Things That Go Bump In The Night

I was recently camping alone on a lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. Besides the drone of a mosquito trapped inside my tent, which of these things kept me awake that night:

  • Predatory bears
  • Sociopathic axe-wielding killers
  • Alien abductions
  • Toads

If you are like me, the first three items (well, maybe only the first two,) frequently looped through my head as I tried to drift off to sleep in a perfectly picturesque and peaceful campsite. However, it was the darn toad rustling through the leaf litter that made my adrenaline rush as I jolted wide-awake picturing that bear/killer/alien bearing down on me. Alone. Trapped in a sleeping bag. Where. No. One. Can. Hear. You. Scream.

At the same time, my other senses become heightened. Is that a black shape I’m seeing move in the dark? Do I smell dank fur? Did I just feel the ground sort of quaver?

This was my fifth solo trip of the year and like the other previous trips, I spent a sleepless first night needlessly worrying about the most unlikely of scenarios.

Over the years, I’ve been mauled by bears—exactly never, although I have seen bears on different outings. One time a bear even walked right through our riverside campsite without so much as a glance at us. And to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never crossed paths with psycho killers or aliens.

Yet, on just about every first night of a trip I hear a snapping twig or falling pine cone and wonder if it is really a good idea to leave that meaty leg of mine exposed atop of the sleeping bag, a benevolent offering for a fortuitous bear?

Even after portaging miles away from the last road, my mind continues to rationalize that I couldn’t possibly have been followed by some crazy mass-murderer, could I?

Wait. Unless an eccentric modern-day Jeremiah Johnson or member of a libertarian militia is already out here living off the radar, oh geez, now I’ll never fall asleep.

And the aliens—well, why wouldn’t a person who hasn’t seen another human being for over 24 hours—and is camping miles from civilization—be the perfect “specimen” to pick up and experiment upon without anyone being the wiser?

The irony is that I generally have no problems sleeping when granted the gift of white noise, especially when it comes in the form of a nighttime rain shower. Then absolutely all of these stray thoughts and invented distractions disappear.

Several years ago, I was on another BWCAW route with a friend and had just drifted off to sleep when I heard a snap. “What’s that?” I yelped, bolting up and awakening my friend in the process. We strained our ears listening. Then came the gentle patter of raindrops on the tent. Nice! White noise. I almost instantly fell back asleep while my friend was left on high-alert attempting to identify the non-existent threat.

To be clear, this phenomenon lasts only one or two nights—tops—then I find myself easily falling asleep to the sounds of quiet rustlings.

When it comes down to a good nights sleep in the outdoors, the real test is squashing those last mosquitos inside the tent or making sure that I’ve pitched my tent on a level surface in the first place. Maybe throw on a little rain shower for good measure.

When all else fails, there is always that morning magic of all elixirs, coffee, to help make me forget that first crappy night and get on with the dawn of a new day. Because, inevitably—at least to date—I continue to survive the nocturnal marauding bear/killer/aliens. And toads.

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Comments 1

  • spartanrmd1 : Sep 21st

    Maybe not today or tommorrow. They have time on their side. Patience is a must for the successful wilderness serial killers and alien specimen collectors.

    Bears on the other hand dont care – its not that bear attacks never happen – the reason you dont hear about them is that they are so good at covering up their “handiwork”

    Michigan has a large blackbear population and Jimmy Hoffa was never found – coincidence?? I think not


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