My pack weighed nearly 45 pounds, way too much for two nights and parts of three days of elk hunting during the gentlest time of year, this edge season between balmy summer and crisp fall.
Nearly a third of my pack’s weight was water, since there’s precious little moisture of any kind in the part of the Missouri River Breaks where I was headed. Another fraction of my burden was food — freeze-dried dinners, instant oatmeal, trail mix and a candy bar or two. But a ridiculous amount of the weight I carried was for my own pathetic comfort.
It was my bedding. I carried a goose-down sleeping bag, an air mattress, and a bivy sack, a sort of one-man tent that barely covers my sleeping bag and doesn’t allow me to turn over at night.
Really? I consider myself a pretty tough customer, able to endure most kinds of physical hardship, so long as it doesn’t last overly long and there’s a cold beer at the end of it. But apparently I can’t spend the night without a cushion of some sort under my pointy hips.
As I packed into the Breaks, to the spike camp where I’d leave my overnight gear while I day hiked into gumbo hell holes and adobe ridges in search of bulls, I wondered how much more mobile I might be without my bedroll.
Elk don’t need an inflatable mattress, and are free to cover miles of ground overnight. Coyotes do fine without a 15-degree sleeping bag. I’ve never seen a deer wander about in search of the perfect bed. So how did we humans, the pinnacle of evolutionary perfection, become so dependant on memory-foam mattresses and 100-thread-count sheets?
I thought about ditching my bedding for an evening, and tucking in some dry wash or cuddling under a spreading ponderosa pine, just to see if I could free myself from my security blanket. But that sleeping bag called me, loudly, each evening.
Maybe that’s what’s made us so successful as a species. We are homers, not roamers. We need our beds, not only to recharge our bodies but to serve as the center of our domestic tranquility. Still, our reliance on overnight comfort has made us less effective as hunters, free to follow the game and to bed down wherever the day leads us, even if it’s in sharp rocks and poking pine needles.