I write this post in my sleeping bag in my 02 Jetta in Yellowstone national park at 4:16 AM.
How did I come to be spending the night in my car in Yellowstone? Good question. Grab the cup of coffee I so desperately wish I had, meet me back here and I’ll tell you.
Yesterday, my friend and I set out from Bozeman for his first trip to Yellowstone. Our plan is to camp in Mammoth tonight before driving down past Tower Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and all that jazz down to Grant’s Village, where we will camp tomorrow night. We have a half day in the park the next day to see the Grant’s Village-Norris stretch before heading out the West entrance and driving on down to good ol’ Boise for a week of vacation.
We borrowed my parents’ camping equipment and headed on out, stopping at Mark’s In & Out (of course!) in Livingston on the way for $1.39 cheeseburgers and a peanut butter milkshake I can only describe as bomb.
Upon reaching Mammoth, I got out of the car and laughed my way through some pretty hilariously flattering commentary about redheaded women from some gentlemen bystanders as I got us a campsite. When we arrived at our site, we decided to unpack the tent right away because the skies were looking a touch gray.
…Only to realize we had forgotten our rain fly and anything to go on the ground under the tent.
With the prospect of an awfully wet night and two sopped down sleeping bags glooming up my stomach-pit, I walked back down to the camp hosts and worked my redheaded magic to get us a tarp for the night, which we rigged up over the mesh roof with some twine and a camera tripod to provide weight where we needed it. Feeling better, we headed off to see the Mammoth hot springs, whose white-and-orange spectacles never disappoint, and had a grand time wandering the boardwalks in the rain.
When we returned, the bottom of our tent was covered with water. My buddy’s bag was pretty wet, while mine was still relatively dry in its stuff sack.
It was a gloomy moment and stood in stark contrast to those before it, which we had spent in the car drinking our ice cream that had pretty much melted in our cooler. (Friend drank an entire pint of Phish Food. Amazing.)
Eventually, we decided that it would be just as comfortable for one of us to sleep in the car overnight, in the one seat that reclines. I trundled off to the car while my friend strategically placed his sleeping bag in the driest spots possible.
It turns out neither of the seats recline, so I’ve been in about a dozen variations on the fetal position since 10:30 or so. I’d guess I’ve slept around three-four hours. For the rest of that time, I’ve been listening to music and thinking. (What else does one do in this situation?)
So, readers, I’ve decided to share the thoughts that have been running through my cramped head (yup, even one’s head can be described as cramped in this situation).
Frankly, I think we should seek discomfort more often.
It’s hard to believe my poor knees agree with that sentiment in this situation, but in a more general sense, I’ve long thought that travel is excellent partly because of its capacity to provide us with difficult situations to confront. It’s only through difficulty that we ever progress, and I’d take progress over stagnation any day.
My favorite Greek author, Nikos Kazantzakis, believed that one was giving into a downward-pulling force every time one was comfortable–a force that was stable but led to stagnation, as opposed to an upward-driving force that embodied all things associated with energy (progress, hard manual labor, sex, etc). He believed that it is our duty to follow that upward force, eventually living so hard we burn out.
Now, whether you buy the “force” business or not (use it, Luke!), I’ve always thought that the basis of his philosophy is an excellent framework for approaching modern life. In this sleeping bag in my car, I am hereby contending that our lives are being made too easy, and moving toward becoming even easier. Technology gives us every comfort and often does our work for us, so much so that younger generations are growing up without having to do much for themselves. But when was the last time you learned something by using the ice-making device on the front of your fridge? What do we gain by abbreving every word into so-called efficiency? More importantly, how much of our own efficacy and agency are we slowly relinquishing?
I’d like to extend that same argument to physical discomfort (says the girl with her head on the steering wheel and her knees up over the headrest). Most of the modern American’s life is spent in climate-controlled environments. As such, we can’t handle extreme cold or heat, as our bodies adapt to such normalization and we physically become less and less able to deal with temperatures outside of that “normal” spectrum. Further, we sit in things actually called recliners, many of us eat more than our fair share in a day, and we sleep in comfortable beds every night. Couldn’t we use a little discomfort? If not to teach us some resilience and gratitude, at least for some variety?
Granted, I’m dry right now, and even my friend in the tent just drank a pint of ice cream. But travel has provided us with circumstances to get out of our ruts of habit in several different ways. I’ve been designing all sorts of grand schemes as I Gumby my way around to temporary semi-comfort before X body part falls asleep and I have to move again, and my lofty middle-of-the-night conclusions will likely seem silly in the morning. But I’m grateful for this chance to have entertained them, and to have been launched into a new and weird situation for a night. In a couple hours I’ll have that cup of coffee (and it will probably taste like the best cup I’ve ever had!) and will drive and hike through some of the most beautiful landscape in the country. Cheers to that thought, andthe goofy sensation in my forearms from leaning up to type on my phone while all squashed-ridiculous in my car.