Everything Is Big and Scary from Inside of a Tent: An Ode to My First Night of Backpacking
My fiancé, Keanan, and I were pretty confident that we would love backpacking. In fact, we were so confident that we brought all of our gear without ever having been camping a day in our lives. It was a pretty expensive gamble to make, but one we were sure would pay off.
We did a lot of prep to make sure our first night in the woods would go without a hitch. We researched gear, watched countless videos, and even went as far as ensuring we would have good weather. We knew that if we started to take backpacking seriously there would eventually be gear that stopped working, rain that kept coming, and a million other things that went wrong, but we wanted our first trip to be seamless. We wanted to associate the start of our backpacking journey with positive memories.
We started simple, with a 2-mile hike into the woods where we set up camp at an overlook. We started late in the day, with just enough sunlight left to set up our tent before having to crawl into it to avoid bugs. We kicked back on our sleeping bags with a couple of pounders to keep us entertained.
I had read so many articles about how scary the woods felt during your first night, but they simply aren’t true. Clearly, they were not as prepared as us, because this was awesome! Out in the woods with nothing but each other, knocking back a drink or two.
Life was simple.
Life was good.
The smile on my face didn’t dull once.
At least not until it was time for bed.
Now you may be like Keanan, who started snoring before his head hit the pillow. Or you may be like me, looking at Keanan in anger for sleeping so soundly. He is our first line of defense! How could he be sleeping!? A much better use of his time would be to stay up with me and listen to every sound to examine whether it’s a bear or a bigger bear.
Every noise I heard was an apex predator ready to strike. I never knew there were lions in central Pennsylvania, but there definitely are because I swear I heard one outside of our tent. Well, maybe all I heard was a twig snapping, but I swear it was caused by a lion. Or a wolf. Or a grizzly.
I knew I needed to get some sleep, so I started to think about all of the articles I had read about spending a night in the woods. Nearly all of them talked about putting in ear plugs or headphones, but that was nonsense! How would that be helpful? Clearly the more logical thing for me to do is to listen as closely as I possibly can to every single noise I hear. Putting in headphones would only make me unaware of all the danger surrounding our tent!
Despite how seriously I was taking my role of generating enough stress for a small village, fatigue finally demanded its payment in the form of sleep. Eventually the scary noises of the night gave way to the sounds of bird chirping and the shadows in our tent faded as the sun rose.
Keanan was up and ready to get out of the tent after first light. “Wait!” I wanted to scream as he reached for the zipper. How do I explain to him that there are currently 50 bears outside of our tent? I heard them last night I swear! I bit my tongue and let him pull open the tent, pepper spray in hand, ready to face whatever was out there.
Instead of facing certain doom, the only thing that met us on the other side of the tent was a couple of trees. And a little fog. Even our food bag, which I was certain the lion got into, was left untouched.
I guess the experts had a point. Everything seems big and scary from inside of your tent, but fear not because as soon as the sun rises, you’ll realize there is nothing but serenity waiting for you in the woods.
However, I may have to spend a few more nights in the woods paying close attention to the snap of twigs. Just to be safe.
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