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The one-minute tent


I love to hike and I've done several solo trips across the Sierra Nevada in California (and a few in Sweden). Here's a short story from one of my trips, where I battled (and lost) to nature.

Whenever you're hiking, solo or with someone, it's a good idea to know your gear. A lot can go wrong and unexpected things often happen. Knowing your gear, how to use it, detach it, pitch it, clean it etc. can in the worst situation be a difference between life or death. In most, however, it's just about being comfortable and bracing the unforeseen.

Please comment with any questions! I'm happy to respond :)

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One Mississippi - two Mississippi - three Mississippi ...

I stare up at the tent canvas. The moonlight throws shadows across it.

... seven Mississippi - eight Mississippi ...

It's funny how slow a minute ticks by when you're counting the seconds.

... eighteen Mississippi - nineteen Mississippi ...

In danish we don't count Mississippi's. We count crates of beer.

... syvogtyve kasser øl - otteogtyve kasser øl - niogtyve kasser øl ...

I laugh at myself and lose count. Typical. It's some time past midnight, and the night is quiet. All that moves is the twisting shadow of the trees that surrounds my tent.

I'm comfortably snuggled into my sleeping bag and I really want to just sleep. I can't though. Nature woke me up not long ago. Soon, it'll be back.

I hear it long before it reaches me. It starts as a distant moan from somewhere behind the high ridge. As it rolls over the peak it gains strength and volume. A pyroclastic flow of noise that howls with all the joy of midnight darkness. A roar of a storm that has no boundaries. A gust of wind that only nature can conjure.

It reaches the little grove of trees. And then it hits my tent.

Dust flies underneath the tarp. The poles bend and the top of my tent lays flat down on my face. The straps flap and the whole thing jerks and sighs.

I close my eyes to keep them free of sand and keep a hand on to tent canvas. It won't fly away with me in it (I hope!) but there's only so much pressure a cheap one-man tent can take. I hope it survives this.

mountains, trees, lake, trail

As forcefully as it arrived, as quickly does it leave. The wind roars on and the tent unbends and stands straight again. It shivers slightly in the aftermath. Then the night is quiet once more.

I restart my counting, sit up, and shake dust off my sleeping bag.

... forty-eight Mississippi - forty-nine Mississippi ...

I've already counted a few times. Each count ends somewhere between fifty and eighty. That's sort of an average minute right?

My mind is set; there's no way I'll get any sleep where I'm camped at the moment and odds are, my tent will break before dawn. I climb out of my sleeping bag with a shiver.

... sixty-five Mississippi - sixty-six Mississippi ...

The moaning starts again.

The rumbling force of the devouring wind rolls down the mountainside and hits the grove. For a moment, everything is the roar of the gust that shakes the trees and pushes my poor, little tent. The canvas sighs as it stretches flat, pull the poles, and hits my face.

Then, as before, the wind loosens its grip and moves on.

I shake the new layer of dust off, and turn on my headlamp.

Time to get to business.

I pack down inside the tent. Roll up my sleeping bag and mat. Put on socks and stuff things carelessly into my backpack. I find my phone and check the clock: 1:24am. No wonder I'm tired.

Another gust comes rolling in. Now, with everything packed up inside the tent, it shakes even more. The bottom lifts as the wind howls through; a peg has given up. The straps sing a whining tune until the wind dies down again.

I breathe out and start tying my boots.

One Mississippi - two Mississippi - three Mississippi ...


... sixty-seven Mississippi - sixty-eight Mississippi ...

It's almost spot on. About a minute and the howl moves over me. I sit it out, patiently, while the canvas flaps in my face.

The wind passes.

This is it.

"One Mississippi."

I zip open the tent and roll out in the chill moonlight.

"Two Mississippi"

First out is my backpack so it's not in the way. All items are safely stored inside now, so they won't blow anywhere. They shouldn't at least. I zip down the tent doors.

"Six - seven."

First the pegs. I find them fast. There are only eight of them. With them gone, nothing is holding the tent down. My drowsy mind stalls for a moment, realizing I should probably have saved them for last. Too late now.

"Fifteen - sixteen - seventeen."

The outer tarp next.

It's attached to the pole and the inner tent won't collapse before it's gone. I heave it off and strap it to my backpack. No need to waste time folding it nicely. It can take it.

"Twenty-nine - thirty."

My hands shake as I unclip the inner tent from the pole. A gust of wind now, and I'd be tentless. It collapses to a neat pile of mosquito-net and leaves the pole standing as a clean-picked skeleton.

"Forty-one - forty-two."

I'm careful as I detach the pole from the tent. It's in place with high tension, and the inner tent is currently placed like an arrow on a pulled-back bowstring. The pole comes loose and for a moment we're entangled in an odd dance of hands desperately grasping in thin air and smooth poles avoiding to be touched with all their might.

"Fifty-five - fifty-six. Shit!"

I hear the distant hush already. It's gathering behind the ridge, readying its forces to charge me. I get the pole folded and stuff it in the side pocket of my backpack.

Then I dive for the inner tent and the underlying tarp.

There's no time for fine adjustments or tender hands. The roar approaches relentlessly.

I fold it once down the middle.

The invisible flow is forewarned when a twig starts to tremble.

I fold it sideways and start rolling.

Not the tight, proper roll so it'll fit its bag. The frantic 'shit-the-wind-is-coming-I'll-lose-my-tent-if-I-don't-get-this-done' kinda roll.

I stuff the lump of tent under my arm, grab hold of my backpack (just in case), and brace for impact.

I'm consumed into the roar of the wind. It puts both hands and a knee to my back, eager to knock me over and I stagger forwards. Dust, pine needles, and leaves fly across the ground and the meadow ahead of me sways in the moonlight. Ripples on the lake become small waves and they glitter in the light from the moon. Tiny stars, fallen from the sky.

The wind passes as leaves the mountain in eery quietness.

I shoulder my wobbly-packed backpack, holds the tent under my arm, and stumble through the high grass with a yawn. There's another grove of trees close by. It had less of a view, why I didn't settle there initially, but the trees stand closer together and might provide better shelter.

I sit there for a while, counting seconds, bracing the wind, and staring at the moon. It is more sheltered. The grove is angled so the wind can't run its wild course straight from the ridge. With another wide yawn, I re-pitch my tent and hope to get a few hours of sleep before dawn wakes me up.

I haven't slept long when I wake again. A mighty howl is around me, dust flies, and my tent is bent down in my face.

My foe is back.

The wind has changed direction...

"You've got to be f*cking kidding me!"

stars, sky, trees, night

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