To Virginia and Back, In A Week. Part 1 to the Grand Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.

Recently a friend of mine was given a chance of a lifetime, but it also meant she would have to move from California to Virginia. So when she asked if I would come along with her and her boyfriend to drive across the country, I jumped at the opportunity. After all, I’m an adventurer, how am I supposed to turn down an adventure? So even though I only came home from another adventure a few days prior, I packed up my bag again and was off to adventure on the open road once again.

When we left we only had four days to make the 40-hour drive to Virginia. The only problem was we were only going to drive for six hours our first day as we had planned to stay overnight at the Grand Canyon and visit it in the morning of the second day. I was more than happy with this decision. After all, it’s the Grand Canyon. No matter how many times I visit it, I can’t get enough of it. Plus I convinced to team to travel a little out of the way to visit Horseshoe Bend in Page Arizona. I knew it would add a couple of extra hours to our drive, but I also knew it would be so worth the time.

When we woke up the second day, we quickly broke camp and entered the Grand Canyon. We saw Mather Point at early light, the partly cloudy skies added to the ambiance and spectacular views of the canyon. Often times a scene like this looks as though you are stepping into a painting, it’s so beautiful, you think that it can’t be real. Then you breathe, and you know it is real, that this splendid beauty and chaos is the most real moment you have had in a very long time. 20160505_070408_Richtone(HDR)

Soon we were leaving the Canyon and heading north on the 89. We were going a bit out of the way, but I knew this detour would be worth the hours lost. I had planned to make an important rest stop at Horseshoe Bend near Page Arizona. It took us nearly two hours to reach the parking lot of the bend, and the sign marking the area was no help at all. It’s tiny, one blink and you’ll miss it. That is if you don’t notice all the other cars turning into a random dirt road and lot.

As we hiked towards the Bend, I was anxiously rushing up the hill that stood between me and that marvelous natural wonder. Once I was at the top, I could feel my asthma kicking into overdrive, but I didn’t care. I could already see the top of the formation, and it made my heart skip. The soft sandy trail down was not going to slow me down, nothing would until I was finally setting foot on the Navajo Sandstone. It was already midday, and there was a lot of people gathered at the mouth of the cliff, but lucky for me I was able to grab a spot that had unrestricted views. IMG_20160505_125509

As I sat and soaked in the view of from the cliff face, I let my feet dangle off the edge. I’m terrified of heights, I don’t even like to be on ladders; and yet this was fine. Maybe nature just has that effect on me, or maybe the beauty of nature is like the flame to a moth for me? Regardless, I could have stayed all day on that edge just looking down at those cliffs and the river, and not feel like a moment was wasted. Unfortunately, we had to be hitting the road. So I had to say goodbye to Horseshoe Bend and hello to the open road.

Thoughts on Solo Wandering.

In the past few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to been able to travel and explore my country. I’ve been up and down the coast. Driven across the the country a couple of times. Swam in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Been to the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of Alaska. I’ve drank the water from a melting glacier and tasted the salt of a desert from a dry lake bed. It’s been an incredible journey. Filled with amazing moments and sights. Memories that I will always remember. The kind that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

But, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, no. There are times, I admit, when the solitude felt too much. I’d sit there in my camp, looking up at the stars and the silence becomes too strong. The deafening silence, so strong that I could hear my own heartbeat, and it hit me. “I’m alone…” truly alone. No one around, no cars passing by, no planes, no cell service of any kind. Just me…and I’d wish that someone was there with me. A friend, a lover, anyone. Just someone, so I know that the world didn’t end while I was away.
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Often times I feel like entering a new town was a bit challenging. I would come in, by plane, bus, car, or even walk in, and I wouldn’t really know where to start. Should I find food first, or should I try to find someplace to sleep? Striking up a conversation with a stranger can be challenging too. I hear it helps if your very attractive, but unfortunately I’m not gifted in that department. I am, however, funny, and approachable, so that helps a lot. Once people can get a good vibe from you, there more friendly and will point you out in the right direction, or give recommendations on where the best pizza is, or a good place to camp. If your lucky enough you may even find someone willing to have a pint and share stories with.

I think most of my favorite encounters with strangers has taken place in a bar. I’d go in alone, and usually end up making a friend for the night, but it’s not always so. There have been plenty of times where I entered and could not strike up a conversation with anyone. I don’t know why either. Was it because I was a stranger with a backpack? Or did I just catch them at a wrong time, when they didn’t feel like having a companion? I know sometimes that even I just want to be alone with my thoughts. So I don’t blame them, not at all. So I’d drink my drink in peace, and then be on my way. Sometimes it felt like no one even noticed I was there.
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That is a thought that can haunt you, once you realize how real that can be. Imagine going somewhere, anywhere and no one really noticed you. How would you feel? Maybe you don’t think about it much, but I do. I could go missing for one reason or another, and imagine if no one even noticed I was there in the first place? It makes me want to stand out in a crowd. Not because I want the attention. I just want someone to realize I’m there. I just want someone to remember me.

Sometimes that is easy too. There have been times when I have just been wandering, and I’ll end up coming along someone who needed help. So I’d help them, in any way I could. It didn’t matter if it was giving a fellow hiker some much needed water, or helping someone who had gotten into a car accident. I would do what I could. Those are the ones that I know will remember me. Even if it’s only the thing I did for them that they remember. It’s more than enough. Because I think I want them to remember the act of kindness more than the man who did it. Maybe, just maybe, if we act a little more kinder to people, they will pay it forward? If they pay it forward, then maybe those people will do the same. Maybe a tiny ripple can change the tide. Maybe a lone wanderer can change the world.  038

I’m Afraid of the Ocean, So Why not Go Kayaking On It?

We woke up early in the morning as we had a big day ahead of ourselves and wanted to get a head start. So after making a Rolling Stone  for breakfast (because what else would a geology lover eat?) We headed out in the light of the dawn to drive to Spooners Cove in Montana de Oro State Park. The drive down was excellent. The highway was wide open and the way the light was hitting the rolling hills of the area, it was magical. I purposely played “Circle of Life” as we drove. Seriously if you have never listened to that song while driving in the morning, you need to. It wakes everyone up in the best of ways. IMG_20160426_112051

As we drove through the eucalyptus forest entering Mantana de Oro, it seemed like we were going through a new and far away land. Even though we were merely nearing the cost. Soon the forest broke and we drove pass Spooners Cove (one of my favorite beaches). We parked up ontop of a small hill and near the trail head for Bluff Trail. This is the trail that we will take in order to get down to the tide pools.

Bluff Trail, is kind of a unique trail. There really are no trees or shade on this trail, and wraps along the steep cliff faces of the California Cost. Small shrubs are abundant off the trail and the wildflowers are in bloom. There are certain areas where you can get close to the edge and see the beach and crashing waves below, but be warned. These cliffs are prone to weathering and can give away without any warning. So please be careful when you are enjoying the views20160423_080133

Before I knew it, we were heading down a long woodenIMG_20160427_183651 staircase and to the beach below. Sand greeted us at first but it soon gave away to the exposed layers of shale, and shallow pools of water where sea anemones bloomed. I walked cautiously over the floor, trying my best to not step on any barnacles, crabs or snails. Exploring every pool of water I could. One could say they were all the same, but only a fool would utter such an understatement. Each pool was unique, each pool brought something different and offered a new perspective to life under the sea.

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After spending the whole morning exploring tide pools and sandy cliffs it was time to head back up to Morro Bay, to kayak in the presence of Morro Rock, and all of her glory. Upon entering the kayak rental shop, my nervousness was subdue thanks to friendly and warm staff. After a short crash course on kayaking I was getting into my kayak and off into the open water of the bay. I must admit, I’m terrified of the ocean. I don’t like how I can’t see what is going on around me, and knowing that there are things that can kill me living in the water. I freak out whenever I feel something touch me while in the ocean, and that is why, for the most part I avoid it at all costs. However, I’m also open to new adventures and experiences and I really wanted to see the Morro Bay sand dunes, and there is only one way to get to them. So off I go into the kayak, and onto the water.

I paddle around for a bit just trying to get use to it, and getting my form down. I paddle up to a floating dock that is littered with sea lions. As the wind picked up I was quickly reminded of how bad they smell, my god, how could I forget that? I quickly paddled to the other side and everything was much better. Morro Rock stood majestically in the near distance, and I knew I would have to risk it and take a picture. I fought against the wind and current in order to get a few pictures of it from the kayak, hoping the whole time that my phone wouldn’t fall into the ocean. After getting a few shots I decided that it was time to check out the dunes. IMG_20160424_143340

I pulled my kayak up to the dunes, because I was overly cautious that the tide was going to come in and pull it out into the bay, and that was the last thing I wanted. Once at the dunes I went for a walk with a friend through the allowed passage to the other side. During this time of year, a lot of the area is roped off in order to let the native birds nest without humans tromping through the area. We walked and talked making the most of it. Even though walking through the loose hot sand was difficult it was fun, a bit long, but fun none the less. After some time walking through the sand we were rewarded to the sight of crashing waves on the beach.

After resting among the rocks and laying in the sand I decided I wanted to head back to my kayak and paddle around the bay more. I still had a couple of hours left on my rental and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my time. As I paddled out into the bay it wasn’t bad. It was quite easy actually. I just had to paddle more on my right than left in order to keep straight. It was nice and peaceful out on the water. After I went as far as I could one way I turned around and went in the other direction. As I got near the docked boats the wind started to pick up and it made navigating among them difficult.  All was good once I passed all the boats and I soon found myself near some sea marshes that had white cranes looking for food in the reeds. 20160423_161256

I sat there in my kayak for a while just enjoying the moment, letting the current take me a bit. Everything felt great out there, I almost didn’t want to come back to shore. The sea had taken a hold of me, but my time was almost up and I knew I had to get back. So I began heading towards the docks. This is when things got tough. The wind had picked up tremendously and so now I had to contend with waves as I traveled up the channel. I was able to deal with the situation, just had to paddle a little harder and work to keep my balance but as I paddled I was encouraged by a man on a sail boat. “You go dude” he shouted as I paddled by.

In no time I had arrived back at the rental safe and sound and without falling overboard. I was a bit soaked from all the waves, but still I couldn’t complain. I had accomplished what I have set to accomplished. I felt like I was able to come to grips with one of my biggest fears and have a good time while doing, and I as I drove back to camp. I couldn’t help but feel happy with that. I now look forward to doing this again in the near future.

 

Purple Rain, on the way to Morro Bay

I’ve been driving through the Los Angeles traffic for nearly two hours when the congestion finally seems to break. I’m only in Ventura and I still have a ways to go. Morro Bay is my destination on this trip, and even though I can feel my morning caffeine begin to wear off, I can’t help but feel excited. I’ve been impatiently awaiting another outing since my last overnight trip to the Trona Pinnacles and I must say it’s been too long since I’ve slept in a tent again. I don’t know what makes camping so special but it truly is. Maybe it’s being detached from civilization? Or maybe it’s just a connection with mother nature that puts one’s mind at peace? All I know, is that I love it, and it makes me happy. 20160422_130254_Richtone(HDR)

It’s about 10 am when we arrive at Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo. My legs can’t wait to get out of the van and walk around and the first step on the parking lot feels like heaven. I take in a deep breath of the salty air and it comforts me. I can already hear the waves crashing along the beach and I quickly grab a couple of things and begin to head off to the beach. Even though it’s early the beach already has some visitors on it, but lucky for me and my group we know an area that is less traversed. As I climb onto the pillow basalts to avoid the crashing waves I’m treated to a small but private stretch of beach. There isn’t a lot of sand at this part of the beach but that doesn’t matter. I’d rather look at the rocks anyways. I boulder up some of the structures and I perch myself up not too high but high enough just to get a better view. The sun is shinning and wind feels perfect and there are sea otters and seals playing in the water. It’s almost perfect here. I almost wished that we were staying longer than a couple of hours, but there is much to see and do, before arriving to camp.20160422_121351_Richtone(HDR)

We’ve only been driving for a half hour when the skies begin to pour with a vengeance. We knew before heading out, that we were going to get rain, but for a moment we forgot all about it, and felt surprised as the rain began to pour.The whippers on the van moved fast to keep the drops clear for a view of the street, but it didn’t seem enough. This storm was hitting hard. As we came closer to our next destination it began to lighten up dramatically. The once powerful and mighty storm was now just a light sprinkling and when we stopped, I couldn’t help but snap a few pictures. That’s when the music began to play in my head. I could hear Purple Rain playing and I felt a little sad about the recent lost of the artist known as Prince, but so happy to have known about his work before hand. It’s funny how a celebrity death can hit you so hard. You may not have ever meet them or knew them personally, but through their work you felt a connection. You grew up learning about yourself and making memories and having experiences to their work; so when they die, it’s like a piece of you died too. 20160422_142842_Richtone(HDR)

As we walked down to the Estero Bluffs we were treated to a field of blooming mustard plants before reaching the beach. Once at the beach we spent some time looking around. I found a couple of hidden plastic Easter Eggs, and I wondered who had an egg hunt here? One of the eggs was empty but the other had some candy in it, but the ants had already claimed it as their own. It was beautiful there at that beach. I got to see the remnants of the storm pass by and leave us and welcome back the blue sky and sunshine. Soon after that it was time to finally make our way down to camp to set up for the night.20160422_163904

I had never stayed at Morro Strand Campground before. It’s a little too close to  civilization for me, but it wasn’t too bad as it is right on the beach. I pitched my tent on a dune and then went for a walk along the beach as the sun began to set. The beach was littered with sand dollars and I watched the sandpipers congregating as they searched for food in the sea foam. Morro Rock towered in the distance in the evening glow. I watched in amazement for a while just trying to take in all the scenery. It really was a wonderful day for adventuring and I’m looking forward to getting a good nights rest. After all tomorrow will be another busy day. 20160422_195644_Richtone(HDR)

Not Where I Wanted, But Where I Needed To Be.

Here I am sitting in Anchorage again. This is the second time in three months that I’ve been here. Far away from almost everyone I know, and alone in the beautiful cold. It’s been surreal here. I think Anchorage is the only city I’ve been to where I constantly see strangers with familiar faces. I keep seeing the same people every time I’m here. Only problem is they are not the ones I’m looking for.

I came out here on nothing more than a whim. I spent my summer here in Alaska and I fell in love with the state. I wanted to stay. I didn’t want to return home, especially after my last week here in September. You would think that I should know by now that I should always expect the unexpected, and that nothing ever goes to plan, but I digress, I came here chasing a dream. In my search for the dream I left behind I found nothing I was looking for. Then something unexpected happen, no not the dream I was chasing, but another form of an echo of the past.

As I sat in a bus station in the cold night waiting for a warm bus to take me back to the room I was staying at, a middle aged homeless native came and sat by me. He was friendly and his face was inviting, I welcomed his company and we began to engage in a conversation. The faint smell of booze came from him, but I didn’t mind, it was bourbon, a favorite of mine, so I welcomed the smell. Then something unexpected happened, he told me he was dying from cancer. I told him I was sorry to hear about that, and he quickly told me not to be. He then told me that two years ago he lost his daughter to suicide, and this past year he lost his son to suicide as well.

My heart sank as I heard him tell me this. You can see the pain in his eyes as he spoke. As a person who has lived with depression and have battled suicide as well, I felt like it was all too familiar. He told me without his kids in his life, he didn’t feel the need to keep on living. That burying your children is the worst thing a parent will ever have to do. As he went on, all I could think of was my parents, my family and my friends, all that helped me out of my last bout. I remember that at the time, when I thought I couldn’t take any more pain, the only thing that stopped me, was knowing I would be transferring that pain onto them. That was something I was not willing to do.

Soon my bus arrived and I said goodbye and that it was a pleasure to meet him. I walked out and as I waited in line for the bus, I knew I couldn’t leave. Not yet, not without saying something. I ran back to the door of the station opened it up and said. “A year ago, I almost took my own life as well, but I didn’t, because I didn’t want to hurt anyone. So now I live for people like you.” A big smile cam on his face and he said “Bless you”. A gave him a nod and I left, just making my bus before the doors closed. As I took my seat I looked back at him and saw him sitting there. Still smiling from ear to ear. I was happy for this unexpected encounter. I don’t know if my words helped him, as much as his words helped me. Perhaps we both gained something we needed in that moment.  I haven’t been depressed in over a year now, but the memory still lingers. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it, not one line. I’ll always remember so that I know that I can survive it.

Not Quite the Adventure I Was Looking For…

I’ve been here in Alaska for a month and it has been an incredible experience. I came up here to work the annual salmon run in order to finance my future adventures, and  possibly squeeze in some adventuring with every chance I could get, and while I have been doing that, and things were great, that all changed this past week.

My company sent me up to Dillingham to help out the plant there. It was a nice change of pace and scenery and the little down time I had I took advantage with bike rides through the rolling hills of the Dillingham country side. It was such an incredible experience to be the only one on the road while being treated to fields of green stretching out to the mountains and river in the distance. The rush of going down the hill and letting go of the handlebars was so invigorating, I can barley describe the feeling. In fact I don’t think the word invigorating really does it any justice at all. It is truly an incredible experience.   wpid-20150722_222122_richtonehdr.jpg

After a week in Dillingham I was supposed to go back to Petersburg with a bunch of my co workers. The company had charted a plane for us to get back. We were supposed to have a quick stop in Anchorage to refuel but it turned into an hour layover. We were then told six people would have to stay the night in Anchorage and that they would be compensated for staying. Since I’m always looking for an adventure, I volunteered to stay behind. They gave us our carry on bags and then the plane left. Thinking that the company was going to get us a hotel, we all waited patiently in the terminal awaiting to hear of any news. Hours passed before I called the company to find out what was going on; only to be told that the hotels were filled up and we were on our own for the night. Two people left because they knew someone in town and didn’t want to wait in the terminal. Leaving only four people including myself in the terminal for the night.

As the night began to press on, we started getting restless. We had no money, some didn’t have phone service and we were stuck in the terminal for the night. I kept counting down the hours until my direct deposit would kick in, and then I knew I would be free. I had called up a hostel and they had plenty of space. I thought I would cab it, and maybe walk the city after checking in, but as time went on, I knew that wouldn’t be an option. The tree other men I was with, had little to no money on them, no direct deposit and one was suffering a migraine. One man used what little money he had to buy us all McDonalds for dinner. I knew that when my direct deposit came in, that I couldn’t leave them here. They were angry, and suffering. I just knew I couldn’t leave them behind like that.

When my deposit went through I called a local hotel and they had a suite that was available, and they offered me a discount. So I took it, and made the reservation. I then went back and informed the men, that I got them a room, and the hotel was coming to pick us up. Their faces immediately lit up, and their mood changed. Within minutes we arrived at the hotel and after I finished checking in we went up to our room. They were so happy with how big it was. Two huge rooms, one with two queen size beds, another with a fold out couch, tvs in every room, a fridge, microwave, the bathroom had a spa tube and a separate shower. It was amazing. One of the guys told me, that he had never stayed somewhere that was this nice. I felt happy that I was able to help these guys out. I didn’t even really know them, I had just learned the names, and yet here we were, “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers…” we would sleep like kings tonight. wpid-20150723_154439_richtonehdr.jpg

The next morning we were back at the airport. We were all on different flights and mine left first. I left Anchorage at eight and was headed off to Juneau. I was suppose to have a three and a half hour layover before my next flight, so I decided to catch a cab and head into town to see some sights before I left. I’ve been wanting to visit Juneau so I took this small opportunity to do so. Shortly after arriving back at the airport I learned there was a problem with the aircraft and a smaller plane was taking it’s place. This meant that some people would be spending the night in Juneau. I volunteered to stay. I don’t really know why either. I was desperate to get back to work. I literally only had a change of clothes, a toothbrush and toothpaste with me. The rest of my luggage was already in Petersburg, but I choose to stay. Maybe a part of me thought or hoped I would see the girl that I meet in Petersburg, even though I knew that she wasn’t here anymore. Still something compelled me to stay.

The airline gave me a room, a few meal tickets and and a flight for the next day,wpid-20150724_194425_richtonehdr.jpg for my travel troubles. After checking into my room, I went on a walk. The views around Juneau and it’s airport are breathtaking. In some places you can see the glacier. I found a small hiking trail that was actually very pleasant and empty considering how close it was to the airport. I’m glad it wasn’t too long of a hike though because the only shoes I had were my Ultra Tuffs, which are just rubber boots. Then again, I guess you can’t be a true Alaskan until you have done a hike in Ultra Tuffs.

As the night began to creep in and I wandered back to my hotel I couldn’t stop thinking of so many things. I thought of home, of my family and my friends. I thought of cats, I thought of places that I still want to see and the things I still want to do. I thought of all that and much more, and yet I didn’t feel lonely or alone, even though I was completely alone. I didn’t mind it, but at the same time I kind of missed everyone. Now I’m back in Petersburg, eagerly awaiting to start working again so I can earn enough money to have more incredible adventures.

 

Out of my comfort zone and into the Last Frontier.

It’s Tuesday June 23rd and I’m sitting inside Papa Bear’s Pizzeria in Petersburg Alaska. I’ve only been in Alaska for a couple of hours, and while it’s beauty has been breathtaking, it’s been a tough day to say the least. Yesterday I learned the hostel I was planning on spending my first couple of nights, had close down. It was the only hostel on Mitkof island, and the money in my bank account is frozen for another week. So I don’t have the option of checking into a hotel either. I have $50 in cash and I need to make it last.

So now I’m stuck ~1500 miles away from home with nothing but what I’m wearing and my backpack. I have no place to sleep for the next three nights and very little cash. What can you do when life provides so little options? You do what you must. After all here, near the Alaskan wilderness, one must use their head to get themselves out of any trouble. You must relay on your wits in order to make it, and that is what I intend to do.

On my way into town, I noticed an area that looked like it could be a good place to stealth camp. It’s something I would normally never do, but with little options available I don’t see no other choice. It’s a little patch of clearing near the wilderness, where road construction is being done. If I can get myself in there and get my tent up, it will provide me with enough cover to keep me hidden from prying eyes, as well as a nearby port o potty to use. Until the construction crews leave, I  can’t go and check it out, so I head into town for a bite to eat.

The day is beginning to wear on me. I haven’t slept in over a day, and I actually almost fell asleep while eating a pizza. Make no mistake, I’m determined to make it and find a place to get some much needed sleep. After all isn’t this what I wanted when I ventured here? To make it, no matter what, to push myself beyond my known limits, to forge myself in fire (metaphorically)? It looks like I’ll be getting my chance, and a lot sooner than I anticipated.

I wrap a couple of slices of pizza in tin foil, and I’m off to find a spot to camp at. Luckily when I arrive at my intended spot, the construction workers are all gone. I walk along the road until I find what looks like an easy spot to tread into the clearing. I was surprised to find the ground so soft. It was like walking on a sponge. Then I remembered that most of the land on the island is muskeg, which is like a bog, something that is almost alien to a Southern California native. It seemed firm enough to walk on, so I continue on trying to watch my step as I head deeper into the muskeg.

Before long I took a costly step and sunk to my upper thigh. I almost panicked. It was what I imagined quick sand to be like. I could not feel the bottom, and it was hard to pull my leg up, as the soft mud made it hard to move without sinking more. I took off my pack and threw it onto the land that I was on before. I knew I didn’t need the extra weight right now. By this time both my legs have sunk into the mud to about mid thigh height. I leaned my body forward and stretched out my arms to try and spread the weight of my body. I then tried to spread my legs and lift them out. I was able to free my right leg out and onto the mossy top. Soon I lift my left leg out as well, and I’m free from the mud.

That was a close one, I think to myself. With no one else within an ear shot, and no telling how much I would sink into that bog, who knows what could have happen. I was more mad at myself for not researching this area more, as this mistake could have been avoided. I gather my things and head back into town, with my legs and feet drenched and covered in mud. I contemplate trying to check into a hotel, maybe I convince them to not run my card for a couple of days? Then I think, no way will that work, especially now. I probably look like a homeless man trying to score a free room.

I walk along the town looking for something, anything that I could use as shelter. After walking for some time I come upon a church with a small park in the back. The park has a wooden fence and trees obscuring vision from any neighbors, and it has a little stone half dome with a statue of the Mother Mary inside it. I look around and think, “I can use this”.  It’s long enough to lay down in and deep enough to have myself and pack in. I use the shelter to change out of my soaking muddy clothes and into a dry pair from my pack. I then lay out my sleeping pad and blanket and settle in for the night.