Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A lesson in camping...

This weekend, my friend Sarah and I decided to check out a little music festival in Floyd, Virginia.  Months ago, it had great promise as one last event before we both left the country this fall.  The Lumineers, John Butler Trio, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, and Old Crow Medicine Show were all headliners we were excited to hear.  We pictured a beautiful, sunny weekend camping in the Virginia mountains, listening to incredible music.

That was before The Rain.

An aside:  summers in the south are known for being scorchingly hot, brutally humid, with occasional thunderstorms - quick, powerful, punctuated with blasts of lightning and sharp booms of thunder.  We don't tend to have rainy versus dry seasons.  Rather, we get three true seasons (spring, summer, fall), with maybe a few weeks of winter each year.  Until this year.  It has rained almost every day for the last six weeks.  And not just the occasional quick thunderstorm.  These are long, drawn-out bouts of dreary rain.  Multi-hour thunderstorm beatings.  Cloud cover for days.  The upside?  I don't think we've had a single day in the triple-digits - something more than typical this time of year.  Instead, we're left handling monsoon season, and we've all been a little grumpy about it.

As The Rain has refused to let up over the last few weeks, things didn't particularly bode well for our sunny little music festival.  Somehow we convinced ourselves to go anyway.  Packing though, would be a challenge.  Outdoors. Potentially sunny & hot.  Potentially rainy and cold.  Camping gear. And plan on schlepping your gear to your site (a "short walk" the festival communication says).  Now, I'm pretty good at packing in certain situations.  Certain situations being limited to "Up in the Air"-style business travel.  Need to fit a week of business attire, workout gear, and clothes for going out, all into a carry-on?  Done. I can probably even toss in some climbing gear or a pair of cleats.  But camping?  Admittedly, though I consider myself to be "outdoorsy", and though I enjoy plenty of outdoor sports, the vast majority of the actual camping I've done has been drive-up camping.  You know the deal, park your car, walk a few yards, set up camp.  Leave extraneous items in the car.  Overpack.  Figure it out as you go.  Now take all of this, smash it together with a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad work and trip planning day and a deadline to leave, and you wind up with a recipe for packing disaster.

When we arrived at the festival, after dark, we learned that the "short walk" to the campsite was actually a 5-10 minute walk to a shuttle.  Which would then drive us 7 miles and drop us "right in the middle of the campground".  Which translated to "the festival entrance, where you might find a campsite, or you might need to wander around and locate one".  Suddenly I found myself regretting my decision to throw everything into a few duffels instead of my proper pack.  At least it wasn't raining.

Lesson #1:  If you're going to schlep your stuff any distance over 10 feet, use your nice camping pack instead of 2 duffels and a giant canvas tote. And a yoga mat. And a purse. No, really.

The Lumineers

After some aimless wandering, we found a relatively okay (we thought) campsite and started setting up the tent.  I have a pretty fantastic tent, I'm not going to lie.  It's a North Face Tadpole 23 that I picked up many years ago during a great sale at REI.  It's withstood some pretty epic storms and kept me and my gear dry.  Except that as we began setting up the tent, I remembered that it had been a great tent for ME... alone.  It's incredible for one person and some gear.  Maybe two people without some gear, who don't mind snuggling.  But for two friends who are both epic over-packers?  Not so much.  Ah well, we would make do.  We shoved most of our gear into the tent and crammed ourselves in.  Needless to say, we weren't so comfortable that night.  It didn't help that we set up our tent on just enough of an incline that we spent most of the night slowly sliding towards our piles of gear.

Lesson #2:  Make sure your tent is actually big enough for the people (and the gear) staying in it.

Lesson #3:  Set up your tent on a flat surface.  Avoid hills.

I should also note that most of the festival goers not only had (large) tents (with space to stand and move around), but large inflatable mattresses, easy-up shade tents with tarps that connected multiple sleeping tents into little communities, and even cooking spaces.  I have no idea how they actually schlepped all that gear in (though I did see a few wagons), but the set ups were impressive.

Despite a rough night of sleep, Friday was a pretty incredible festival day.  The weather was warm and sunny, the bands were fantastic, and we moved our campsite to a new - flat - location. And we decided to keep our gear in the vestibule of the tent so we could stretch out a little more and get some sleep.  Oh, and as for clothing?  A couple of lululemon pieces (a yoga top and the studio crop) were perfect for lounging around the festival during the hot day.  I probably didn't need to bring four of those tops though.  And a handful of tshirts.  Probably just one or two would have been fine.  For the evening, a pair of jeans and some layering pieces kept me warm.  A thin wool hoodie was by far my best clothing choice, something I grabbed at the last second walking out the door. I failed to bring any head coverage, but luckily one of the vendors was giving away baseball caps that I and the vast majority of festival participants wound up sporting through the weekend.  A pair of Chacos were sturdy and breathable for the hot daytime weather, and my trail runners kept my feet warm and dry at night.

Lesson #4:  If you're camping for a few days, you probably don't need more than a few layering pieces.   Plan to rewear items, not bring three outfits for each day.  Especially if you're not even planning on showering.

Sights from Friday at Floyd Fest, including an incredible John Butler solo acoustic set (far left)

As lovely as the daytime was, once we planned to finally sleep we learned our new campsite was well within earshot of what sounded like a dance club with booming house music.  Music that was planned as part of the festival.  That lasted until 3am.  Given my chest was vibrating from the bass levels, I'd say it was a bit louder than necessary.  A drum circle followed the house music.  And then, The Rain.  I awoke from whatever semblance of sleep to the startled realization that The Rain was back.  I panicked only enough to wake up my friend and make sure the gear was all covered BY the rain fly... but not enough to ensure the gear wasn't TOUCHING the rain fly.

Lesson #5:  If you're going to store gear in the vestibule, you'd better make sure you have a tarp underneath, a very tightly secured fly, and no gear touching the fly.  Probably another case for that "don't overpack" thing, too.

When daylight finally came, The Rain was still there.  And the gear we had crammed into the vestibule was half-soaked.  Luckily I had kept just enough garments inside the tent to piece together a dry outfit... layering some lulu running crops under the looser studio crops and throwing on a tall pair of the socks with my Brooks Cascadia trail runners turned out to be a pretty good combo for staying dry.  (Note to self for the Inca Trail...) My new Marmot rain shell and a cheap umbrella did the trick as well.  Although after trudging around the festival in the mud all day definitely made me confident in my decision to find a pair of truly waterproof trail shoes for my RTW instead of just water resistent.

Lesson #6:  If you're dealing with cold rain, make sure you have enough layering pieces to keep you warm AND dry.  And waterproof shoes are a must for trudging through thick rainy mud for more than an hour or two.

The Rain.

Unfortunately, Sarah didn't have quite as many warm layers, and I was pretty much out of dry clothing, with the exception of my current outfit.  After two days with only moments of sleep, and with both of us waterlogged and exhausted, we decided to make a swift exit from the festival.  We dragged everything under a festival tent for repacking, loaded our multitude of bags onto our backs (and shoulders, and arms...), and, as the rain broke, began the long trudge to the parking shuttles (ie, repurposed school buses), collapsed into seats, rode to the parking lot, and began another long trudge to the car, just as another light rain began.  We heaved everything into the cars, collapsed into our seats, and let out a deep sigh - we were free!  Then, we tried to leave the parking lot.  We successfully backed out of the space.

And then... the wheels spun.  And we slid.  Mud started getting kicked up everywhere.  I jumped out of the car.  Sarah backed the car up and tried to get a 'running start' up the hill.  We only kicked up more mud and slid farther backwards.  Luckily, Sarah had a quick thought, jumped out of the car, and we moved all of our packs from the hatchback to the front seat so all the weight was over the axle of the front-wheel-drive vehicle.  And?  Success!  Sarah navigated the car out of the lot, I ran to the entrance to catch up, threw the packs back into the backseat, and we hit the road.

Lesson #7:  If your wheels are stuck in the mud, move all the weight over the appropriate axle and gun it.

The Mud.

Whether or not we made the right decision to leave (apparently the weather cleared up at least a little bit, and the festival moved the 3am dance party out of our immediate camping area for the next night), we were both glad to get away, get rested, and have some recovery time at home.  And we learned some valuable lessons in packing, camping, and surviving a music festival in general!


  1. Oh, leaving was totally the right choice! How awesome was it to sleep in a bed on Saturday? Super awesome, that's how awesome it was.

    1. It was so awesome that I slept half the day Sunday and slept through all my alarms on Monday morning. Methinks I was a bit tired...

  2. I live you and your adventures! More stories!!

    1. Love you too!! I still say you should join me on adventures!! More stories to come :)
      Especially if you and I visit Sarah..........