I wake with a start, listening to the rain drumming on the roof of the little pink tent like a heavy metal percussionist on amphetamines. What woke me? It is not my tent mate, Kermit “Frog” Greenback, for he has finally stopped talking in his sleep and is breathing heavily. It isn’t the sound of the rain pounding on the tent, louder than 100 drunken Aussies playing didgeridoos at a frat party. No, it’s the 10 gallon aquarium – complete with enraged piranhas – sloshing around in my belly. All that water I drank to stay hydrated on that hot 20 mile day has now been efficiently removed from my blood stream and urgently wishes to return to the world’s hydrologic cycle!
I listen to the rain in dread. One way or another, I am going to get really wet. But there’s no sense getting my sleeping bag and “Frog” wet too, so I hunch over in the confined space of the tent, put on my crocs to keep my walking shoes dry, unzip the tent, and crawl out into the rain. I am soaked within seconds. I look wistfully back at the dry, pink cocoon and continue forward. “Row 17, tent 13. Row 17, tent 13,” I repeat over and over. Suddenly, I trip over a tent stake and land face first in a mud puddle, sliding about 10 feet through the mud. “He’s safe!” a lady heading for the latrine calls out in jest. I stand up and spit about a gallon of water the consistency of pancake batter out of my mouth, and say a word that I am really glad that my granddaughter didn’t hear me say.
I walk on, passing two women waiting for a porta-potty. They stare at me in disgust. “Oh my God, it’s a pig-man!” one of them whispers. Her friend replies “If that guy and a three legged Shih Tzu with bucked teeth and a bad skin disease were the only contestants in a beauty contest, he wouldn’t stand a chance.” I trudge on, mud oozing from every pore and crevice of my body, and enter the porta-potty. I try to be neat and considerate, but when I leave less than a minute later, mud drips from everything. It looks like a disgruntled Keebler elf went berserk with the fudge machine.
As the driving rain washes some of the mud from my glasses, I gaze through the dark at a sea of pink tents the size of Rhode Island. I pick up my mantra as I walk. “Row 13, tent 17. Row 13, tent 17.” They all look the same in the rainy darkness, but I find my tent. I don’t want to get my sleeping bag muddy. So I strip to my skivvies in the rain, wring out tomorrow’s walking clothes the best I can, and crawl into the tent and sleeping bag. Despite being wet, muddy, and nasty, I quickly drift off to sleep.
I wake abruptly when something heavy lands on me, followed by piercing screams in the ink-like night. I quickly realize three things: (1) it is a woman screaming, (2) she is lying on top of me, and (3) she is screaming “There’s a half-naked, muddy man in my sleeping bag!” Just as rapidly, Kermit springs from his sleeping bag and starts screaming his head off. Except (1) it is not Kermit and (2) it is not a he! The two women race around the little pink tent like a couple of deranged kinkajous until it collapses like a herd of water buffalo ran over it. Trampled, muddy, soaked, and horrified, I follow them into the rainy night, and stand shivering in my underwear. “Oh crap, wrong tent!” I think in misery.
Women, and a few men, are streaming from their tents like army ants converging on a cockroach - me! They are not happy. They are not smiling. They are not laughing. In fact, they are seriously angry. Within minutes, the police arrive, and start asking me for my ID, which is back in my actual tent. I spy Kermit in the gathering crowd – at six foot-four and sporting a goat-vomit green Mohawk, he is hard to miss. “Hey, that guy’s my tent mate! Frog, tell them!”
Kermit affirms my plight. “Yeah, it’s true, he’s my tent mate: Art. Our tent is over here, and his ID must be in that.“ Then, he adds, “But Art, sneaking into those women’s tent, that’s just wrong! It’s wrong, man!”
The police warily lead me over to my tent, and I retrieve my ID. I spend an hour or so explaining to the police and race staff why I ended up in the wrong tent, trade sleeping bags with the woman whose bag is now caked with mud, help them erect their tent – it looks like a rhinoceros used it for a mud wallow - and collect my soaked, muddy walking clothes. Around 4AM, everyone settles in to not sleep the remaining hour or so we have left before getting up to walk 20 more miles.
“What a mess!” says Kermit. “Man, it isn’t easy being pink!”
“Sorry about that, Frog,” I say as I dig a clump of mud out of my left ear and toss it outside the tent like it was a dead mouse. “I didn’t mean to cause such a big mess. I just had to go to the bathroom for a second.”
“No problem, man – honest mistake. But you do this walk again, you might just want to stay in a hotel! At least you’ll be able to get to the bathroom and back to bed without starting an international incident.”....Oh yeah, that would be worse!