The car windows were too steamed up to see out anymore, my sodden military poncho lay in a puddle on the floorboards between my legs, the dog was curled in a ball upon a mound of gear on the front seat, it’s nose tucked under her body.
I leaned back in the seat as far as it would go and let out a weary sigh.
For the last hour I’d been working in a wind-whipped downpour.
I’d rigged a plastic tarp over the light tent to ward off the heavy rain. Then I dug a trench around the base to drain away the sheets of water washing off the tarp. And finally I tied rocks to the ropes that lashed down the tarp in an effort to keep it all from blowing away.
I was doing all this in between desperate lunges back into the car in the seconds between knee-buckling, thunderclaps and the lightning strikes I knew were to come.
I was high on a hill in Northeast New Mexico at Sugarite Canyon State Park and if the weather didn’t get me, the bears probably would.
I was bone tired as I watched the tarp flap and strain in the wind and figured I needed a backup plan just in case it all went to hell.
I began shifting the gear in the back of the little Geo Tracker SUV. I had taken the back seat out long ago to accommodate the equipment I lugged around on fishing trips. Now I pushed it all to one side of the car and piled it up high so I could lay the seat back down and sleep inside if necessary.
It wouldn’t be too comfortable but I’d already put in long day of hiking and fishing before I got around to fighting the rain and, with a couple of beers under my belt, I’d probably nod off in no time at all.
That would be of small consolation.
I lay back and listened, the rain had waned for a moment, it had been doing that, coming in violent, wind-driven waves, and then it’d take a break but come back again.
I’d given up hope it would ever stop and thought of what else I could do for the tent, a cheap, K-Mart special, I bought in Raton after discovering I’d left my good one at home.
I wiped at the condensation covering the window and looked out into the darkness.
The tent was still standing and my emergecny tarp remained staked to the ground.
I leaned back and turned on the radio, picking up the strained broadcast of a public radio station out of southern Colorado. The commentator droned on about some such thing and I slowly began to nod off.
I awoke shortly, shifting to relieve the dull ache in my backm when I noticed it was quiet.
Then I realizied the rain had stopped?
The dog stirred and we crawled out of the little truck, stretched our legs and looked up to the sky. It was lightening up and soon a couple of stars began to peek through the parting clouds.
The rain had finally stopped after all that work.
We slept well that night in our dry tent, saved by a seven dollar, plastic tarp and a bunch of nylon rope.
The next morning the bright sunshine cleared away any thoughts of the horrific night before and we moved on.
I was on the San Juan River in Northwest New Mexico in late May and the water level was back down after several weeks of heavy flows from the dam.
Every spring the river’s government handlers ratchet up the flow tenfold and send a torrent of water downstream to mimic spring runoff and scour out the riverbed for several weeks.
And when they turn off the spigot, the fish peel themselves off the banks and spread out across the water in search of fresh food and breathing room.
Someone in the know once told me I needed to be on the upper flats of this fabled, blue ribbon trout stream when they brought the water down.
“The fishing will be stellar,” he said quietly.
Several weeks of rest from the daily pounding from anxious anglers in this heavily fished tail-water did wonders for the trout’s attitude, my source had told me.
Fish who would normally swim lethargically over to the nearest angler begging to be unhooked now jumped and raced off into the depths, peeling off line and testing knots.
It’s what good fishing is all about.
So there I was working the far bank in the upper flats just below the dam when I felt the first raindrop poke me in the back. I turned to see a dark bank of clouds, roiling upstream towards me.
I worked my way back to the bank, yanked off my vest and dug out my nylon raincoat, just in time, because within minutes I was standing in a full bore, downpour with big, fat drops rocketing into the water around me.
My flimsy raincoat was already soaked through as I tiptoed my way back across a wide expanse of slippery water and then headed through the woods to the far off parking lot.
I arrived to find my fishing buddy huddled in his truck. He rolled the window down and explained sheepishly how he’d forgotten his raincoat that day.
We decided to drive down to the bar, have some lunch and ride out the storm there.
Over enchiladas, ham and beans, tortillas and cold Coors, we watched as the bar filled with oil field workers, truck drivers and other fishermen seeking refuge from the rain.
They talked of how heavy and persistent this rain was – and would it last?
I suggested if it got too bad we could always take a ride into town to burn some time.
My partner was a family man and small business owner who had only the one day off to fish the river.
“I didn’t come up here to cruise around,” he said.” I’m here to fish and this rain isn’t going to stop me. I’m going to get me a rain coat.”
I offered him one of my backup ponchos, a cheap plastic one I kept under the car seat for emergencies, but he waved me off and we proceeded down to the fly shop.
“What can we do for you boys today?” the burly shopkeeper asked.
“Well, this guy needs a raincoat,” I said.
The clerk tossed a small packet containing a yellow poncho on the counter.
“That’ll be three dollars,” he said.
But it was too late, my partner was already eyeing a rack of expensive, guide rated, high-tech, rainwear.
“Well, if you want a real rain coat, that’ll be the last one you’ll ever own,” the clerk said with a smile.
I urged my partner to put up the $400 raincoat and grab the poncho.
“C’mon, it’ll be through raining by the time we get back down to the river,” I whined.
“I don’t know,” the clerk replied with a wink. “Last time I seen it rain like this, it lasted for three days.”
My partner put the $400 raincoat on the counter and pulled out his credit card.
The clerk grinned while I winced.
We were back on the water later that afternoon, enjoying the sunshine and having the upper flats to ourselves, when I noticed my partner still wearing his new raincoat.
It was a fine piece of work, triple layered Gore-Tex with rubberized, watertight zippers, all sorts of pockets and special tabs and other goodies.
I thought it might be a little warm for such a jacket since the sky had cleared and the afternoon warmed, so I thought I’d razz him a little.
“Hey,” I yelled over the water to him. “I told you it would stop raining as soon as we walked out of that fly shop with that fancy raincoat.”
“Nah, it’s the other way around,” he yelled back. “If I hadn’t bought this raincoat, then it would have never quit raining.
You know he was probably right. That’s how it is with the rain.