We spend so much time indoors, engaged in abstract work, breathing the stale air of the open plan office, drawing the blinds to shield our computer screens from the sun, sitting in meeting rooms exchanging bizarre Dilbert-speak with our co-workers. I am uncomfortably aware that this corporate work is moulding me into something far removed from my true essence. The long days of May, with their relatively mild temperatures and almost complete absence of biting insects, provide an opportunity to revert to my natural state, to be a human in the landscape, free from the distractions and short horizons of settled life.
Perhaps it’s the latest stage of my midlife crisis, but I’ve found myself afflicted with an insatiable urge for outdoor sleeping. In addition to a family beach camp in the Northwest, a riverside tarp camp and a family campsite trip I squeezed two further trips, both within 20 miles of home.
There is a hill behind my house that I have often thought about camping on top of. There were always excuses: too cold, too windy, too dark. The best way to avoid falling prey to such negative thoughts is to commit to action, to start packing in the hope that the act generates enough momentum to carry me out the door.
I headed up into the mist. The light shimmered as the land cooled down at the end of the day. A heavy shower hit just as I reached the summit. I pulled on waterproof trousers and felt the rain running into my trainers as I pitched up. Just over 90 minutes after leaving the house I was warm and dry inside my tiny tent, pitched on a flat, dryish, gravelly area where the peat had been eroded, the remaining hag providing a little cover from the wind.
The rain stopped. When I went out for final guy tighten the mist had cleared, and Venus shone briefly through a break in the clouds. I was between two worlds. There was so much behind, nearby civilisation was accentuated by artificial lights of city, airport, the stacked red lights of the television mast across the firth on the Black Isle. In front there was only hill and mist and fading light. Had I stayed at home I would have been yawning, but out on the hill, among the elements, I felt energised.
The thing I like best about sleeping out is waking up in the outdoors, invigorated by clean air and sunlight.
This has been my first season of tarp camping and I am coming to appreciate when it is a good idea to sleep under a tarp and when it is best to carry a tent. Tarps aren’t the best choice when it’s windy as they can get a bit flappy. Earplugs help block out the noise, but when the wind pushes the tarp down it generates a disturbing pressure wave capable of rousing me from a light sleep. Being exposed to the wind also makes tarp camping a lot cooler, and a chilly evening made for one of the worst sleeps I’ve had this year, despite being inside a Survival Zone bivvy with a belay jacket on I wasn’t overly warm.
I ordered up a new sleeping bag as soon as I got home.