Where’s a Good Brown Paper Bag When You Need One?
There are a few things you should know about me before I begin to share my story. First and foremost, I am not brave. I am actually scared very easily. I try to play it off, but I know I’m not fooling anyone. When I am watching a scary movie and it gets to the scary part, if my eyes are uncovered enough to know what is going on, I usually blurt out one of the following things:
1. “Get your head back under the covers you moron! Just stay in there and it will all go away!”
2. If hiding under the blanket isn’t an option then I’ll just eloquently sputter: “I would poop myself.”
The second thing you should know is that I have never in my life pulled anything even resembling an all-nighter. Even in college, it just didn’t work for me. If I had a major exam I knew that it was far better for me to study, get some good sleep, and then wake up to some early morning studying. Sleep is extremely important to me and I rarely, if ever, give it up.
And the last thing you should know is that since day one, I have been sweltering in my sleeping bag. It’s a 20 degree REI brand that more than does its job of keeping me warm. The best nights of sleep I have had are when it has been so cold out that you have to sleep with your water filter to keep it from freezing. Most other nights I wake up covered in sweat from the heat radiating from within my bag.
Now that I have addressed those things, I need to share with you a list that may inspire some anxiety within you. I don’t mean it to alarm anyone, most of the things I am about to list are very improbable, but it just goes with the nature of this story to relay to you what I have determined as the top 10 most unfortunate things that could happen to me while I am out here. These are things that I have come to accept that as an average white female I must be aware of and cautious of.
The Worst Things That Could Happen to me on the A.T.
10. I summit Mt. Katahdin and then wake up the next morning only to realize that it was all a dream and I am starting on Springer that morning.
9. I twist and/or break my ankle.
8. I accidentally mistake poison ivy for a much kinder plant that can actually be used for toilet paper.
7. I catch giardia and must endure hiking with its symptoms (diarrhea and vomiting) until I can acquire an antibiotic.
6. A cute mountain man catches me taking a dump behind a tree. (I mean, I have a boyfriend and all, but still…that would be the worst).
5. I am bit by a nasty tick and come down with Lyme disease.
4. BB becomes seriously injured and I am left helpless to assist her in her needs.
3. I fall off a mountain.
2. I get mauled by a bear.
1. My trail experience leads me to becoming one of the victims from a Law & Order SVU episode (I say this in all seriousness despite my overall tone. Wish it wasn’t such a fear, but alas, it’s the world we live in).
I list these things because this story has absolutely nothing to do with any of these 10 items. However, my reaction to this one bad moment, not even a top 10 moment, was so poor, so absolutely hysterical, that I pray nothing even close to these 10 items occurs purely for the safety of those around me. My reaction may be such that I just….well, you’ll see
It all started after a lovely day of hiking. Really, it was fantastic. BB and I had perfect weather and the terrain wasn’t tough at all. I was pumped and eager to get to Hot Springs because I would be seeing Josh for the first time since I had left. Seriously, it was a commercial-perfect hiking day. We ended our day early at a perfect little spot on soft pine needles. It smelled piney and wonderful. The breeze wafted in our open tent. I napped, wrote letters, and eventually made my supper. BB and I chose to end our evening by listening to the audiobook version of Bossypants by Tina Fey. We listened to her comically impress and embed her stances of certain social issues on us to the point where I was momentarily throughly unamused until she finally got to her time as a writer for SNL. It’s always so amusing (and by amusing, I mean irritating) to me when celebrities think they need to enlighten us mere mortals with their political stances and ideologies (that being said, I must recognize that I am truly my father’s daughter). But all that aside, it was a good night. We ended it with a relaxing journaling and reflecting.
Now, I know what you are thinking. This is the perfect setup for Dick Wolf to come in and mess things up so we can get Detectives Benson and Stabler in on the case, but that’s not where this story is going, I promise. No, no. This story has a much different turn.
We sleep early around these parts. When it gets dark, we close our eyes. This usually means I’m asleep well before 9:00. This was the case on this particular night as well. However, about two hours into my glorious and precious state of slumber, I was awakened by BB calling my name. I roused and asked what was going on. “Do you hear that?” She asked me. I listened. It was a rumbling of sorts in or around our tent. To me, the sounds indicated that a bird or maybe even a bat was stuck in-between our tent and rain-fly. Freaky maybe, but not the end of the world, as it actually wasn’t in our tent. But as we listened a moment longer, it seemed as if there may possibly be… “Oh sweet heavens please no!” I thought, as I turned over on my stomach, cinched my sleeping bag as tight as it would go around my face, and huddled in the tightest ball possible (remember what I said about the scary movie?). Meanwhile, still unconvinced that it was inside the tent, but outside in our vestibule, BB crammed her sleeping bag as close to mine as possible. She then looked up and saw the faintest outline of something crawling on my body.
Oh, you wanna know where I am at by this point? Yeah, I’m in my own little world, singing some Sunday school song, and wanting to die. Then I felt what BB saw. I tensed as I felt something scurry down from the top of my head all the way down my back and to my feet. “Oh. My. Word.” I thought to myself. “A mouse just scurried down your body and you were conscious for every single moment.” At that moment, all sense left me. I went into this daze of total panic and hysteria that guaranteed every move of mine from here on out would classify as a “Lucille Ball moment” that was lacking only in the sitcom laughter after every blunder. After registering this horror, I began to hyperventilate violently. Basically, from this moment on, I was a worthless piece of human being. I wish I could say otherwise, but I completely fell apart. I’m not proud of how I appear in the events I’m about to reveal to you, but these are the facts.
“Did you feel that?” BB asked.
“I…uhh. Yeah. I did.” I responded as I cinched myself up tighter and tighter into myself. “Barkley, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?!”
There was a sense of calm in BB’s voice as she said, “I don’t know, but I am going to need you to get off of me.” (From this moment on, she would have to speak to me like I was a 4th grader. It’s not personal, it’s just how it had to be done.) “Rachel,” she asked, still impressively calm, “where is your headlamp?”
“I don’t know, by our heads, I’m not sure, I don’t know, I DON’T KNOW!” I panicked, fearful that more time in the tent would ensure more scurry time with Mickey. “Can’t we just get out of the tent?!” I mean, shoot. At this point I was willing to meet all of this mouse’s demands. Want our food? Take it. My phone? It’s yours. How about my firstborn? Just get out of here!
I felt and heard BB reach around and get my headlamp. But there was no way I was moving. Safe and secure in my sleeping bag was how I was going to stay.
“Okay.” BB finally said after a pause that was too long for comfort. “It is a mouse. It is at our feet.” (At this I cinched myself up tighter and tucked in my feet more).
“What are we going to do? What are we going TO DO?!” In my frantic state of being, I was personally thinking of what my odds of getting out of the tent without exposing any part of my body were. Would it be possible for me to just shimmy my way out my side and under my vestibule? I mean, I’ve never been able to do the popular dance move known to many as “the worm,” but perhaps I could fake it until I was in the clear.
“I’m making a plan.” BB replied. More silence. “Okay. Rachel, where are your gloves?”
“In my side backpack pocket in the vestibule.” I said.
“Okay. I’m going to need you to get them.”
This was unacceptable. “What?! What about your gloves?” There was no way I was going to get my gloves. At this moment I was sitting on my Thermarest in the center of the tent and facing BB. I wasn’t moving. Nothing she could say would make me think it would be a good reason for me to move.
“Rachel, the mouse is literally sitting on the bag that my gloves are in.”
Crap. She had a point there. I tried to break it up in my mind. I just needed to turn around, open my side of the tent, reach out and get my gloves, and give them to BB. This all needed to be done without alarming, upsetting, or giving the mouse cause to move. I could do this!
I began to start with step one: turn around. Sounds pretty simple, but it actually took me something of 6 minutes to accomplish. In case you forgot, I was cinched up within my mummy bag and only my eyes were exposed to the world. Keeping myself enclosed in my own personal tube of cowardice, I wiggled and turned until by golly I had done it! I was now facing my side of the tent.
Next was step two: open the tent. Ehhh…that would be tricky. I bent down and wiggled and grasped. Meanwhile, BB was keeping me informed on the location of the mouse.
“He’s down at the end of the tent. He is now on your thermarest, it looks like he just wants to get out. He is now…Rachel, have you opened the tent yet?”
My voice rose in panic that made me sound on the verge of tears (although, let the record show I never once was about to cry, just wet myself). “I, I, I can’t get it open!”
“Rachel, are you not using your arms?”
“Huh?” Her question made no sense to me. Of course I wasn’t using my arms!
“Rachel, the mouse is not going to bite you, we are 20 times bigger than it, you are going to have to take your arms out of your sleeping bag and use them.”
Very, very, very, very gingerly, I let my left hand slither out of my bag. I didn’t care much for that hand anyways. I managed to find my gloves and hand them to BB. Cocooning myself once more, I congratulated myself inwardly. I had done my part, now I could cower some more.
“Rachel, I am going to try and grab the mouse,” BB said matter of factly. “I need you to watch my sleeping bag and make sure the mouse doesn’t get in it while I am up.”
More hysteria, “But, I don’t have my glasses on! I can’t see, Barkley, I CAN’T SEE!” It was as if I were just realizing for the first time that I didn’t have glasses or contacts in and I was totally blind. This is a fact I have known for years, but somehow, in the presence of Satan – I mean, the mouse, it was a new horror.
The next few moments passed in a blur. All I know is that the mouse charged me (or so I thought) and then bounded onto the wall of the tent, climbing his way up to the top. BB grabbed the little bugger and chucked him out the tent, under the vestibule, and shut the tent immediately.
The danger was gone. Phew! Crisis averted, am I right? So BB and I laid back down and fell right asleep.
That was a joke. Are you kidding me? Weren’t you listening? A mouse just raced down my back! I’ll be lucky if I am sleeping when I am 48 years old!
BB and I searched (well, let’s be for real, I just sat there) and we couldn’t figure out where the little jerk got in. There wasn’t a hole anywhere! We secured our zippers and told ourselves that it must have come in through them.
It took me 45 minutes to finally convince myself to lay down. When I did, I looked at my watch and realized with true horror that the whole mouse incident had come to an end right before 11:00. Only 11:00?! That meant I had 8 hours before it was acceptable to wake up. So, for those 8 hours of bliss, I laid ramrod straight in my little sauna bag with my eyes wide open. I had a tight grip on my cords, ready to cinch up as soon as needed. Only my face was exposed, leaving my body to create a puddle of my sweat. Every sound, from my eyelashes hitting my sleeping bag to the wind blowing against our tent, made me jerk and twitch in anticipation.
6:30 rolled in and I was like a kid on Christmas morning. Mom, is it okay to wake up NOW?? As BB arose from her slumber (ahh, the slumber of a hero, how sweet it is), I knew I was safe to get up. The morning light revealed what we couldn’t see before: the mouse had chewed a hole in from above, right where BB keeps her bag of tea and coffee. Reason #2746289 why I don’t like coffee.
Like any good war story, the audience should probably know where we are now. BB and I awoke the next morning and were able to digest the madness of what happened. It’s to the point where we can laugh openly about it now, which is good. I also did apologize for being the most worthless girl ever, which led BB and I to our first ever debate: which is worse? Snakes or mice? We’ve come to a consensus where BB will chuck the mice and I will handle the snakes. Let’s just hope it never comes to either one again.
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I think it was Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) in Point Break (best movie ever) who said, “It’s not tragic to die doing something you love.” Of course he said this paddling out into this giant wave in Australia!
Thank you for sharing this wonderfully written story. I felt your panic, and I am used to having mice run around on my bag. (Tip: unzip all the pockets of your pack each night to let the mice have free rein, else they’ll just chew a hole in your pack.) More English teachers should hike the trails so that we get well written blogs. Happy Trails.
Great story! thanks for sharing and its good to see you still out hiking!! My son (2 Fast) and I hiked a couple days around you ladies. Keep the updates coming and we’re rooting for you two!!
Oh my word! I remember hiking with you! I hope your son comes back out like he said he wanted to. BB and I finished our thru-hike and it was the most wonderful thing!