“Why don’t you camp out with me?” I asked my friend, sending up a little prayer that she would say yes and reduce my fear that “IT” would get me in the night. I knew that she and her husband had a stockpile of tents and sleeping bags in the house.
The formerly sunny strip of mowed grass where we stood was now in shadow, a preview of the total darkness that would soon take both the scenery and my frontier spirit. The curved path from her weekend house ended in a wide swath between a mountain and a stream. It was perfect for pitching a tent, but I had not counted on it being out of sight of the house. I’d packed a whistle, but I realized the chances of anyone hearing it were slim to none.
“It will be like a slumber party,” I said, aiming for perkiness. When she agreed to pitch a tent next to mine, I was buoyant with relief.
“We can have a fire later,” she said, referring to the circle of rocks near the center of the clearing. Chairs had been set around it, extending a promise of warmth to the tent site that was now ours rather than just mine.
I had insisted on assembling my tent during the warm afternoon, primarily because I had not done it before. I’d laid it out flat in my den at home, but my furniture hadn’t left room for the movement required to put it together. Hiking experts advise us to erect a tent so many times that we can do it in the dark and take it down in rain without it getting soaked. I wasn’t there yet.
“Do you have instructions?” she asked.
“No,” I said, “but I watched a video on the Internet.” With a bit of guesswork, we managed to get the footprint in place, the tent up, the rain fly attached, and the sleeping bag and pad inside. Finally I could stop obsessing about the tent.
After dinner we walked the path with flashlights, mine a headlamp. My friend had talked her husband into camping out, and now there were three of us. “You’re blinding me!” he said of my new headlamp, the one with the eye-friendly red-light setting that I could not find no matter how many times I pushed the buttons. Know your gear.
He built a fire, but I missed most of its ambience because I was tired. I had been up a ridiculously long time and looked forward to sleeping through the scariest part of the evening—from about 9:00 p.m. until morning. Their voices receded once I zipped myself into my tent.
Hikers are advised to carry ear plugs for the times they need to share a shelter body-to-body with others. In my case I simply tucked my two hearing aids into the little pocket on my tent wall, and I was immediately alone. Oh.
I had put on my REI Revelcloud cold-weather jacket, my knit beanie, and my long underwear. I slid into my sleeping bag, thrilled to find it warm. I was now stretched out one inch from the ground, and my limbs had never felt so angular. Besides experiencing the discomfort of my own bones, it wasn’t ten minutes before I had to pee. No! I would not climb back out into that chilly night. I’d already felt my nose with my fingers, and it was as cold as the carrot on a snowman.
If I fell asleep at all, I didn’t know it. Mostly I tossed and turned in my sleeping bag. Once in turning, I rolled against something solid outside the tent. Was this “IT”? What was I feeling: Was it a raccoon? A skunk? My friends’ pet dog? None of the above; it was my pack, stored in the vestibule of the tent.
If you think there is no comfort to be found in inanimate objects, I'm here to argue. From that moment on, I knew that my backpack would be my silent companion as I learned to love the outdoors. I would need to give it a name.