A Tender Distance: Letters from Mothers to Our Sons

A Tent for Two

July 31st, 2014 by

         Earlier this summer, we had the opportunity to travel backcountry into the Chugach Mountains with our sons—a trip where I looked forward, among other things, to sharing my old tent with my soon-to-be new husband. The old tent and I go way back, I told him. That small space held a lot of memories. I boasted about how lightweight and rain-proof it was and I gave examples with stories from the trail. The patches on the rainfly and corner of the tent came from the time a bear decided to take a swat—while I lay sleeping inside!

               We were nearly packed and ready for our trip when it turned out that one of the boys didn’t have a tent for the expedition.Tent for two

               “Let’s get a new one for ourselves and they can borrow yours,” Bill suggested. I hesitated. I loved that old tent; but I supposed we could go shopping and take a look. This was a trip for new beginnings, after all.

Our trip to REI began with a floor display of a tent that was lighter in weight than the shoes I was wearing. Bill couldn’t believe two people would fit in such a small space. (This is a man who is transitioning from motor home luxury to backcountry minimalism.) We climbed inside to give it a try. Since most of the tent was made up of mosquito netting, we could watch unnoticed as customers walked past. It made us laugh. We decided to try on a few more tents for size and then spent the next two hours weighing the options. We discovered that the choices came down to a direct price to weight ratio—the lighter the tent, the higher the price tag.

Amidst our fun, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to share a backpacking tent on a permanent basis. With my old tent, I’d usually slept alone or in the company of my dog, L.C. One time I shared it with my niece on a hike along Resurrection Pass. Mostly though, I’d had the space to myself. We picked out a tent with a vestibule on two sides. The new tent was so lightweight and roomy that it made my old one seem positively prehistoric by comparison.

There’s nothing like small spaces to reveal one’s obsessive compulsive tendencies. As a youngster, I put masking tape down the middle of the bedroom that I shared with my sister and insisted that she keep her mess on her side of the room. I could see how a vestibule on both sides of a tent could save a marriage. His-and-her storage would likely be valuable real estate when dealing with backpacks in the rain. Still I wondered—would my husband use the handy pockets to keep the tent bags and compression sacks in one place? Would he close the zipper as he went in and out of the tent to keep out mosquitoes? How did he feel about nighttime pee bottles? I realized that one of the things that I enjoyed about backpacking was being in command of this tiny space with its minimal but important demands for tidiness.

It is the ultimate in cozy to be wrapped in a warm sleeping bag when rain and wind and even snow are pummeling the outside of a reliable tent. Somehow being in the wilderness heightens awareness not only of the natural world, but a quieter world within. I had to wonder, would sharing that world—like sharing the tent—feel just a tiny bit crowded?

In the end, my husband proved to be a most considerate roommate. Bags and sacks were tucked into the handy pockets. Check. Zippers were opened and closed in quick succession. Check. Extra clothes were on kept on appropriate sides of the tent. Check. But what the heck is a pee-bottle, Bill asked.

Seasoned wilderness traveler and our good friend, Dick Griffith, explained their use, but Bill shook his head. “Naw. I’m not going to use one of those.”

“You will,” Dick replied. “Eventually.”

After several chilly, middle-of-the-night forays outside with the requisite tent zipper up, tent zipper down, fly zipper up, fly zipper down—in and out of the tent—Bill conceded. Maybe a pee bottle wasn’t such a bad idea.

Couple by Eagle Lake               Along with the new tent, Bill had insisted on purchasing new air mattresses. They felt positively decadent, a word that Griffith volleyed our way on numerous occasions as he took inventory of our shiny new gear. I was grateful, however, that Bill asserted our need for good sleep on the trail.

When it was time to head back home, Bill broke camp and treated our tent like the good friend it has already become. It has ample room and proven itself worthy even in a downpour. The old tent is still fine and can be used as a backup or as guest accommodations. Meanwhile, in this tent made for two, we’ve begun to fill the space with fresh memories, looking forward to new trails and adventures yet to come.

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