“Camping rule number one: Neveh get the same sleeping bag as your spouse’s; that way they can’t zip ‘em together an’ you get that draft in the middle ‘cause it doesn’t seal properly. Then you’re cold all night and you regret all your life decisions, eyh.”
That’s from a New Zealand buddy of mine (Conveniently, I didn’t have to go to the other side of the planet to find him, either. I found ‘im right here in western Canada. Apparently we import the silly things. So, please, go back and read that first paragraph in a kiwi accent, it adds a bit of flavour to his stance on the particular issue.) For privacy reasons, let’s just call him Jason. ‘Cause that’s his name. And I don’t feel like trying to remember a pseudonym as I write.
Jason’s a true romantic, if you couldn’t tell. But even more than that, he’s as practical as a spork.
He’s an adventurer, and explorer, an outdoor mountain nut. Jay’s unruly beard simultaneously earns him wins in “mossy tree look-alike” contests and impossibly frequent body cavity searches at airports.
But he’s my kiwi. My adventure buddy out here, where the mystique of the mountains flirt with my psyche incessantly. I’ve climbed with him (sport and ice), hiked, snowboarded, and enjoyed countless mountain biking adventures with the guy.
So whenever I’m struck with the moronic impulse to subject myself to Mother Nature’s unpredictable temperament in the form of a physical activity I’m irrefutably ill-prepared for, I know I can count on Jason not to have enough sense to oppose coming along and even organizing things.
“We’re going camping, honey,” I tell my wife. “Me and Jay. Jay an’ me. Jay an’ I.”
“”Umm, it’s winter. Are you nuts? You’ll freeze.”
“Pshaw, I say! It’ll be fine. We’re just going one night, anyway. I’ve always wanted to try it.”
For those of you unfamiliar with Canuckian mean temperatures at this time of year, it’s quite nippy. Nipply. As in glass-cuttingly. Weather forecasts that week were calling for overnight lows of minus 20 to minus 30, Celsius. And with the impressive insulating factor of a nylon tent, we would be sure to feel every one of those frigid little sub-zero gradations.
I wouldn’t let my endothermic wife deter me. She would never understand. I just had to try it. The looming possibility of frostbite just added to the allure of the whole thing. For some unknown reason.
Luckily for me, as well as having an insatiable hunger for all things outdoors, Jason just happened to be a professional expedition guide in New Zealand. Which means an entire room in his apartment is peanut butter-packed tight with all manner of outdoor gear, relentlessly begging him to take them out for some play time. Which means I don’t need shit. Jay’s got me covered when it comes to the specialty items needed for basic survival, so I don’t worry.
Eventually, the big day arrives. I kiss my wife goodbye as if I’m heading off to conquer Everest, and I drive off to pick up my kiwi and an interminable amount of gear.
“What’s in the black garbage bag?” I ask, placing a mysterious hump in the back of the truck.
“It’s a propane heater so we won’t die.” Okay. I’ll allow it.
All in all, we’re actually hauling a fair bit of gear for a single night of camping. But, shoot, better to have way more than we need for warmth than to end up huddled together naked in a sleeping bag trying to will the sun to come up (Remember what I said about his frequent airport body searches? I would honestly be a bit worried about being that clothes-less and that close to him in the off chance that maybe he’d developed an affinity for ‘em over time.) But all our stuff manages to fit on Jason’s expedition sled, so it’s all good.
“Where’s yer sleeping bag?” he asks after the box of my truck is empty.
“Whadda ya mean, ‘Where’s your bag?’ I told you I needed to borrow one of yours; I only have lightweight summer bags!”
“Whot!?” (Kiwi accent, remember?) “I thought you were bringing two of yours!”
I texted him the week before, blatantly pointing out that I needed to borrow a good winter bag for this little adventure. Looked like we were going to be spooning after all. I hoped he would be gentle.
“Yer lucky I’ve got two bags, mate, I was gonna test this new one out. Guess you can use it.”
What a guy.
Snowshoes strapped, hiking poles in hand, sunglasses on, sled and gear in tow behind us. It really did look like we were heading off to the Himalayas. We pass in front of a couple anachronistically dressed in business attire getting out of their Range Rover, staring at us. We ignore them as we go by, men on a mission. Badasses. Absolute badasses. We tried to regulate our breathing so they wouldn’t know how badly winded we were less than fifty feet from where we parked. It’s not too late to book into a hotel…
We step out onto Malign Lake, hidden under two feet of snow, and begin our two-hour journey to Hidden Cove, a secluded little island upon which our tent would be perched for the night.
The day could not be better. Blue skies, bright sun, heavily frosted mountains surrounding every edge of the lake which we traversed. I am elated to be out once again, immersing myself in the raw natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains. It’s why I moved out this way, and nothing makes me feel as free and elated as the mountains do, every time without fail. Even though I had over forty pounds of gear on my back, and another seventy or so in tow behind me, I felt completely unburdened, the crisp winter air filling my lungs with high-octane fuel to satisfy the fire within.
Before long, we arrive at our spot, and it’s better than we had hoped. There’s actually a little cabin there with a wood stove which we can use as a cozy shelter for meals, drying our gear, and maybe even a drink or two amid a game of cards.
“What are those rune symbols carved on the door?” I ask.
“Whot!?” Jay spins to where I’m pointing, the cabin door, completely devoid of any carvings. We had watched The Ritual on Netflix before heading out, ‘cause we like to unnecessarily punish our imaginations for fun. Jay was a bit rattled with the movie. “Ahh, fok off, mate. That’s savage. I’d be leaving you to die real quick if there were carvings.” Still, I was tempted to weave an effigy before we left for the benefit of the next visitors.
The spot was perfect. We had everything we needed, and then some. The park attendants were even considerate enough to provide stumps of firewood, along with a heavy axe; you know, in case arguments arose between campers.
“You know, you could really murder someone in peace out here, boy oh boy, could you ever. No one around for miles.”
“I’m sleeping with my knife,” Jay said.
“But seriously, man,” I persisted. Could you imagine if some sick nut just watched this cabin through binoculars all the time, or maybe even a hidden trail cam, waiting for the right time to satisfy his need for dismemberment? Couple of city boys out here, all alone…it’d be the perfect time, really.”
“If I have to pee in the middle of the night, mate, I’m sending you out first.”
The seed was planted.
With the tent pitched and sleeping pads laid out, we retreated to the cedar comfort of the small cabin to start a fire and prepare dinner. The sun was beginning to fade, and a light breeze was moving across the lake, bringing the evening cold with it.
The afternoon and evening were exactly as I’d wanted it. Undisturbed time to read a book, a good, uninterrupted meal, and a few rounds of Sh*t Happens amid shots of questionable concoctions and a dram of whiskey. It was exactly what I needed.
But we grew tired. And though it was inevitable, we would eventually have to retire to the cold confines of the tent. We weren’t about to wuss out and sleep in the fire-warmed shelter hut, but truth be told, I was a little worried about Jay. He had been fighting a cough the last few days, having just recently gotten over the worst of the flu the week before. His cough had gotten progressively worse over the course of the evening, having taken on definite qualities of a chest infection. He assured me he’d be fine, but I couldn’t help wondering if I would have have to tow back his corpse on the sled the next day. Though maybe I’d return for him after a few days of R n’ R for myself. He’d keep, afterall; it was colder outside than in any deep-freeze anyway.
After about an hour of us churning around in our respective sleeping bags and finally settling in like pink worms in warm cocoons, a familiar tradition in tent camping presented itself. I had to pee. And urgently. The idea of trying to coax my winter wrinkled accordion-like noodle into minus twenty-something degree weather was a bit less than appealing. A lot less. I weighed my options, but they were bleak. Just as I was strongly considering relieving myself into the bottom of my cocoon (hey, it wasn’t my sleeping bag), amid the thick darkness of the tent’s interior came the disembodied voice of my pal.
“My kidneys hurt I’ve gotta piss so bad.”
“Use the doggy door,” I offered. There’s a little zippered door just for pets over on his side.
“I’ll piss all over the tent doing that, mate.” I had considered the porte for pooch myself, but I’d have to crawl over Jay to access it. And besides, limited length due to frigid temps (mostly. Well, some) kinda took that option out of the running anyway.
Misery loves company, and having a piss pal can help with motivation. “Look, we’ll both run out there, get it done, run back. Easy peasy, kiwi. Minimal heat loss.” With no other suitable options for personal relief, Jay reluctantly agreed.
We launched from the tent as if we’d found a bear in it, scurrying in opposite directions to do our business. Me towards the cabin, he into the woods. Now, don’t hold it against me, but the situation was too perfect, I couldn’t help it. You would have done the same, and you know it.
Except for the frantic fretting of frozen fabric, it was deadly silent out.
“Jay…” I call out in his direction, trying to sound troubled.
“W-w-what!?” He was struggling with his garments, his hands quickly freezing.
“Where’s th-the axe?” I was cold too, but I let the question hang for a moment.
Jay stood still for a second or two, then resumed trying to coax his worm out of hiding. “It’s b-by the door, you stood it up right b-before we went to bed.” It’s true, I had; an action which I had done with exaggeration, making sure Jay saw me do it.
“It’s not there, man. It’s gone.”
…”Fok off, mate, that’s not-”
I tossed a piece of bark into the woods behind him. Crack.
“HOLY FOHKIN’ SHITE FOHK ME-“ Jason tore back to the tent like he was on fire. I doubt he bothered stuffing himself back in before he took off.
I laughed as he ran, and my reward was a thickly accented rebuke of my character. “You’re such a dick, you fohkhead! You can sleep outside with the bloody coogars, ya twat!” He aggressively zippered the tent closed, but the effect was a bit less impacting than a door slamming. The swish of polyester and nylon hardly radiate frustration.
My bladder emptied (not sure if Jay could say the same) and still giggling (but quickly losing the feeling in my extremities), I returned to the completely non-existent warmth of the tent and nestled back into my sleeping bag. My buddy cursed me once again for good measure, but I could hear stifled snickering hidden behind the words, and so I smiled to myself in the dark, and let sleep take me to another realm.
Winter camping was a perfect little escape from things. I think it was even better than camping in the summer. Almost.
Oh. And Jason didn’t die from a chest infection. So, win.
Mezzer is on the right, the one that doesn't look like he just came out of a ten year sabbatical mating with squirrels. Author of useless internet filler and an award-yearning children's book, this shnook usually chooses not to listen to people wiser than him when it comes to silly ideas of outdoor pursuit. Which is most everyone. Except for that squirrel guy.