A Birthday Under The Stars

It was just before seven. The morning after my birthday. Cosy and warm, I lay in bed for a while with my eyes closed. Until Kepler heard a noise, and jumped out of bed to investigate. It was a dog walker, out on the trails. As I opened my eyes to exchange hellos, I realised the sun was rising. Time to get up. If I could just scrape the frost off all our gear first! We’d just spent the coldest night since March, asleep under the stars. It was a perfect way to celebrate my first birthday in the Peak District.

Since developing Pulmonary Hypertension I’ve become one of those folks always snuggled under a blanket. Maybe it’s my inactivity, maybe it’s my heart prioritizing blood to my organs and not extremities, maybe both. But consequently, for the past near decade, I’m always cold. As the weather begins to dip, my stash of water bottles and electric fleeces and fluffy blankets clutters up every room. Tights and vests and unsexy thermals are worn daily. And with my ski trousers and ski gloves and down jacket and woolly hat; I look like I’m set for the snowy slopes, whenever I leave the house. Even with windows closed and heating on and copious hot cuppas, come Winter my hands are chilled, my lips are blue, and I have to keep warming myself with bursts of hot electric heater air. But the worst consequence of being a snowman, is the increased breathlessness. Activity becomes extra difficult, as my lungs struggle to keep me oxygenated. I can’t do as much, need to rest more frequently to catch my breath, and walking outside becomes near impossible. And if I start shivering- I literally can’t breathe! It becomes an emergency -pump up the oxygen, warm me quickly- situation! I remember a hospital visit, where I’d become so cold that a nurse had to spend ten minutes rubbing me, and wrapping me in more and more blankets!

So, for the past nine years, I’ve refused to go camping in a tent. Although I adored nights under canvas, prior to my diagnosis; since then, the thought of shivering and goosebumps, and no way to warm me, completely ruled it out. When Phil and Kepler would sneak out for a mid-week wild camp, I’d lie in my electrically-heated bed, wearing thermal PJs, and be grateful that I wasn’t with them.

That is, for a while. But then as my strength grew and my want to be outdoors grew too, I longed for a night under the stars. Voila, the Bumblebee campervan. A halfway house. With insulated walls and room for both a cosy duvet and sleeping bag; I dared to give it a go. And so, for the past six years, my wonderful yellow camper, has allowed me to get my camping fix.

But then, a year or so ago, I noticed that I was no longer the coldest in the room. The thermals weren’t needed every day, the heating was no longer on 24*c, and I survived a whole winter without my ski trousers! So, last June, when Phil suggested a wild camp on the edge of our village; a goodbye adventure before we moved away; I nervously agreed. And even more bravely, I also agreed to bivi- sleeping in a waterproof sleeping bag, instead of in a tent. If it all went wrong, and I woke up a-freezing, we’d be just a ten minute scoot from home. My first wild camp in years was magical. As the sun set, deers and rabbits and bats dashed around. The sun put on a show as it headed to bed; orange and red and pink streaks filled the sky. And best of all, I was snuggly warm all night. With two sleeping bags, my full winter wardrobe, and a warm dog to cuddle; thankfully my breathing stayed hunkey-dory all night. I loved it.

And so, to celebrate my birthday, last month we did it again. Our first night under the stars, in our new home. With most of our camping gear and warm clothes still undiscovered in the many moving boxes not yet unpacked, we bundled together a mishmash of clothes and equipment. A one-man tent, with waterproof cushions as roll mats, would have to do! 😉 We ate fish and chips as the sun went down; then cuddled up to watch the stars emerging from the darkness- we even saw the Star Link satelities for the first time!. The tiny tent kept collapsing with three of us in it, so we just used it as a giant bivi bag instead! There is something truly magical about waking in the night, and seeing a ceiling of stars above. And amazingly, despite not having the right equipment, despite it being the coldest night since March, despite us waking up to everything covered in frost… I remained toasty warm. Well until I got out of bed! 😉

As we scootered back to the car with tired eyes and happy hearts, I couldn’t stop grinning. After nine years of missing out; within a few months, I’d slept under the stars twice. Twelve months ago, I’d have been home alone, whilst the boys had an adventure without me. But my wonderful body had found a way to stop being a snowman, to let me join back in. Thankful. Incredibly thankful. 🙂

Now we just need to find the outdoor gear box, before the next wild camp… a one man tent is definitely too small for three! 😉

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