Staring at the stars from inside a tent or reading books from comfy chairs at a campsite are not part of most couples' daily routines. Memories like those are ones that can bind a relationship and break the monotony. The silliness of setting up a tent together and then the late-night giggles (and frustration?) that come when inevitably one person tries to zip two single sleeping bags together because one person is cold, and can’t sleep, and needs the other person’s warmth to get through the night. In the end no one sleeps well, and you both wake up the next day a little rough around the edges.
My partner Gretchen and I both love camping individually and we’ve been learning to love it together. After two failed attempts, this last trip, we finally nailed it. Our first camping trip was to the Sonoran desert in February. We went down for a 24hr mountain bike race. I’m a pro cyclist and she’s a pro photographer. We both live in the northern latitudes and expected to be welcomed to the desert with sunshine and warmth. Instead, we were greeted with gray skies, mud, snow that hid in the shadows, and temperatures that hovered near freezing when the sun went down. Going into the weekend, we knew that no one would get much sleep, if the racing went well. That said, we knew we both needed to sneak power naps when possible.
Gretchen was charged with filming me and my racing partner, Laura King. Somehow, in the middle of the night, we both had an hour together and we chose to spend that time together trying to sleep. I happen to only have one leg. I lost my left leg many years ago in a horrible car accident. I use a prosthetic leg to get around and I have a special prosthetic to ride my bike. As Gretchen and I tried to sleep side by side my lonely right foot got cold. Since I don’t have two feet to rub together for warmth, poor righty has a helluva time getting warm. I saw my warm, cozy partner, dozing next to me… so what did I do? I inch wormed over to her, unzipped my bag, unzipped hers, and tried to crawl inside her bag while I slipped my right foot between her two feet. Gretchen is gracious with her emotional and physical warmth. Still, neither one of us slept well. I felt guilty.
Our second camping trip was to southern California in May at a campground on Mt. Figueroa for the first night of a 400-mile bike packing rally. Again, I was riding, and she was photographing. I packed a lightweight quilt with a small ground pad to fit in my bike bags while Gretchen had a proper warm sleeping bag and pad that she kept in her race vehicle. Again, temperatures were well below the seasonal average for the area. I heard that nearly every rider was underprepared for the conditions. As Gretchen and I tucked in for the night in our respective sleeping setups, it was clear that she was cozy, and I was cold. Yet again, she graciously shared her warmth and let me weasel my way into her sleeping bag and put my lone foot next to hers for what we knew would be a mediocre night of rest. As we tried to fend off cold drafts and keep two sleeping pads from inevitably drifting apart, we dreamt out loud of a double sleeping bag and pad.
It’s as if Big Agnes heard our wishes and created the perfect sleeping system for two. Over the 4th of July weekend, Gretchen and I plus our dog went up into the mountains of Western Montana to try out camping with the hopes of fun memories and a solid night’s sleep. We made everything into a game and laughed at each other and ourselves. Between laughs we could hear the birdsong, black squirrels chattering, and the leaves rustling in the breeze. We raced each other setting up our camping chairs- which was sillier in practice. Try it sometime. We worked peacefully together setting up the tent and looked forward to trying out the double sleeping bag.
Given that July is Disability Pride Month I found it fitting that we got to stay in an accessible campsite. That means the campsite terrain was flatter and adjacent to an outhouse. That might not sound like much to most or might be disinteresting to others. However, 15% of the World’s population lives with a permanent physical impairment according to the World Health Organization. That’s a huge number of people and I’m just one of them, it’s important for folks of all abilities to know that disability is nothing to be afraid of nor ashamed of. Companies like Big Agnes recognize that getting outside and out of normal routines is not a privilege reserved for some. Big Agnes believes “in outfitting all people with the gear needed to camp comfortably, explore the backcountry and have fun.”
Have you heard of the Interagency Access Pass - also known as the America the Beautiful Pass? It’s available online here from The National Parks Service. Applications can also be completed in person at National Parks and some recreational areas. The Pass enables people with physical impairments to access federally protected areas including national parks, national monuments, and other protected areas, like camping areas, for free or for reduced cost. For example, the campground we stayed at was 50% off per night. Every dollar counts when I have to pay to maintain or replace my prosthetic leg. The disability community is the largest minority in the world, and anyone might join it at any age. All too often accessibility is not prioritized by those with the ability to create change. When I’m not on the bike, I work as a Doctor of Physical Therapy, and have dedicated my life to helping others heal while they explore and redefine their abilities. To that end, I also think it’s important that we recognize the people with impairments as well as the companies and agencies that are striving to enable all of us.
Since we were programmed to expect a chilly night, we put the rainfly over the tent to keep our heat inside the tent. As the late summer sun finally set, we snuggled in together comfortably spooning without the usual struggle of corralling ground pads, shepherding pillows, nor managing zippers or extra material. In the middle of the night, we awoke comfortably warm and knew we could take the rainfly off to see the stars. We were able to take the rainfly off without fully exiting the tent and were rewarded with a beautifully starry night. It was fun to watch the dog take in the night sky through the tent’s nearly invisible thin mesh ceiling. Every heartbeat in the tent was cozy and comfortable with ample space to move around yet still feel connected.
We woke the next morning happy, rested, and eager to play outside.
Site to get Interagency Access Pass https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/pickup-pass-locations.htm
Meg Fisher is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, 2x Paralympian(with four medals from the games) and an 11x World Champion Cyclist. Meg continues to race bikes professionally, predominantly endurance gravel and mountain bike events while pioneering the inclusion of paracycling categories at many of these races. She also runs her own physical therapy clinic in Missoula, Montana. She loves to play outside on the trails with her dog Pax. You can find her on Instagram @megfisher
Gretchen Powers is an accomplished filmmaker and photographer who travels the world with her camera in tow. She specializes in outdoor lifestyle storytelling while focusing on the human experience. Gretchen continues to be inspired by the wild places around her and the way people interact with them. She thrives in inclement weather, loves books and always packs too many snacks. You can find her on instagram @gpowersfilm