It was freezing. The kind of cold that makes fingers useless and men huddle around a Coleman stove out of necessity. It had been that cold every morning and every evening, making the hunting lackluster for the unlucky hunters who hadn’t seen so much as a snout or heard a snort since their arrival at hog camp.
Drinking water was tough with temps in the teens. Especially with a pot of coffee always-on-the-brew to appease the ornery. I suppose we could’ve heated water for the sake of hydration, but that didn’t seem as exciting. No one looks forward to a cup of hot water. In my 33 years I had never heard someone say “join me for a cup of hot water”, or “we’ll discuss it over water”. They might do that in the driest parts of the Southwest, but certainly not in Northern Michigan or Southern Georgia.
On the other hand, stranger things were indeed happening in the latter where camp called home. Georgia was experiencing a cold snap – something my hunting partner Thom (Jorgensen) and I had driven hundreds of miles south to avoid. We’d thought we’d escaped when we crossed Ohio unscathed, but knew trouble was afoot when the flakes started falling in Tennessee. It made for a humorous road discussion at least.
“So Steve says its snowing in Georgia?” Thom asked, carefully navigating his Prius around the frosty curves of the Blue Ridge mountains. “That’s what he says.” I chuckled. “And those southern boys aren’t at all prepared for it. He said the houses on his subdivision aren’t insulated and his neighbor’s garage door stopped working because the electric froze.”
“Oh man. That’s difficult to imagine.”
“Yep. I’d never heard of such a thing. But my little brother lives in Virginia Beach and they’ve been getting hit fairly hard. He said the entire area is in a state of emergency and no one is driving on the roads because they don’t have plows or salt. I can’t imagine Georgia is any better.”
“Wow…hard to imagine a life without salt.”
“For sure. Good thing we took your Prius.”
Thom laughed. Mostly because he knew how much I’d grown to respect his car. It had weathered hundreds of miles through places it really had no business going, including a deep bog in the bowels of South Carolina. Now it was carrying us across the Georgia line in search of hogs. Things got a little silly at that point. Fifteen hours on the road will do that to men, especially considering Thom seldom has to pee and prefers not to make bathroom stops. We were different in this regard. I spent most of the trip trying to talk my way through an accident.
“Ya know we really oughta show those southern boys how Yankees handle the cold.”
Thom raised his eyebrows above the rims of his glasses for several seconds and then nodded his head in a turkey-like fashion. In the world of Thom, this meant two things: 1) he thought it was a damn good idea; 2) he’d temporarily left the world of cool, calculating logic and was taking a little detour into immaturity.
“Well we definitely can’t complain about the cold. No matter what. In fact, we should roll up in shorts, t-shirts, and flip flops, yelling: ‘Heat Wave!’”
It didn’t quite work out that way. The wool pullovers came out the moment we got to camp and didn’t come off until we were in our sleeping bags. I burrowed inside two, stuffing one inside the other before climbing in for the night. We never left the safety of our base layers. I made the mistake of not wearing my beanie the first evening and paid for it with frosty hair. It had dropped to the teens with 20 mph winds. We weren’t prepared for that nonsense.
The morning was equally frigid. My hands were red and numb by the time I dressed and prepared my bow for the day’s hunt. I unzipped my tent to find I wasn’t alone. Thom and Steve were bouncing up and down in front Steve’s tailgate, warming their hands over a skillet of sausage cooking on the first burner of his Coleman. A percolator of coffee bubbled on the second. I shimmied up and stuck my hands over the percolator to warm them with the steam.
“Morning Chief.” Steve said, chasing a link around the pan with a plastic fork. “You hungry?”
“And cold.” I muttered.
“Its going to get colder tonight. I’d take your hands off that percolator if I were you.”
I looked down to find my fingers steaming against the hot tin and immediately removed them. Small blisters had already started to form. I didn’t feel a thing.
It warmed up as the sun climbed, but it was still too cold for pigs to wallow. They opted to huddle up within the depths of a grassy field instead. At least, that is what the experts kept telling me. We didn’t see nor hear a single pig, but that didn’t stop us from chasing the idea of one around Ocmulgee. I’d managed to work up a sweat by early afternoon.
I hardly drank anything the entire day save for several cups of coffee. I packed instant packets to add to my water bottles in the afternoon. I’d add the grounds, shake the bottle, and let the sun warm it in my pack until I had a luke warm cup. A three p.m. headache was my first sign of dehydration, but I attributed it to caffeine deficiency and remedied it with another cup of percolated coffee back at camp. A few beers around the fire at dinner didn’t help much. I collapsed into my sleeping bag at around 11 p.m. and slept hard until an odd desert dream about a snake shocked me awake.
The sky was pitch black. No one was up. I could hear Steve snoring two tents down and our friend Paul snoring louder beyond that. My mouth was dry. My lips were chapped. My throat hurt and the headache had returned. I needed water badly. I reached for the bottle next to my bed and drank the entire 12 oz as quickly as possible. It wasn’t enough. I needed a refill, but all of the water was in the back of Steve’s pickup.
“No problem.” I thought. “I’ll just slip out of this bag, fill the bottle, and come back.” But as I attempted phase one of the plan, my feet began to throb and my calves began to tingle. It was a feeling a big man with poor circulation knew all too well: cramps. “Still not a problem. I can get through this. I’ll just move slowly and if the muscle starts to hurt, I’ll change positions.”
It seemed like a sound course of action despite my being a novice in the field of Movement Science. I even managed to free my left leg with that strategy, but everything went to hell when I tried to remove the other. My calf and quad contracted and my toes flexed into a ball. A sharp stabbing pain erupted throughout the limb. I groaned and fell to my left trying to take the pressure off my right leg. My left followed, fusing me in place. I fell out of my bunk and rolled onto my back – hands and feet stuck in the air like a giant June bug. It was the most intense muscular pain I’d ever felt. I was helpless.
With no other ideas in the hopper, I rolled to my belly, unzipped the tent, and squeezed into the frigid evening. I landed face first – still under the influence of the cramps. Frosted dirt scraped across my cheek, shocking me into standing. The cramping continued, yanking me back to my knees. “Keep going Nick.” I thought. “Its not going to get any better without water.”
I forced myself to my feet and limped stiff-legged to Steve’s pickup. The water was still on the tailgate. I pulled myself up next to it, hoisted the jug over my head, and flipped the nozzle to take a swig. Nothing came out. It was frozen. Something snapped inside me. Something primal. Before I had time to think, I hopped off the tailgate, grabbed the jug, and began to bash it against the ground like a Neanderthal. The ice gave way, after my second or third shot, and water began to trickle out of the nozzle. I knelt down, tilted my head to the moon, and started to guzzle. The water was freezing. It numbed my lips and throat and I could feel it travel through my body. I didn’t care. “Anything is better than the pain in my legs.” I thought. Then the brain freeze hit – and not the kind you get when you drink a Slurpee too fast on your way to the lake. It was 60 seconds of mind-numbing hell.
I was a frozen mess by the time I climbed back into my tent. I wormed my way back into my sleeping bags and laid as still as possible until I fell asleep. I woke up later that morning with no urge to get out of bed. My head was pounding. Had I not smelled the eggs and heard Steve and Thom talking, I wouldn’t have got up at all.
“Boy was it cold last night.” Steve said. “What in the hell happened to that water jug?”
“I don’t know, but something was sure making a ruckus outside my tent.”
I unzipped my tent, pulled on my boots, and followed my nose to the eggs. Steve scooped me a bowl and topped it off with a few links of pork sausage.
“You look terrible.” He said.
“You sleep alright?”
“I had issues.”
“Legs cramped up.”
“Oh. You should drink some of that water. You better do it quick though. It fell off the truck last night and the nozzle got all messed up.”
Thom shot me a glance beneath his hat. A little grin crept across his face. “Hey you didn’t hear anything scratching around the tents last night did you?”
“Nope. Probably a raccoon.”
Nick Viau lives in Rockford, Michigan and is an active participant of the Simply Traditional Field Staff team. He owns and maintains the traditional archery blog Life and Longbows and is currently the president of the Michigan Longbow Association.