Sleeping Bag Metamorphosis

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I grew up in a family focused on traditional sports: gymnastics, soccer, track. But somewhere along the way, I began to obsess over the idea of moving through big landscapes and being small within them. I wanted to be able to sleep anywhere.

At the store, I laid out a sleeping bag on the thinly carpeted floor and zipped myself in. I drew the hood tight and closed my eyes. I imagined opening them and magically finding myself in a new place. Women’s medium, winter rating, right-hand zip. Just like that, my first sleeping bag set me free.

Outward Bound, Colorado. A month in the San Juans. Surfing down granite scree fields by day, sleeping under the stars by night. Indian paintbrush, alpine bouldering, sudden downpours, wet down. I love falling asleep like this.

“Study” abroad in Australia—online courses helping me ditch Sydney and focus on my preferred areas of study: the Grampians, the Blue Mountains, the Arapiles. Peering out of my cocoon, I was becoming the person I always wanted to be. I love waking up like this.

A hostel in Valle Nevado, Chile. Icy showers in wintery August. Tongue out to the left, knob turned to the right, light the pilot, hop in the shower. Nope, still cold. Quick: soap up, forget the shampoo, rinse rinse rinse, hustle down the hall—jump in and zip up. Vigorous sit-ups in my bag to jumpstart warmth. I love falling asleep like this.

Fontainebleau, France, and a stony gîte floor made marginally better by the buffer of my bouldering pad. Morning sensations of coffee wafting and climbed-on fingertips sanded raw, weeping. First hand pain of the day: forcing my sleeping bag into its ridiculously small sack. I love waking up like this.

A bright dark night in my frosted Outback, Buttermilks, California. I should have camped in the tablelands. Maybe I’ll start the car for a few minutes just to warm up—my eyes flutter open, and I see Mount Tom and Basin alight. I love falling asleep like this.

Hospital doors slide open, releasing me into the warm air and golden light of late summer in Seattle. Four chemo treatments deep, my body buzzed with energy. Not the good kind that makes a person run in the mountains. The kind that perpetually alerts all of your nerves that something is very wrong—the kind of energy that fatigues you past the point of sleep.

Through those months that seemed to last years, my sleeping bag was my security blanket. It reminded me that I was a vigorous, healthy person who had slept out under the stars, the rain, a tailgate, a tent, a boulder—and it gave me hope that I would be that person again.

My sleeping bag is a place—and a mindset—that has allowed me to weather a storm. When you can sleep anywhere, you can go anywhere. And when you can go anywhere, you can do anything.

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