I slept outside last night. I was all alone. I didn’t die, and I only really freaked myself out once.
Earlier this year, I decided that I wanted to sleep outside a few nights. I haven’t gone camping or backpacking much during the last several years, and I’ve been missing it a bit. I camped one night earlier this summer for my birthday, but that’s been it so far. The days have been getting much shorter and the nights much cooler the past few weeks, and so my window of opportunity (because I’m a big wimp) has been correspondingly shrinking.
Last night seemed like it might be one of my best chances since the weather was forecasted to say warm all night. The probability of rain would increase through the night, but any real chance of rain wasn’t expected until at least 5 am.
So a half hour before dark, I ran around the house grabbing up a few things: clothes, sleeping bag, headlamp, and water bottle. I debated about bringing a tent or a hammock to sleep in. The tent would allow me to set up on the beach and potentially see more of what was happening right on the lake (if I kept the fly off), but a tent is also more to carry and takes longer to set up. Plus, I’d probably want a sleeping pad too, since there are sticks on the beach. I went with the hammock.
I drove over to our new camp on the other side of the lake right as it was getting dark. I shuffled a few things around in the cottage and then set out on foot to the other side of the property carrying a large plastic bag with my haphazard assortment of gear.
It was disorienting to walk the property in the dark. I haven’t walked the trails after dusk, so there were a few times I thought I was a in a slightly different place than I actually was. It wasn’t even completely dark-dark out—twilight was winding down and the moon was rising, so there was still some light. My headlamp didn’t seem to help much and just made a blurry halo of light around me; I turned it off and found it easier to walk around without it. I realized that the batteries are probably going dead; I have no idea when the last time was that I changed them.
I stopped suddenly when I saw a pair of eyes cross the trail ahead of me. I turned the headlamp on, but it didn’t help me see what was in 25 feet front of me. It was just a pair of eyes low to the ground, probably a skunk or raccoon. I hoped it was a skunk. Raccoons creep me out with their tiny little hands.
I kept going and found a place to set up my hammock not too far from the lake. I couldn’t see the shoreline on account of grass and brush, but it was a nice little spot. I could see the flat water of the lake and a handful of houses on the opposite shore, which felt a little reassuring.
Like I said earlier, I feel like a wimp when it comes to camping and this was my first time sleeping outside alone. For this reason, I had also brought along a not-insubstantial amount of wine to help me relax and fall asleep. So I sat for a while and hung out, listening to a low, steady hum of crickets interrupted from time to time by the splash of a fish or honks from flying geese. It was really pleasant. And only once was I startled by a noise behind me; I turned quickly, ready to see something terrifyingly scary. There was nothing there and no noise, but I had managed to spill wine all over myself. Brilliant.
It was amazingly quiet during the night; it seemed like most of the time there was absolutely no sound. I slept pretty well, even though I did wake up periodically. When I was sleeping, I had the most ridiculous dreams about camping in this particular spot.One involved fishermen who had set up campers on our land. In another, I invented a new breed of porcupine, which was really more like a black wolf with quills. I wouldn’t call them nightmares, but they were unsettling. So I’d wake up, realize how absolutely still and quiet it really was around me, and fall back asleep.
One thing I didn’t bring with me was my cell phone because the battery was nearly dead and it was too dark to take pictures anyway. But I didn’t take a watch, either, and so I had absolutely no way of knowing what time it was.
At one point I work up because it started to drizzle. I ignored it, and curled the hammock over me to keep the rain off me. It let up for a while and I slept. But then it returned and, given the forecast, I suspected that it was going to stay for a while. I got up, put on my raincoat, gathered most of my things, and trudged back to the cottage in the dark and the rain.
It was 6:15 when I arrived—about the same time that I usually make coffee each morning. I’d made it the entire night. Alone. And didn’t die.