Friday, September 28, 2012

The Loon's Nest

According to Wikipedia, loons need “a long distance to gain momentum for take-off.”  I’ve even read that loons can become stranded on small ponds that aren’t long enough for their needed “runway.”  As a fledgling hiker, I am exercising my wings in preparation for flight by testing and familiarizing myself with my equipment as well as the preparing of mind and body.  I do not want to find myself stranded by faulty equipment. 

The other day, my new tent arrived.  So after dinner, I anxiously went out in the backyard to set it up.  Generally speaking, setting up the modern day tent doesn’t require a lot of skill.  Still, each design varies somewhat and I was curious to see how much time it would take to pitch my tent and how much room my new ultra-light 2 person home was going to provide.  My mate was by my side to observe the building of my nest.

From previous experience, I automatically flipped the folded material so that the darker color was facing the ground assuming this to be the floor.  The instructions stated that the guy lines were set close to the ideal length with a pre-established loop to be attached to the notched stakes.  Eagerly, I stretched forth these 6 lines and hooked them to the stakes which I pressed into the ground.  The next step was to un-zip the door to insert the poles inside.  Uh oh, the door zipper was definitely going the wrong direction and that sunny yellow material that I thought was my ceiling is actually my floor.

Feeling slightly embarrassed in front of my witness, I proceed to disconnect the guy lines, flip the tent over and reconnect the lines again.  Un-zip the door, crawl inside and insert the support poles.  Ah, yes, that’s looking better.  All that is left to do is to tighten the guy lines so that all is taunt and anchored well to weather any storm. 

Oh, and there’s these vestibule flaps; something I’ve not had on any other tent I’ve owned, but also one of the features that I liked when researching this product.  The key features that my tent must have, in my mind, for a long distance hike were a light weight, ease in set up and as much room as possible to allow for some personal space and comfort.   These vestibule flaps provide an additional “porch” space outside of the sleeping area which I thought would be excellent for storing gear or even providing a somewhat protected space for cooking in inclement weather.   As this is considered a two person tent, I actually have a door and porch on each side of my tent and when ordering it, I must say, I felt like I was going to have some pretty deluxe accommodations on the trail.

Well, as I’m circling the tent and trying to adjust the guy line tensions, my husband remarks, “THIS is a two person tent?” I answer, “Yeah, now you understand why I ordered this instead of using the single tent.”  The single tent we own is barely long enough for my body and the support pole was right by my feet.  Knowing my sleeping habits, I easily envisioned myself kicking out the support pole during the night and having the tent collapse in on me.  Not what I have in mind for a restful night’s sleep, so I decided to go with something a little bit bigger.

I’m not exactly a small girl.  I’m 5’8” and a good 20” broad at the shoulder, not to mention the width of my lower regions.  My sleeping pad is also 20” wide and I’m sure I will roll off of it many times until I learn to stay more still at night.  Actually, I’m hoping I’ll be so tired from the day’s hiking that I will lay still from sheer exhaustion. 

The advertised width of my tent is 37” which does not allow for two 20” pads to lie side by side, yet this IS considered a two person tent.  The length of the tent is a more reasonable 87” or 7’ 3” for those who don’t want to do the math.  The illustrations included with the tent also show the two sleeping bags snuggled very closely and lying at angles that allow the legs and feet to taper into the narrowing point that is the foot end of the tent.  All this is done, of course, to conserve weight just as a mummy sleeping bag is tapered to conserve body heat. 

Also in the interest of conserving weight is the material of which the tent is made.  Let’s see, how should I describe this to you; oh, I know…can you imagine a plastic Wal-Mart shopping bag?  You know, that thin recycled plastic that tears the minute any semi-sharp object comes in contact with it.  Now, imagine it’s yellow and you have a good idea of what my tent material looks like.  I certainly hope that it holds up better than the shopping bag or those thunderstorms I expect to encounter are going to make for some interesting evenings.

As I continue to adjust lines and struggle with the sliding tension holds, which are of a design I’ve not encountered before, I am catching the subtle smirks that cross my husband’s face from the corner of my eye and I’m noticing the twinkle in his eye as he holds in the humor he is finding in my learning process.  I don’t mind; he’s a good man and he’s doing his absolute best to be supportive of this endeavor despite not quite comprehending why I would want to put myself through this extreme camping/hiking experience.  I have no doubt in my mind that he secretly suspects that I’ll quit before I get anywhere near Maine.  But, true to character for him, he will state that he believes in me and wishes me the best in my endeavors.  He is a good husband and I’m very thankful to have him.  We both know that the odds are against me, but we both also know that I have a stubborn streak that has carried me through more than one challenge in my life. 

While inspecting the fit of my proudly erected abode, I noticed that the guy line to the “back porch” wasn’t quite to my liking, so I crawled toward the door and was just beginning to adjust the tension on the line when the stake on the opposite side of the tent, which was not secured tightly but wedged into a crack in this Oklahoma red clay, came flying out of the ground from the increased pressure.  The sudden release caused the support pole to come down and suddenly, I find myself on all fours inside a half collapsed tent.

I crawled out the door to see my darling husband struggling to hold back his laughter.  As I walked around the tent to stand next to him, I tripped over one of the guy lines which became entangled in my flip-flop.  This proves to be too much for him and he tries to graciously excuse himself so that he won’t be laughing directly in my face, all the while doubling over with that silent, I-can’t-breath-and-am-turning-red-in-the-face laughter shaking every fiber of his body.

I stand there feeling somewhat embarrassed by my clumsiness and assess the situation.  I make a mental note to add some small pieces of reflective tape to the tops of the stakes and perhaps on the guy lines themselves.  Or maybe I’ll attach some small lengths of the bright, hunter orange poly cord to make the guy lines more visible.  I say to my husband, “Well, this is exactly why I’m testing everything out now.”  He jokingly responds, “And in 6 months’ time, you’ll be setting up like a pro.”  I certainly don’t blame my husband for laughing at my comedy of errors and I even join in with a few chuckles of my own.  Our own form of the loon tremolo which writer John McPhee called “the laugh of the deeply insane.”

Yes, loons are considered clumsy and have difficulty walking on land.  To land on water, they glide in on their bellies in an awkward manner, doing a modified belly flop, as it were, because their legs are placed too near the rear of the their bodies to land like other water birds. Yet the loons are excellent divers, swimmers and migrate 100s of miles every year, eventually reaching their goal despite what might be considered a handicap.  My migration begins in 183 days.  Looks like I’m going to need every bit of that runway to gain momentum, but how wonderful it will be to reach the goal.