My wife and I were 250 miles from home and virtually alone in a State Park on the banks of the Potomac. The prospect of 3 days of uninterrupted relaxation had me silly with excitement.
We were greeted by a suspiciously handsome park ranger who offered cryptic warnings about bear sightings.
No Sweat. I grew up watching “Grizzly Adams”; I had no doubt that I could handle any hungry bears prowling for a midnight snack.
But the handsome Ranger said nothing about raccoons or crazed drifters.
After wrecking our car gathering firewood and two long hours starting our campfire, we were finally enjoying the solitude of this very unfamiliar, secluded place where there were reportedly bears.
As the sun set and the temperature dropped to a soaking wet 85 degrees, we sprawled in canvas hiker’s chairs. The fire was soothing. The crackling of slowly burning logs almost disguised the rustling in the forest not far from our campsite …almost.
Instantly spooked, I grabbed my flashlight and flung it in the direction of the carnivorous, man eating whatever that was coming slowly, but directly towards us. As the flashlight collided with a tree trunk and shattered, I did what any normal man would do; I screamed and jumped backwards – tripping over my dog.
Oh, that’s right. I brought my dog along for protection remembering the countless times Grizzly Adams was saved by his dog. But mine? She was cowering behind me, whimpering.
By this time my wife was terrified. She pretended like she wasn’t; choosing instead to fake hysterical laughter. Bolstering her own confidence by belittling me, she cackled, “You scream like a girl.” Her fear was stifling.
I went to hold her, comfort her. She called me a sissy and hit me with her flashlight.
So we pieced together the dirty plastic remnants of my flashlight, watched and waited. The next 30 minutes were terrifying as the beasts (maybe it was only one; and maybe it was only a raccoon) circled us, making no effort to disguise their insidious intentions.
Protecting one’s family is tiring work. I suggested we go into the tent for the night. I wasn’t scared; I just wanted to give my wife a chance to calm down. She, with all the love she could muster, proclaimed, “You’re not going to sleep next to me smelling like that.”
Remember when I said we were virtually alone.
The smell of fish greeted us at the bathhouse door. As my wife entered the ladies room, I encountered a very large man with a very large knife cleaning a very large fish.
Again, I tripped over my dog cowering behind me.
As I talked to the very large fisherman, I learned he was actually a drifter – by choice. He asked me if I’d seen the raccoons. I said I had. He asked where. I asked why. His eyes grew large as he recounted his adventures living in his camper; trapping, skinning and leathering animals; only eating what he could catch and kill.
I was sure I was going to be a belt at this guy’s next exhibition.
My wife must have gotten a similar vibe from the drifter’s female companion because she bolted from the bathroom and said, “You smell fine. Come on!” A little less deliberate, but a lot more frightened, we headed back.
And there we came face to face with a creature so sinister I had no choice but to scream again… to scare it off, of course.
And then we heard the thunder. We tried desperately to stay calm. We said, trying to sound joking, “I wonder if anyone ever leaves without spending the night?” “I wonder if the park’s gate is open?” “Do you think we’d be able to make it all the way home tonight?”
We were not sleeping here.
25 minutes, 3 more raccoon sightings and several hard choices about which supplies would be left behind, I had burnt my fingers dissembling the lantern and we were on our way.
Almost on cue – as if to solidify our terror, as we left the campsite we were assaulted by apocalyptic thunderstorms. Water stood on the interstate, lightning struck on all sides of the car and my white-knuckle grip kept us in constant danger of careening into a ditch.
We spent the night at the first Holiday Inn we found.
I’ll never go camping again.
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