How (not) to Survive the Night With a Predator in Your Campsite

Back before the world was upside down (or, well, was less upside down), I used to spend every other weekend volunteering in Point Reyes. And because I don’t live exactly close by, I’d always stay in our volunteer/employee campground. And because I was the only one who doesn’t live exactly close by, I’d always sleep there alone.

That was never a problem. I enjoyed the solitude, and once I got comfortable there, I started to sleep in a hammock instead of a tent during summers, when it was warm enough and wasn’t going to rain. (It was a little bothersome, having to pack the tent on the last morning completely drenched from the dew, then pull it out at home, let it dry, and put it away again. A wet sleeping bag I could spread on the back seats of my car while I worked during the day, and it was nice, dry and fluffy by the time I got home.)

My encounter with the predator happened during one of those nights when I slept in my hammock, hung up between my car and a lone flagpole that stood opposite a gigantic fire cache (and probably never saw a flag). I’m all cozied up in my sleeping bag, drifting somewhere among the stars, when I’m rudely awoken by a loud scream.

Now, I live right next to a house filled with teenagers, so hysterical screaming in the middle of the night wasn’t anything new to me. What was new to me was hearing it in the middle of nowhere.

After a few seconds of silence, I start to think that maybe, the screaming happened only in my dream, that, maybe, nobody was really screaming at me. But then I hear it; a definitely bigger-than-a-raccoon animal rustling in the bushes right behind my head.

I grab my headlamp and shine some light in that direction, knowing that I probably won’t see anything anyway. The bushes are dense, it’s the middle of a moonless night (which, by the way, made the stars beyond mesmerizing), and my eyes’ night vision level is, well, pathetically low.

The rustling stops, I say something along the lines of “go away, kitty cat,” trying to sound loud and strong but failing miserably, possibly thanks to the amount of dust I swallowed on the trails the previous day. I end up croaking something unintelligible but the rustling resumes, getting further and further away from me.

Someone with a bit more brainpower might, at this point, admit defeat and go spend the rest of the night in their car. But I turned around, closed my eyes, and went back to sleep. (Getting eaten by a gigantic kitty cat seemed like less of an annoyance than dealing with the inevitable backache from sleeping in my very non-sleep-over-friendly car.)

I’m back in the land of the dreaming when I hear the scream again. I wake up, grab my headlamp, a little annoyed at this point. Man, I just want my sleep. I hiked 30 miles of trails that day, helped someone who broke their ankle, had to stop some idiots from dying when they decided it was a good idea to swim in water filled with boulders right when the surf was breaking against them in the most beautiful but also most deadly way,… All I want is a good night’s sleep. I’m over this nonsense.

(Let’s be honest, I was over it from the very beginning because I escape to the wild to escape the teenagers — and now something was screaming just like the neighborhood girls.)

I hear it coming from a completely opposite direction now. Rustling from around the corner of the fire cache, where my feet point. Well, seems like the kitty cat decided to make a huge loop and come back. I wait a few moments. Silence. Then I hear movement again.

“Just let me sleep!” I call into the night. The rustling stops. Silence. And then it’s back.

I’m over it. I’m so bloody over it.

“If you’re gonna kill me, do it quickly, but I need my sleep now,” I say resolutely, turn the headlamp off, and go back to sleep. I hear soft padding on the gravel but am too tired to care.

Looking back at it now, I can’t believe my own actions. But wait,… I actually can. What I can’t believe is that I was actually able to fall back asleep. Kitty cat didn’t scream at me for the rest of the night, and I woke up shortly before sunrise to an adorable tiny slug sliding across my very wet sleeping bag.

I’m alive and well, albeit a little tired. Later that day, I play a recording of the scream to a few of the park rangers. One of them says “bobcat,” the rest goes with “mountain lion.” Oh well, at least it let me sleep after I gave it the talking-to.

More stories of my stupidity for your entertainment:

Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day | 30K on Dogmeat

Hidden Lake | Glacier Half Trifecta <– almost got struck by a lightning on this one

Limitless Vertical Challenge <– decided to climb the equivalent of Mt Everest even though I passionately hate running uphill

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