Deep Wild 2021 contributor Jeffrey Markovitz hikes the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey during one of the coldest nights, in his essay “Freezing to Death in Jersey”:
“It was foolish cold. It was colder than it ever was at that time in that place, but we had a small window: dads with jobs and little time to choose when and how we’d like to adventure, so we gathered courage and massive pounds of warm-weather gear and headed out anyway. I was confident (read: arrogant) that, despite whatever inclement weather we faced, whatever objective danger, we’d be okay. I’d had some experience cold-weather trekking, knew some techniques, and, come on…New Jersey? Even when, a few hours into our hike, we received alerts that a snow squall (whatever that means) was imminent, even when the snow squall (it was just snow) came, we felt safe. This is because we were stupid…
“… We made it about sixteen miles when the sun was close to setting, and with no shelter or campsite nearby, we set up our tent on an exposed ridge in a small, makeshift clearing just off of the trail. It wasn’t ideal, but it was what we had. To be safe, we needed to build camp and prepare for the cold night before the sun totally set. I might be naïve in some ways, but I’m no dummy. I know that despite the popularity of the Appalachian Trail and relative benign wilderness of anywhere in New Jersey, you still had to take precautions, lest you find yourself in nature’s dunce cap: profound mortal trouble. To that end, we hurriedly built camp and got our warmest overnight gear ready.
“As the sun went down, the temperature dipped to eighteen degrees, not including the violent wind that raced up the ridge and across our exposed tent. Even so, we felt okay because we were prepared for that, until we hit the first real glitch in the journey. I’d learned the technique of pouring boiled water in Nalgenes and stuffing them into your sleeping bag to create a nice little personal oven. You can cuddle those bad boys all night long. However, it was so cold that my camp stove wouldn’t light. It never really occurred to me that I might not be able to rely on fire, which meant I wouldn’t have my boiling little Nalgene friends. This was the crux, the fulcrum upon which the day went from uncomfortable to dangerous—I panicked. It wasn’t the cold, nor the wind, nor the reality that we were miles from anything manmade; when that gas wouldn’t release from the canister, I began to have those unfortunate and, once released, constant ideas of absolute peril: I was going to die. I was going to orphan my family. I was going to orphan Billy’s family, because I didn’t have what I needed to survive that weather. I was going to die in New Jersey.”
Read the full essay in Deep Wild 2021 along with dozens of other essays, poems, and stories from wild places around the world. Our Winter Sale is in full swing where you can get Deep Wild 2020 and 2021 for the price of one along with more deals. Find out more at deepwildjournal.com/subscribe
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