The crunch of gravel in between pelts of rainfall. That’s what woke me up. Dawn was still far away as evidenced by the lack of light that penetrated through the thin fabric of our tent.
Though the hour was late, my eyes were wide open and sleep would not be returning soon. Had the noise outside been only a dream? I strained my ears.
The sound of rocks being turned underfoot was unmistakable and could only mean one thing – our campsite had an uninvited visitor.
Careful to not make too much sound, I shifted while I recalled the grounds manager’s warning from earlier that day. “Make sure you put your foodstuffs in your car and lock them up at night,” she’d said. “A bear has been hanging out not too far away.”
Had we not secured it all?
The patter of rain on the tent’s rooftop increased, though a second tent frame, covered by a tarp, hung over the campsite’s picnic table. The storm wouldn’t be driving our uninvited guest away.
Or is it guests?
Her Royal Highness, who had rolled her body into a ball next to my knees snored. If something dangerous was out there, she’d know it, right? I told myself, followed by Some guard dog she’s proven to be. Still, I was glad enough for her lack of consciousness at the moment having no desire to invite any more of the wildlife’s attention than we already had with an over defensive response.
The rain continued to fall. Thunder rolled in the distance. I held my breath – and listened.
Drip. Drip. Drop. The storm began to taper off without a recurrence of the gravel’s crunch. Had our guest moved on? I couldn’t tell.
Her Royal Highness woke and went to the edge of my sleeping mat where she began to cough and make a retching noise sure to wake the other sleepers. The mountain air must not be agreeing with her tummy.
I looked at the ceiling. Tap. Tap. Would this rain ever end? I looked at the window. I hadn’t dared unzip the flap before. My husband shifted – fast asleep – oblivious to it all.
Her Royal Highness’s retching continued.
Was I willing to risk taking her outside or was I willing to sleep in a tent one more night christened with her sick-up?
Her Royal Highness moved to the tent door, facing away from the picnic area, and touched the corner with her nose. She’d cleverly managed to figure out how its zippers worked earlier in the day to the delight of our children and appeared to be willing to do so again. Perhaps the choice wasn’t entirely mine to make after all.
Hoping to hope not to bump into our uninvited guest (who’d only grown larger in my imagination by the second), I ran out with her into the night’s storm, staying close enough to grab her shoulder and force her back inside if I so much as heard a twig snap from the area on the other side of the tent. Rain soaked my shirt as Her Royal Highness stopped coughing and began to sniff around.
She took a few steps forward, squatted, turned around and ran back inside.
All that fuss for that?
I followed her in a flash and zipped the door and its flimsy protection closed once more. I huddled under my blanket as Her Royal Highness sprawled out across my legs.
Drip…Drip… The drops of water fell softer – lighter – and somehow sleep managed to find me once more.
Even so, I was the first to wake the following morning. I opened the flap and stepped toward the picnic table – sure and yet uncertain of what exactly I might find.
A box of pre-packaged brownies lay on its side with the corner of the box ripped open and much of its contents removed. While we had taken our cooler to the truck the night before when the rain began, we must have missed it under the table.
I heard my stepdad, who had camped with us, tell my boys the damage was from a raccoon. That was smart thinking on his part, I thought. The boys wouldn’t make us leave our vacation early for a raccoon. I whispered to my husband. “I heard it last night. Sounded big. Like a bear.”
I started picking up. A pile of paper plates, still in their plastic wrapper, had been turned upside down. Something had tried to open the package. I took the plates to my husband to show evidence of the visitor’s claw.
Except that’s when I noticed it was not one claw mark, but two.
Two tiny holes from claws attached to finger-shaped paws.
Paws belonging to creatures who like to wash their food.
Creatures who must like to eat their snacks on plates too and animals who had most likely experienced the fright of their night when Her Royal Highness and I suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the middle of a downpour. I guess my stepdad hadn’t told my kids a story after all.
We joked about the party those raccoons must have had that night while we spent the daylight hiking. When evening came, we made sure to do a better job of securing our belongings. We’d learned our lesson. If the raccoons did come back they would find their party hosts much less accommodating than their native surroundings.
We had a great time and thanks to all that rain the waterfalls were spectacular. Had the lack of sleep, the late night visitors, or storm put me off camping again like this in the future? Absolutely not – we’re not exactly backpacking. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?