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Rain, rain, go away ...

Camping in the rain is cozy fun until you wake up with your feet in a puddle of water.

I'm not supposed to let these things happen. After all, I spent years as the northwest editor of Backpacker magazine, which meant I was their resident expert on all things wet. I would deliberately go out in the foulest of weather to test gear and techniques. So to find myself at four in the morning with my heels dipped in icy water was equal parts uncomfortable, confusing, and embarrassing. After half an hour of sponging up water with my synthetic towel, I adjusted the tent floor, placed my food bags (in waterproof sacks) under my sleeping pad and went back to sleep.

When I woke again at 7am, the rain had turned briefly to snow and the problem had gone away, except for my stockinged feet, which are still wet. It seems the rain had been so strong that it flowed through the foot area of my tent, which wouldn't normally be a problem, except the peculiar floor design of this ultra-light tent (which I'm testing for Backpacker) caught the water and funnelled it in. I hope I've learned something useful, though I'm not yet sure what.

Prior to this, I had planned to write an ode to hiking in clouds. Before the clouds really rolled in, I spent a couple of hours watching the Mapei road race up the Umbrail and Stelvio passes. Thousands of contestants of wildly varying abilities biked, roller-skied, or ran up thousands of vertical meters to a cheering crowd of several dozen admirers. Such masochistic races up alpine passes are an old European tradition that's beyond my understanding. I think they're nuts.

As I shouldered my pack and hiked along the Italian side of the crest, I could see a long snaking line of contestants stretching way down into the valley. I had planned on scrambling over Umbrail Peak, but thick clouds obscured the heights and I was delighted to discover the trail as an alternative. The walk became a fantastic dance with clouds. They would swoop up from below capturing the landscape in their gray cloaks. My world would shrink to a few meters of tundra. And then the cloud would race past, unveiling a vast greenness that seemed the more luscious for appearing from nothing. And then another cloud would capture me for a while, smothering all but the flowers by the side of the trail. And then it would move on, over and over, though always lingering longer. Until finally I left Italy by crossing a pass into Switzerland and hiked down beneath the dancing clouds and it started to rain.