Rob's Blog Archive

July 26, 2015

Under the Stars










Very early in my mushing career, I realized that I was different from most mushers.  I liked sleeping under the stars. Even in the fall when we had campgrounds to ourselves and the weather was still mild, other mushers brought campers or trailers.  Me, I’d get in late, throw a tarp on the ground, lay out my pad, sleeping bag and pillow---I had discovered several years earlier that a full pillow beats the hell out of clothes in a stuff sack---and slept.  For warmer nights, I just laid the sleeping bag over me.  On colder nights, I’d zip it up.  Either way, I got to see the stars.  Everybody else missed out.

I’ve been “guerilla camping,” quick nights along the road, most of my life.   This started with laying out a tarp, pad, and sleeping bag at trailheads after midnight drives from Los Angeles to the Eastern Sierras.  Early morning starts meant I didn’t sleep long, but I still enjoyed the view.

After I left Los Angeles for Seattle and graduate school, stopping along the way on I-5 as I drove back and forth between Seattle and L.A. became a norm.  At the rest-stops, I’d usually sleep inside my car both for discretion and safety.  Actually, convenience and noise too.  The back of a car is faster than on the ground and, by the side of an interstate, the sound insulation of a car makes a big difference.  Still, I missed the stars and fresh air.

I also did my share of guerilla camping during the winter.  I do have a break-even point somewhere close to 15 F.  If the low is going to drop below this, I prefer a tent.  Above this, I do like being out under the stars.  Snow and rain, also have me inside a tent or truck.  I had purchased a two man freestanding double wall tent---I could set it up anywhere---for these occasions. 

What’s interesting is how many of my dogs also prefer being out under the stars to either their doghouses or under their platforms.  For me, in addition to being able to simply open my eyes and see stars, there’s also the feeling of breathing cold fresh air while being toasty warm.  Perhaps this is the same for them.  I should add that who does this doesn’t change between when the yard is bare and when it’s covered with snow.  The same dogs prefer being out regardless of the weather.  The only thing that does, eventually, get everybody into their houses is heavy rain.  My huskies are perfectly capable of sleeping in the rain comfortably, if they want to, but for that they all prefer shelter. 

During the spring of 2007, as I drove up to Alaska, my desire to sleep under the stars proved to be one of the big errors I’ve made on long drives.  It was June and the mosquitoes were at their peak.  I slept only one night under the stars, but even though I spent every other night in a tent---actually the fast erecting tent I bought for winter guerilla camping---I never caught up on my sleep.  With this, I arrived at my host’s house well after midnight. 

The following summer, the three mushers who lived adjacent to each other on Boy Scout Road were evacuated to get out of the way of a fire.  I spent almost a week with the other two at a third musher’s house---he hadn’t yet moved in.  One erected a pretty big tent.  One used the handler’s cabin.  In spite of hot days, nights dropped into the teens.  Sleeping out, my tarp just a few yards away from my dogs’ droplines, was great.

February, 2014:  I had hoped to get to Rohn.  However, after 13 hours from camp, most of which I was coping with a sick leader, ice that would injure many mushers in the Iditarod race, and a team of dogs I had long since pushed through anything they were mentally used to, it was time to make camp.  We had four miles left to Rohn, but that would have to wait until the next day.  The good news was, along with the ice, there was plenty of open water.  I wouldn’t have to melt snow.

I set up droplines and placed my four dogs on them.  The temperature was dropping.  Ice was forming on the top of the insulated cooler I used to pull water, so I put on a pair of down pants.  Rohn may have been staying warm, but the Dalzell was cold.  I fed and watered the team, laid out my bedroll, pulled their bowls after they were done, snacked and drank, then slept.  Perhaps more than ever, I loved the stars.

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