I awoke with flat ground beneath me, a rock jutting into my shoulder blade and leaves rustling next to my head.
The situation was surreal considering I fell asleep four feet above ground, comfortably cradled in my new Alpha Outpost hammock. Groggy with sleep, I wondered if this might be some cruel dream. Both my head and feet were still hoisted, so I knew I’d not fallen out of the contraption.
I decided to handle the situation like any other mid-night crisis — go back to sleep and deal with it in the morning.
Drifting off again, I listened to the breeze meander through the woods, cicadas croak their dreadful tune and frogs bellow amphibian lullabies.
Pennsylvania sounds beautiful at night, I thought.
Slipping further into a fitful rest, I thought about the green pastures, old barns and horse-drawn buggies I saw along the Appalachian countryside earlier that day.
I replayed my conversations with the young artist who’d offered his farm as a camping spot.
He told my friends and I about his family, local history and the preponderance of spiders inhabiting the area.
Spiders. Millions of them. Skittering all over the countryside.
I was awake.
Laying still so as not to make myself a target for the venomous, carnivorous insects that likely coated the ground I was now laying on. I pondered my plight before deciding the only solution was to get out of my hammock, barefoot, and get a proper look at the problem.
It was a quick fix. The bungee cord I used to secure the hammock to the tree needed to be wrapped around the trunk one more time, which would create enough tension to keep the fabric suspended as I slept.
But instead of sleeping, I lay awake commiserating about the snafu.
More than a month prior, my friends invited me along for a ride through the Blue Ridge Mountains. They would provide me a motorcycle, and in return, I documented and photographed their adventures.
My wife recently bought me a hammock, and since I knew I needed to pack light, I figured the ride would the perfect opportunity to test out my new outdoor sleeping system.
This was mistake number one.
With a month’s lead time, I should have been testing for weeks, ironing out the kinks before my entire existence depended on my ability to set up camp on a moment’s notice in the dark on unfamiliar terrain.
But it was a hammock and a tarp. How hard could it be?
First off, with the right system and perfect setting, a hammock could be a quicker, easier set up than a tent and bed roll.
During the five-day trip, however, I was consistently the last to set up and break down my camping gear.
Secondly, bungee cords are not suitable rigging for hanging a hammock. While my bungees were heavy duty and did not struggle to support my weight, it was nearly impossible to stretch them around a tree tight enough to prevent my hammock from sagging to the ground.
Lastly, my hammock came with a nifty tarp I assumed would be big enough to stretch out above me as cover from the rain. Yet, when I set it up on the first night of the trip, I discovered I would need to make a choice — my head could be dry or my feet, but not both.
Luckily, our route ran by several Walmarts, so I was able to rectify each problem that popped up.
Those purchases added up, however, meaning I had less money for trinkets and cold beers. At the end of the trip, I had a pack full of supplies I could have brought from home and certainly didn’t plan to take back.
With years of adventuring under my belt, I am more often the guy bringing along the kitchen sink than I am the one standing in a check-out lane waiting to buy basic camping items such as tie-down straps.
But experience can be a weak crutch, and I expected to be able to wing it.
I was not wrong about my ability to work through the problem with the help of my trusty credit card and at the cost of a few nights’ sleep.
Unfortunately, the final tally was a few dings to my pride and ultimately, my ability to enjoy the ride to its fullest potential.
As we rolled into our last stop, I recalled a saying my father was fond of throughout my youth: “Proper prior planning prevents piss-poor performance.”