July 06, 2011

A Beginner's Report on (Suffocatingly Sticky) Desert Camping: The Sleepless Overnight

"You don't seem so tired now," Joe snickered, as our Jeep sailed over a ridge in the desert on our way into Borrego Springs, leaving our camp behind to go retrieve the forgotten breakfast.

"Well at least something's happening now!" I laughed. "I was afraid to go to bed before everyone else because I was afraid of missing out on a scorpion hunt or something."

Story of my life.

Upon our return to a satisfyingly deserted camp, I confidently retired, knowing I'd stayed at the party til the bitter end.

My bunkmates and I were stacked threewise in our tent, allowing just enough room for me to sleep on a single bed pad, hoist my hips in the air to pull my dirty gray (now brown) cargo shorts down, and replace them with a pair of clean, soft black PJ shorties. I stripped off my sweaty bra, leaving my turquoise tank top on, unable to bear covering my shoulders with anything, even sleeves that would feel clean and smell good.

I was pretty sure I did not smell so good.

I lied flat on my back, staring up at the stars through the top of our tent. My lids did not droop, the eyes behind them afraid to miss out on the celestial show above. I heard someone sigh. I could see the flicker of the torch stake by the latrine, and hoped I wouldn't have to find my way over there in the middle of the night, given all the wine I'd had. But my body was holding onto every little bit of moisture I'd put into it, even the sort that it normally has no use for.

I drifted asleep on my back, a fluffy pillow in a lavender case beneath my head, and woke up with a start a half hour later. After such a short slumber, I'd lost all desire for sleep, drifting in and out of reality, imagining shooting stars and spacecraft in a starshine supernova that perhaps I only saw with my mind's eye.

Again, I was afraid of missing out on a starshow - though I'd skipped out on the astronomical presentation earlier in the evening - but eventually my enthusiasm gave way to exhaustion, sending me back into sleepytime.

Until the wind.

I've lived through two sandstorms in the Sahara - one faced head-on during an extended camel ride - giving me enough experience to recognize the groan of the storm before the wind actually hits. The air moans. The atmosphere groans. And then, the wind hits.

The turbulence reported earlier by our guest astronomer came on full-force, manifesting in a tent-rattling, chair-flipping, sand-spilling windstorm that nearly lifted us off the ground inside our tent. I thought the stars would blow away, but they remained steady in the sky, twinkling as ever, giving me a mark upon which to fix my gaze, my eyes bulging open in wait for what kind of debris would fly by overhead.

I half-expected to see Joe's face pop overhead to check on us. I half-considered getting up and out of the tent to seek solace in someone else who was awake, who'd protect me from the elements, like I always wanted to do during the thunderstorms of my childhood. But either I decided I was safer inside the tent or I once again succumbed to fatigue, because I wasn't conscious for any other entertainment that the evening had to offer, until three hours later when morning hit.

Until, three hours later, when the bees hit.

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