rendezvous with her ex-husband.  I seem to recall that Lana and Frank had been there before...but after our experience the prospect of anyone ever returning to this particular campground seems unlikely. So perhaps what I remember is that they had been meaning to go there, and our joint visit was the first time for all involved.

The Columbia Rive Gorge boasts abundant options for beautiful, pristine, peaceful outdoor experiences.  On this trip we were destined for Viento State Park.  The campground itself was clean and well-maintained, and also pleasingly small for a State Park.  The sites were nicely spaced and surrounded by lush green foliage.  At first assessment, the only significant drawback we noted was the campground's unfortunate proximity to Interstate 84. 

Clearly, our friends had selected this location based on its convenient location right off the highway.  We, personally, would have viewed that as an automatic strike from the "maybe" pile, but we were glad to be out in a little piece of the woods enjoying some (mostly) fresh air and good company.  We joked a little bit about the noisy semi-truck traffic, but I feel we made the best of the situation and kept a positive mindset.  We were only staying for one night, after all.

And that one night could easily rank among the worst of my life (granted, I've been blessed with fairly limited experience when it comes to nights of suffering).  

I am fully aware that miles of railroad tracks line I-84; I've frequently seen freight trains making their way along the Columbia River in my parallel travels.  I hadn't considered the fact that much of their cross-country journey might take place while the rest of the world sleeps.  Or tries desperately to sleep, as it were. 

The trains that passed by (or possibly THROUGH?) Viento State Park were loud and frequent during ALL hours of the night. I felt as though we were sleeping at the crossing point of six different railroads, and the mighty rumbling created by each train literally shook our unsuspecting tent. Some of them even blew their dissonant horns, in a successful effort to ensure that nobody tried to sleep through their thunderous exhibition.  As each midnight monster faded into the distance, our heart rates leveled and eyes once again grew heavy, only to jerk awake again as the next ferocious growl approached and eventually tore so close to the campground that I wondered if unzipping the tent would put me face-to-face with a giant locomotive. 

Tweet tweet. Caw. Tweet. Vrrooooom. The sounds of morning in the Columbia River Gorge were never more unwelcome.  It would have been lovely to capture our stolen hours of sleep inside our dewy tent surrounded by the calm of nature, but instead we woke to motors rumbling and tires whooshing across the Interstate, a soundtrack only slightly more pleasant than the 3 a.m. freight procession.  Over breakfast, we all agreed it was one of the worst nights of rest we'd each experienced, and vowed never to return to this "best kept secret" of the Gorge. 

Yep, the Oregon State Parks website makes that claim, followed immediately by this apt observation: "Viento almost always has a spot available when other campgrounds in the area are full."   Perhaps the campground's relative lack of use is actually a result of the "secret" of Viento having been poorly kept, indeed. 


Bridget said...

Yeah, some secret. What a terrible night of (non)sleep!

Welcome back to blogging!!

Anonymous said...

Great story, Kristen! I actually stayed a night in Viento State Park several years ago...and guess what? It was FULL when we arrived after dark, so we got to roll out our sleeping bags on the open field (probably the doggie-rest-stop area.) The next morning I swam the Columbia River Cross Channel event...after a miserable night similar to what you described. What were we thinking???


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