I Learned My Lesson: Camping Still Sucks (One) - Colleen Brynn Travels

I Learned My Lesson: Camping Still Sucks (One)

Jul 5, 2012 by

I should have known better, really. After all, I did read his book. I knew all about his camping habits and hiking tendencies. I should have known what I was getting myself into. I should have known it was likely I’d be sleeping on the forest floor or beside an electrical power station on the side of the highway at some point. And even though I told him I don’t like camping and that I like being near running water, I still should have expected what was coming my way.
This, my friends, is the story of camping with Francis Tapon.
And just for the record, he knows that this was horrible for me.
The day didn’t start off well. We took a while to find the right parking lot for the trail head we wanted. When we finally found it, we unloaded the gear to discover that one of Francis’ water bottles had sprung a leak. As luck would have it, I was the only one whose stuff got soaked. I had to wring out one of my cloth bags, and then I sat in the searing sun for thirty minutes with my belongings spread out on the hot concrete so that they might dry. My cameras got doused and my journal suffered irreparable water damage. Thankfully, the cameras (and journal) were still functional thereafter.
Since we hadn’t even started hiking, I had no choice but to suck it up and not show how irritated I really was at the situation.
When we finally found the trail head, we saw a sign that warned us that we were entering a path not exactly intended for beginners. Strong warnings of “very difficult” and “not maintained” made me think twice about what was coming. But I didn’t doubt my abilities. I had just finished a 6 week bootcamp and my body was as strong as it’s ever been. It couldn’t be that bad. Right?
Then there was Sara. She was dealing with badly swollen ankles and feet; they barely fit into her pants and shoes. She’s never the type to complain, so I thought she was doing alright…
The hiking itself wasn’t bad. The scenery was rewarding and I was satisfied as the picture of the lake below us changed dramatically, confirming that we were, in fact, getting higher. There were a few dangerous spots that required us to gingerly clamber over quickly flowing streams that ended in a straight drop off, but with a little care and patience, I found that I had no problems with my footing.
After 5 or 6 hours of hiking, we ended up at our campsite. Truly, it wasn’t a campsite, just a spot where we planted our stuff in the forest by a lake.
After a long hike, I had every intention of going swimming at some point, but by the time we got there, the sun was beginning to set, and the ice cold lake was no longer tempting. I soaked my weary feet instead. Blisters were starting to form.
After a quick meal of ramen, Francis and his buddy Josh took off to do some more hiking and a bit of filming. Sara and I parked ourselves on a smooth rock jutting out into the lake, and there, we watched the sun drop behind the mountains and enjoyed each other’s company.
Once the sun had gone down, we looked at each other and silently agreed to go back to the campsite. With nothing else to do, we decided to settle in for the night, even though it was only 8:00 pm.
And thus, the most uncomfortable night of my life begins.
The second I lay down, I knew I would be in screaming amounts of pain. As it is, I have a bad back: scoliosis and a swayed lower back. With nothing to properly support my spine and no pillow to speak of, my only thought was survive the night. That’s all I had to do. Just survive the night.
Francis had kindly given me one of the “warmer” sleeping bags. However, I will point out that this was a very bizarre sleeping bag. It was more of a blanket that velcros down to the accompanying pad. This pad was also bizarre: it only accommodated the length of my body from my head to my butt. There was nothing under my legs but pine codes, twigs and grass. Thankfully though, there was a little pouch for my feet in that sleeping bag.
I wrote in my journal for a bit, attempting to pass a little time, but it quickly became too dark to see. Being velcro’d and tucked into my sleeping situation, I decided I couldn’t be bothered to get out and hunt down the head lamp Francis had tossed me earlier that day when we were “packing” (see first picture above).
Soon, the boys got back to the campsite and eventually tucked in too, and I began contemplating a thing called sleep.
To no one in particular, I mentioned how I would have liked having a pillow. Unfortunately, I have an inflatable pillow in Winnipeg that I almost brought to California, but Francis had said not to bring any camping gear; he’d have everything I would need. As I replayed the scene in my head of me sitting on my bedroom floor, inflatable pillow in hand, I kicked myself for having tossed it to the side and not into my bag.
Francis cleverly suggested using one of his other water bottles as a pillow. It was a small 1L bottle that I’d had in a side pouch of my bag all day, so with that bottle and a pink scarf from my grandmother, I managed to assemble something pillow-like.
Next up: move past contemplating sleep and actually get sleep.

As far as style of sleep goes, I would say mine is something in the starfish category. I like to splay out and take up a lot of space. Being as I was velcro’d into my arrangement, this was not going to be possible. I opted to sleep on my side, since sleeping flat on my back was far too painful. I found that this worked momentarily before that position made my body scream too, so I came up with a routine to get through the night. I would lie on my right side until it screamed, and then I would flip over to the left side until it screamed. Wash, rinse, repeat. Any sleep obtained among that was bonus.
By then, I was already yearning to be in the car, getting the hell out of there.
Then there was Sara. She had soaked her poor swollen legs and feet in the ice cold water of the lake, and it seemed to help. Or so we thought.

The night progressed and quickly became colder and colder. Francis, again quite kindly, had loaned me a jacket for the night. I became so cold in the night that I had the hood of the jacket pulled up over my head and tightened so only my eyes were visible, and then I pulled the sleeping bag over my head completely, so I was double-cocooned. It wasn’t perfect, but it allowed me to retain some heat.
Periodically throughout the night, I would poke my head out of my double cocoon with the hopes of seeing some daylight. Every time I looked out, however, the moon was taunting me brightly overhead, as if its very rays of light were laughing at me. I quickly buried my head in my cocoon.

Then, I woke up again. Only this time, it wasn’t for my routine inspection of the moon. I was soaking wet. My “pillow” had a leak in it, at the top near the cap; it wouldn’t have showed itself during the hike that day since it had consistently been upright. The entire right half of my body was drenched in ice cold water. The water soaked through the sleeping bag, the jacket and the three shirts I had on underneath. In disbelief, I wrung out my grandmother’s pink scarf twice and then accepted that it would no longer be of use to me as a pillow, a crucial piece of the contraption I was dubbing a pillow that night. I tried to spread it out over my sleeping bag with the thought of drying it, at least somewhat, but in my subsequent moon inspections, I would find it balled up on the forest floor at my side.
Finally, after hours of torture and discomfort, I heard some rustling from the boys. They were already packing up. I peeked out from my cocoon and saw a dull grey sky. The sun couldn’t be too far behind.
And then there was Sara. Having slept on a slight incline, fluid had built up in her ankles and feet, and they were more swollen than ever. Of course, we only had several more hours of hiking to get through that day.

Thus began day two. I was more than miserable.

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  1. I know I shouldn’t be laughing, but this is highly entertaining seeing as I am in the comfort of my apartment with blankets and pillows to spare! Sounds positively miserable – but I can’t wait for part 2!

    • p.s. I thought you were done halfway through the post – it all just sounded so horrible, there had to be an end – but then I scrolled down and it just continued. Ohhh, Colleen.

    • Hi Audrey!
      I’m glad you find it funny! I find it funny now too…
      Part two is now up. Enjoy!

    • I’m not sure why the Backpacking Gods decided to make Collenn suffer from the leaky Platypuses (plastic water bottles). 🙁

      If you aspire to be a cheapskate traveler, learning to sleep aside comfortably is a must! Most backpackers (i.e., the camping kind, not the ride-in-a-bus kind) don’t carry a pillow, so I didn’t pack on. It’s good to know that you need one. Don’t give up on camping forever. Now you know your needs.

      And one need is to avoid leaking water bottles…. 😉

  2. I have never understood camping myself. My idea of camping is much more organized, like say in a cabin. Give me a pillow and a roof over my head. I’m glad you made it through the night! I would have be the crabbiest person in the morning I think under those conditions.


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