Friday, July 17, 2009

Camping out with Death on the River

I have only shared the story about almost dying in a lightning storm to a few people.

Of these few people I have only told one or two the full, full story. My friends have been encouraging me to share also the "bad" experiences of my journey. Its not easy to share this stuff. Its far easier to tell about the sun shinning moments.

Why? I think I am afraid of people seeing past a certain persona I put up. To see my weaknesses and folly. To be vulnerable. There's alot of people reading my blog these days. I need to be honest about it all-- to myself first. So, I am going to tackle this fear head on. Thank you Brenda, Mark and Vaughn for the encouragement.

This particular story goes right to the heart of several towering fears of mine. Its taken me months to write and post this. But here we go.

Its not all blue sky cycling around the world. Sometimes there are storms. Literally.

I had been cycling for several days along a beautiful forested trail in rural Pensilvania. I had been camping easily at ready-made forest campsites for several days. The camping was getting a little too easy. As dusk fell, I was feeling up for something a little more, well, adventurous.

From out of the forest the trail emerged onto a long suspension bridge that spanned a gorgeous river coursing through the hills. Down below I spotted a beautiful shoreline. Perfect! I found a trail that the kayakers used and followed it down to the river's edge.

And, there it was!

A flat rock about the size of my tent, three or four feet out into the flow of the river. Wow! I thought: "I can camp in the river! Now that would be adventurous!"

Indeed, the rock was the perfect size for the footprint of my tent. As I went about setting my tent up however, my intuition began to buzz: "Russell! This is a BAAAADDD idea!" I remember to this day my uncanny sense of unease.

Yet, it was a gorgeous evening: The sun was setting. The river flowed peacefully beside me. I had the coolest camp spot ever. What could go wrong?

Once my tent was up, I cracked opened a beer and got my dinner cooking. It was then, that I felt the first drop of rain.

And then the next. And the next. The drops began to fall faster and faster. The breeze turned into a wind. Before I I could finish my beer I was in a storm.

I dashed into the sanctuary of my tent as the rain increased. Thunder rumbled nearby. Massive black clouds moved in, the evening sunset was extinguished, an ominous darkness reigned.

I could do nothing but huddle in my sleeping bag as the river began to rage around my little island rock. The wind into a gale. Lightning began to flicker all around me. Thunder crashed everywhere. My unpegged tent, an eery bubble of fragile comfort, was being assaulted on all sides. I was in a full out torrential downpour.

As I lay there I counted the ways that I could die: First, there was the lightning-- there was more blue light outside than darkness now. Second, the wind would cast my tent into the water-- the sides were billowing madly. And third, a flash surge would plummet me into the water hopelessly wrapped up in my tent-- the river, which had once been so calm was now raging.

The inevitable question arose: "Russell, my friend, are you ready to die?"

Looking back on this rather intense moment in the face of death I feel convinced that the first thoughts that hit me, I need to deeply honour. I felt I wasn't ready to go. I felt I needed to complete my 1Mandala project. And, I felt I needed to experience love in
triadic open and loving relationship. This is what came to my mind! A relationship that totally busted the old morals and ideas of love. I asked the universe to help me get through this.

As you can tell by me blogging about this, the storm blew over, and the Universe helped me out indeed.

A little too much actually! A kayaker passing on the bridge had spotted me. He called the state park rangers. After the storm was settling down, just as my heart rate was returning to normal, there was a voice outside. The rangers ticketed me for dangerous camping! I couldn't beleive it. I still can't. I also still have a ticket outstanding given the impossibility of paying it at the time. Bummer!

Yet, far more importantly, in my little campout with Death, I cut right through all the clutter and distractions of life, to the core of what my heart is calling me to.

Death had gift for me.

What to live.

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