Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Tent living -- adventure, endeavor, or ... ?

Brad isn't sure which, but finds it interesting.

I'm not sure which, if either, either.

It's not a philosophical thing. I don't reject modernity or intentionally shun the luxuries of the tech-enhanced life, and while I'm way cognizant of nature's incredible beauty at certain times and in certain places, I feel no great need to "get back to" it on any kind of extended basis.

A lot of my reasons are practical:

I have a bad back -- getting worse, such that I seldom walk without a cane these days -- our bed exacerbates it, and sleeping on the hard ground with a slight head-down slope seems to help. I have diabetes, and that "feet slightly elevated" thing is supposed to mitigate the associated peripheral neuropathy (anecdotally, it seems to).

The rest of the family likes their sleep environment warmer than I like mine. I prefer to keep the house cool and pile on blankets at night; everyone else prefers it at least 68-70 degrees fahrenheit at all times.

I like it reasonably quiet and dark when I'm ready to sleep, and that's not how our household works. Our sleep schedules vary -- in particular, Liam's sleep schedule and the usual circadian rhythm seem to be ships which only pass in the night two or three times a week. The other nights, it's not unusual to hear music, video game noises, or rants about the stupidity of something he just found on the Internet at, say, 3:30am. We tried rigid scheduling and forced bedtimes for quite awhile, but they had no effect. He does have a rhythm. It's just not the usual one. We finally decided to just roll with it.

So: Sleeping outside is healthier, more comfortable, darker and quieter for me. And it doesn't really interfere with anything. I'm ten feet from the door, and near enough a window that a loud tap on it or yell out of it can summon me as needed.

From a recreational standpoint, I've always loved camping. Back in the day, it wasn't unusual for me to throw some stuff in my backpack on Friday right after work, head for the woods, and make it back in time for work Monday morning (having cleaned up in the river pre-dawn that morning before hiking out), once or twice a month. That was usually summer, and I never used a tent and seldom even a sleeping bag -- just a blanket and military "poncho liner."

And of course there were my Marine Corps days. One time I slept (sort of) for eight hours neck-deep in the Cumberland River. I've slept at 10,000 feet above sea level in Yosemite, awakened covered with frost at the Marine Corps' Mountain Warfare Training Center or bathed in sweat on the floor of the Delta Corridor at Marine Corps Base 29 Palms in the Mojave, and wrapped in a poncho in 38 degree rainy tornado weather at Camp Ripley, Minnesota. I lived most of six months under canvas in the Arabian desert. And so on, and so forth.

But, see "bad back" above. These days, I can make it perhaps a hundred feet without a cane before my back tunes up and I start limping. Another hundred feet with or without cane and it feels like my hip is full of ground-up glass. When I go to a large store lately, I usually avail myself of their wheelchair or electric scooter option, and frankly I anticipate buying a wheelchair for home use in the foreseeable future. And no, I'm not morbidly obese or anything like that -- heavier than I want to be at about 230 right now, but the back problem has been getting worse for about 20 years, even when I weighed in at 165 or so, ever since I got hit in the small of the back by a rogue boat trailer.

So anyway, my deep woods backpacking days are probably over, but that doesn't mean I can't sleep out.

The thing that seems to awe Brad a bit is the temperature -- I'm sleeping out in sub-freezing (and anticipate sleeping out in sub-zero) weather.

Honestly, I like cold, or at least cool, weather camping better than midsummer camping. You can always get warmer with more blankets or a fire (or ... ahem ... a companion), but it's hard to cool down when it's a hundred fahrenheit in the shade. Also, summer means mosquitos and other bugs.

My set-up right now is a cheap tent, shielded from the north wind by a tarp lean-to and a large neighboring house perhaps 20 feet away. Within the tent I sleep in (what I think is) a 20-degree mummy bag under a wool blanket (and more blankets available), atop another blanket and a vapor barrier mat, with real pillows. The only part that's not as warm as the house is the air I'm breathing, and I like that part!

And while I've gone ahead with the label, what I'm doing isn't really "tent living." I spend most of my time, apart from actually sleeping, in the house. I only cook outdoors over a fire if I feel like grilling out. The walk from my tent to running water, toilet and hot shower is perhaps 30 seconds.

The best of both worlds!

In a previous post on this topic, I allude to Henry David Thoreau's two year sojourn on Walden Pond. He was a little more isolated than I am (a mile from town), but if I'm not mistaken his aunt did his laundry for him. He wasn't really "roughing it" much, and neither am I. But I do like blogging about it, just to share whatever I learn.


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