Soundless lightning flashed unseen in the distance while stars blinked placidly directly overhead. Andromeda floated overhead off the foot of Pegasus in her wispy dress. I looked for the galaxy of the same name but did not see it.
The desert had heated up to a hundred degrees in the afternoon and the hot air hung over the evening. I wanted to cowboy camp but heeded warnings that there was a chance for thunderstorms late at night by setting up my bivy to sleep on with the idea that should rain come to pass, I could jump inside for shelter. In case you’ve never seen one, a bivy is more body bag than tent.
Listening to an audiobook to pass the time in the early evening, I watched the stars disappear behind unseen clouds. The sky continued to flash with increasing brightness and regularity to the west of us, up Palm Canyon and into the mountains. It was only nine in the evening when the winds first gusted while raindrops pelted the ground. Brooke and Arturo scrambled to put the rain fly on their tent. I tucked myself into the bivy but the rain barely lasted more than a minute.
The rain stopped but the wind didn’t. The wind rippled over the tent and the bivy in gusting waves. I went back to cowboy camping because the body bag was too hot. The wind continued to intensify. Arturo and Brooke’s tent trapezoided into a nearly flat position. Brooke and Arturo moved the tent inside the Ramada, the stone wall structure with a slotted board roof that enclosed picnic tables and a stone fireplace. I quickly followed their lead placing the bivy and my body just inside the wall next to the entrance.
Lightning flashed growing brighter and close enough to echo in the canyon. Sprinkles of rain came and went. I retreated inside the bivy occasionally resurfacing to cool off. Blowing sand attempted to use my head as the foundation for a new sand dune. The lightning-thunder gap closed from ten seconds to five seconds to three seconds to two seconds. I wondered if I should be in the car riding out the storm awake but alive. I pictured Brooke’s and Arturo’s faces flashing in the lightning while pounding on the windshield to let them in but me shaking my head no because there wasn’t enough room for them and all the gear. (That’s a haha).
The gusting storm cooled off the air enough to seal the bivy without breaking into a sweat. The lightning passed and the sprinkles went their way. For the rest of the night, wind ripped at the bivy flapping the material like you might see on a tent during a blizzard on an Everest expedition. Somehow, during all of that, I fell asleep.
When I woke up, the air was calm. The remnants of a storm cloud made for dramatic horizon fronting the morning sun. You could be none the wiser for the night of terror. Later reports informed me that this was one of the worst lightning storms ever experienced in San Diego county at some 4000 strikes during the night. I for one was glad to not make the bivy body bag my final resting place.