There’s a shrill voice piercing through the air, and I shift, too tired to discern a word. All I can see for some mysterious reason is green, and I slowly realize that (of course) our shelter has all but collapsed. The voice begins to make a little more sense, as does the situation, and everything becomes a flurry of movement.

It’s 4:30 in the morning, and we’re late.

Another voice joins the cacophony, demanding the real time.

It’s 3:45 and we collapse in relief before continuing- much, much slower this time.

Finding ANYTHING is impossible when none of us can see. Flashlights are waved in vague directions so haphazardly they feel like strobe lights. There’s a scream every couple of seconds- someone has fallen, someone has lost something. We’re all less patient, less helpful and every movement is made as slowly as possible.

Soft complaints mingle, we become closer through mutual hatred of how early it is. There’s a dog prancing past, and ordinarily we’d be treating it to the most effusive of welcomes, but it barely gets more that the most cursory of glances.

We’re ripping the plastic cord off the shelter, and it makes the oddest of sounds. Ordinarily, this would’ve caused an outburst of laughter- we’re the type of group that could laugh at anything, but given the situation, all it gets is a faint smile.

We’re walking before we’re fully awake, blindly trusting the person at the front with the map, even though we’re so bleary eyed we’re not completely sure whom it is. There’s soft laughter and voices as we begin to wake up, slowly leaving our caricature of beds behind with no choice of returning.

Every step takes us closer to a culvert. We’re not sure what it looks like, or completely sure what a culvert is, but it’s a beacon of hope, because after that paintball, and then three kilometers, and then camp.

Which is suffused with incredible hope for being a pretty bad environment itself, but it signifies getting rid of these terrible backpacks and away from these people I now know far too well.

Paintball for me means crouching behind a rock, afraid to move- not just the fear of getting shot, but we’re also in a valley with the ground sloping downward and I don’t really feel like falling this early. I can vaguely see a person behind a tree, refusing to move, just as I do, so I fire off a few token shots and the person’s out- even though we’re not sure who shot her.

And we win, surprisingly quickly, and we’re walking again, closer, and closer and closer to camp, and more awake, but more tired.

The gate to camp is beautiful. Extraordinary. Spectacular.

That morning is a kaleidoscope of memories, and I barely remember anything else. 

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