Has anyone ever gone camping and pulled it off flawlessly? Are we certain it’s possible? I know the interest level in camping stories goes up 1000% if it includes at least one minor “something got too wet” disaster (the tent, the food, the sleeping bag, the backup clothes, the toilet paper, the emotions), but I don’t think it takes much embellishment to prove there’s no such thing as a “perfect” trip.
I’ve got a collection of less-than-ideal backwoods stories that are gratifying to tell now that the possibility of abnormal death is behind me. Which is the only point in time that you can describe them as entertainment. Anything discussed sooner than that is probably something that was brought up at the Geneva Convention. The following is my entertainment from last September.
Last fall, I had the opportunity to spend a long weekend with a few friends in Dolly Sods, West Virgina. Gorgeous. The weather was just about perfect, and the variety of terrain offered a lot of beauty to take in. It’s also just remote enough for the wildlife to not be overly fearful, including deer, bobcats, and black bears.
On our first night, we camped under a Hemlock grove. If you’ve never been in a Hemlock grove, it is necessary to note that while the inside can be spacious and devoid of plant life, making it a very nice place to pitch a tent, the dense branches of the trees block out a lot of light. It’s not unusual to need a flashlight underneath the trees, while outside you can see perfectly fine unaided.
We sat by the fire until approximately 10:45 that evening, talking, wasting time, and trying to gauge how far away the hyper pack of coyotes was. We could hear them off in the distance, slowly getting closer. Much like hyenas, they are very vocal about their feelings. We estimated there were at least 10-15 of them approximately one to two miles away, based on the sudden airing of grievances. “Huh,” we said. “Well, it’s getting late. Suppose we should go to bed.”
Everyone began their nighttime routines. Teeth brushing, bathroom breaks, tying the remaining food in the trees. I grabbed my roll of toilet paper, a shovel, and my headlamp, and started to trek back farther into the trees to conduct some important business.
Now, there are two very key elements that need to be understood for this next part:
(1) There’s a number of good options for nighttime lighting when you’re camping. I would say there are two options in particular that are the most typical, which are the standard headlamp (rounded flashlight that straps to your forehead), and clip-on hat lights. The kind of clip-on lights that I have generally seen are two individual beams of light that are fixed to the brim of a hat. Much like most headlamps, many have the ability to produce both white light and red light, depending on how bright and irritating you’d like to be.
(2) The Murphy’s Law of camping trips is that the moment a woman drops her pants in the woods, no matter how remote, no matter how alone, a random stranger, who was moments before on a separate continent, will suddenly materialize in the area.
I knew both of these things. I set my headlamp to irritating light to illuminate the even darker part of the forest I was heading to in an effort to outwit Murphy. I walked at least 100, 150 yards away into the deepest part of the grove. I was taking no chances. Once in a spot that seemed suitable, I stood silently, listening, looking, making absolutely certain that I wouldn’t be surprised. Once I had assurance, I switched the light to red to complete my attempts at privacy.
Everything was going off without a hitch. I was just finishing up filling in the hole, and trying to get the end of one of my bunched up pant legs unstuck from my boot when I turned my head to the right, and lost the ability to breathe. Standing what I would guess to be fifteen feet away, about 5′ 6″ tall, was a person with red clip on lights, staring at me, motionless. Deliverance and every episode of Criminal Minds I’ve ever watched poured forth from my memories.
In complete shock, and trying desperately now to unhook my shoe so that I could flee, I yelled at him. Well, it, because I couldn’t actually see any of it except for the blood red glowing bits. They didn’t move. Did nothing. Just continued to stare at me. Until all of a sudden, they took a step closer.
To further put an image in your mind of what it looked like I was staring at before my pants were all the way back on, picture the Kull warriors from Stargate:
With that step forward, I was now convinced I was going to end up a newspaper statistic. And then, the head that was at first 5′ 6″ off the ground, dipped down to about 4′ off the ground, and I suddenly realized that I wasn’t looking at lights, I was looking at eyes.
“What animal that big has red eye shine??” Couldn’t be a deer, wrong color. Could be a bear; I didn’t know what color they had. Same with a cougar. Had the coyotes closed the gap? Can’t be, they’re not that big.
“I might have to fight this thing.” It picked its way slowly, carefully closer. My pants were up, but now my exit was trapped by a tree. I started to back up, trying frantically to get red light off and the white light on, so I could see what I was about to get mauled by.
Five feet remained between us. Only five. At four feet, I was finally able to switch the light to illuminate the area.
It was a deer. It was a very calm, very curious doe, that came right up to see who was peeing in her woods. I nearly sat down with relief. She didn’t have evil red eyes. I had forgotten that I had been shining red light on her, which gave Bambi a very dark and sinister twist.
Once I could breathe again, I gathered up the TP and the shovel and the remainder of my sanity and made my way back to camp. She came with me. Walked right beside me while I gave her a piece of my mind, which I’m not at all certain she took to heart. She checked out all the tents, observed the novelty that is teeth-brushing, and then walked up and out with a new set of observations to add to her Compendium of Human Behavior: A Journey.
Terror in the moment, a fantastic camping story just moments later. You’ve got to love nature.
…eventually. And sometimes after counseling.