Monday, July 14, 2014

Rained Out at Perrot State Park

I had a sinking feeling as the first fat raindrops splashed onto my windshield while nearing our destination - Perrot State Park - on Saturday. The weather forecast had predicted isolated/scattered thunderstorms for the afternoon that would taper off by evening, so I had gone ahead with our plan to drive 3+ hours and camp for the next 3 days. I'm always up for an adventure and I've never let a little rain get in the way. How bad could it be?

At the park office, I left the windows of the car down halfway and the sunroof open to allow plenty of fresh air for the dogs while I went inside to check in to our campsite and get some hiking maps.

While waiting my turn, I noticed a sign on the counter indicating that the drinking water at the park had high nitrate levels and was unsafe for pregnant women or infants and that boiling the water would only concentrate the nitrate levels - so don't boil it either. Hmmm. This didn't look good, especially since I had chosen NOT to fill our water jug at home, but to use the state park water instead.

After receiving my maps and campsite tag, the clerk informed me that Catfish Days, an annual festival, was going on in town this weekend (which I had obviously seen already on our way to the park) and that hundreds of runners would be going through the park on Sunday and they would be closing off the main entrance to the park.

Hmmm. The whole point to camping (for me anyway) is getting away from crowds and noise. Hundreds of runners? Not good.

She also informed me that one hiking trail was off-limits to dogs and another one was known to have rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes??? For some reason, I was unaware that Wisconsin had rattlesnakes. How could I not know this? What kind of hiker am I?

Also, it seemed that the rain was now forecast to continue heavily throughout the afternoon and would taper off near 8pm and there would be more scattered showers throughout the night. I'm not afraid of a little rain and I've camped in rain before, but I've never attempted to set up my tent, etc. in the rain. This was going to be tricky.

As I exited the park office, I realized it was now pouring rain outside and the car was soaked. Yay.

I decided to drive through the campground and get an idea of the park layout. I had reserved my site earlier in the week - sight unseen - and was hoping for a decent spot. The campground loops were really confusing, but the map helped a little. Rounding the curve in the narrow drive, I was relieved to see that site 65 was actually pretty decent. A long driveway led to a nice round space with a good area for the tent and there was a convenient trail leading to the bathrooms at the back of the site with thick foliage surrounding us for plenty of privacy.

But everything was dripping wet and the ground was muddy with puddles.

Still trying to muster an attitude of optimism, I decided we could do a little hiking while waiting for the rain to stop. It was already getting late in the day, but I was putting on a brave face and hoping for the best.

Alert to the sounds of a nearby firing range.

We drove down to the trail entrance to Brady's Bluff - a trail that would offer spectacular views of Trempealeau Mountain. This was the whole reason we came here - Trempealeau Mountain:  a very rare solid rock island in the middle of the Mississippi River - one of only 3 of these types of islands along the entire Mississippi River. And Brady's Bluff is supposed to offer an amazing view of this special island.

The rain steadily continued as I buckled Charlie into her hiking vest and zipped up my raincoat. I could hear distant faint booms and wondered if the sounds were fireworks. But I couldn't imagine anyone lighting off fireworks during the day or in the rain.

Charlie apparently heard the booms too, although I hadn't noticed her increasing anxiety until we were well on our way up the trail. I realized, too late, that the sounds we were hearing were from a firing range somewhere nearby and the reverberating gunshots were spooking Charlie terribly.

Planning her escape up the side of the bluff.

The trail was slick and muddy and the steep stone steps were slippery. If I hadn't been strapped to a scared dog pulling me at a breakneck pace up the path, it actually would have been a beautiful and peaceful hike. I love hiking in the rain and listening to the pitter-patter of raindrops on the leafy vegetation; it makes me feel like I'm in a tropical rain forest.

But Charlie was trying to escape from the phantom danger of distant gunshots and was trying to scale the bluff to escape. I couldn't walk/run fast enough for her. She was digging in with all her strength, splaying her legs out with her belly almost flat to the ground to pull me along faster. Trying to keep up with her, I fell off the trail as we rounded a curve on one of the switchbacks and was afraid I had landed in poison ivy. My boot had sunk into the mud and I was pretty shaken from the close call.

Looking up the trail, I saw that it narrowed considerably and the drop-off along the edge was getting steeper. Little rivulets of rain were running down the muddy slope and I was worried that it was only going to get worse the further up we got.

At this point, neither of us were having fun and I decided we needed to go back. I wistfully looked up, sad that I would miss the view from the top, but also relieved to get off the dangerous trail.

Charlie, unfortunately, was not happy about going back down. To her, the threatening gunshots were down there and she wanted to continue going up. She leaped up into the vegetation on the hillside, trying to scale the bluff to escape several times. Sometimes she would bolt down the stone steps, dragging me behind her and then she would cower behind me on other parts of the trail.

Once we were off the trail she gained super-human strength and continued dragging me toward the car. I ran behind her at scary speeds, physically unable to stop her. Back at the car, I gave her a dose of Rescue Remedy and took a very long break to get my heart rate to return to normal. My whole body was shaking.

At this point, I was not in the mood to deal with setting up the campsite in the rain. This was not fun anymore. Every ounce of optimism was washed away with the flood of adrenaline in my body from our hike.

I made the difficult decision to abandon our camping reservation and drive home.

Sometimes the best of intentions don't work out. There was no point to "toughing it out" and staying if we weren't going to have fun. I rationalized the expense of the trip to just having a scenic road trip, enjoying the view of Trempealeau Mountain from the shore of the Mississippi River and getting to see a different part of the state that I had never been to before.

It was definitely an adventure.