Adventure does not start until something goes wrong.
What started out as a typical Twilight Paddle turned into an unexpected Adventure. Our Twilight Paddles usually start about 2 hours before sunset. Summers in South Louisiana are always hot with a summer shower pretty much daily. We check the weather on a regular basis to make sure it’s not going to be bad enough to cancel a trip. This day was no different…or so we thought. The morning paddles went well with no bad weather looming overhead. We thought we were clear for the trip. We got the gear ready and headed to the launch where we met the group who was a few minutes early. While the gear was being prepped for the trip, to watch the sunset over Lake Pontchartrain, the group and I talked about what all was to be expected. After a short introduction to kayaking and a brief history lesson of the area we set off. The sky was clear and we were all set for a great trip to the lake. About 30 minutes into the paddle we heard some thunder. I pulled out my phone to look at the weather in the area and the only rain cell was to our west in Ponchatoula (about 30 miles away). With the rain cell so far away, we decided to continue with the paddle. It would be really great to see the sunset while watching a rain storm in the distance. We continue paddling down the bayou, and I talk about the area’s flora and fauna.
Fifteen minutes later we saw lightning strike in the distance. Again, the phone was pulled out because there was a darker cloud forming to our west. This was an unexpected update, the cell that was 30 miles away had grown to now cover a much larger area and was heading our way. The cell was about ten miles away so we decided to make a push to at least go see the lake then head back. When we arrived at the lake the storm had moved to right above us, so we turned around and started to head back toward the launch.
Then the rain started.
While we were heading back, the lightning was getting worse and closer. I made a decision that we should get off the water before the launch. We headed to our emergency pull off location. It is in Fontainebleau State Park but not anywhere near the main entrance. We pulled the boats out of the water and took cover under a tree. Some were worried that taking cover under a tree was not a good idea, but this particular tree was nowhere near the biggest one in the area, so we were good. We waited under this tree for about 10 minutes. I decided to check my phone again to what was going on and saw the rain cell getting bigger with a lot of red in our area.
We made our move to better shelter.
The nearest place I knew of was the group camp in Fontainebleau State Park and it was about a 10 minute walk from where we were. The group gathered a few personal items and I grabbed the flashlights. We started our rainy walk down the trail to the camp. While walking through the woods, we had to knock down many Orb Weaver webs. These webs stretched across the entire width of the trail. There was no ducking or going around these webs…sorry spider friends. When we made it to the group camp, we headed for the bathrooms. This was our safe haven for the next 30 minutes or so. The mosquitoes were getting so bad, we had to go inside the bathrooms for a while. As the lightning began to slow down, I checked the radar again and it looked like we had a clear section coming up. I talked with my group and we decided to go for it. The rain was pretty much done and so was the lightning. As we walked back, we used our lights to guide our way back to the boats.
Upon arrival back to the boats, we had to dump all the water that had gathered in the boats and proceeded to launch back onto the bayou. It was now 9pm and we still about 15 minutes to paddle back to the launch. This was a beautiful time to be out. The weather was calm, no bugs and a slight breeze. This did not last too long. We were 5 minutes from the launch and it began to lightning again. This time it was far enough away where we did not have to worry about it too much. One strike was so bright, it lit up the sky. As the weather was starting to take a turn for the worse, we pulled up into the launch site. The guests grabbed all their gear, loaded up and took off. I was left to pick up everything. As soon as they got out the parking lot, the sky’s opened up AGAIN! A down-pour this time while I was loading gear. I was throwing paddles, PFDs and all other gear needed back in the truck. I loaded the boats on the trailer and took off. As soon as I got to our office, it pretty much stopped raining. This rain storm was all of ten minutes. That was enough time to get me soaked to the bone. I unloaded the gear that needed to dry out and sat down trying to process what all had just happened. I was smart enough to bring dry clothes this day, so I changed and went home.
I have been living the outdoor lifestyle for some time now, and I have had my fair share of rainy day adventures. This one, even though short was a great one. I feel in my years of doing this kind of work, it has led me to be comfortable in rainy or hard situations, where it is important to stay calm and try to keep everyone else calm. In this particular one, no one was freaking out, but they could have been. I have been in a few with young kids, where they were freaking out and I was the only one who could calm them down. If I freak out, they freak out double! I have learned to keep my cool under pressure and do what I know is right and safe. It is my job and desire that all who come on trips with us are safe and taken care of.
If you want your own adventure like this, then start getting outside as much as you can, and I’m sure it will happen one day. Just like the Boy Scout motto says, Be Prepared! Now, get out there and Live the Adventure!