Below is an excerpt from our upcoming book, The 24/7 Relationship: How We Live, Work, and Travel Together (Without Killing Each Other), due out on March 15, 2014. Subscribe here to get weekly insights into how we make this whole marriage/business/lifestyle thing work (plus the ways we seriously mess it up sometimes!)
We woke up in the middle of the night covered in a layer of grit. I blinked my eyes a few times, trying to orient myself. I remembered: We were camping on the southern coast of Turkey. My next thought: “Is the air really this salty near the Mediterranean Sea?” It took a second more to realize the grit wasn’t salt. It was sand, and it was blowing underneath the flysheet and into the mesh-covered door of our tent from the wind raging outside.
I rolled over on my left side and saw Warren’s profile. When he turned toward me I could barely make out the whites of his eyes in the dark.
“I think one of the ties has come loose,” he said. He sat up in his sleeping bag and reached for his clothes.
“Do you need my help?” I asked, knowing the answer. It’s a one-person job, and it seemed wise to have the weight of a grown human being inside to hold the tent down in case everything came loose. Neither one of us had to say this out loud.
Warren donned his headlamp and knelt by the front door of the tent. We executed our well-practiced “mosquito maneuver.” I quickly unzipped the tent door while Warren put one foot outside and slipped into his flip-flop on the ground at the same time as he unzipped the vestibule, quickly standing and stepping through into his other flip flop before turning and zipping it shut as I sealed the tent door after him.
(When we first developed this technique in Scotland to keep the swarming midges out, I never dreamed we be using it to fight blowing sand in a storm.)
Warren used a rock to hammer the stake in deeper and retie the flysheet over our tent. I could barely hear the him pounding it in through the raging wind outside, but I could see the light from his headlamp as he walked around the tent checking all the stakes and ties and placing big rocks over them. Satisfied, he called to me that he was coming back in. After a reverse “mosquito maneuver” to re-enter the tent, he gave me the rundown on the situation outside.
“The wind is really strong, and we have very little protection from it here. We’re tied down as tight as we can be, and I hope that’s enough.” We laid back down and listened to the storm outside.
Clocky, our little analog travel clock, was wedged into a mesh pocket on the inside of the tent. The glowing arms showed the time as 12:10 a.m., still a long way from sunrise. Neither one of us expected to get any sleep, but eventually fatigue from a long day of walking won and we dozed off.
At 1:30 we woke again, this time to the sound of rain. The storm was growing.
I pulled in our bags of food and hiking boots from the outer vestibule of the tent, further crowding our small space. We began evaluating our situation:
- We were perched on a cliff jutting out toward the sea
- The wind was so strong it could easily blow our tent out to sea if we tried to take it down
- The nearest shelter was in the village a half-mile away, uphill and over rocky terrain – and we didn’t speak Turkish
- Rain meant the rocks on the cliff-side trail would be slick
- It was the middle of the night and pitch black, the moon completely obscured by storm clouds
Oh, and absolutely no one knew where we were and we had no way to reach the outside world thanks to our desire for an “off the grid” experience.
This wasn’t how the night started, of course. We arrived at our scenic camp spot shortly before sunset after a full day of walking along Turkey’s famed Lycian Way. It was our second day of walking this trail, loaded down with 30-pound backpacks to go the full distance of 300 miles over the next few weeks. We’d been planning this trip for months, and it was turning out even better than we hoped with perfect weather, gorgeous scenery, and friendly local people.
Earlier in the afternoon we passed through a small village, enjoying a meal at a modest pension with two new Turkish friends we made while walking. Burak and Utcu, first-time backpackers and orthodontic students from the bustling city of Ankara, chose to rent a room at the pension for the night. Warren playfully teased them for carrying tents they didn’t plan to ever use during their week-long hike.
After goodbyes all around, we walked down the hill toward the sea, looking for a flat area to camp. As we rounded one of the hairpin turns on the rocky trail, we spotted a flat circular area surrounded by rocks and overlooking the sea. It was beautiful.
It didn’t take us long to set up our tent, change out of our sweaty walking clothes, and ease our feet out of our boots and into our flip flops. We high-fived each other for scoring such a great location, feeling a little bit sorry for the vacationing students we left behind in the village. Were they going to see a magnificent sunset over the Mediterranean? No way. And they were paying for a night in a cramped room while we were sitting on the lap of Mother Nature for free.
My journal that night ends with a detail we learned from the students shortly before parting, “Rain moving in tonight, so not sure what tomorrow will bring!” I remember how I felt after writing that, worrying mainly about how waterproof our boots would be during tomorrow’s walk. It was a throwaway concern, like wondering whether you’ll need to bring a jacket to work the next day because the temperature was predicted to drop a few degrees.
Mother Nature Knocks…Hard
At 1:30 in the morning, we began calmly discussing our situation, neither one wanting to express just how scared we really were. It was like two strangers making small talk about the weather. Can you believe this storm? Yeah, crazy isn’t it?
“I think we should pack up our bags now on the off chance the storm gets worse and we need to leave in a hurry,” I said.
Part of me wanted to hear Warren call me a worry wart, to reassure me that I was over-reacting as usual.
Instead he agreed, reaching down to the foot of his sleeping bag to get his backpack. We took turns packing, since the tight confines of the tent didn’t allow enough elbow room to do it at the same time.
“We should probably go ahead and sleep in our clothes, just in case we need to get up in a hurry,” Warren said. We changed into the clothes we planned to wear the next day, including our socks, and placed our rain jackets on top of our backpacks at the foot of our sleeping bags.
The walls of the tent were being pushed in by wind, the rain was pouring down, but we were cautiously optimistic that we’d ride out the storm okay. Against all odds, we again fell asleep.
At 3:20 a.m. I woke to a gentle caress on my cheek.
I opened my eyes to discover it was the wall of the tent pushing down against my face.
The wind was raging, and the aluminum poles in our tent were bent almost horizontally. It was time to pack up and get the hell out.
We quickly began packing up our sleeping bags and calmly talking through our next steps so we’d be on the same page. It would take both of us working together to get off the cliff without losing our tent.
The backpacks stayed on the floor of the tent to weight it down in case the wind caught it. We took our hiking poles from the vestibule and laid them inside the tent so we wouldn’t trip over them or leave them behind. The headlamps were strapped to our heads and cinched tight before we turned them on. We put on our rain jackets, and then took turns lacing up our shoes and stepping outside the tent.
This peaceful camp spot had turned into a wind tunnel. The rain was was falling up, down and sideways, with the large boulders around us acting to harness and force the wind down and around our tent.
We couldn’t have chosen a worse spot to ride out a storm if we tried.
Our next moves reminded me of every film that’s ever been made where the hero has to do the impossible, like get through a room of laser beams or scale a 100-story building, to escape the bad guys or win the treasure. I tried not to think about the mishap that always occurs in the middle of these challenges to increase the risk for the hero, because I was already at maximum tension.
Our scene was a choreographed dance of unstaking the tent flysheet at the end of a gust of wind and quickly running together in the dark to mash it between our bodies and keep it from catching in the next gust of wind and flying out to sea. We walked sideways, pressing the flysheet between us chest-to-chest, to the laundry bag we had weighted down with a rock and shoved it inside, throwing the bag inside the tent and zipping the door shut. Then we began dismantling the tent, pulling out the bent poles and packing them in the sack. Because Warren had put rocks on the individual stakes the first time we woke up, it was easier to find them in the dark and pull them from the ground.
I stood on the back of the flattened tent to hold it down as Warren pulled our backpacks and poles out, and we quickly stuffed the tent and ground cover into the laundry bag and strapped it to the back of Warren’s backpack. We hefted our backpacks up, surprised at how easily these 30-pound packs caught in the wind and pushed us against the rocks. Armed with our poles to keep us steady and our headlamps at full beam, we began the slow and careful trudge back up to the village in the pouring rain.
The good news? We had gone this way before, so it wasn’t completely unfamiliar. The bad news? It was still a slick, rocky path on the edge of a cliff and the wind was heavy enough to make us feel like paper dolls in front of an electric fan.
It was a fine balance of staying close enough to not get separated in the dark but far enough apart that one of us falling wouldn’t also knock the other one down into the rocks or the sea.
We finally made it to the main dirt road to the village and breathed a sigh of relief. The storm was still raging, but being off the slick rocks and away from the edge of the cliff meant we were just going to get wet and blown around.
The first building we came to was a pension we passed the day before. At that time we didn’t see any people there, and the sign outside advertised it for sale. We assumed it was vacant, and therefore no one to help us. But it did have a wide cement porch, which would give us shelter from the storm, and that was good enough.
We settled in against the wall, right next to an open door. We hoped it wasn’t filled with stray animals, but we figured they’d probably be smart enough to stay inside and away from the storm. According to Clocky it was 4 a.m., and without any other options in front of us, we covered up with a sleeping bag and tried to get a little sleep on the hard floor, watching the flashes of lightning in the sky as we finally dozed off.
The Breakfast Angel
We awoke at daylight to a man standing in front of us smiling. He pointed to the open door of the room next to us and then pantomimed sleeping by laying his head on his hands. We looked around the corner and saw it wasn’t a vacant room at all, but a fully made up room for guests. There were even fancy folded towels on the end of the beds.
It turns out the owner of the pension lived nearby, and he made a habit of leaving the room open for nighttime visitors so he didn’t have to stay on site. He stopped by every morning to see who stayed and to cook breakfast and get payment for the night.
We laughed at ourselves for not realizing a bed was available to us all along, and we gladly took him up on the offer of breakfast. The rain was still falling and the wind still blowing, but we were safe, dry, and fed.
More importantly, we were together.
Had this happened to us a few years before, we would not have handled it nearly so well. We would have assigned blame for not staying at the pension in the village (even though neither of us seriously considered it), picking a dangerous camp site (even though we mutually high-fived it the night before), figuring out who should be in charge (even though neither of us had any real experience with this), and who’s idea was it to come do this damn hike in the first place (yep, both of us).
We didn’t always work as a team, despite the fact that we have been married for several years. But this disaster of a campsite and how we got through it showcased exactly how far we’ve progressed from two people who used to fight for control to a partnership that can literally weather the storms of life.
Even better, we know that you don’t always have to take the hard way.
The next night, with the storm still raging, we rented a room.
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