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A Long Cold Night

by Tara

As the sun sinks into the horizon, coloring the sky a rusty shady of red, the temperature plummets with alarming speed. Crap. Why oh why did we send home our tent, and why oh why did I just send home our long underwear as well? Just a few days ago, assuming that it would hot all the time in Southeast Asia, I used it as padding in a box of fragile Christmas presents for Tyler's little brothers and sisters!

Vietnam Mountain Sunset

Never again will we ride unprepared! we say. But what's done is done, and we have to make the most of what we've got. Knowing we are in for a cold night, we hurriedly don every item of clothing we own in a sitcom-like scramble for warmth. When the great bundle up is over, we look like a pair of rag-tag clowns, not unlike how I appeared one morning about a year ago:

Cold, Bundled Tara

Two pairs of socks warm my toes, while three pairs of pants of varying lengths cover my legs. My sports bra acts as a scarf (sent that home, too), and I've got a tank top thrown around my neck and head for another layer of warmth. My thin Thai dress will be a blanket, and my raincoat can act as windblock.

Besides the cold, there's also a new contender to deal with: a nasty stampede of a wind that races over the ridgetop, easily maneuvering around trees and other obstacles in its path. With nothing to block it, we realize we're in a pretty terrible place to camp. Instead of being nestled somewhere low, sheltered by the surrounding mountains, we're high on a ridge, prime target for the buffeting gales.

In an attempt to curtail the gusts, Tyler inflates our sleeping mats (kept only because they are an integral part of our camera-packing system) and manages to strap them to the wooden structure that has become our home. They help quite a bit, but oh lordy, it is going to be freezing.

Cold-prevention program completed, I climb in my hammock to test it out while I sort the day's photos. Rocking back and forth ever so slightly, I am pleased to find that the hammock is remarkably comfortable. Not only that, but I am fairly warm and toasty as well. I do notice a few problem areas, though: my fingers and toes are chilled already. Oh well, it won't be that bad.

Tara Sorting Photos in a Hammock

When photos are sorted, I join Tyler by the fire to partake in one of our favorite pastimes: staring at the mesmerizing flames of a campfire. Breaking the silence, I begin to giggle, shaking my head and laughing at this unexpected adventure, and the predicament in which we find ourselves. Just yesterday, we had our clothes washed and dried for the first time in months.

After one day of bike camping, my dress is already stained with dirt, and every single item of clothing we own reeks of woodsmoke. But it's okay. It's my favorite smell in the world, and it feels great to be back in the groove of camping once more.

After an hour or so around the campfire, we let the flames die down to embers that will very hopefully keep us warm throughout the night. Now sleepy, we climb carefully into our hammocks and roll around until we're situated. Then, fingers poking through holes in the netting, we clasp our hands together, kiss each other goodnight, and try to get some sleep.

Vietnam Mountain Moonrise

The hours tick past slowly. I don't know what time it is, but I lay awake shivering. Our hammocks are slung side by side, and we're smashed into one another, two cocoons grown together. The sky is purple, lit ever so slightly by a bit of moon that comes and goes, occasionally swallowed up by black clouds that smell like rain. Thankfully, the downpour never comes, but our clothes are damp anyway, beaded in the mist that rolls over our ridgetop.

I have never been so cold in all my life. The windy gales blow underneath and over me, chilling my back through the thin mesh hammock. Instinctively, I pull both sides of it around me like a blanket, but of course, the mix of string and holes does nothing to warm me. My nose is cold, my bones are cold, my eyeballs are cold, and my toes don't have much feeling at all.

This sleeping thing, it's just not going to happen. How can it, when every cell in my body is acutely aware of being frozen? "Tyler… are you awake?" I whisper into the blackness. "Yyyeahh" he stutters, utterly frozen as well. Both awake, both huddled together, utterly unprepared and inadequately dressed for the weather, we need to change something.

Tyler gets up to grab our sleeping mat wind-barrier, stuffing them in our hammocks to protect our backs from the wind instead. When that doesn't keep us warm, we climb into one hammock together. Laughing deliriously, Tyler gingerly eases into one of our swinging beds with me, laying directly on top of me. Now, I'm sandwiched between him and the sleeping mat. At last, some semblance of warmth!

Morning has come. I'm bleary-eyed, exhausted, chilled to the bone, smooshed like a pancake beneath a sleepy Tyler. But I welcome the new day with relief. Now that the skies are lighter, I can feel my body thawing. With my mind no longer preoccupied with thoughts of coldness, I finally feel like I could finally get some real, quality sleep.

Tara in the Hammocks

But now is not the time. Na Trang is still a hundred kilometers away, and if we want to make it there tonight, we have to get moving.