Thursday, May 1, 2008

Camping at Pulpit Rock

I'm sitting around the campfire with a group of people who I just met today. This is a hiking and camping trip organized by Andrew and his outdoor club. When I got back into town from Key West I heard there was a new bicycle shop in West Chester. I found it, and Andrew is the head mechanic there. He's an early 20's bicycle outdoorsy person, and I'm a guy who just got back to town in a pretty social mood. We have plenty to talk about. He told me about this trip he was planning, and I signed up right away. I didn't realize it was a group affiliated with the college, but I didn't really care too much when I found out that it was.

We climbed up to the summit, and set up camp. The hike was pretty easy: 1.7 miles, 1500 feet. This is a great spot. I mentioned living in a van earlier, and several people knew who I was from the article in the Philly Inquirer that ran before I left for Key West in the U-Haul Truck House. One guy, Jason, really took the article to heart and we talked about his plans to convert a van. He seemed genuinely excited to meet me. I felt good that people thought positive things about that article, and it boosted my ego to have a quasi-celebrity moment. Nobody who didn't see the article seemed to care much, but those who saw it seemed impressed.

I started the fire that we're all sitting around now. There's eleven of us. It rained a little bit earlier, and the night is chilly. I packed all of my gear in a normal-sized backpack. This contrasts sharply with the super gear-heavy full hiking packs and getups others came with. I volunteered to carry some stuff for other people, but I was still traveling super light. I brought my Outdoor Research bivy sack, my 40 degree sleeping bag, my backpacking air matress, a fleece layer, a North Face pullover ($3 thrift shop find), some thick wool socks, a warm hat, and some marijuana in case: 1) someone else is smoking 2) I'm the last one awake. Turns out I was the last one awake, and not very tired at that. I scooted off to a big clearing with maintained grass where there are several huge telescopes owned by a local telescope-owning group. They're just white buildings with a dome-shaped roof, dispersed around the yard. As I sat there staring across the yard - breathing, thinking, being calm - I realized that there is almost constant sound from trucks passing on the highway below. No silent moments. I thought this was a shame. It gave this perfect little spot a sort of molested feel. Realizing this didn't bring me down at all, but it did make me excited to see unmolested territory. This is exactly my goal on my next bicycle trip. I'm planning on leaving in June or early July. After smoking and sitting, I went back and poked the fire back awake. I sat for some time, and when the fire started to die down again, I headed for the bivy sack.

It's been since last June that I've used the bivy sack, and this was the coldest night I've spent in it. The bivy sack is a tent which is barely larger than a sleeping bag, and when you slide in you should be pretty much set up the way you're going to sleep. You can read a book by flashlight while laying on your side or your stomach, but you can't do your makeup and change all your clothes. I was stoned and under-practiced. I got in and I was hot. I was wearing both of my layers and all the rest of my clothing besides shoes. I deemed this too hot, and soon convinced myself that I should strip down and 'snuggle up' (as I pictured it) in my sleeping bag. I got out and stripped to boxers. This requires sliding all the way out of the bivy. I slid back in, and cinched up the sleeping bag. My sleeping bag is light, and it packs small - but it is not good for staying warm. 40 degrees, whatever. That's subjective. I kinda slept. A few hours later, I slid out again and put all my layers and stuff back on. Then I kinda slept some more.

I was glad to get re-acclimated to bivy sleeping before my bicycle trip. I'm hoping to make bivy-sleep second nature. There are many variables to consider when choosing a tent and choosing your gear for bicycle touring and similar activities. In spite of a slightly uncomfortable night, I am confident that I chose the right stuff for me. I have decided to abandon all of the positive aspects of any tent in favor of the nearly invisible sub-2-pound bivy sack. I prefer the idea of being invisible and portable above all else. I can break camp in under one minute, no exaggeration. All I do is slide out of the bivy, and stuff the entire bivy/ sleeping bag / air mattress into a bag. Then I'm ready to roll.

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