24 hours ago I was desperately searching for kindling or anything I could find to burn, there was a certain haste to my search because I was thinking I might freeze to death. Well that’s a bit dramatic, I knew I wasn’t going to freeze to death, I don’t think that the temperature was even below freezing, but I was really cold and sick. How did I get into this predicament. Read on!
It all started when I realized I had a 4 day weekend coming up and the high was going to be in the upper 70s. I wanted to go somewhere and mountain bike ride, but I didn’t want to go off on a bike trip and abandon Shauna so I got this idea for us to go camping. When I convinced my wife how unseasonably warm it was going to be she agreed to go but I had to do most of the preparation, since she was working in the morning on Thursday.
I busied myself loading the car Thursday morning, but refused to use a checklist as my wife advised. I also busied myself on my mountain bike getting it ready to ride. A couple of hours before our intended departure I started to feel a twinge of pain in my throat, which I ignored in the hopes it would go away. About halfway to our destination I realized it wasn’t going away. I was getting that feeling I get when I know I’m getting a cold. I could almost feel the microscopic organisms turning my throat into their playground. I could feel the glands and muscles in my neck and shoulders getting sore and stiff. My wife thought the best thing to do was go home, but I refused being this close.
I wrote earlier this year about camping and how much I hated it, not really the camping part but the campground part. Camping in November was a world of difference. The hoards of rednecks cruising around were gone, the kids, the pets, the country music and beer fueled laughter was non existent. Instead it was us, the squirrels and the falling leaves and nuts. In short it was fantastic, except for the bone chilling cold, and 14 hour nights.
We arrived at Land Between the Lakes campground around 3 and after an hour of unloading, setting up and blowing my nose I took off for the nearby Canal Loop trailhead. My wife asked if it was wise to go ride, and I said no then left. Despite being sick I was feeling great, probably the adrenaline rush, but I was riding faster than I ever have on this trail. I did the first half of the trail before the sun went down then mounted my light on my head for the second part. I was really excited about actually trying my home made bike light in the woods. I’ve uploaded the GPS file to Garmin Connect, its pretty neat.
The sun was below the horizon and i realized the shorts and jersey weren’t going to cut it anymore so I stopped to put on my leg and arm warmers, when I did was passed by a guy. Every single time I stopped I was passed by someone or a group, I was surprised to see so many riders on the trail so close to nightfall. It didn’t take me long and I caught back up with the guy who passed me. He didn’t have a light and I wasn’t sure how he was able to see the trail. He advised me to go on, but I offered to ride behind him so he could at least get a little light. In hindsight his shadow probably blocked any useful light I would generate and mess up his night vision, but I was just being helpful. In any case I couldn’t keep up with him on the downhills. The guy was either very brave, or really dumb, but he was riding faster than me on the downhills and I could actually see where I was going.
We parted ways at the next bailout road and I finished the ride up alone in the complete darkness, this is where things started to go south. fortunately nothing bad happened, I didn’t crash, but I struggled to finish what is probably the most technical and steep part of the ride. I realized that my headlight was great, but I could only see one place at a time, I could look down in front of me and the trail out in the distance was a void, or I could look out in front and see where I was going and just hope that I didn’t run over a root or rock that would knock me off my bike. Besides that I was starting to realized I was sick.
I finished the ride without mishap and returned to our campsite. The next task on my agenda was fire building. “Shauna where’s the charcoal lighter?” I asked. “Is it on your list?” she answered. Of course I had no list and I forgot charcoal lighter. Being November what we did have was an abundance of leaves and I figured they would burn up and get the fire started so I filled the fire pit up with leaves and wood and coaxed the leaves into burning and burn they did. Soon they were burning outside the fire ring and I was dancing around trying to stomp out the growing blaze. Piles of leaves all around the fire were going up, it hasn’t rained here in over a month. I was able to smoother the biggest fires and the smaller ones burned themselves out, but when all the leaves finally burned up we had several logs in the fire pit that weren’t burning.
An hour later we collected enough kindling to get a fire going and got busy cooking. By 8 O’clock it had been dark for 3 hours and felt like it should have been midnight. The temperature was continuing to drop and my cold was continuing to get worse. We decided to just go to bed when I realized the air mattress I brought was a single and I had only brought one, which princess Shaundo was going to be using. I told this story of how an inmate died from sleeping on a concrete floor, the cold concrete absorbed all the heat from his body and he just died in his sleep. Shauna was relieved that I wasn’t sleeping on a concrete floor, but instead in a tent on the ground.
Sleep would never be found this night. My breathing was getting rough, my throat throbbed in a constant ache and swallowing as nearly unbearable. I had to sit up and hack out gobs of mucus or risk choking on it. It was cold and miserable, I was pretty sure I was going to end up in the hospital with the pneumonia. At four in the morning I couldn’t take it anymore. I got out of bed went through the process of restarting our dead fire.
It was a cold morning and despite my best efforts the fire would not roar but only whimper. I planned to do another mountain bike ride, but my muscles felt like a side of beef after Rocky got finished pounding it. I was so stiff and sick that I wanted to just go to sleep, but it was too cold to sleep, and my throat ached less vertical than it did horizontal. So we loaded up and went home.
I slept very well last night in my warm bed, and I seemed to be recovering from the cold, it may be the Sudafed kicking in. As I reflect on the trip I wonder what it would have been like if I’d not been sick and actually brought the right gear. Would it have been much different. I’d have still been cold, I would have still felt bad about going on a 3 hour ride and leaving Shauna alone at the campsite, and my muscles would have likely been sore after the night ride, in short we probably would have done the exact same thing, loaded up and went home the next morning.
I’ve instructed Shauna to punch me next time I bring up camping in November.