The Sleeping Bag/Pad Search and Footsteps in the Night

The Sleeping Bag/Pad Search and Footsteps in the Night

What the Hell? I just Want a Freakin’ Sleeping Bag!

The amount of information out there floating around cyberspace is mind boggling. I had spent days upon days researching sleeping bags, sifting through the countless number of sleeping bag comparisons, reviews and recommendations available in multiple locations online. I thought I had it made in regard to not having to make a decision, when a friend gave me his bag to use. Sweet!

Then, my fiancé made the declaration that, before heading back to Afghanistan, he is going to hike with me for about a week when I leave from Springer Mountain, Georgia beginning my 2016 AT NOBO thru hike. So guess who is going to use the friends’ sleeping bag himself because it will ‘fit him better’? Exactly, so it was back to the drawing board for me.

Despite the overwhelmed feeling left by the search, I would rather have too much information than not enough. There is so much pressure to pick the just right bag. A good night’s sleep is so important under normal situations, it has got to be even more so when hiking the Appalachian Trail or any other trail. I will let you know how important in October 2016.

I spent hours asking myself, will this one be warm enough, will that one be comfortable enough, will it be durable enough, will be light enough, will it be easy to get out of when I have to use it (the bathroom) in the middle of the night, all important questions to be sure.

It Was the ‘7o’s Of Course It Had to be the Raggedy Ann and Andy Sleeping Bag

Making sleeping bag choices has not always seemed so complicated. As a child choosing a sleeping bag was definitely a more pleasant and less stressful endeavor. It was the ‘70’s so of course I had the yellow and white checked Raggedy Ann and Andy sleeping bag. I don’t remember its acquisition causing any traumatic, life scarring, anxiety attacks that would later influence poor life choices. I usually blame those on my brother, not Raggedy Ann and Andy. Ah, stories for another day.

The Sleeping Bag of Choice in the '70's

The Sleeping Bag of Choice in the ’70’s

Anyway, that Raggedy Ann and Andy sleeping bag did not come to a glamorous end by any means. Any remnants are, in fact, long gone. The last time I saw even a trace of it were the dirty, faded fabric shreds poking out from under a pile of leaves and other natural debris that had accumulated on top of it over the years after being abandoned in a fit of terror and running through the woods, back to the safety of the house.

Growing Up on a Hobby Farm

I was one of the lucky ones to grow up on a small hobby farm with a stretch of woods behind the pasture. During this time my brother, the neighborhood kids and I spent more time outside than inside. This was not actually a choice at the time, but it did have a profound affect on my relentless desire to be outdoors as an adult.

Trying and Failing at Looking Cute Raking Hay

Trying and Failing at Looking Cute Raking Hay

Still to this day I often thank my Mom for a childhood of being sent outside to play. During the summer months we were shoved out the door right after breakfast. We were called back for lunch with the ringing of a huge black cast iron bell hanging from a square, wooden post outside the side door of the house. Lunch was handed out the back sliding door to be eaten outside on the grass. In the evening the bell would be rung again signaling that is was time once again for food. We would scamper back to the house like a herd of cattle. We usually got to eat supper inside. It didn’t really matter though because even if we did we would head right back out the door from whence we came. There we would stay until the street lights came on.

Lean-To’s and Marshmellows

One day we, my brother, his friend, my friend, and me got the idea in our heads to make lean-tos and sleep out in the woods. We spent the lean-to idea day scouting a location then building our lean-tos. We had chosen a flat area at the bottom of the hill trail, on a small bank overlooking the small, bubbling creek.

Creek Behind Dad's

Creek Behind Dad’s

We collected fallen tree branches and laid the leafy branches on top of the sticks. Of course there was a competition between the girls and the boys I regard to whose lean-to was best. The boys thought theirs was the best and of course we girls knew ours was actually the best. In the years following it was not the competition that carried the conversation, it was the events that followed that held the listener in a tight grip.

After our lean-tos were complete, we built a small fire pit then headed back to get Mom to check our campsite out for safety and to grab our sleeping bags and marshmallows for roasting. Mom gave her approval without ever saying who’s lean-to was the best even though we all tried to make her chose sides. She headed back up to the house and we were left on our own.

We went about playing in the woods until it started getting dark. At dusk we settled down in our campsite and built our fire. Laughing and joking, we roasted our marshmallows. We finished off the bag and climbed into our sleeping bags.

What the Hell was That Noise?

Snuggling deeper into the Raggedy Ann and Andy bag I heard a branch snap up on the top of the trail. I knew the others heard it too because they stopped talking. We all laid still in our bags, hearing only crickets chirping in the night. We had just started asking each other, in whispers, if we had really heard the snap when another twig snapped, the sound coming from the same direction as the first.

The noise definitely came from the top of the trail that came down from the ridge right to our campsite. We started whispering to each other and ourselves that it was probably a squirrel. Then, we heard another twig break and thump like a foot hitting the ground, then another. Well, it was probably a deer we told each other, because it was obviously bigger than a squirrel.

Full Moon Behind the Trees

Full Moon Behind the Trees

Now, sitting on top of our sleeping bags we sat listening, staring into the dark. We clearly heard what we knew were footsteps on the trail above us. I yelled out, “Mom, we hear you! Come on out!” My brother called, “Yeah Mom, we know it’s you!” There was no response, no reassuring laugh from Mom. Now whispering a bit louder and more urgently to each other, we decided that if it was Mom she would have answered, surely she would have answered.

Regardless, whoever or whatever it was stopped moving, neither coming or going. Whatever it was had probably wandered off and we just didn’t hear that over our whispers. Surly it was just a deer. We laughed nervously at each other and ourselves, calling each other chickens and scaredy cats.

We were just beginning to relax when we heard the footsteps again, this time shuffling across the ridge on top of the hill. This time, sure we were hearing a persons footsteps, figured if it wasn’t Mom then it must be our neighbor.

Screaming and Running

Our neighbor was really cool. We all liked him a lot. He liked to come outside and see what we were up to. My brother yelled out, “Mr. Robinson (name changed for privacy), we hear you!” My friend called out, “Mr. Robinson we hear you! Come down with us!” Again there was no reply.

This time there was not a resonating silence. Whoever or whatever it was took off running across the ridge of the hill along another trail heading south. My friend, my brother’s friend and I all screamed loudly into the night. My brother never screamed because he was already up off the ground kicking dirt in the fire.

In the woods on the Ridge Top Trail

In the woods on the Ridge Top Trail

Still screaming, the rest of us jumped up, kicked some dirt at the fire. We all took off running and screaming up the trail in the pitch dark. We ran up the hill and at a full sprint broke through the tree line and into the field. Not a one of us stopped running until we made it to the back door of the house. Someone pushed the handle, door flew opened and we all fell through the doorway falling on top of each other, all the while yelling for Mom. She came sliding down the stairs in her night gown, herded us in and shut the door behind us.

Out of breath and all talking at once we told her what happened. The concern drained from her face replaced with not just a smile but laughter. She laughed, called us scaredy cats and headed back up the stairs to her bed. Helicopter parenting was not a ’thing’ back then. We slept in the house anyway, no way were we going back out there, ever. The mystery however remained.

It Remains a Mystery

Because Mom had been in her nightgown and had come from upstairs we new it could not have been her out there in the woods. So, the next morning we headed over to the neighbors house to ask if it had been him. He listened intently to our tale and after a good laugh, said it had not been him but if he had thought of it, it might have been.

Mysterious looking trees in the mist

Mysterious looking trees in the mist

We never did find out who or what was out in the woods that night and we never did sleep in those woods again. Instead we moved our campsite up closer to the house, just behind the evergreens so we could still partially see the house but also feel like we were out on our own.

In fact, not a one of us went into the woods for weeks, not even to get our sleeping bags. When I finally did go in search of my Raggedy Ann and Andy sleeping bag I found it buried under what was left of the lean-tos, packed down with rain, mud and other bits of forest debris so I just left it in its shallow grave.

Outdoors or Bust, Even if I am Afraid of the Dark

The love of being outdoors has stayed with me into adulthood, along with my fear of the dark. Now, here I am 46 years old, still afraid of the dark and shopping for a sleeping bag. The front of my mind is occupied with comparing weights, temperature guides, durability, and water resistance. The back of my mind however, is wondering if this new bag will meet a similar fate as the Raggedy Ann and Andy one.

I Can Sleep Anywhere

I Can Sleep Anywhere

I am actually one of those people who can sleep anywhere. Of course a moderate temperature, relative quiet and soft blankets are the best but really, when I’m done, I’m done and out. That being said, I am not exactly getting any younger and six months is a really long time, so I decided on the Therm-a-Rest Prolite Plus Mattress and the women’s Nemo Rhapsody 30 sleeping bag for comfy sleeping on the AT. Here are some links to places where you could start your own search for the perfect sleeping bag and pad:

Sleeping bag review links:

Especially for women:

Sleeping Pad Reviews:

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