I was fifteen years old. A pretty young and innocent high school kid. The shy quiet smart girl.
And it wasn't supposed to be a winter camping trip, anyway. We had to get permission from the school board, and they kept putting off their meetings. By the time we finally got the backpacking trip approved, November had arrived, with the threat of winter weather.
Outdoor Girl and I did not have the right boots or clothing or equipment for winter camping. And we were the only two girls signed up for the trip. But we went anyhow. We wore men's leather workboots, bought at the store that sold supplies to the men who worked on the railroad, and cotton long underwear layered under jeans and flannel shirts. All that cotton just absorbed the sweat, chilling my whole body through. The most sane thing I wore for this camping trip was a pair of wool socks.
To hike up the mountain, we followed a stream, hiking right through the gurgling water and rocks. So my feet were wet right away and my clothes soon soaked with sweat, but as long as we kept moving, the warmth of the exertion and the glorious view of snow-covered pines made my whole body glow. Older Mountain Climber Guy – he must have been seventeen – kept talking about how the temperature was dropping. As we climbed higher, the stream disappeared under ice. One of the younger guys kept passing around bottles of Southern Comfort and Peppermint Schnapps. I loved the burning sensation as the Southern Comfort slid down my throat.
It was snowing hard by the time we reached the place where we were to camp. And getting dark. I guess we'd gotten a late start. The summer tent that Outdoor Girl and I had brought was completely inadequate, as we had suspected it might be. We abandoned it quickly to crowd into a tent with a bunch of the guys.
As soon as I stopped moving, I was cold. Really cold. The guys kept feeding me handfuls of M&M's. Older Mountain Climber Guy looked with horror at the gear most of us had brought. None of us were from families who had money. A few had borrowed good stuff from friends or from the gym teacher who had organized the trip. With night came intense cold. And wind.
Older Guy made me take off some of my wet stuff and then he told me to get into a sleeping bag with Dark Curls, who at fourteen was the youngest boy on the trip. At home, getting into a sleeping bag with a boy I didn't even know – or one that I did know, for that matter – would have seemed awfully strange. Or somehow indecent. In this dark, cold tent, my whole body so chilled that all energy was draining from me, the idea made complete sense.
Climbing into a sleeping bag -- even that simple effort -- took more energy than I had. But even as I struggled to slide my body in, I could feel the warmth, oh god this incredible warmth. Dark Curls, clad in dry long underwear, was absolutely radiating heat. I could hear in his voice the nervous awkwardness that boys always got in their voice when a girl got near. Dimly, I could hear him talking to Older Guy – or perhaps me. "Uh, where should I put my arms?"
His arms moved hesitantly until they were wrapped around me, his warm breath trickling into my hair, tickling my neck. I could feel the tenseness of his body dissolve as he gave up trying not to touch me and his whole body, all of it, relaxed against me. My waist-length hair seemed to be everywhere – all mixed in with us. Mostly, I remember the warmth, all that wonderful warmth soaking into my body.
Once Older Guy was satisfied that no one was going to freeze to death, he led our tent into an insult battle with the other tent, about ten feet away. Every time Dark Curls spoke, I could feel his words against my neck. When I laughed, I could feel the vibrations from my throat echo against him. When we discovered that Skinny Awkward Guy in the other tent had a great singing voice, we kept giving him requests.
That's what I remember most from my first winter camping trip. Not the spectacular view from the summit or the way the pine trees looked covered in snow. I remember how it felt to be colder than I had ever been before, so cold that I almost stopped feeling cold. I remember hands reaching through the dark to put M&M's into my mouth. The beautiful voice of a teenage boy serenading us through the night. And the way it felt to be touching another person from head to chest to legs to feet, lying so close that I could absorb his warmth, his voice, his energy.