Wednesday, July 9, 2014

91. Your Sleeping Bag

"I still sleep in my sleeping bag even though now I have a bed." - Whistle, in a message to me, 5 minutes ago.

Before I started the trail I was very worried about finding the right sleeping bag. My worries ranged from the practical (At what temperature will I still be warm? Is it down or synthetic? Will it still function if it's wet from rain?) to the impractical (Does it have a double zipper so that when I do sleeping bag fights or sleeping bag races, I can still breathe?*), but I had one main concern:

I needed to be able to bend my knees. I'm one of those people that when I sleep my body contorts itself into roughly the same shape as someone who has recently been stampeded by a horde of wildebeast (I'm so sorry Mufasa. IS IT TOO SOON?!). Most legitimate backpacking sleeping bags are constricting; they're called "mummy bags" for a reason. I was anxious that I'd have trouble sleeping without being able to assume that "just trampled" look my sleeping body so desperately desired.

And so it was that I spent many an hour laying on the floor of an REI, having the bemused employees zip me in all the way and then wait for a few minutes while I flopped around ineffectually. I did eventually find the right bag for me (more on that in the Gear Reviews) and once I did, I loved it fiercely.

I think most people have a kind of loyalty or at least kinship with their bed. We all spend an average of 7 hours a day laying flopped over on our beds, completely comatose. We are at our most vulnerable in our beds. We have to trust that the bed will not suddenly burst into flame or become hungry and swallow us. This is why I never understood the appeal of waterbeds. If you can't trust your bed, WHAT CAN YOU TRUST?! 

Nothing. That's what.

My sleeping bag kept me warm and happy. It literally saved my life after I had late stage hypothermia. My sleeping bag was my safe place, my entire bedroom rolled into a burrito of fluffy perfection. It could compress down to the size of a honeydew melon, then expand to be just wide enough for my knees to bend.

Down-filled sleeping bags are also magical because they can dry your clothing and socks for you. It's true!! It won't work with soaking wet clothing, but if everything is damp from an earlier rain, or your socks are damp with sweat, you can wear them in your sleeping bag. As you sleep, you warm up the inside of the bag and the down feathers pull the moisture up and away from your body to the outside of the sleeping bag to evaporate. It sounds like voodoo but it's real. I would usually wimp out with wearing my damp clothing to sleep, and would jam it down in the foot of the bag. This still worked, though not nearly as well.

A few months ago I went on a skiing trip with Whistle and some other friends. She and I were sharing a futon, and at night she pulled out her sleeping bag for us to share. She hadn't washed it since the trail, and I'm absolutely certain that "thru-hiker sleeping bag smell" would make anyone else a little nauseous. But to me it was like the entire trail suddenly coalesced into a giant fist that punched me right in the face. All of the smells of the trail were trapped in its soft squishiness. Campfires and sweat, tears and laughter, it set all my neurons firing with memories. I buried my face in the sleeping bag and couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry. It just made me so happy

Everyone has a unique relationship with their own bag, but if you get the right one, it will be a pal for many years. You can decide whether or not you want to wash it, but you may find that this decision may have a somewhat polarizing influence on your friendships.

Lastly, at the end of the day, instead of saying, "I'm going to bed,"

I would say, "I'm going to sleeping bag."

And that was a good place to go.

Clever Girl

*This ended up being important when River Guard challenged me to a sleeping bag race down the hall of Fontana Dam Lodge, and I totally kicked his butt.

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