I know what you’re thinking, but no – Brian didn’t lock me out of the house. Nor was I too drunk to get the key in the door. This suburban camp-out was actually planned.
While Brian and our Greyhound John Lee crashed in the master bedroom as usual, I pitched a tent, threw in my gear and bedded down for the night.
This afternoon over lunch (and apropos of nothing), Brian told Christina (daughter #2) that I’d slept in the yard. He does things like this from time to time to elicit a reaction or be the funny guy or something.
Most men wait until their 70s to start that crap. 🙄
Christina didn’t bat an eye.
“You let her sleep out there alone?” she asked, wondering why – since I’d decided I ought to sleep in the yard – he didn’t do the gentlemanly thing and accompany me.
If the poor girl was to understand why (besides inebriation or marital discord) a person might opt to spend a night alone in the backyard, it was up to me.
“I’m camping in Texas by myself next month,” I said. “Last night was an experiment to see whether or not I’d be comfortable enough with the gear I bought.”
“Were you?” Christina asked.
“Comfortable enough, but our backyard sucks,” I admitted. “Texas has got to be better.”
How I came to delude myself about tent camping in February
Several months ago as I planned my trip to Texas for the RV Entrepreneur Summit, I began thinking seriously about staying at the resort in a tent instead of at the offsite hotel I’d booked. It wasn’t that expensive a hotel, but for the week+ I planned to stay it would run close to $600. Plus, I’d be offsite, away from everyone I was so excited about meeting and hanging out with.
I figured I could buy pretty decent camping gear for far less than the cost of a cheap hotel. As long as the weather wasn’t extreme one way or another, staying in a tent seemed like a viable option.
I Googled something like “average temperatures for February in Fredericksburg, TX” and saw that the lows during the Summit would be in the high 40s. Last year it was a lot warmer than that. I already had a good sleeping bag that was rated for fairly cold temps, so high 40s seemed like a piece of cake.
Brian was initially alarmed when I told him I’d decided to get gear and camp onsite instead of staying in a hotel. He argued that I’d be cold and uncomfortable the whole time, and possibly return home a physical wreck. I told him I’d checked the average as well as historic temperatures for the area during the Summit, and assured him it was all going to be fine.
Brian spent some of his 10 years in the Army camped out in Texas during the winter. It was anything but comfortable, and he was sure it would be colder than my research had shown.
In the weeks following my tent camping decision, Brian repeatedly raised the subject of my impending doom due to the cold. Finally I became exasperated, and Googled to find the page with the Fredericksburg temperatures for February so he could see for himself that it wasn’t as bad as he insisted.
Except I could no longer find a single page that showed the kinds of high 40’s temperatures I found weeks earlier when I made my decision. Instead, mid to high 30s were typical.
To Brian’s credit, he didn’t gloat much. He was genuinely concerned. As concerned as I was committed.
“There’s only one way to know if I can deal with it or not,” I told him. “And that’s to do it.”
“What are you going to do?” he asked. “Camp in the backyard?”
An unwitting suburban outdoorswoman
After the last of my planned gear purchases arrived two weeks ago, I checked the weather for overnight temperatures close to those likely for Fredericksburg during the Summit. Fortunately, the best match temp-wise fell on the least worst night of the week to sleep near the busy road behind our property.
Still, it sucked. Big-time. The traffic noise wasn’t steady enough to lull me to sleep. During the wee hours it quit altogether for periods of time, and I’d drift off…until another car or two or a tractor-trailer swooshed by to wake me up.
Trying to sleep on a slope provided an additional source of discomfort and sleeplessness. I pitched the tent in probably the best spot I could, but our entire yard is sloped. It didn’t seem like that’d be too big a deal if I just oriented myself so that my head was uphill. But I kept sliding down into the bottom of my sleeping bag.
Slope + gravity isn’t a good combo outside of skiing and a few other sporting activities that are not camping. I’ve read Into Thin Air multiple times, so I know people have camped in far worse conditions than my back yard. Unlike camping on Everest, there was absolutely no risk of sliding down the slope into a nearby crevasse and plunging to my death. Still, I now realize why people make a big deal about finding a level tent site.
I tried moving the mattress pad and sleeping bag so that it was diagonal, but still I slid. I eventually gave up on that position, got out of my sleeping bag and lined everything up so that I laid across the slope, with my left side slightly lower than my right. Finally I stopped sliding.
That last rearrangement was at 2:47 AM. The air felt cool when I was out of the sleeping bag, but not unbearable. As the night progressed, the temperature dropped. I hadn’t pulled the bag tight enough around me to keep the cold air off my face, and couldn’t see to fix that without turning on a too-bright lantern. Instead, I pulled the wool blanket over my head. That kept me warm enough that at some point I must have dozed off.
The sound of something sniffing in the darkness outside the tent woke me. Our lot is adjacent to a huge wooded tract that is home to all kinds of wildlife, including deer, boar, turkeys, raccoons, opossums, skunks and who knows what else. I was groggy, but lucid enough to decide nothing that could cause me harm could have made it over our 6-foot privacy fence.
I batted the tent wall to shoo the creature away, then shrank back into my sleeping bag. Just in case.
When I reached out to swat at the tent wall, I pushed the blanket away from my face enough to see that the sun had long since come up. As the cold brought me to full consciousness, I realized that the sniffing creature – who’d returned not five seconds after I’d dispatched him – was John Lee. Brian had let him out in the yard to take care of business.
The poor boy was befuddled by the fact that his human was apparently laying on the ground, completely enclosed by the strange structure she’d erected in the yard the day before.
Extricating myself from the confines of sleeping bag, wool blanket and Army Woobie enabled a nearly full-on embrace of the sub-40℉ temps. A quick hit of that was enough. I hastily grabbed whatever gear I could carry in one arm, used the other to unzip the tent fly, and made a beeline for the back door.
Despite a less-than-stellar experience, I was glad I tested my setup in advance of the trip. It gave me an idea of what to expect. I knew the campground would be more comfortable in many ways. But probably not as comfortable as it felt to walk into our warm house, where hubby, hound and hot coffee waited.