Observations on Living Outdoors
Tonight marks our 30th consecutive night sleeping outdoors. Without a doubt, this is the longest consecutive stretch I have spent outdoors in my life. There were many elements of this trip that I pondered in advance of leaving New York. I thought about what we would do everyday, how the kids would adjust to being in the car, whether they would want to hike, what I would cook so we didn’t get tired of our meals with limited supplies and many other details large and small. I did not spend much time thinking about what it would be like to live outdoors. I am aware that for many people this aspect of the trip would have stood out as a major area of consideration, but it wasn’t for me. I have spent a lot of time sleeping in tents during the summers in New Hampshire and never thought much about it one way or the other and I think for that reason, I didn’t spend much time thinking about it in anticipation for this trip. I briefly worried about what would happen on rainy days, but other than considering rain, this was not much of an area of interest for me.
I can now confirm for you that, in fact, sleeping outdoors for weeks on end is different than living in a place with walls. For most of my life the weather has been a data point used largely to ensure I selected the right attire for the day – is it raining, super cold or super hot? I have always thought that life in New York City made one much more sensitive to the weather because unlike much of the rest of the US, most people in New York have to do a fair bit of walking to and from transportation and thereby experience the highs and lows quite directly.
Living outside changes the equation completely. I have thought lots about this subject in the last several weeks and honestly there are too many that stand out to put in a single post, but I will include those that I have experienced the most intensely.
First and foremost, when living outdoors the weather is not an input to the day, it shapes it. We regularly reshuffle our plans depending on the forecast. We’ve changed our daily plans and we have altered our route when looking at the forecast.
Rain: As any reader of Miles from Brooklyn knows, we had a lot of rain at the beginning of the trip. Our first two weeks camping were basically a washout. Camping and never being indoors meant that there was never a time to get fully dry. The water permeated just about all of our belongings. For instance, when we woke up in the morning, the previous nights dishes would still be wet and even when we dried them with a tea towel, they stayed wet because there was no way for the tea towel to dry.
Temperature: I have become much more sensitive to minor shifts in temperature. It was cold when we were camping in the mountains of southern New South Wales at the beginning of the trip. The difference in temperature between 25 and 35 degrees F was materially different when trying to suit up for the cold nights. And the temperature ratings of our sleeping bags were a testament to the thermometer. My sleeping bag was rated for 10 degrees warmer temperatures than the others. I was freezing. Jay mocked me (kindly?) for being thin-blooded, but when he swapped sleeping bags, he soon discovered he too could fall prey to the misery of a too cold night. When the thermometer dipped to 10 degrees one night, we struggled to get the dishes done because the ice cubes kept building up in the sink. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, life in a tent when the temperature is above 100 degrees is no joke. It is like a furnace inside the canvas. For many of you who have suffered through hours of me complaining about the heat, I want you to know that the boys take after their mother in this respect, which means that Jay is blessed to have three of us whining loudly about the heat whenever we deem it unacceptably warm. Wonderfully, we just finally put our tropical roof on our tent which is supposed to help create an air pocket to help cool it.
Humidity: “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” We have all heard this saying many times before and without the breaks that a climate controlled environment usually provides to interrupt the humidity level in the day to day, I felt very aware of it. Over the past several weeks, we have taken several paths in and out of different climates: arid, semi-arid, tropical, etc. As we drove back towards the coast earlier this week, after spending the previous week in western Queensland which has been in severe drought for the past couple of years, I could feel it in my fingers as the humidity level rose. And I was appreciative that I made it out of the dry heat before my moisturizer ran out.
Wind: I have never spent much time thinking about the wind except for when I have wanted to take the sunfish out on the lake. There were, of course, days when certain streets became a struggle to get down as they became instant wind tunnels, but on the whole, the wind was not a factor in my life. The wind makes its presence heard and felt constantly when living in a tent. The direction of a gust and its intensity rattles through the tent relentlessly. We consider it when we angle our trailer on a camp site to try to minimize the wind coming up under our awning after it got tossed apart in a gale storm our first week in Sydney.
Moon: One of the most remarkable observations for me living outdoors is being so connected to the cycle of the moon. I rarely noticed the moon living in New York. On rare occasions I would catch of a glimpse of it, but I had zero awareness of its patterns. The past several weeks, the moon has taken center stage. Many nights, particularly when we are bush camping, moon rise is an event in itself – we have even set-up chairs to watch it. During the full moon, it is almost like we are sleeping under a street light. The whole environment glows in its light. Conversely, its absence is also intensely felt and no amount of lights around camp really feel adequate on those nights.
The Dirt: The ground where we are camping is a very present aspect to our existence, but not in the way that you may imagine. We have a hard floor camper, so regardless of the evenness of the ground, soft or hard ground, our beds always feel the same (thank goodness.) But the ground below the camper is still a present feature of our location. The earth below our camper has come in many different forms so far – mud, grass, dead dried grass, sand, rock, burnt hard earth, dust, asphalt and many combinations thereof. The way the earth clings to our clothing, to our feet and to our belongings shifts in each place. It has a way of showing up and having itself be known.
One of my goals for the trip was to feel more connected to nature than I did in our urban lifestyle. Somehow, I thought more about the scenery than the feel of daily life outdoors. I must say I appreciate all the ways I am thinking differently and learning as a result of it… All that said, I really appreciate when we pull up to a campground with a real indoor shower complete with hot water!