Death Valley is still blowing that insistent wind at me. I keep thinking about something that happened to me while I was there and I can’t just shrug it off and go on my merry way. I must pay attention. It’s something that has happened a number of times before in my tent, and I guess this time turned out to be the last straw.
I felt safe and secure in the Mesquite Springs campground my whole time there, until the last night. Safe and secure at least as far as other people went; the wind that I wrestled with is a different story. But until that last night I didn’t have a single moment of my usual fear-of-the-dark that has plagued me all my life. That last night the wind was calm, so I put up my tent and was happily sleeping in it when, in the wee hours, loud music suddenly blared into the silence. I lay waiting for someone to go over and tell them to shut up. I waited and waited. After an hour I realized that I’d have to do it. I pulled myself resentfully out of my warm sleeping bag, put on jeans and a jacket, and strode forth angrily from my tent. The anger melted immediately when I looked up and saw the amazing moonless sky, ablaze with stars.
I walked quite a way over to where the sound was coming from. There sat four young people around a fire with their cd player at a distance, sitting on a little table. I stood at that table and said, in the voice that used to strike fear into the hearts of my little girls (how could I ever have spoken to them in that voice?): “For godssake, it’s after midnight. Turn this off! Turn it off right away!” One of the boys looked up at me and said “You turn it off.” My jaw may have dropped a little but I managed “You come over here right now and turn this thing off.” At that he shambled over and gave the off button a jab. As I walked away the music started up again. I turned back. “Turn this off right now and leave it off.” For some reason he did.
Since I was up, I decided to walk for a while. When I turned off my flashlight it was so dark I couldn’t see even my hand. The world was gone, there was only blackness below. But the sky! I walked and walked, cavorting amongst the stars.
Back in my sleeping bag I started to worry. The wind was still, the silence was deep. I could hear the distant young people talking amongst themselves and they sounded angry. I became convinced they were plotting to do something to get back at me. I imagined a knife slicing the side of my tent, a rock scratching my new car, even a fist smashing my face. Was I the only person awake and hearing them? I lay in my sleeping bag, too scared to sleep. I told myself, over and over, that maybe it wasn’t anger I was hearing in their voices, maybe they were just being cool and hard-edged. I told myself, over and over, that maybe they were angry but not at me. It didn’t work. I saw myself from afar: inside a tent with nothing between me and trouble except a film of nylon. I lay there for hours, feeling unprotected and very scared.
Nothing further happened, and I must have fallen asleep eventually. I’ve suffered a number of nights like that over these years of traveling alone, nights spent lying in my tent rigid with terror. I know that my terror is not completely rational, I know it comes from having gone through my entire childhood unprotected and scared. Back then I learned early on (age three maybe) to never show fear or weakness or even unhappiness to any of the people around me. I certainly never dared ask for help or comfort, it has taken me years to learn to do that. So these days, when I’m scared in my tent at night, as I was that last night in Death Valley, I can become engulfed in primordial terror, I might as well be three years old again. I try to talk myself out of it, but it runs so deep it’s almost inaccessible. I had always thought it was the lack of love that informed my childhood, but my years of camping alone have shown me that perhaps even worse was the lack of protection and guidance.
That night in Death Valley was when I finally owned up to the inadequacy of my tent, maybe because seeing it vanquished by the wind had already disillusioned me. Before this it had seemed so homey and solid. Now the wind had made a mockery of it, plus I had once again had to suffer a night of fear in it.
But oh my! It’s not easy to turn away from my beloved tent. Can I get back to trusting it again? Right now I’m thinking not. I don’t ever want to feel so unprotected again, from wind, from lashing rain, from bears, or from scary people. There must be a way that I can continue my nomadic solo life without so much struggle, without so much fear. What I need seems fairly simple: a safe place to sleep and a sheltered spot to cook my meals. Is that too much to ask?
I’ve been scouring the web to check out the possibilities. What’s caught my eye so far is a small trailer that pops up into an A-frame tent, but made of metal. I think what draws me to it is it’s shape, a triangle. Why is it that a triangle looks better out in nature than a rectangle? I also like that it adds only 2 or 3 miles per gallon to the gas usage. But of course the main question about such an item is this: can I still call myself The Tent Soloist if my tent has solid sides and doesn’t flap in the wind?