Night One

My first night on the solo road could have been worse. I could have died.

A flesh popsicle in a sleeping bag rated 20 degrees warmer than the night before, the rangers would have just stood there shaking their heads. A quality sleeping bag is important.

How to build a fire — that may have been a useful skill, though I do not know if I would have crawled out from beneath my rags to search for wood in the darkness, even if I knew what to do with it. I must have been confident I would eventually warm up. I just had to curl into a tight enough ball.

I poked my head out of my sleeping bag. The air froze in my nostrils. I made puppy-dog eyes through the mesh window of my tent, longing for a glimmer of dawn to come rescue me.

My white husky, Shida, whimpered as she dreamed. Her paws twitched as if her subconscious was running. She slept coiled on top her blanket, which I imagined thick and warm. I should have yanked it out from beneath her and used it as another layer. Heck, I should have dragged her into my bag! No. That would not have worked. She is a prim and proper lady husky who does not like to cuddle unless she decides it.

Two hundred miles (once) seemed so far from home.

And I was not even in the backcountry. I was in a forested National Park campground on the foot of the Great Sand Dunes. My car was closer than firewood. I mean, literally, it was parked five feet from my tent. Why did I not go sit in it, warm up in front of the heater? Was I afraid of turning the ignition key only to hear my car fizzle out? The wind would have carved me into a statue before I could crawl back to my shelter! My common sense was wrought with frostbite. Obviously.

I inhaled cold air and wiggled back into my sleeping bag. I drowned in hopeless silly thoughts, stared at nothing so hard I might have aneurismed. I was convinced time had frozen. Then, a glimmer. Dawn to the rescue!

Only then did I consciously decide sleep would be impossible. I ripped open my bag, pulled on every layer I had, and called Shida’s name. She leapt to her feet as if I had said “Bone.” I unzipped the mesh, and together we braved the ominous predawn.

Her blue eyes like fireflies led the way. Great Dunes stood black against navy sky. We ran straight for the tallest pinnacle and huffed up its frozen wall of sand. My heart pounded in my ears. Bursts of ghosts fled my lips as I paused to map a traverse route.

As I crested, my legs slumped like noodles and I slammed against the dune. The taste of sand was welcoming. Shida shook herself as if to relieve tension. Cotton balls of fur fluttered away in the breeze. Her bushy tail curled like a leaf and her ears pinned forward. Pale dunes undulated outwards beneath us.

To the east, the sky cracked open. Egg-white clouds poured over the mountain. Sunbeams lanced the cold shadows. Hell had froze the night; now heaven’s pearly gates beckoned. The world opened its colorful eye, kindling a tiny fire within me. Sunlight drenched the pinnacle where we stood, then circled outwards to warm the world.

Too bad I had left my camera in my tent.

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