By Kelli Straka
Throughout my life, I can always recall my mother asking me if I remembered to bring (insert item here) before I left the house. I would grumble that I didn’t need it, refuse to bring it and regret not doing so.
This past Saturday wasn’t any different.
A couple of my friends and I went camping near Calloway Peak on the Daniel Boone Scout Trail. Instead of lugging around a tent, we decided it would be more fun to sleep in hammocks. It would have been, if it hadn’t been so cold.
I only began participating on camping excursions within the past year and haven’t quite gotten around to purchasing camping basics, such as a sleeping bag, hiking backpack, headlamp and other essentials. The gear would cost more than $300, and I don’t have that much money to drop; so I made due with what I have.
Instead, I used my school backpack, which was sufficient for a one-day camping trip; I didn’t quite need a headlamp since I wasn’t going to be walking around in the dark, but I really wish I had had a sleeping bag.
When looking at the temperature in Blowing Rock, a low of 54 degrees didn’t seem too awful — after all, I am a student at Appalachian State University, and I have been out in much worse temperatures. But for some reason, my big-headed self didn’t realize cold weather is cold, no matter what you have experienced before.
In my mind, packing a thin, decorative blanket that could pass as a scarf, a sweater, long sleeve thermal layer, two T-shirts, two pair of shorts, two pair of socks and a long pair of pants would more than suffice for what I was going to endure. Little did I know, it would not be nearly enough.
At the beginning of our trip, these clothes were more than enough. The trail was a steep, uphill three-mile hike. When we finally reached the peak, we were all sweating profusely.
While the trail was a challenging hike, it was a blast. There was a lot of breathtaking views, a plane crash site and rhododendron blooms at every turn. Despite the challenge of the uphill trek, the view from Calloway Peak made all our hard work worth it.
After reaching the peak, the three of us went a half-mile out to Shanty Spring, refilled our water supply and made our way back to our camping site near Hi-Balsam shelter. It was 6:30 p.m., and we were exhausted.
Dinner was a well-deserved pizza, created out of bagels, mozzarella cheese, pizza sauce and pepperoni. Afterward, we hung up our hammocks and nestled in for what was going to be the longest, coldest night of my life.
By 9 p.m., I was starting to feel a little chilled; I reached for my bag and put on my second pair of wool socks. Which actually warmed me up — for 20 minutes.
At some point, I managed to doze off despite feeling like I was sleeping on a block of ice. Around 10:30 p.m., I woke up to the noise of fireworks. Lying in my hammock trying to block out the noise of enthusiastic patriots, I looked over at my friends. I was quite envious of them. One was smart and prepared enough to bring a sleeping bag, while the other brought a flannel blanket.
After debating whether it would be warmer inside the nearby shelter, I decided it wasn’t worth getting out of my hammock and losing whatever small amount of heat I did have. I finally fell back asleep.
I was suddenly in a snowy field. The wind and cold wrapped around me as I nuzzled deeper in my hammock. I began shaking, then, I woke up.
I was so cold that I dreamt about snow and sadly, it was only 12 a.m. Only six more hours. I missed the sun.
I tried desperately to wrap the sorry-excuse-for-a-blanket around me, but it didn’t help. Turning on my side, I pulled the side of the hammock over my face and tried once more to fall back asleep.
For the rest of the night, I dreamt several times about taking a warm shower. Each time, I woke up realizing I still had hours until the sun would rise, so I tried to fall back asleep.
Finally, I woke up, but not from a tantalizing dream of a warm shower, from the urge of having to go to the bathroom — it was only 4 a.m. I had two more hours before signs of sunlight would reach us, and I had to make it.
At last, 6 a.m. rolled around. I leapt out of my hammock, went to the bathroom and began walking around in an attempt to warm up. I had never been so happy to wake up.
By 6:30 a.m., the other two had woken up. We had breakfast and made our way back to the car.
After the first mile, I was warm enough to take off my sweater and blanket. After the second mile, I was wearing just my T-shirt and shorts. Once more, I was warm again.
Despite a rough night, I really did enjoy myself. Next time, I will take my mother’s advice and make sure I am prepared.
Kelli Straka is an intern for The Observer News Enterprise.