Washed Away

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After dinner last night we spent the evening sitting on the well manicured grass that made up the beach of the small, pretty lake at our campground.  A stiff and consistent wind blew across the lake, which I have learned is nature’s way of saying “get ready, the rain is coming”.  Looking out on the horizon, we could see some light gray clouds that appeared looking like they would deliver a light rain overnight.

We turned in for the night shortly after nightfall to listen to our audiobook for a little while and do the night-time trek to the bathroom to brush teeth routine.  Before we even had a chance to fall asleep, the rain started.

The rain started softly, but quickly culminated into a steady roar on our rain-fly, which we were glad we had guyed out as we now always do to prevent condensation – things stay dryer when the rain-fly doesn’t actually touch any of our tent’s walls.  It was pretty apparent that the storm would be bigger than it looked – though we had no clue what we were in for.

While in Slovenia I wrote about a storm that we experienced on Lake Bled – the most intense and powerful thunderstorm either of us had ever seen.  I thought that there would be absolutely no way to top it – but last night did.

The thunder started rolling off in the distance, growing ever closer.  Before long, the electrical storm was trapped in the geological bowl which surrounded the lake with low, wooded hills.  The thunder then started cracking with a volume and persistence that I have never seen.

According to a rule I learned as a child, the key to determining the distance of a lightning strike is to count the seconds between the flash and the sound of thunder.  Well according to this rule, the lightning must have well been INSIDE our tent, because the thunder and lightning were pretty much instantaneous.  The thunder was absolutely deafening, and didn’t take long for it to knock out the power which lit lamps throughout the campsite.

I will be honest, the strikes were a little too close for comfort – even for me, a strong advocate of thunderstorms.  Since our tent was pitched in a small cluster of trees on the shore of a lake – we weren’t in the greatest position for a thunderstorm with lightning striking as close as it was (though not the worst location, either).  The electricity made 2 more feeble attempts to coming back online, only to be knocked out for good by the lightning.  As we sat in the dark tent, the entire world would be illuminated – colors and all – on a pretty regular basis.  I was unable to keep my eyes open for the closer strikes, as they were bright enough to burn my eyes!

Bree: Apparently when Ben was a child, someone in the same campground was killed by a tree felled by lightning one night when he was camping with his family.  He made the mistake of providing me this information sometime since we’ve been on the road, which only fueled my terror as the lightning hovered over our campground.  On any given night, if there is a tree to be found in the campground, we are likely camped pretty much right under it since that generally provides our only form of shade, and that was certainly the case for us last night. We’d strategically put our tent right in the middle of the tallest trees in the whole lot, proud of ourselves for finding such protection from what was then midday sun.  As the electrical storm raged however, all I could think was how we were about to be squished by a falling tree that was surly about to be hit by the lightning strikes that were hitting every few seconds.  We debated about whether we might be safer to head up toward the shower blocks to wait things out, but by that point, the lightning was so close even getting out of the tent seemed too risky.  I clung to Ben in the darkness and hoped for all I was worth that the storm would go away soon.  Instead, the sheets of rain turned to buckets, and the thunderstorm raged on until the early hours of the morning, leaving us wide awake and terribly nervous.

Finally, with the light of day, the thunderstorm abated leaving us with only the heavy rain, which quickly lulled us into a well needed sleep.  We’d spent nearly the whole night watching and waiting nervously, and I was absolutely exhausted.  We finally woke up around 9, with the rain still going strong, but my tiny bladder was about to burst so I knew I would have to brave the outside for at least a minute.

I suited up in all my rain gear for the short walk to the bathrooms and as I climbed out of our absolutely soggy tent, I was astounded by what I saw.  We later learned that we’d gotten two inches of rain overnight which was enough to wash away almost the entire road running not 20 feet from our tent, leaving big dirt ruts where the gravel road had stood.  Huge branches and debris littered the campsite and the lake’s shore had encroached probably 15 feet on what had been dry land only 12 hours earlier.  If we had put our tent where we’d been told (but didn’t because there was no shade) we likely would have been under six inches of water by morning.   Instead, almost as if our little camp space were an island, our worst damages were a minuscule bit of water on the tent floor and some muddy gear.

Despite the rain and the still whipping wind, more than anything, I just wanted to leave and be almost anywhere beside camped in the campground which now looked a bit more like a disaster scene than a summer retreat.

With that in mind and because we were ridiculously low on food once again, we set the GPS for a campsite 50 km away (with a backup option only 30), and once the rain let up a little, we haphazardly packed our soggy, muddy gear and set off.

The area around the lake must have been hit as hard as we had by the storm.  The roads were strewn with large boughs from trees, streams of gravel from the shoulder lay in clumps in the middle of the road, and small rivers where none should have been submerged the pavement.  The first “puddle” we came to destroyed all of our attempts at staying dry, as it ran through a wood on one side of the road into a field on the other.  As we rode through it, the warm, muddy water got deeper and deeper until the water was finally half way up our chainrings, submerging part of my front panniers and soaking our shoes.  Thankfully our bags are waterproof, since that is where our passports had been temporarily stashed as we packed up.  We passed many cleanup crews and locals sweeping the gravel and mud off of their driveways and into riverbanks which had all but been washed away.  Everybody seemed to be checking in with their neighbors, all a little bit shocked by the storm.

We luckily rolled through Rosenheim without anything but a light drizzle, past trees which had been split down the middle, presumably by the lightning and others that had been uprooted entirely.  After a not so quick grocery stop, we headed back out, through the thick, slow congestion that surprised us for 2:00 on a Thursday afternoon.  Luckily there were plenty of bicycle lanes through the city, which would otherwise have taken far longer to navigate with our wide loads.


After Rosenheim we headed into a narrow passageway in the alps that will ultimately lead us to Innsbruck.  With gloomy clouds threatening rain but not delivering, we were quite pleased with how the day was turning out despite the damp start.  The riding was so nice, in fact, that we opted for the 50 km trip instead of stopping  at the closer campsite.  En route, we passed a couple of castles.  One in total ruins, whose steep, grassy grounds had been converted to grazing lands for a herd of goats.  The other, which overlooks a large city (not sure which one), used to be the national prison and is very well preserved with tours running daily.

As we arrived at what should have been the campsite, all we saw was a fairly new shopping complex.  It appears that the campground had sold out to developers to build the large Lidl and sevearl other stores.  Luckily, we found another tiny campsite quite literally on an airstrip just across the river.

We arrived at camp, thankful for the unexpectedly excellent weather that we enjoyed for our afternoon ride.  We had a chance to clean the mud off of our gear and dry the tent out which was unexpected, given the forecast for solid thunderstorms today.  Now hopefully it will just warm up or at least dry out a little –  tomorrow is July 1st, and we’re still fighting low 60’s for the highs.  Though I suppose it could be worse – it wasn’t more than a week ago that we were baking in the 80’s in Hungary.


2 Responses

  1. Leslie says:

    I would have been scared to death ! We really enjoyed the area around Garmish/Partenkirkham close to the Austrian border in Bavaria. If you are nearby it would be a fun place to stop! Hope everything dried out well!

    • Ben says:

      It was a little freaky, but I can’t say that part of me didn’t enjoy it. We missed our window for Garmish by bike in our effort to cross the Alps back to Milan, but we’ll have a car for our last week here. Is Garmish worth a sidetrack?

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