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The Gearboat Chronicles

The Art of Snoozing Under Stars

I know a gal who hauls her bed into the backyard for the summer months. Sheets, pillows, comforter, the whole works. I asked about the occasional summer rain squall. Does she pull a tarp over things? She’s not big on tarps, she says. She just dries things out afterwards and claims there are few things in the world that smell better than sun-dried sheets after a rainstorm.

That’s maybe going above and beyond for sleeping under the stars, but getting your shut-eye out in the open is worth trying. And the river is premiere ground for doing it.

I was a tent guy when I came to work for Winding Waters. I’d done some rough bivouacking before. Froze me lucky charms off one night sleeping out in the sagebrush near Smith Rock in Central Oregon. Seemed a good idea. Nice, clear sky. Grabbed the blanket from my pickup that had been doing duty as a seat cover and wandered out until I found a spot that looked promising. Deserts get cold at night, I noticed, about 2 a.m. And seat cover blankets are not all that warm. I tried draping my dog, Bula, over the top of me, but she wanted to hog her fur all to herself. Giving hypothermia to the hand that feeds you is no way to treat your owner, but she was adamant.

So I was a wee-bit gun shy about not having tent walls around me at night. But there are evenings when you look up and don’t need a meteorology background to know rain is not in the equation. Tents walls are there to keep bad things out, like rain and wind. They also keep out a nice breeze on hot nights when that’s just the ticket.

The stars are bold down in Hells Canyon or the lower Salmon or the Grand Ronde or wherever you happen to be in the wilderness. And sure you can see through net mesh. It’s just not the same to take your last wink before drifting off and beholding them mighty heavens through screen, as it is seeing the Milky Way splayed out with nothing between you and them but a good night’s rest.

Here’s what you do. Bring a sheet. Twin mattress sheets work great. We have these sleeping mats that go by the name Paco Pads. Don’t ask me about the Paco part, I don’t know. What I do know is they’re poofy and comfortable and I may never backpack again with a flimsy mattress after slumbering on these bulky ones.

So you stretch that sheet over the Paco, it fits just about right. Set your water bottle nearby in the sand. Have the sleeping bag at the ready, but these summer months you don’t need to zip in, which is where the sheet comes in handy. Brush your teeth while in bed, turn and spit – not on your neighbor, if you happen to be camping with family and friends near you – this part is optional if you find it uncouth, but I like to tramp off away from the crowd at night, mostly so Morgan has trouble finding me in the morning to wake me up . . . and when you’re off the beaten path like that, I find it a luxury to brush my teeth in bed. I’m pretty well whooped by bedtime after rowing, so one less step seems a timesaver.

This next part is easy. You just sleep. No walls. No hallway light to grope around for if you get up in the wee hours. Maybe you feel around for your flashlight, but in any case, waking up when you’re sleeping out in the open is . . . is . . . well, it’s nice. I don’t know how else to put it. It’s just plain different and kind of nice.

Some guests we take down the river haven’t done much camping, and sometimes have never slept outdoors. It’s these folks who seem to take to sleeping out the strongest. Going from sheetrock enclosures all their lives to nothing but air often doesn’t turn out to be a rough transition at all. I can recall more than a few people who mentioned sleeping under the stars as a highlight of their rafting trip.

We’ve got sturdy tents. There are times when some cloud cover makes setting them up a good fallback plan. But there’s a lot to be said for nodding off and then prying your eyes open in the morning without a tent door between you and the outdoors.