We pulled our gear and personal items out of the dry packs and tore open the trash bags inside, praying the river water hadn’t penetrated any of the packs. Once we all discovered we were in good shape, each couple began to spread their things out in a corner of the site. B chose a lovely spot under a tree and rolled his sleeping bag out onto the ground. Sadly enough, that’s when it actually hit me. Much too long after “too late”. I looked at his sleeping bag and then up to the tree branches that tickled his crouching shoulders and then down to the sleeping bag again. I swallowed and thought, “Sh*t. I’m sleeping on the ground tonight.”
One of the other girls saw the look on my face as the reality of our sleeping arrangements sank in and she asked if everything was ok. My eyes darted from B’s sleeping bag to a dusty snake (or mouse?) hole and back up to her smiling face. As I cheerily assured her everything was great, my eyes widened at the sight of iridescent strands of spider webs drooping like garlands in the tree branches behind her head. I looked down at the ground knowing I could no longer hide the fear and anxiety in my eyes and pretended to organize my things.
“F8ck. Sh*t. B8lls. S(ck.F*ck.” I thought as I neatly folded a t-shirt and set it in my pack for the morning. “I have to find a way to keep the spiders from getting into all my stuff.” I looked around, surveying options for sleeping and storing my personal belongings. I’ve never found spider in my underwear, and I didn’t want to start then.
I called B over and asked him to move our sleeping bags out from under the tree and into the middle of the campsite. “Why honey?” he asked. “This looks like a perfectly good spot, the ground is level and the tree is like a little tent!”
I shook my head at him. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I leaned in and whispered, “Look closer. Look into the branches.”
He glanced up for a moment, barely gave the situation any consideration and chuckled while walking away. “Bee, its fine. We’re fine. It’s just a few spiders.”
I wanted to hit him. Hard. Instead I took the ends of our sleeping bags and dragged them into the center of the site, out from under the tree of horror. The ground was miserably lumpy and slanted and B shouted from afar, “You’ll need to level that out, honey. It will be awfully uncomfortable to sleep at a slant like that.”
“Helpful, B, thank you. However, I believe having a million spiders and a million spider babies and a million of their spider baby friends crawling all over you and inside your sleeping bag and up your nose and down your shirt and in your ears will be far more uncomfortable than a mild slant,” I said to myself. I refused to verbalize my discomfort, or inner panic, for that matter. Mimicking the other campers, I grabbed a flip flop and used it to level the ground out enough that B wouldn’t push sleeping in his original spot. If I was going to go “woman vs. wild” on this camping experience, I needed him right next to me for moral support.
Our camping buddies brought us on one last adventure for the day, and when we returned to the site tired, hungry and wet. We warmed our foil-wrapped camper’s fare on the rocks surrounding the small fire while the evening oranges folded into the nighttime blues. LED headlamps replaced sunlight and the technology revealed a different version of the campsite we had left behind. With the shadow-casting glow of the small fire, we had just enough light to see the massive crawfish (“are those lobsters?!”) emerging from the mud in the blackening river about 10 feet away. There was also just enough light to see the tail of a field mouse taunting us from about 5 feet away. And of course, there was jussst enough light to see the daddy-long-legs drawn to the fire like moths to a flame.
First it was one daddy-long-leg whose legs were so long they could have wrapped around a baseball. He pranced around the fire, disappearing into the crevices between rocks and reappearing again on the other side of the fire. Then there were two, and three, then four and five. My eyes widened every time I spotted a new one. I cringed every time I remembered I had to sleep with them. I must have looked like I was giving birth.
While everyone else played cards by the fire, I got up and once again pretended to adjust my things, prepare for the morning, ready my bed. When I came back to the fire to check on the progress of the game, one of those f-ers ran over my flip-flop wearing feet and I screamed a little scream inside. I tried to count the spiders to see if I was imagining that they were ambushing us. I wasn’t imagining it.
In a desperate attempt to let exhaustion take over my mind, I suggested crawling into our sleeping bags for a little star-gazing. The boys, loving their “whiskey and cards by the fire time” declined, but the painfully sober girls obliged. The three of us lined up in our sleeping bags, feet to the river, back to the gorge wall, faces to the sky. While there had been enough light to capture the dancing silhouettes of a million torturous creatures, there wasn’t nearly enough light to wash out the waking stars.
After a moment of stargazing, I turned on my headlamp and looked at my girlfriend. “This isn’t so bad down here after all, is it?!” We smiled at each other for a moment in the dark, our headlamps blinding each other. I switched mine off and went to lie back down while a little squeal rumbled in her tummy and came up her throat and her torso shot up off her sleeping bag. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
Her face was calm, her eyes only mildly unsettled. “Spider on my forehead. Crawled right over my headlamp,” she said with barely a little excitement in her voice.
I immediately shouted over to the fire “Please? B? BBBBBEEE! Can you PLEASE come to bed now?” As if that was going to help.
The guys weren’t all that compelled to call it a night after we shared our first spider-on-the-face experience with them in anxious voices. (Well, mine was anxious anyway.) After a little while of resting on elbows, the girls slumped down into their sleeping bags and succumbed to the effects of the day’s exertion. I shifted around from sitting to leaning to crouching to sitting again as quietly as possible until B worked his way over to the sleeping bags. I looked at him in horror and proclaimed (if you can proclaim anything in a whisper) ”I am NOT ever sleeping outside of a tent again.”
Patient as always, he looked at me and said, “Here baby, come on,” as he coaxed my upper body down to the ground with a hug. “We’ll move our sleeping bags real close and I’ll wait for you to fall asleep before I do.”
3 minutes later, sleeping bag zipped wide open, covered only loosely by a baggy pair of boxers, B joined the ridiculously loud snorer to my left in song “Hhhhhhhhhugggggghh gug gug. Hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhaaaawgk, gug gug.” He was sound asleep. Damn wilderness man.
I needed a plan. I had to put my head down again because I had to try to sleep. I was so tired. I decided to say my prayers, count shooting stars, make my “thankful list,” while lying prone with my sleeping bag drawn up to my chin and my sheep hat on. I was essentially sealed in a Ziploc bag with 2-inch thick fleece on my head as added protection. The only thing exposed was about an inch of my forehead, my nose and a little bit of my mouth. I began to sweat immediately, but boy did I feel more relaxed. Every time I felt a tickle on my forehead I’d shoot up and shake my face while remaining sealed inside my protective barrier. Excellent ab workout. Not very calming, however.
After hours of sit-ups and counting and praying and thanking God for my blessings, (“I really am lucky!”) I started to feel nauseous. My first thought was the water. “Had we not filtered it well enough? Did I swallow some while swimming?” I tried to talk myself out of it, but my insides were decidedly unsettled. I brought my legs up inside the sleeping bag and tried to put pressure on my tummy. No luck, still nauseous. When it wouldn’t subside, I questioned the food. “Was our dinner not cooked well enough?” I finally stopped searching for a reason when I could feel my face turning pale and cold. I sat up and thought, “Sh*t, I’m going to throw up.”
I released the clenched fist underneath my chin enough to unzip just to where I could reach an arm out to wake B. “Beeeeeee,” I whispered. “Beeeee. I think I’m going to be sick. Oh god, I’m going to be sick.”
He shot up and said, “Honey? Honey what’s wrong?” while instinctively shoving water in my direction. He laid a hand on my sleeping bag covered back and said, “Jesus. You’re a million degrees and you’re sleeping bag is damp! What are you doing?”
“What do you mean what am I doing? I think I might throw up from the water!”
“No way. I pumped the sh*t out of that water and we drank mostly what we carried in in our camel backs anyway. That was Brita, honey. You can’t be sick from the water.” After a moment of rubbing my down padded back he asked, “How long have you been sealed inside there like that?”
“A few hours, I suppose,” I sheepishly replied.
He shook his head and forced water on me while unzipping my safety net. I clung to it a little but stopped resisting once I got a taste of the cool night air. “You’re dehydrated. You’ve been sweating in there for hours in 80 degree heat after essentially working out all day long and not drinking enough water. You dehydrated yourself.”
I drank some water and a little embarrassed, zipped my sleeping bag back up to my waste while B went to get more water. I left my hat on the ground, (“But what about spiders in my hair?!”), and removed my sweatshirt (“My arms will be exposed!”). I zipped the bag up a little more and pulled the build in hood around my ears. B put another bottle of water next to me and tilted his head as if to chastise me for doing so. I put my hand up and stopped him in his tracks. “Look, no hat or sweatshirt and I drank all that water. Compromise honey, compromise.”
He kissed me on my puffy head and sat down next to me. We watched the stars together for a while in silence, holding hands, arms exposed. It was a triumphant moment for me.
The sky that night was so perfectly clear, the view so unencumbered, you could see all the stars quivering in the blue velvet blanket of the night sky for hours and hours. I know, because I was staring up, eyes wide open, until the nighttime blues folded into the morning yellows. I saw six shooting stars and not one millimeter of the inside of my eyelids for the rest of the night. I will never know if I really did see that many shooting stars or if I was hallucinating due to self-inflicted dehydration, but I’ll hold on to those little pieces of heaven that dotted my open-air camping purgatory.