Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sometimes, Quitting Can Be So Sweet

February, 2011

The ending to my winter camping experience was an Orienteering event at Manassas. I looked forward to it, and planned to try an Intermediate course. How lost can you get on a battlefield? Hmmm ....

As I assembled my gear for the event, I remembered that I hadn't done any mental warm-up, unless you can count making a wrong turn and then finding my way to the event. Tearing down my campsite from the night before counts as a physical warm-up. Packing my compass, I thought maybe I should spend a few minutes with the book, as a refresher.  Unfortunately, I nixed that idea; figured I could rember how to use it.

The course was laid out over the Manassas Battlefiled. so you had fields of mowed grass, areas of unmowed grass batted down by the winter, and groves of treees and brush.

The event folks suggested I try an intermediate course; because you couldn't really get lost in the battlefield area.

This time, I easily found the "start". Haha, as it was right at the registration area. But true-to-form, it took me a bit to find the first checkpoint. That's when I realized I should have refreshed my compass skills as it was apparent I was doing something wrong.

Instead of taking the time to go back and ask for help, I decided to rely on the natural landscape / geographic features and my awesome [sarcasm here] powers of observation. So, I muddled through (quite an approprite term as the fields were pretty muddy) checkpoints 2 and 3. 

Feeling good, I followed a trail to get me close to #4, which was ... where??? I couldn't find it. Went to a landmark and tried again. Still couldn't find it. Encountered another person in the same spot I started and headed with him. We both still couldn't find it. He continued bushwhacking further into an area of forest; I turned back.

On the trail, I met some folks who appeared to be experienced. They headed cross-field. That's when I decided it wasn't a whole lot of fun bushwhacking throuogh knee-deep grasses and muddy fields without really being certain of where I was going.

So, I had major compass fail. I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. Apparently, there were others doing the same "wrong" thing as me, because I kept meeting up with the same people. Jeez, I even had Boy Scouts help me and my brain would just blank out.

Eventually, I realized I wasn't having a whole lot of fun. Decided to call it quits, got on a main trail, and headed back to the start area. The day immediately got better.

Post-event assessment of why the day didn't turn out as I had hoped:
  • I was mentally and physically drained from Saturday's hike.
  • Likely, also a bit drained from my first winter camping experience.
  • I should've reviewed my "how to use a compass" notes
  • And likely should've found a way to settle my brain and "warm-up"

My First Winter Camping Experience!

February, 2011

Otherwise subtitled: The campground wouldn't have been so bad except for the gun shots ...

I did it !!!! My first, real "winter camping" experience! I'll qualify it with night time temps in the high 20s; frozen footprints in the morning; and ice crystals on my tent. It was a wonderful experience; I enjoyed it; and I learned a lot!

So here's how it went down:
After the tough hike (described in the post below), I headed to Bull Run in Virginia. The campground is fairly large, as compared to ones I've stayed at so far. But there were only about five other sites occupied, all RVers. There was NO ONE in the tent area. Very cool! I looked forward to a night of real peace & quiet. I got to drive around and pick whatever site I wanted.

No Other Tent Campers!
By my arrival in late afternoon, the weather had evolved into one of those warmish winter days with bright sunlight. Any snow or ice melted, and the sites were MUDDY. Of all the checklists and gear items I've read about, it never occurred to me how muddy wet ground could get. But the day was warm, and it was fun. Well, for awhile. The park includes a shooting range. That area happened to be adjacent to the campground. So there were gunshots non-stop until 5:00pm. I developed a horrendous headache .... and was thrilled when the range closed for the day.

Then there was total peace and quiet. I learned how quiet winter days can be. Also, I quickly learned how short the days are in winter; by the time I was set up, the sun was setting.

I have to admit by that time, I was a bit apprehensive. I felt very alone and very vulnerable. Not sure what my fear was ... Animals? I imagine any big critters (i.e. bears) were hibernating. Small animals/critters should only be a nuisance; it's not like they're going to eat me alive.

Is it people? Do I not feel safe? Possibly. But it would be difficult for anyone to approach me without me hearing them. And why would scary people be out camping in the cold also, just waiting for their opportunity to attack a solo woman. I mean really, what are the odds???

So logically it didn't make sense to have any fear, but there was the apprehension. Darkness is scary. Quietness is unsettling.

I kept telling myself: My car is only 20 feet away. I slept with a whistle next to me. And a knife.

Eventually though, I bundled up, snuggled in, and sleep deeply. Not a sound disturbed me. It was one of the best night's sleep I've ever had.

I wake up and it's C.O.L.D. I'm warm in my sleeping bags. I quickly learned that it's not the nights to plan for, it's the first-thing-in-the-morning. It's not a whole lot of fun getting out of a warm sleeping bag, moving around in sub-freezing temps, trying to make coffee, then breakfast, and eventually breaking down campsite. There is no warm place to retreat to, such as: indoors.

Frozen Footprints!
That being said, it was rather exciting that I easily made it through the night, slept fantastic,  and well, if I got too cold, I could just Get.In.The.Car. The campground had a bathhouse that was open. But I decided it was too much trouble to cart my stuff down there. I could just as easily get dressed in my tent.

I may have done a big no-no as far as tents go; I really have no idea. But I heated a pot of water and brought it into the tent with me. The steam created a sauna effect; it actually was quite nice washing up and getting dressed with the moist warm air.

So, I loved the experience. And I can't wait to try it again!

Winter SunRise