Ah, the peaceful slumber that occurs only during the coldest months of the year. Large white flakes slowly tumble to earth, a gentle fire basks the room with a warm glow, and you sit with a feather-filled blanket, a festive drink in hand.
But please do not confuse this story with that fantasy.
In my ongoing vagabonding quest I have tried my hardest to reside only where it is warm, but that plan has failed and I’ve again proven my ability to make poor decisions. I was in Colorado back in October when it received its first snow fall of the year. Beautiful snow-capped mountains contrasting with rich blue skies, but so effing cold.
And this time, now in Texas, I was once again present for the first snowfall of the year.
Last night at 5 p.m I was sitting in the library when somebody (who was ignoring proper library etiquette I’d like to add) exclaimed “Look! Snow!”
Motherf sonofa pieceof GodJesus. This is not cool.
5 p.m. And it’s snowing. That means for the next 12 hours or so it’s only going to get colder. Not good for somebody whose living out of their car. I looked up nearby hotels. The cheapest room was $60. While pricey for my budget it surely beats the alternative of freezing to death. But I’m not here to sleep in beds or live in comfort. I’m partially doing all of this to see what it’s like if I were homeless. So I opted out of going the hotel route.
The library was now closing so with nowhere to go and nothing to do I decided I should partake in my favorite past time: drinking. I found the nearest brewery (conveniently located next door to the library!) and wandered in. I ordered a beer (an Orange Cream Milkshake IPA for those of you wondering) and it was there that I saw the greatest gift to mankind since Prometheus gave fire to humans.
It was a sign that said “FREE PIZZA”
Immediately, and most naturally, my mind went to Tibet. But alas, this was no sign calling for political activism! They were talking about the food. Pizza.
I grabbed my beer, piled the pizza on a paper plate, and found a nice table to sit at. While contentedly sipping and munching my meal I thought about what the rest of the night would hold. How I would be bundled up in my sleeping bag, lying on the hard and unlevel surface that is my backseat. As I sat there thinking about the future night of unrest that awaited me I couldn’t help but reflect on a few other cold nights as well.
You see, in keeping to my tradition of making bad decisions I have a history of sleeping outside when it’s below freezing as well.
When I was around the age of 13 a snowstorm came to my hometown of Eugene. I thought it was so wonderful. I needed to take advantage of this rare occurrence. I craved to go outside and experience this beautiful frightening weather for myself. I decided to sleep in it. So around midnight my brother and I went for it. We grabbed blankets and sleeping bags and went into the barn to settle down for a night of roughing it in the cold.
At about 5 a.m our mother came racing out of the house screaming our names. “Chriss!! Nick!!”
My brother and I knew our mom would freak out the next morning when she discovered that we were not in our beds. So we left her a note. It read ‘Mom, don’t worry. We went to sleep outside in the snow.’
I can only imagine how uncomforting that note must have been for my mom when at the crack of dawn, after a snowstorm has been raging all night, she reads that two of her children are sleeping outside. I can also only imagine how stupid our mother must have thought we were after that.
My most recent adventure of sleeping outside while it was below 32 occurred in March of this year (I guess I just haven’t learned my lesson yet). I was in New Zealand, Stewart Island to be exact, a mere fifteen hundred miles away from Antarctica.
I was on a three day hike and the first night was the coldest. The campsite was comprised of me, a German couple who read Harry Potter aloud to each other to practice their English, a group of three German guys who all managed to cram into a one person tent despite the seemingly impossibility of it, and a lovely Australian couple who were both teachers.
Despite it being only in the late afternoon the temperature had already dropped dramatically. The three German guys stayed in their tent where I imagine their forced proximity kept them warm. The German couple stayed in their tent as well, probably using some sort of witchcraft to keep from freezing.
I, being the solo traveler, had nobody to partner up with, but the Australian couple made a fire and invited me to sit with them. We sat around.. actually not even around. We were pretty much in the fire because it was so cold. So we sat in the fire exchanging stories of travel adventures and cold exposure experiences. They told me about the time they hiked through Patagonia and needed to cross a river despite the water temperature being below thirty two. Not only that but they had to do it barefoot and with shorts on because the water came up to their knees. The woman told me it was the most painful experience she’s ever had. In exchange I told them about the time I got a brain freeze from biting into an ice cream cone.
The man pulled out a small bottle of Irish cream whiskey, and without having any receptacles to pour it into, we ended up drinking Bailey’s out of a seashell. The fire died, the night ended, and I returned to my tent. I was wearing underwear, shorts, sweatpants, waterproof pants, jeans, two pairs of socks, gloves, a t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, sweatshirt, and jacket, all while having the sleeping bag cinched shut around my head while I was curled into a ball, and still I was cold.
Yet somehow, someway, I made it through all of these freezing nights. I’ve slept in a barn during a snowstorm, I’ve slept in a tent when temperatures were under twenty degrees. And here I am now, sitting with a beer in one hand and a slice of (free) pizza in the other. Something tells me I’m going to make it through this snowy night okay.