How We Survived a Tornado… in a Tent

It wasn’t a Big Tornado, but it Totally Counts:

On the first day of our stay in Arkansas, we mostly explored the campsite that we had set up in the dark and went to get groceries and other supplies. (Grocery shopping with a bunch of college students is neither the most organized nor the most efficient way to buy supplies.) However, shortly after we got back from the grocery store, we all received tornado warnings on our iPhones -despite the trip being an effort to ‘unplug’ on my behalf- and subsequently blew off the tornado warning.

When we started to feel raindrops around four o’clock though, we were a bit more concerned. We immediately took precautions to keep our things dry and tack down the tents, and packed the things we wanted to stay dry in our cars. A few of us started getting antsy because the wind started howling through the thin pine trees surrounding our camp. Our scared little butts were in our cars faster than any of us could say ‘falling branches’ and 13 out of the 16 of us took to the road to find shelter. Three brave souls remained behind to make sure that our tents didn’t try to make their own colony in the middle of the lake.

The rest of us drove for about ten minutes on the road heading East, and we only stopped at an antique shop lovingly named Burl’s County Smokehouse because Emma, the driver of the car Delany, Melissa and I were in, really had to pee. Even though we were only a few minutes from our campsite, there was hardly any wind, no rain, or any hint of a tornado, and only distant rumbles of thunder threatened our safe sojourn.

Outside of the shop there were a multitude of attractions, including an old, stand-alone jail cell, train cars that were converted to motel rooms, an inert tractor and mill wheel , and the ‘Arkansas $&!#house’ outhouse. There was also a tabby tom cat named Smokey who magnetized to the legs of anyone willing to come close and pet him.
Inside, the shop held even more wonders. The fragrance of handmade soaps, moonshine jelly, deli meats, and the unique must that always clings to old places permeated the air. We snapped up some soaps and cinnamon apple jelly, and briefly considered claiming one of the antique prostitute licenses for our own; however, the proximity of a skeleton foot in an old boot threw us a bit too far off, so we went outside to visit Smokey again. While we briefly considered kidnapping Smokey for our own, we didn’t want to deprive the owners and future visitors of his purr-ticular kind of hos-paw-tality, so we clambered into our vehicles with our new finds and headed back to the campsite.

We saw some slight devastation as we drove in. Sticks, small branches, and wooden splinters littered the roads coming in, and the sky was still a dark, swollen looking gray. Things at the camp were looking marginally better though, only a few tent pieces had flown astray. After we righted the tent flaps and put our vital equipment back in our tents though, more rain and wind arrived and forced us to huddle in our make-shift village.

In my own tent was the same group that had accompanied us in the car to the antique shop plus one lovely addition, Shelby. We all gathered around the meager light of Delany’s flashlight that we had tied to the apex of the tent. I attempted to teach the group a card game, but Delany, tense and suspicious of my motives, wasn’t having it. Outside, the weather was about as volatile as Delany’s mood. The wind tore at our tent flap, and water dripped in the temporary openings provided by the loosened rain-cover. After the consistent dripping got to be too much for our strained wits, we MacGyvered a solution. In a truly collegiate manner, we jury rigged a plastic garbage bag to the mesh ceiling with hair pins. Surprisingly, it held the water for the rest of the storm, and our tense card game continued.

After about an hour and a half of continuing on in this way, the storm passed, and we emerged into the dying light of the day. Greeting us was one of the most stunning sunsets of my life. The angry purple clouds were marching intently to the East, and the vermillion sun was slipping below the horizon, reflecting a flaming palette of colors onto the backs of the cloud formations.

Later I found out that an EF 1 tornado had passed right by our campsite, and had proceeded to wreck some docks and condos farther down the lake. Luckily though, our tents held us safe, and we were able to continue to enjoy our trip.

The sky over Lake Ouchita after the tornado
The sky over Lake Ouachita after the tornado

All in all, it turned out to be an intents first day in Arkansas.

Rocky Adventures

Why I went Digging with Geologists for Spring Break:

I think I’ll start with the spring break adventure I recently took with a lovely group of geologists to Arkansas.

The group consisted of 13 geologists, one biologist, and one journalist. The geologists were: Kyle, Devin, Mitch2, Shelby, Emma, Ruby, Melissa, James, Jenn, Nate, Delany,  and Angela. The biologist was Drew, and I was the journalist.

Our spring break trip started with a 19 hour drive from Milwaukee to a camp ground in Hotsprings Arkansas called Denby Point. We left the University go Wisconsin Milwaukee on a balmy Saturday morning that quickly turned to monotony when we realized that nine hours of our drive would be through the endless drab cornfields of Illinois. I was in a small blue Mazda with my best friend Delany, who I met in high school, and two other geology club members, Devin and Kyle. For half of the trip though, I kept having to furtively ask Delany what their names were, I’m horrid at names. (Sorry guys!)

Our stops along the way were light hearted, fun, and a great way to kick off the trip. During one of our refueling stops in Illinoying, Kyle and Devin dashed out of the car with a bottle of HCl to test if a decorative rock was coral or not (to the disappointment of all present, it was not).

At another gas station later on in Arkansas, we stopped in what has to be one of the sketchiest gas stations in the continental United States. It was blearily lit by florescent lights that were simultaneously too bright and too dim, the tiles were all either cracked or missing, and the bathrooms had no mirrors, and often, the stalls didn’t lock. The only saving grace of the gas station was a unique piece in it’s knife case. There, nestled among Real Tree patterned hunting knives and pink switchblades, was a Batarang. Truly, a deadly weapon. Yours for only 65 American dollars.

A little while after we entered Arkansas, a storm blew us into Memphis, the land of barbecue and blues. We were hankering for some food that wasn’t Subway, and some music that wasn’t either top 40 or country. We found both in a beautiful little restaurant called Central Barbecue. The wait was long, made longer by the pouring rain, but our goal was in sight: FOOD!

After about a half hour wait, we were finally able to order our food and stake out tables. I ordered and subsequently devoured the most delectable pulled pork sandwich known to man. the barbecue sauce that was hurriedly dribbled over the meat was in just the right amount, and had just the right flavor. The pork was smoked to perfection, and the bun that held all of the glory together was exactly what it needed. I might be exaggerating because of how damp the outside had been, or because of how hungry I was, but in that moment, the food that I had from that place was some of the most heavenly I had ever consumed.

While we were finishing up, Emma, who I hadn’t really interacted with before then, asked me to help her get her and her car, lovingly dubbed the pussy wagon, the rest of the way to the camp ground. Emma was tired and the roads were going to be rough going out of Memphis because the rain had started coming down in sheets. I agreed because by this point I was itching to drive, and having an exhausted person at the wheel is never good. So I started out of Memphis now in Emma’s car, with her eager to nap in the passenger seat, and Melisa eager to navigate in the seat behind me.

The weighed down station wagon passed the gigantic glass pyramid Bass Pro Shop and  bumped over the Mississippi River bridge, back into Arkansas. The rain wasn’t the only obstacle between us and Denby Point though, because right after we got out of Memphis, we hit some hellish construction. The rain was pounding down on the station wagon’s roof hard enough to drum its way into my head and nearly blind us from things only a few feet in front of us. After a short while of this struggle I found myself desperate for a pit stop. The only relief in sight however, was a XXX Adult Superstore.

As I pulled into a lot filled with pickup trucks and semi trailers, I begged one of the other girls to go with me. Thankfully I was able to have Melissa with me in this voyage of creep. Normally XXX Adult Superstores are seedy. This one was even more so. It was the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere Arkansas. The parking lot was gravel, and the windows were whited out. I expected to step inside and find a dilapidated STD filled horror show. However, when Melissa and I stepped inside, it was to a bright white antechamber before neat glass shelves of toys catering to all audiences. We quickly veered to the left where the bathrooms were though, so we could escape as fast as possible.

The rest of the soggy drive passed by in a blur, and sometime during the night, Emma stored up enough energy to retake the wheel. Because of some unfortunate mishaps, we were one of the first cars to arrive at camp. Our first stop was one of the restroom buildings, standing out of the darkness like the light at the end of an exponentially long tunnel. Soon though, we moved away from our beacon of solace and into the night to follow the twisting roads through the camp ground to try to find James, who had found the perfect spot for us to camp in.

The only light we had in the middle of the forest was from Emma’s headlights, and they illuminated steep drop offs not far from the edges of the roads, and empty campsite after empty campsite. It seemed like an eternity until we found James, on a campsite in one of the last looping roads that we checked. He had found the perfect campsite. There was enough room to park all the members of our caravan, and enough room of us to set up our very own tent village.

Therein lay the problem though. Setting up the tents. We had to set up about six tents that first night, so Emma, Melisa and I immediately got to work. The first tent on the docket was a brand new ‘six’ person tent. It was fresh out of the box and a breeze to put together. Emma’s family tent was next, and that was a bit more of a challenge. there were innumerable poles marked with several different colors. Finding out how they all fit together was an impossible task, so we quickly abandoned it to help the others who had arrived set up their own canvas domiciles.

After a few more minutes of that, I hurriedly stuffed my belongings into our ‘six’ person tent that really only fit four, and fell hard and fast into unconsciousness.