It seems every campground has one group of campers who are a bit odd, somewhat annoying, clearly incompetent. I just never thought that would be us.
The camping trip was rather spontaneous. Karin wanted to see Olympic National Park, and I was game, but since we were staying near Tacoma, it was a lot of driving for one day. We wavered back and forth, trying to decide what to do. Then Karin’s in-laws offered to loan us their pick-up truck with camper shell. It was the perfect solution. Throw a foam pad and a couple of sleeping bags in the back, and we could stay overnight, giving us plenty of time to see the rain forest. We didn’t want the hassle of a real camping trip, just a place to sleep for one night.
We took our time exploring the area, so we arrived at our campground just in time for twilight to become pitch-black night. There was no moon. Any starlight was blotted out by the ever-present cloud cover and towering fir trees.
No problem, we thought. We backed the truck into the campsite, turned off the motor, and hopped out. Where had we put that flashlight? It was nowhere to be found. Oh well, we’d manage anyway.
Karin climbed into the camper shell and began to change her clothes while I groped around in the dark, trying to arrange our sleeping bags and pillows. Somehow, in the process of moving things around, I managed to hit the panic button on the truck keychain. HONK! … HONK! … HONK! The horn blared through the silent campground. Headlights flashed, on, off, on, off. Karin screamed and ducked as every camper in the area turned a flashlight on our truck.
After several fruitless attempts to silence the alarm, I finally figured out the problem and pushed the panic button a second time. Peace and quiet returned. Our neighbors turned off their lights, while we slunk around the truck and tried to be as unobtrusive as possible.
Finally we climbed into the truck bed, shutting the tailgate behind us. We left the rear window open, both for fresh air, and to make sure we didn’t lock ourselves into the camper. We weren’t sure we’d be able to open it from the inside.
We’d planned to eat dinner on the way there, but every store and café we passed was closed for the season. Happily, I’d stuffed a couple of granola bars, some beef jerky, and a few pretzels into my backpack, so we divided them up, saving some for breakfast, and munched a cold, dry dinner, sitting in the dark in the back of the pick-up. Camping was such fun.
Stashing our leftovers back into the bags stowed just inside the tailgate, we slipped into the sleeping bags. It was too dark to do much else.
Karin had noticed that I’d brought my camera with me into the back of the truck. “Why?” she wanted to know. I explained that I wanted to be ready to take a photo, just in case an animal stuck its head in the window. “Ha ha,” she replied, “like that would really happen.” Then Karin told me a story she’d seen on the news about some bears in Colorado who had learned how to open car doors. Apparently, they were pilfering food from the cars, trashing them in the process.
We chatted on for a while, finally growing tired and drifting off to sleep. All was well. Until…
BAM! Something large hit the side of the camper, waking us from a sound sleep. What was that!? Some more bumps against the truck were followed by a scraping noise, then footsteps. Something was out there. Something very large and heavy. We sat bolt upright in our sleeping bags, fully awake, hearts pounding. The big something walked around to the end of the truck. The end with the open window. The end where our granola bars were stashed. I berated myself for leaving food in the bags with us—we should have locked it into the cab.
Loud snuffling noises indicated that the big something had located our breakfast. More snuffling, followed by creaking, and a decisive snort. Something had stuck its nose into the open window! It sounded as if it was licking my backpack.
“Karin, it’s a bear!!” I gasped. “Shoo, beat it! Go away!” We started making a considerable amount of noise in the hopes of scaring away the intruder. The snuffling and snorting continued. With a quavering voice, Karin started singing, “Jesus loves me this I know….” I joined in: “… for the Bible tells me so…” One part of my brain wondered if we had again awakened the other campers, but I was much too intent on avoiding being eaten to really care.
The nose withdrew from the camper, but we could still see the faint outline of something really big outside. Karin took a deep breath and reached for her glasses.
“Oh! It’s not a bear! It’s an ELK!” she exclaimed. Sure enough. It was a huge elk with a magnificent rack of antlers. He was not alone. We could hear the entire herd milling around our campsite, snuffling, chewing, and making elk noises. Lots of noises.
So that’s why they call it bugling. It sounded more like a horse’s whinny. A sick horse, that is. For the next several hours, we lay in our sleeping bags, listening to the ruckus outside. We must have eventually slept, because the next thing we knew it was morning.
One downside of camping is that you have to climb out of a warm sleeping bag, get fully dressed, and then hike down the pavement a ways to reach the bathroom. Prying open sticky eyelids, we both groaned and started reaching for clothing. Then, Karin got a better look outside.
“Mom! Look!” She pointed at a nearby tree. I looked. There was our night visitor… a huge bull elk calmly munching fallen leaves a few feet away. I was suddenly very glad I’d kept the camera handy, just in case. We spent a few minutes taking pictures before hiking to the facilities. No one else appeared to be awake. Returning to the truck, we hurriedly packed up and left before anyone could identify us as the annoying and incompetent campers they’d encountered the night before.