It’s 5AM. I wake startled. Not sure what yanked me out of my slumber. What is it? Was it the sound of footsteps? My forehead is assaulted by something wet and cold. Please no. Another raindrop pelts me in the forehead. Shit. I roll to over to my side, pull my sleeping bag over my head, and hope the rain goes away. It doesn’t. Sleep inertia fades away, time accelerates, and I bellyflop into reality instead. Mother Nature soaked me overnight like a bowl of oats, and marinating in my misery isn’t going to fix that. Time to get moving.
It’s funny, reflecting back to the thoughts you have when your brain is still half asleep. I was just laying there trying to negotiate with Mother Nature. Please, just let me sleep for another couple of hours and I won’t complain if you rain for the rest of the day. From the warmth of my sleeping bag the idea of facing the saturated morning felt like climbing Everest. Looking back now, all I can see is the beauty of the climb.
I didn’t plan on writing today. The last couple of weeks have been pretty quiet, so I don’t have much to share other than random thoughts. This post began by me opening up Obsidian, the note-taking app I use, to jot down a quote from the book I’m reading. An hour later and I’m still sitting on the same bench in front of the same Fred Meyer. Writing has become its own mountain, with its own elements of discomfort, and its own beauty to look back at.
My Second Winter
What does winter do to everyday life on the road? Well, the answer to that question depends on where I’m at. If I’m in Texas for the polar vortex, it means ice covered roads—in a state that does everything bigger, including statewide collapse—and travel becomes impossible, forcing me to get a hotel room for a week.
Outside of Texas, beating winter comes down to one key factor: waking up to charged headphones. Why does this matter? It’s simple, you need a banger out the gate. It doesn’t matter how insulated or dry the spot you slept in was, the moment you leave your sleeping bag life gets icy. Every movement flushes the body heat trapped in your layers out and replaces it with crisp morning air. This creates the urge to move less while crossing your arms to trap the heat. This is a terrible idea though; this is the worst part of your day and you do not want to extend it. Dancing gets the snowball rolling. While the cold might sound miserable, these are the days I’m at my happiest. Beginning my morning with the conscious decision to make the best out of my situation fills the day with the joy and makes me forget about the discomfort.
My next biggest adjustment becomes necessary when the cold is extreme enough to affect my sleep. When the highs are in the single digits, I’ll start breaking my sleep up into three hour blocks; sleep three hours, wake and walk for two to build my body heat back up, and then sleep for another three. If it’s really bad I might walk through the night and nap during the warmer daytime temperatures. I also break my sleep up, or pull all nighters, when it rains heavily or I’m passing through an area I don’t feel safe sleeping in.
The key to staying warm through the night is finding dry and insulated areas to set up camp. Sleeping under the open sky in areas that aren’t covered by trees is a terrible idea and I’d rather walk an extra ten miles than take a shot at it. Also, I’ll wake to frozen water bottles if I forget to put the bottles in my sleeping bag when I go to bed. I have an insulated line on my hydration bladder, but even the bladder will freeze sometimes. No bueno; especially on those days where the highs are too low to thaw the water before noon. Imagine longing for the peanut butter in your bag while also yearning for the next drop to thaw from the block of ice in your water bottle. Look but DO NOT touch, is actually the right decision in this scenario.
When it’s really cold I just wear all my layers all day everyday and life is simple. When it’s only slightly cold layers get frustrating. If I sweat in them during the day and they don’t dry before the night I can’t sleep in them. I’ve tried this so many times, and it’s a nightmare. As I fall deeper into sleep my body cools down from the days walk, dropping the temperature until anything wet becomes painful to wear. To prevent this I add and remove layers all day. It gets repetitive, especially when it’s my bottoms base layer, but at least I’m not getting frostbite as I gaslight myself into believing it’s not actually that cold.
Idaho has been this weird combination of everyone stopping to ask if I need a ride while no one actually stops to talk to me. Well, except the cops. I’ve had three stop me this week.
This takes me back to Missouri, the only other state to pull me over three times. Missouri pulled me over three times in a single day once, I was not happy. California is the only other state to pull me over on this trip.
We’re about 8-10 days out from Yellowstone right now. I’m excited and nervous. The overnight lows are beginning to drop into single digits, so I’m going to spend my time there sleeping in blocks. Its also migration season, so it’ll be cool to see all the movement, but I’m also going to need to be more conscious of my surroundings because of it.