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Cold camping requires dedication

by Bryan Hendricks | November 14, 2019 at 2:13 a.m.

Camping in the cold is not for the timid.

I spent last week camping at Osage Hills State Park in northern Oklahoma during a controlled muzzleloader deer hunt at a wildlife management area. My Little Guy teardrop camper was cozy, but the intense cold triggered an innate hibernation instinct.

I arrived amid rain and fierce wind. The first thing I noticed is that one of the twin mattresses was soaked. You have to lock both locks on both doors to fully seat the seals. I failed to engage the deadbolt on that side, which left a slight gap. At freeway speed, air pressure forced water through the gap and drenched the mattress.

It wasn't a problem the first night. The temperature dropped to 17 degrees, which froze the mattress. My sleeping bag insulated the ice from my body heat and prevented it from thawing.

The next day was cold, but bright, sunny and breezy. I put the mattress on the picnic table, which received direct sunlight all day. I strung a clothesline between two trees and hung out my sheets to dry.

The optics of that scene are not good. Other campers assume one cause for such a display. Seeing no children, I'm sure they assumed that the adult male at that site was responsible. To heck with them. They ought to mind their own business.

My main challenge that first night was cooking. I got a great deal on four rib-eye steaks at the Hometown Grocery in Pawhuska, Okla. I also bought a bag of shrimp, a red pepper, a yellow pepper, an onion and seasoning, and a bottle of extra virgin olive oil. That is a curious description. I was not aware that particular quality occurred in degrees. Either it is or it isn't.

As usual, I brought my little one-burner butane stove to do some stir-fry. First, I grilled two of the steaks, but the olive oil solidified in the cold. I had to liquefy it in the truck.

I also forgot that butane does not flow efficiently in below-freezing temperatures. It produced a weak flame that wasn't hot enough to do anything. I removed the icy can of butane from the stove and placed it against my flesh under my parka, which made me very uncomfortable. That warmed the can sufficiently to flow the gas, and I made a stir fry for the ages before the can got cold again.

Thankfully, that was a one-off. I also brought a propane stove, which works a lot better in cold weather, for all my cooking thereafter.

Naturally, you ask, "Why didn't you just use propane from the beginning?"

Because I am stubborn. I was all in on the butane at that point, and I would not be beaten. People that know me understand. It's been a point of contention with a certain Miss Laura for 32 years.

Sleeping in intense cold is an art. Miss Laura and I slept in a tent every night in the winter of 1987-88 while backpacking across Missouri, Illinois and western Kentucky on our trip from Arkansas to Maine. The coldest we experienced was minus-12 degrees during a week of sleet and snow in southern Illinois.

The main thing is to keep your head warm and protect it from drafts. A head sash that covered my ears did the trick. I also slept in a thermal top. The sleeping bag kept my legs and feet warm.

In the morning, donning multiple layers in the confines of a tiny teardrop camper is an aerobic workout that helped deter the early cold.

Despite the cold, the sun and breeze dried the offended mattress and bedding, removing that element of discontent from the equation.

People that own campers are a sociable lot. A retired homebuilder from Bartlesville, Okla., engaged me immediately to inspect my teardrop. He had a deluxe RV, but he was impressed with the reductionist simplicity of my rig. We all envied the shiny Air Stream owned by the couple from Ohio that was touring the West.

There is an Air Stream-type equivalent of the Little Guy made by Camp Inn. Like Air Stream, the Camp Inn is all metal, and its design is superior in many respects.

Before turning in on a really cold night, a hot toddy really helps knock off the edge. My elixir of choice is a cup of hot apple cider mixed with a shot of 12 Point Bourbon. The deep, sweet slumber that followed was most restorative.

Sports on 11/14/2019

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