Scorched and Stranded

Aletta Dennis, Rochester, NY

My eight-year-old and seven-year-old sons and I set up our tent beside a crystal-clear mountain creek and started fishing. It was a beautiful summer day in the mountains: perfect 70-degree temperature, but overcast so the sun was mostly hidden behind the clouds. We fished all day. I did not realize I was getting sun poisoning until the next day when I woke up and could not move. My entire body was severely sunburned, and it was too painful to lift a finger.

There was no radio or cell phone reception. We were stranded. My sons caught, cleaned, and cooked the fish for three days. They gathered wood and kept the fire going. They had been camping since before they could walk, and they had learned more than I knew. Three days later, I was able to walk out with them. I had never been more proud of my children.

My son—now an adult—still returns to this spot and camps with his children. They all wear sunscreen.
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Trail Shelter Beats a Waterbed

Andrew Bidwell, Potomac, Maryland

We were camped near a creek in Georgia on the second night of our 2005 A.T. thru-hike. We were expecting some rain overnight. No problem, we thought, we’re thru-hikers. I heard the first drops of rain against the tent at 2am. Over time, the raindrops seemed to get a little larger and fall a little quicker.

I awoke at 6am and immediately noticed the tent floor. It was oscillating like a wave on the ocean. We were basically sleeping on a waterbed. I slowly lifted my head and looked out into the tent’s vestibule. Our shoes were floating in a couple inches of water, like boats adrift at sea.

I ran outside, grabbed our backpacks, and retrieved the bearbag. We collapsed the tent, stuffed everything into our backpacks, and sprinted through the lightning storm to the next shelter, which was only a mile away (why didn’t we just hike to it last night?).

We arrived and were immediately thankful for the shelter. We fired up the stove and consumed the best hot tea and grits ever. More hikers arrived, and soon we were packed into the shelter, laughing and sharing stories.

It’s funny how quickly things can change on the trail. One minute you are wet and cold, the next your situation does not seem so bad. We learned a lot that night.
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Meow Mix

Emily Woodall, Blacksburg, W.Va.

My boyfriend Jeremy and I had been biking all afternoon on the Greenbrier Trail. We had found a nice camping spot along the trail about five miles outside of Marlinton, W. Va. Before sunset, we rode our bikes into town to get some spirits and food.

As we were biking back to our campsite, we saw a flash of brown run across the road. We looked over and right across from our campsite in a dry creek bed was a mountain lion. He stared at us, then bounded away up the creek bed, his long J-like tail swinging behind him. We were stunned and thrilled to see a mountain lion in the wild. Jeremy and I made it back to camp, prepared our meal, and polished off a couple brews before bedding down for the evening.

Around 1am, I awoke to hear a loud “HSSHHHH!!” The noise was unlike any I have heard before. It was a cross between a snarl, growl, and purr. I violently started to shake Jeremy. The snarling continued, and Jeremy opened up the tent door and started to yell. We heard something bound away into the night. Of course, were unable to sleep, so we built a huge bonfire and created a fort out of our mountain bikes. We also fashioned some spears for protection. We stayed up the entire night to ward off the cat. As soon as dawn hit, we packed up our bikes and headed back to our car.
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Nuts

Cindy, Richmond, Va.

I’ve instituted a peanut ban whenever I take our kids camping. No, it’s not due to allergies, but to an experience on an overnight trip with our four boys (all under age eight).

All was going to plan: the tents were pitched, supper was done, and we settled down to enjoy an evening campfire. I went to the car and brought back a huge bag of peanuts in the shell. Peanuts are a classic snack at camp; they keep the kids happy breaking and destroying the peanuts, and then they can toss the shells into the fire.

One of my sons had to go the bathroom, so I turned my back to the group for a moment. What greeted us when we returned was a yellow-brick-road trail of peanuts leading away from the fire over to a row of evergreen trees. Flashlights revealed dozens of little ringed eyes peering back at us. I swear there was a raccoon on his cell phone calling a friend, who called a friend, who called another friend, and next thing you knew they were singing, “The Gang’s All Here.” Our kids were a little startled. Just then the granddaddy of the raccoons came marching back to get the peanuts that fell from the bag. He was hissing and standing on his hind legs. Behind him, little raccoons made daring attempts to sprint forward, only to have their moms screech their warnings and swat them back into place. It was a raccoon free-for-all.

We ended up camping in the car that night, and thus began my lifelong ban on bringing peanuts to camp.
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Bathroom Break

Pat Banks, Acworth, Ga.

I was camping with my grandson, Tyler, and I told him the story of the six campers who, each one, while sitting beside the campfire, would go into the woods to use the bathroom. They would never return. One by one, each of the six people left the campsite to go check on the other, and they never came back. His eyes got bigger and bigger. Then I said, “If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to use the bathroom.” He started yelling, “No! No!” Of course, I laughed, but it was a long time before he found it funny.
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The Taste of Rain

Zac Cates, Blacksburg, Va.

Volleys of thunder echoed loudly throughout the gorge. Rain fell in heavy torrents as if from a machine gunner in the sky. World War III was raging in the heavens above me, and there I was in the middle of the New River.

Fifteen of us had put on the river despite the conspicuous rumble of nearing thunder. We were not about to let a little passing thunderstorm ruin our day on the river. First, came a pitter-patter of droplets, then a heavy inundation of watery pellets. The wind soon started to pick up, and bombastic gusts caused a normally calm part of the river to erupt into an ocean of whitecaps. My boat rocked and swayed from the plague of waves.

Everyone paddled over to the far side of the river where we decided to wait for the storm to abate. I don’t know what the other fifteen were thinking, but I was afraid. When the storm finally calmed down, the leader of our group asked everyone in a loud assuring voice, “Is everyone okay about these weather conditions?”

I could sense that no one was okay about anything, but not a word was uttered.

A heavy fog began forming, and I could only see a few feet ahead of me. Being wary of rocks, I launched my boat through several immense waves, paddling blindly and hoping relief would come soon. I felt frightened, excited, anxious, thrilled, petrified, frantic, and calm all at once.

When I had passed through the last waves and rocks, the adrenaline was still gushing through my veins like the lightning through the sky that day. I was floating around on the flat spot below the rapids surrounded by other shocked survivors of the turbulent trip. It started to rain again, but this time I just laid my head back and opened my mouth. The rain had a sweet coppery taste, and I just layed there while it filled my mouth, savoring the sweetness of being alive.
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