SLEEPING IN A TENT: A LIFE­LONG LOVE AF­FAIR

There is noth­ing like the hum­bling feel­ing of be­ing one tiny point in a vast wilder­ness, writes Molly Sprayre­gen.

Windsor Star - - YOU -

I don’t re­mem­ber the first time I slept in a tent. It feels that do­ing so was al­ways part of me. I re­mem­ber when I was very young, curl­ing up be­side my sib­lings on fam­ily camp­ing trips, fall­ing asleep to the sound of our crack­ling camp­fire min­gling with our dad’s voice telling us sto­ries. At sum­mer camp, I would lie in my tent with my best friends, telling jokes, play­ing games, and hud­dling to­gether in the mid­dle when it rained and wa­ter seeped through the sides.

There was the time when my friend, Sally, woke me up in the mid­dle of the night, telling me to peek out­side be­cause the stars were shin­ing so brightly and she didn’t want me to miss it. When I was a coun­sel­lor, I would sing my campers to sleep out­side their tents be­fore crawl­ing into my own, breath­ing in the crisp, moun­tain air as I drifted off to the lul­laby of a rush­ing river. Sleeping in a tent has brought me closer to the peo­ple I love and to na­ture. It has taught me I don’t need as much as I think I do to be happy. It has trained me to be tough and re­source­ful. There are so many ben­e­fits to sleeping in a tent, so many rea­sons peo­ple love it.

Grace Brof­man grew up with me at sum­mer camp and went on to be­come a wilder­ness trip leader. As a child, she loved tents’ com­mu­nal as­pect. “We’d all cud­dle up to­gether and squeeze five peo­ple into a four-per­son tent when it was rain­ing,” she re­mem­bers, “and we loved be­ing to­gether.”

Now, her tent is her refuge, a place to re­flect.

“It’s a lot calmer be­cause you don’t have all of these things blink­ing around you. You prob­a­bly don’t have your phone next to you. You don’t have a TV. It’s prob­a­bly one of the only times you can re­ally be alone with your­self,” Brof­man says. An­other camp friend, Ellie Le­vitt, says that when she sleeps in a tent, “The prom­ise of to­mor­row — the guar­an­tee that when you wake up, you have at least a few more miles to hike, maybe days — al­ways helps me sleep bet­ter at night.”

Those who have ded­i­cated their pro­fes­sional lives to the wilder­ness and to in­still­ing a love of the outdoors in oth­ers swear by the tent. “The re­la­tion­ships our stu­dents build when they are forced to in­ter­act re­ally in­ti­mately and per­son­ally with folks they may not have oth­er­wise in­ter­acted with is re­ally spe­cial,” says Bix Firer, di­rec­tor of pro­grams at Big City Moun­taineers, a Coloradobased or­ga­ni­za­tion that guides dis­ad­van­taged youth on trips. “There’s some­thing so uni­fy­ing about those ex­pe­ri­ences.” Marco John­son has been an in­struc­tor with the Na­tional Out­door Lead­er­ship School, known as NOLS, since 1985. “Get­ting away from the things we fo­cus on in town, be it our job or the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of fam­ily or school­work or bills or even know­ing what’s go­ing on in the rest of world,” he says, lets us fo­cus “in a much more con­nected way” with the peo­ple and world around us. Sleeping in a tent helps his stu­dents con­sider their pri­or­i­ties, he says: “They come back from hav­ing lived in a tent, re­al­iz­ing, ‘Oh, I can live a lot more sim­ply than I thought I could.’”

For me, one of the best parts of sleeping in a tent is the places it al­lows me to go. Some of the most beau­ti­ful lo­ca­tions in the world are ac­ces­si­ble only by a hik­ing trail, only to those will­ing to spend time trekking to them and sleeping in a tent along the way. There is noth­ing like wak­ing up be­side a moun­tain or glacier or river or valley that you worked so hard to get to, noth­ing like the hum­bling feel­ing of be­ing one tiny point within a vast wilder­ness. “Sure, sleeping in a tent is awe­some,” John­son says. “But open the door and stick your head out. Sleep with your head out and look around.”

MOLLY SPRAYRE­GEN

Molly Sprayre­gen, left, and her co-coun­sel­lor set up their tent while on a back­pack­ing trip for teens in B.C.’s Mount Rob­son Pro­vin­cial Park. Sprayre­gen says there is no bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence than wak­ing up be­side a moun­tain or glacier or river or valley that you worked hard to find.

CASS COL­MAN/NA­TIONAL OUT­DOOR LEAD­ER­SHIP SCHOOL

Some of the most stun­ning places in the world are ac­ces­si­ble only by a hik­ing trail to peo­ple will­ing to trek there ... and sleep in a tent along the way.

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