July 29, 2013

Setting a New Standard for Bad Night of Sleep

Setting a New Standard for Bad Night of Sleep
This weekend I did something I haven't done in ages.....I went camping. In my youth I went camping a lot. Not only as an active Boy Scout, but just as something we did as a family.

For about half the time I was in the Air Force I served as a Scoutmaster with a local Boy Scout Troop and I camped then as well. When I went to the field I usually brought along a significant amount of my own gear instead of using issued equipment. My deployment to Bosnia went much smoother because I used my own nylon-fill sleeping bag instead of the cloth & down bulky GI bags. Every week I wiped it down with a wet washcloth and made sure to air it out in the sun. My bag never got "ripe", which is more than I could say for everyone else I knew.

Anyway, deployments and military exercises not withstanding, I haven't been camping in probably 17 years. I still have a bunch of gear and have even bought several new (and unused) tents expecting to go camping again, but it just hadn't happened. This weekend we were invited to a party up in Crouch, Idaho and some friends asked if we wanted to camp out Saturday night after the party. It was a pretty casual affair. All we really needed to do was thrown a tent and some sleeping bags in the trunk of the car.

We had a good time (some of Carolyn's photos on Facebook) and the only issue I had was trying to sleep. I had pulled a back muscle earlier in the week and thought I was better, but sleeping on my 20+ year old backpacking (ie, small and thin) camping pad left me feeling worse than I had when I first pulled that muscle. I think it was my worst night of sleep outdoors I had ever had, which is saying quite a bit. In trying to relate that painful experience the next morning it occurred to me that it surpassed my own standard for poor sleep, which is actually the point of this otherwise long-winded blog post.

7th Duke of Edinburgh's Gurkha Rifles
Back in the day, when I was much younger and dumber, I volunteered to take part in a training exercise with the 7th Duke of Edinburgh's Gurkha Rifles. Two Staff Sergeants and my 22 year-old Airman First Class bad-ass wannabee self decided we'd go on a 20 mile ruckmarch with the Gurkhas out at the Yakima Training Range. It was February so in addition to our normal gear we needed cold-weather clothing and some heavy-duty sleeping bags. Fortunately for me the two Staff Sergeants were of the high-speed (ie squared-away....they were very fit and knowledgeable) variety and while we didn't have to ruck in our sleeping gear they both told me to make sure I did carry a poncho, poncho-liner, and space blanket with me.

Air Force "A" Bag
We met our English counterparts at the designated time and place only to find out that the Regiment had mustered out hours earlier and were already well on their way through the ruckmarch. They took our A-bags which contained our sleeping bags and extra cold weather gear and threw them in the back of their supply truck. We were driven out to a rendezvous point and allowed to hike in the last five miles with some of the Gurkhas.

British Bergen BagOriginally the ruckmarch was going to be an overnight "thing", but with the time change we finished those last five miles by the late evening. It was probably 8 or 9 PM when we stopped at one of the many concrete turning pads out at the tank firing range. When marching you don't try to work up a sweat because in the cold weather that is dangerous. To that end we were relatively lightly dressed with a little back-up clothing. Camping out overnight on a thick concrete tank turning pad....in February means you have to be prepared. We did bring appropriate gear so we went for our bags which were stowed with those that the Brits had dropped off with their supply truck hours before we arrived.....

....or so we thought.

Our A-bags were quite distinctive compared to the British Bergen bags and we shouldn't have any problem picking them out of the pile. Of course our bags weren't in the pile. They never made it off of the truck. The truck that was now miles in the distance and not coming back. In short...we were screwed. The Brits expected us to "soldier on" and make due. Due to some specific Gurkha beliefs/taboos we all had to sleep separately, so no huddling together for warmth.

Thanks to the foresight of my two SSgt's I had purchased a space blanket for my butt-pack and coupled with a poncho and poncho liner I was able to survive through the cold desert night. I'm sure I dozed off now and then, but I didn't really sleep. Morning and the weak February sun could not come fast enough.

Until last Saturday night that Yakima evening was my de facto standard for a crappy night of "sleep". Still, the trips 20 years ago and just last weekend were still worthwhile despite the sleep situation.

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