The challenge: sleep in a hammock and then go to work as fresh as a daisy without having to invest hundreds of dollars in an air conditioner.
Long post alert: This story will take you 14 minutes to read but I promise you’ll laugh, cry and cringe. You can, however, skip to the practicalities at the end if you want to.
When summer hits, you know it’s going to be hot. But sometimes it’s hot and you live in an apartment with no AC and every time you get back from work, you feel like you’re entering a giant blast furnace. You start sweating as soon as you thrust the key into the keyhole. Then you open the door and you’re knocked down by an even more potent heatwave from inside. It’s at this moment that you say to yourself “Enough’s enough!”.
In short, this sweaty scenario was exactly why I decided to evacuate myself from my home for a week this August, swapping my bed for a hammock in the forest. I’m not talking about a vacation here, just a normal working week in which I began every day (well, kind of every day) by jumping out of my hammock, making a campside coffee then heading to work in my inner-city office.
Day 1 (Sunday): First hammocking
As fearless and crazy as this idea might look at first sight, I have to admit that only the latter is accurate. The truth is that I love the forest but I hate bugs. Bugs are not my friends.
The solution: I bought a portable hammock with a mosquito net from a Chinese online store. Judging its comfort and glamor, I can only compare it to a canopy bed (prices start from only $20 if you’re interested). Besides being lighter than a tent, in many countries a hammock like this can be hung in national parks and other places where camping is forbidden (anyway, if you choose to stay in remote places like these, you know what NOT to do: don’t leave your trash, don’t pick rare flowers, don’t hunt for endangered animals etc.).
So, Day 1. I set off from the city to a nearby village with Lucho – my fearless travel and life partner and personal aviation mechanic (you never know when you’re gonna need one). The full moon was as bright as a street lamp and we didn’t even need to turn our headlamps on. After 30 minutes of walking, we found a perfect piece of forest to settle down in for the night. A short while before midnight, we were having dinner under the light of the moon and the stars (oh, how romantic, you should try it!) when we heard a piercing bird call that sounded like the blood-curdling screams of a damsel in distress. That gave us the heebie-jeebies and we were forced to gulp down two shots of vodka to regain courage. Then we tucked in our sleeping bags and watched the pine tops reaching each other somewhere high above us.
The light of the full moon woke us up a few times, but it could’ve been worse if we were, let’s say, werewolves. Thank god we’re not. Despite the interruptions, the gentle whiff of pine needles on the breeze proved that sleeping in the forest was actually a genius decision!
Day 2 (Monday): Lunar eclipse… almost
I spent the whole day following the weather forecast with my other fearless hiking and sleeping-in-the-forest-on-weekdays partner, Eva. The weatherman predicted heavy rain, a natural phenomenon very much at odds with our plan to scale a near 2,290-m (7500-ft) mountain peak and watch the partial lunar eclipse from there. Late in the afternoon, it started raining cats and dogs in the city, while the live cameras from the peak showed nothing better than chin-deep mud. “Let’s leave this for the weekend when we’ll watch the Perseids, too,” said Eva wisely. So we ended up peeking at the eclipse from our apartment windows, just like all the other boring city people around us.
Day 3 (Tuesday): Pause for a night sleeping in the blast furnace
Day 4 (Wednesday): Sleeping alone in the forest
For a third day in a row I came home thinking I’d be lazy and sleep in my bed, but things escalated. When I opened the door of my apartment a burst of scorching air burned me down and only a small pile of ashes fell on the doorstep. You imagined it. I had no choice.
10:30 pm. I took my hammock, a sleeping bag and breakfast for the next day and headed for another village close to my city. I gulped my shots of vodka early that night as this time I was going to be all by myself. It was going to be my first solo hammock night in the forest. A piece of cake! What could go wrong?!
Once I had arrived in the village, a pack of stray dogs started chasing me, which, let’s face it, was not a promising start to the night. After getting rid of the dogs, I entered the woods and 30 minutes later I found a perfect spot to hang my hammock. The air was pine-fresh and a brook was babbling somewhere nearby. What an idyll!
I fell asleep almost immediately. Then, I woke up almost immediately. My sick mind was dreaming that a psychopath was leaning over me (let me remind you: I was a woman sleeping alone in the forest). As I mentioned, I’m not fearless at all, and there are worse things out there than bugs. I looked around – there was nobody, so I tamed my palpitations and fell asleep again almost immediately. Once again I woke up almost immediately after I had dreamt about another psycho. And this, my dear wannabe solo-hammocking enthusiasts, continued for the whole night! I had only one dream that didn’t involve a psycho, but it was just as terrifying: a fox took away my sandals and I had to walk barefoot back to the village.
In spite of the pines, the babbling river and the refreshing whiff of the wind, I had just endured the worst al fresco night of my life so far.
However, I want to clarify that the night was not all psychos and sandal-loving foxes. For the first time I had the chance to really appreciate the net of the hammock. When I woke up for the last time in the morning, I saw that a forest spider had illegally used my hammock net as a base for his web. I imagined how, if it hadn’t been for the hammock net, I’d have woken up entangled in cobwebs from head to toe, with a giant spider staring directly into my eyes. Don’t judge me. I’ve seen too many thrillers in my life.
Now I’d like to take a moment to share my thoughts on meeting other people in the forest. The scariest of all encounters you can have in a dark forest at night is not a bear, a wolf or even a flock of hungry mosquitoes – it’s another human. What would a normal person be doing in the dark, more than an hour away from the nearest village? He must be a psychopath. Except for you, you are slightly adventurous but completely normal on the whole. Yet, sometimes people don’t get it and the roles swap. Especially when a father and son walk their puppy in the wood above their village at 6 in the morning and you jump out of the bushes with messy hair and bloodshot eyes because you haven’t drunk your coffee yet. Oh well, in this case you are the psycho and you can be sure that the father has squeezed the phone in his pocket ready to call 911 or, if necessary, is prepared to knock you down and drown you in the river.
Day 5 (Thursday): Pause for another night sleeping in the blast furnace
Day 6 (Friday): The Perseids and sleeping on a mountain peak
I don’t want a fox to lick my nose while I sleep. I just don’t. Everybody has their irrational fears, and that’s (one of) mine. I’d bought a hammock with a net and now I was forced to sleep in a meadow (try to hang your hammock in a treeless meadow!). But being a part of a group of four (I’ve already mentioned Eva and Lucho, plus Ilko) dedicated to sleeping in the fresh air and watching the Perseid meteor shower, I decided to keep my fears to myself and daringly lie under the stars, stuffed in my sleeping bag and zipped up to the top, with only the tip of my nose poking out.
Earlier this evening, we’d hiked for more than an hour up in the mountains and had chosen a peak (1300 m/4200 ft) with a magnificent view of the surrounding area. We saw tens of blinking villages down in the valley, while the shooting stars above us were doing what they do best – they were leaving their bright trails in the sky while we were ticking off wishes from our lists. We ate dinner with no light other than the moon, laughed and ate home-grown tomatoes… And I slept like a log for the first time in a week.
For the record, no fox licked my face that night.
Day 7 (Saturday): Thunderstorm = sleeping in the blast furnace (again!)
Next days: all summer hammocking
After the first experimental nights, I’m sure sleeping in a hammock will turn into a summer tradition around these parts. Maybe it’ll go beyond summer, too. Has anyone come up with a winter hammock yet?!
– How do you get there?
– This challenge was completed around Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, and my destinations were the villages of Zheleznitsa, Simeonovo, and Yarlovo, between 5 and 50 km (3 and 30 mi) away form the city. I used both my car and public transportation to get to the villages, then relied on my own two feet to find a sleeping spot in the forest. Regardless of where you live, you can create your own hammock map with suitable locations around your home.
– Do you shower at all?
– In general or during this adventure? Yes, I take a shower at home before I head to the office. But even if I can’t make it, I have a bathroom in the office, so this is not an issue. Anyway, sleeping in the forest is more refreshing that you’d expect.
– How early do you wake up for work?
– It depends on a bunch of factors, but I usually wake up at 6 am, make some coffee and breakfast and get to the city before the morning rush hour. It’s a well-known fact that you sleep better in the forest (unless you dream about psychos 20 times per night).
– What’s in your backpack?
– A sleeping bag, a mat, a hammock with a mosquito net, gas stove + coffee, breakfast (I usually take a few tomatoes, bread and cheese), vodka (a shot before bed to pay homage to an old tradition), water, headlamp, cup, a long-sleeve blouse (I sleep with my shorts only) and a camera.
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