Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Always Check Your Headlamps and Other Lessons from the Wilderness

I broke my write-every-day streak this weekend, but I did do a lot of research on my outdoorsy MC...

Hours of exhausting but breathtaking hands-on research...

I spent the weekend on a cycling trip with my husband and a friend from college – two days riding a 160 mile loop through National Forest land with a night of camping in between. 

While I’ve done a lot of bicycle touring, I’d never actually camped before, not for real anyway; sleeping out in someone’s backyard or in a campground with showers right next to the fields at a frisbee tournament isn’t really the same as being out in the wilderness and having to pump/filter your own water and protect your food from bears. But I actually had a pretty good experience, and whenever I started to freak out about the whole wilderness thing I could remind myself that the experience was Research and I should pay attention.

So, some things I learned:

--They now make tents so simple that even I can assemble them, which is good since assembling a tent was one of the skills on my list. 

--Dehydrated camp meals are actually pretty delicious, especially if you’re ravenously hungry.*

--Also delicious are peanut butter and Honeynut Cheerio sandwiches. (Actually I already knew this since I invented them on an earlier bike trip, but I never miss a chance to advertise them.)

--If a bear approaches you, Do Not Run. Fortunately I learned this from a pamphlet at the Ranger’s Station, not personal experience.** The pamphlet also advised campers to “pick up small children” if a bear approached. And here I thought they were meant to serve as distracting bear bait. 

--If you don't want to have a scarring nighttime experience, bring your glasses and make sure your headlamps work. In the middle of the night I had to stumble (literally, because I didn’t see the humungous rocks in my way) to the pit bathroom, barely able to make out anything with my horrible night vision, convinced that a wild animal or psychotic mountain man would sense my vulnerability and leap out of the trees to attack me.  As I went to leave the bathroom my headlamp blinked three times, which is headlamp code for I’m-about-to-die, and I started to think the same thing. Fortunately it worked long enough for me to navigate the blurry black and gray circle in front of me get back to the tent, but I knew that no matter how much I had to go to the bathroom I was not getting out of that tent again until daylight. 

--It’s impossible to sleep through the night on a thin sleeping pad in a cramped tent, even if you’re completely exhausted. Also, when one person in the tent gets up, everybody in the tent wakes up. Sometimes they fall back asleep pretty quickly though, and then you can accidentally scare the crap out of them when you come back to the tent from your aforementioned bathroom adventure.

--I will never, ever have enough self-control to not itch my bug bites. 

--On a related note, I really hate insects. I used to think I only hated them when they left their territory (outside) and invaded my territory (inside), but it turns out I hate them always.

I can also better describe exhaustion, knee pain, mild delirium, sudden extreme hunger, and the overwhelming smell of pit bathrooms, all of which I'd suppressed somewhat from previous trips. 

But at the same time I can describe the exhilaration of riding with the wind or cresting a brutally steep summit. I can try to describe the indescribable scenery of towering rock faces and the deep woods. And I can explain why I want to do get on my bike and do it all again...

After the knee pain and bug bites fade, anyway.

* I recommend Backpacker’s Pantry (not that I’ve compared it to any other brands)

** While I do like to be educated about bears for my own safety, I mostly picked up the pamphlet because of Megan Miranda's hilarious entry about them.


  1. Wow, this looks amazing! (Amazing as in, "I'm glad you did it and not me," but amazing, nonetheless)
    Thanks for the link back!
    But seriously, I'm so upset my pamphlet didn't advise me to pick up small children. I think I'm going to send them a letter....

  2. Haha, definitely.

    Dear National Pamphlet Association,

    Thanks to your excellent advice, I was able to survive a bear attack by backing away while not moving and avoiding eye contact while staring down the bear. Unfortunately for little Billy, you did not inform me that small children should not be allowed to run amok around bears. You'll be hearing from my lawyer.