We were in a hurry on the afternoon we left. Our dog had chosen that morning to make a run for it, delaying us for about three hours. Travis’s parents had a flight to catch, and we wanted to leave directly from the airport. The holidays had left us tired.
After retrieving the dog and depositing him at the pet sitter, we packed for our trip robotically, too worn down to muster much alertness. We’ve made a few of these journeys, and we keep a running list in our head. Still, it’s tradition that we forget something and have to buy a replacement at our destination. It’s usually something small. This time, given our travel budget stuffed with Washingtons, we paused before leaving the house, knowing that we would be hard pressed to buy anything we had forgotten.
The next morning, as he was brushing his teeth in the hotel bathroom, Travis poked his head out and addressed me. “I know what we forgot,” he said. “Something to sleep on.”
This was grim. Sleeping pads are basic camping and backpacking gear that ordinarily we would never forget. However, Travis had just gotten a backcountry hammock for two for Christmas, and we were eager to try it out. The mental box for “sleeping equipment” had obviously been checked by the presence of the hammock. But the hammock wasn’t a foolproof plan. It isn’t rainworthy; we still weren’t sure it would be comfortable for both of us to sleep in; we had never set it up before, and given the miles we still had to knock off, it was going to be dark when we would make our first attempt.
Ordinarily we would just go buy an air mattress and stick it in the tent. After all, we aren’t backpacking, so weight isn’t a concern. We checked the price of one when we stopped to buy food. But because no rain was forecast for that night, we decided to give the hammock a try before spending any of our limited Washingtons remediating our mistake.
Constant traffic jams between Atlanta and Macon meant that we were only in South Georgia by the time night fell. Fortunately, there was a state park reasonably close to the highway. The park was open, but sparsely populated. We drove around looking for instructions on how to register and pay for a campsite, and found only a single admonition to “check in with the host after hours”, but no guidance as to the location of the host.
In our experience, if you can’t find the host, the host will find you if you simply occupy the site you want. So that’s what we did. I stuck the fee in the glove compartment and joined Travis in setting up the hammock, and before long a blip of flashlight glow came bobbing along toward us. The glow had a long shaggy beard and a thick southern accent.
“Ah doan mean tuh beh unmannerleh” – he began before his tone assumed a distinct unmannerliness – “but chyall din read the SAHN,” he finished in a near growl. Travis is much better with grouchy old men than I am, so he immediately assumed the task of appeasing the campground host. No amount of explanation for our failure appeared sufficient, though, and the host, apparently deciding to double down on the tense interpersonal momentum, began barking a series of critiques and demands regarding the amount of money required, in cash, and the number of feet from the pad we were allowed to place our tent. Travis walked back with him to pay the fee and register.
“Okay, he was kind of a dick,” he acknowledged when he returned. “But he got a lot nicer when he got his $28.”
We resumed the maiden setup of the hammock, deciding on a two point rig instead of three or four, since we lacked the necessary cordage. When we finished, I sat gingerly on the edge of the nylon, my butt plunging rapidly toward the ground, but stopping just shy of the dirt and bouncing upward slightly, like a bungee jumper. I delicately placed my legs in the hammock and Travis joined me, repeating the same process.
It was snug. The two-point rigging had the effect of collapsing the broad expanse of nylon inward and throwing our bodies together. After several attempts, we found a reasonable way to arrange our limbs that was almost cozy, but not really sustainable. We were like two long over-gestated twins fighting for space in a cramped uterus. I dozed for a few hours then woke up when Travis left the hammock to go to the bathroom.
The transition from discomfort to bliss was immediate. It was like being a baby again. The hammock swaddled me like a fluidless womb, and rocked gently from the motion of my twin’s exit. I lay there for a few minutes, bathed in perfect comfort, till he came back. I knew I couldn’t bear to share the space again, so I bailed out of the hammock to the back seat of the car where I slept with a hump in my back and my legs carefully folded, trying not to ask myself repeatedly what I was doing in a south Georgia campground attempting to sleep in my car.
Travis, meanwhile, slumbered like the baby I had been for the ninety seconds it took him to pee.
Later that day we spent twenty-five Washingtons on an air mattress.