The turn of the year often prompts us to look back and take stock of the past 12 months.
No doubt many will think 2021 has been an improvement over 2020 due to the expansion of shows, vacations, and other pleasures and luxuries.
Among the things that have given my life the most meaning this year, there was something unexpected and decidedly without luxury: sleeping outside.
It all started on the first car camping trip of the year to Wild River State Park. The fact that the weekend started in April and ended in May made me realize that I had slept outdoors in every month of 2021 except February.
Since then, I have looked for opportunities and found excuses to sleep outside whenever possible and I haven’t missed a month since (I chose to say “sleep outside” and not “camp” because it doesn’t. has not always been camping).
I have counted 43 nights in a sleeping bag so far this year. Looking back, it is evident that these nights brought various benefits.
The most basic benefit has been going on regular camping trips. To some, that doesn’t seem like much.
But there is a segment of the population whose reluctance to sleep outside would have deprived them of gorgeous spring nights in a state park or the opportunity to accompany their son’s Boy Scout troop to campsites in June and July. .
It is not lost on me.
The nights spent outside also allowed me and my family to go to new places. Like in January, when I took my first multi-night solo winter trip, to a part of the BWCA that I had never been to.
The solitude was both refreshing and revealing, and the fishing was pretty decent as well. Hanging my first speckled trout and a personal best northern pike was the icing on the cake.
And I will long remember listening to sled dogs yapping in the distance as I fell asleep.
You can’t get any of this at a Hilton.
This particular trip to the boundary waters also helped set the stage for July when my wife and I took our kids there for a week. It was the children’s first wild paddle and hopefully the first in a long series.
There were trials and triumphs. One day my daughter landed a smallmouth bass bigger than anything I’ve ever caught.
Another day my son showed incredible strength of character while the rest of us were on the verge of despair.
I will sleep on the floor again at any time to relive even a fraction of that.
A precious week in Yellowstone in August would not have been possible without nights in tents; we could not have afforded to stay so long in the lodges.
But I’m not sure I would have wanted that, anyway.
The campgrounds kept us in the middle of it all, always a striking distance from sights, hikes, and wildlife viewing. Plus, they were the perfect, peaceful afternoon setting for my wife to knit by the fireside while the rest of us read, journaled, or napped in our hammocks.
In addition to new places, sleeping outdoors has also proven to be a gateway to new experiences. Although 10 steps from the door of the cabin was not far, this is where my son and I fell in love with the joys of hammock camping in March.
It has since become a staple in our repertoire and the only excuse we need for a nap under the stars.
In fact, 15 of my nights outdoors this year have been spent in my hammock, including two short backpacking trips with the kids to the cliffs of County Wabasha in April.
The ease of tying this thing between a few trees made it possible to stay where it suits you.
On my way to a writers’ conference in Michigan in September, for example, I pulled up in a county park at dusk.
There weren’t a lot of trees to choose from, but the campsite I got was a short walk from the Lake Michigan beach. The stars were clearly visible after dark. Waves could be heard gently breaking on the sand all night long.
You wouldn’t have to beg for me to start over.
As we approach the longest night, the most difficult part of the year will test my resolve to keep the streak alive. I’ve gotten good at staying warm for the most part, but mummy bags still have one weakness: the face. It’s hard to avoid the sting of the cold night air.
Maybe it’s Lutheran guilt, but honestly, I hesitate to even think of complaining about it. Having a cold nose is a small inconvenience compared to what homeless people go through all the time.
It makes me appreciate what places like Welcome Inn, Theresa House, and Connections Shelter have to offer even more. If the nights outside get me more attention, that wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Anyway, I haven’t slept in December yet, and I don’t know what form it will take. If we have enough snow, I would like to do another quinzee in the backyard.
Otherwise a snow ditch or something that I’ve never tried before.
Maybe I’ll just lie on the deck to continue testing the outer limits of my sleeping bags, like I did in November.
The results of previous tests allowed me to go to Boundary Waters in January; it is not clear how this knowledge will be useful in the future.
I plan to keep it on until February, which will mark 12 straight months of sleep outside. It will also be a good start to sleeping outside each month of the 2022 calendar year, which I intend to do.
But I wouldn’t call it a New Years resolution. Just calling it would doom him to failure.
Perhaps a “rededication”.
Yes I like that. And I can’t wait to see where it takes me.
Roy Heilman is an outdoor enthusiast, writer, musician and native of Minnesota. His adventures take him all over the map, but he can still be found at neveragoosechase.com.