I went on a quick camping trip. Planning for at least one hike a day and nights of stargazing, it wasn’t going to be a difficult mini vacation. I’m not prissy when it comes to being outdoors. I expect to get sweaty, buggy, grimy, smoky, and every other description that comes without indoor amenities. However, unless I’m deep in the wilderness or traveling through an underindustrialized country, I expect to have access to fresh water and some version of a toilet. Thankfully, on this trip, I had both.
Camping with someone who was experienced with the geography, made thing easier. They knew the “good” campsites and had a deep familiarity with many of the trails. I, on the other hand, had never camped on this mountain and I was working with some new gear. As I’ve mentioned so very many times before, preparation is key to having a good experience in the outdoors with a broken body.
My ego got away from me when we were packing for the trip. After all, I’m comfortable and well versed in the outdoor lifestyle… what could go wrong? Stupid question. Something always goes wrong when you think you’ve got everything on lock.
See, I hadn’t tried out my new sleeping bag. It had great ratings, looked perfect, and technically matched what I was looking for when purchasing. With a mummy shape and stuffing that would keep me warm when temps hit freezing, it looked like the ideal three-season sack. And it probably was perfect. For someone else. It was perfect for a narrow back sleeper with a frozen head who doesn’t move an inch once they are in their bag. For me though, this sleeping bag was an absolute nightmare. It killed the camping trip.
I’m a tall lady. Not wide, but I have feminine features. I also have multiple physical conditions, which yell at me if not properly soothed. EDS means that I have to change positions frequently to stay comfortable and not put excessive pressure on mobile joints. MCAS perks up when I’m lying on fabrics that aren’t skin-friendly and if any insects get into the tent. Autonomic Small Fiber Neuropathy generally dictates multiple swings in body temperature and nerve pain from pressure and touch. Gastroparesis and POTS make an appearance when I’m in one position for too long. Chronic migraines and pain decide to be an every night thing and are typically the final judges for whether or not I’ll get any sleep.
All that being said, I make due with various sleeping arrangements by making sure I do small tricks and have the right gear. I didn’t try out the sleeping bag before I went. I was so blindly confident that it would be great. I didn’t even get in it until the camp was set up and it was time for bed. At first, I thought that I was doing something wrong. Maybe I hadn’t unzipped the bag all the way? Did the neck collar come off? Was I somehow in a very long toddler’s sleeping bag? Nope. This wild bag wanted me in one position. Do not move! You are locked in and will be kept very much mummified until daylight! Turn your head and get a mouthful of neck collar. Try to move onto your side and you will be taking the bag with you. Don’t you dare try to unzip yourself. You are in. it. forever.
Again, thinking I was the fool, I asked my camping partner to give my bag a try. Being that they have very different proportions and a less physically compromised body than myself, maybe it would work for them. No. Mostly comments along the lines of, “What? How? “Wait. What’s this for?” followed. Exhausted and incredibly frustrated, I resorted to sleeping with the bag as open as possible and adding all the blankets. I didn’t sleep. I kept rolling onto zippers. Everything was nylon and kept slipping. I was freezing.
In the morning, undefeated but a little loopy, I decided to set aside time that evening to MacGyver the sleeping arraignment. After a 6 mile hike with 2,200 elevation gain, I tried out another new gadget. A pocket shower that held 10 litters of water when full. We didn’t have the ability to hang the shower bag in the sun to warm up the water. The trees weren’t perfectly positioned to make the shower experience flawless, but it still worked! As I crouched beneath the icy-cold stream of water and gasped with every rinse, I was pretty happy. I don’t know about you, but freshening up after a very grimy hike is one of my favorite feelings. Clean-ish and a campfire dinner later, I was able to see some amazing comets while staring up at the clearest brightest night sky I’ve been under in a year.
Ready to take on the bed situation, I moved all the blankets and thoroughly examined my sleeping bag. Splayed out, I saw that there was no way of turning the bag into something functional for my needs. I laid down a thick camping blanket on the blessing of a sleeping mat. Then, I tried putting the sleeping bag on top of me, using the foot area as a sort of anchor. Adding another blanket on top of that, I thought I may have found a way to make it work. Sweet sleep would be mine soon enough. Not a chance. The bag immediately slid off and kept slipping off. Every turn would result in cover chaos. A few tears were shed, my body was ready to revolt, and I went through another sleepless night mad at myself for being so unprepared.
Thankfully, my camping partner was very understanding. They knew that I wouldn’t make it through a third night or additional day of active exploring. We packed some stuff up early and went on a hike that deserves it’s own post. A few hours later, we had everything together and headed back to reality. Being that I’ve already written about my insomnia, me not sleeping for a night or two isn’t anything new. Not sleeping while being frustrated and spending your days in constant activity takes a different toll. My body took a few days to recover from that experience. If you glean anything from this story, please leave only chance to chance. Some things will always go awry, but put yourself in the best position possible by preparing and making your space whatever you need it to be ahead of time. Oh, and don’t travel with people who aren’t empathetic. Good companions make a difficult trip tolerable and a great trip even better