It’s not the waking sounds of the day that force your eyes open, nor the sun peaking over the rim of the canyon, nor the buzz of the bug that wriggled its way into your tent, though that annoyance has been mentally noted. No, it starts with a slight twinge in the groin, a building pressure at belt line. Just as you did with the first drops of rain last night, which forced you out of your tent to put the fly on, you initially deny it’s there. But you know, like a failing dam, it’s only a matter of time. Yes, you have to pee.

Your eyes are still heavy and slumber hovers in reach like lifting fog. If you can just focus on the soft parts of the morning you will slip back into the quiet darkness of sleep like a mouse vanishing into the tall grass. Your body glows like an ember inside your sleeping bag. The damp, cold morning air bites at the small portion of your face protruding from the coziness of your cinched, down-filled hood. Through half cracked eyes you watch your breath rise like pipe smoke, vapor ribbons ascending toward the dewy mesh of your tent. You are lying on your back, pressing into your sleeping pad. And for a brief moment, you drift away as the calm flow of the river and soft breeze lay the soundtrack to your languor. Maybe you really can fall back asleep and delay the inevitable shock of cold for another hour.

But no. The pressure builds. Fluttering in the blurriness between asleep and awake, you half-dream of clumsily wobbling toward the riverbank. You watch yourself navigate through the desert minefield of prickly pear, rocks, and the remains of last night’s campfire festivities. In your dream state, you are about to find relief. Your eyes blink open. You wince and grimace. Your back is stiff; it feels tight, everything feels tight. Your muscles are sore. The sounds of the river are loud now. You can hear every cubic foot per second rushing by, taunting you.


Dammit. You roll over quietly onto your right shoulder, hoping to buy yourself a few more moments in the warmth and comfort of your sleeping bag. You slide your forearms across your chest and twist your legs. There may be a chance. You close your eyes, breathe-in deeply and let go a long, groaning exhale. You arch your back and stick your butt out, rocking your hips up and down. You draw-in another deep breath and let it go slowly; be still, just be still. But nothing is helping. You open your eyes. The pressure builds. Dammit.

You flop over to your left shoulder. Hot air burps open your draft collar, poofs past your face, and out your sleeping bag. You squirm your legs, which are clammy and sandy. The wall flap of your tent is wet where it meets the ground, speckled with grit. The earth smells damp. There must be puddles outside, cold puddles you’ll have to step in.

You shiver. Goose bumps shoot up your back, between your shoulder blades, making the hairs on your neck stand. The river laps against the taut blue rubber of the rafts and one of the can-filled drag bags bobs in the eddy. You picture the freezing ripples and boiling whitewater, the crisp transparent roll over smooth green rocks, the flowing undulation of the river.

Arrgh. You give in, finally, reach for the zipper and tug the pull down toward your shoulder. Relief is coming soon, but you have to pay for it first.

Photo by Bureau of Land Management

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