Wet & Wild Camping

Mar 12, 2012 by

We recently went on a road trip and ended up in Fort Cooper State Park, about an hour northeast of Tampa, FL.  It’s a tiny, but wonderful little park. We were the only campers there, though another group was due to come in in the night (they never made it.. you’ll see why).

We arrived and set up camp as the final rays of the setting sun filtered through the Spanish Moss.

Spanish Moss at Fort Cooper State Park

Just a sidenote about Spanish Moss... you'll sometimes read survival forums that suggest you use Spanish Moss as bedding, or stuffing for pillows, or, horror of horrors, to staunch a wound. What no one mentions is that Spanish Moss is full of chiggers and other unsavory creatures with just a few too many legs. Or antennae.

Life was good. We used our dutch oven to make some Teriyaki and Rice dinner from Wise Foods (see http://directive21.com/wisefoodstoragegrabandgo.html). I’d purchased a few sample packs and wanted to try them out “on the road”. Delicious!  Plenty of left-overs for breakfast too.

Before we headed to the tent, I filled up my Berkey Bottle (also from Directive 21) from the hand-pump well. You know, I’d never been more glad to have a Berkey Bottle with me when I noticed that the well was a lovely 12 feet away from the outhouse… yep. Sanitation – a topic for another day!

Off to bed we went.

And about two hours later… woke up to the freak storm of the decade. Literally. The wind was blowing so hard, the tent was flattening down on top of us, within 6 inches of us. We thought about making a break for the car, about 20 yards away, but realized that the only thing holding the tent down was our own weight. And let’s talk about the lightening…  BOOM! SPARKLE.  Inside our cozy house the other 364 days of the year, I never quite realized how very loud a thunderstorm is. Especially the freak thunderstorm of doom. It’s so loud, you can’t yell across a 4 foot tent and make yourself heard.

Some some lessons learned?

  • Pitching a tent on a slight slope was a good idea. It kept the tent from flooding or sliding away.
  • That, however, did not stop the tent from leaking from every seam, even seams I didn’t know it had.
  • Airbeds are your friend – you can huddle in the middle of them like a life raft in a raging storm, and with any luck, it’ll stay compressed enough to keep you afloat inside the rising waters of your tent.
  • It’s not being paranoid to pack your camera, journal and wallet inside a plastic bag inside your pack.
  • When you pitch a tent 20 yards from the outhouse, and the freak storm goes BOOM outside the tent, maybe you really shouldn’t have had that many cups of coffee the night before. You don’t want to know how we solved that one. Talk about expoooosure to the outdoors.
  • And lastly, it turns out I have the awesome ability to tune out the sound of roaring freight trains and sleep through anything. And find the one dry spot in the whole tent, much to the horror of my sweetie, who ended up awake in a damp puddle all night.
Cold and Wet Camping

It doesn't look so bad in the morning light, does it? Lies, all lies. I have some pictures of the inside of the tent too, but they were just too sorry to post.

I’m not the coffee drinker of us two, thank goodness. But, when morning finally broke, a desperate need for coffee arose. Now now.  So I happily whipped out the Sterno Stove I’d brought along (when camping, why not bring 18 different ways to make fire or to cook?), and whipped up some coffee and some leftovers.

Our Sterno stove and Berkey water bottle.

Waiting for breakfast.

Teriyaki and Rice Meal from Wise Food Storage

Mummm... tasty leftovers! I think they tasted even better in the morning.

We were a bit chilly, to put it mildly. The hot food went down nice.  And then we started looking at our gear… our sleeping bags were soaked through. Like a sopping mass of cheap sleeping bag. Should have sprung for the good gear, but who would have thought we’d end up in a thunderstorm?

I wanted to stay, in the vague hopes of the gear drying out in the damp Florida air. Ha.

We ended up spending the next few days in a cute little local hotel with themed rooms, like the Teacup (ours – I know, I know), the Appalachian Farm, the 70s Disco…

But one last thing… as we were leaving, the very last thing we did was pack up the tent. And guess what was underneath the tent?

Mr. Snake

Look what we found while camping! Any idea what kind of snake he is?

Just kidding – we didn’t find the snake under the tent. We found him the night before.

No, this is what we found under the tent:

Under the Tent

A tent-shaped dry spot!

Yep! The only dry spot to be found. If we had actually been trying to start a fire (as opposed to Sterno fuel), this would have been good to realize. All the leaves and twigs that poked at us through the night (I swear I felt them through the airbed – I know, what kind of camper am I???) were all dry. And in theory, we could have dug into that dry stump you see in the picture of the tent above, except the dry stump was playing host to every resident bug, centipede and poisonous crawly creature around during the storm. So, yeees, it might be dry, but was it worth it? Not when you’ve also brought Sterno. And a few other types of camp stoves. Maybe next time I’ll be more adventurous and go digging in there with a stick.

I had fun. I mean, when else would you find out those nifty tips above if not during a torrential downpour?

Would I do it again, knowing the storm was coming? Ehh… with a better tent. And I would have staked it down with two dozen more stakes. And built a carport over the top… Grin.

By the way, at the hotel later that day, all the folks we ran into who saw evidence of our ill-fated camping trip (drying sleeping bags, towels, steamy car..) said it really was a severe storm – the worst in the region in the decade, and they were surprised we made it out there. Those other campers that were supposed to join us at the campground wisely hunkered down about two miles from the camp when the storm started coming in, and beraggledly dragged themselves into the local hospital the next morning – I’m not sure what happened, just that one of their team was hurt in the night.  I’d say we got off light, all in all. And I really did have a good time. I’m odd like that!


  1. Anonymous

    OMG HILARIOUS!! I bet you never were so glad to get to a hotel. But it’s good you had fun too!

  2. Jack Stein

    That looks like a regular garter snake Sandy. On top of everything, imagine if you’d found a nice copperhead under the tent or in that log!

    Did you talk to the park manager about moving the outhouse away from the well? That’s a serious sanitation issue, and most campers probably aren’t going to have their own Berkey bottles.

    Glad you made it OK and had a good time while faced with adversity.

    But the Teacup room? 🙂

    – Jack

  3. Anonymous

    You brought an airbed. Chicken!

  4. Anonymous

    I’ve bedded down on Spanish Moss before and never had a problem. Either I’ve been lucky, or Florida has more chiggers than California. Don’t rule it out if you don’t have other options.

  5. Plelmlipwen

    Nice use of the Berkey bottle there. I’ve been meaning to get one. It sounds like it was a lifesaver, possibly literally. A well next to an outhouse….. that’s crazy.

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