“Let’s go camping,” she suggested, out of nowhere.
“Okay.” Why not, I thought. It was early in the season and still chilly, but we were feeling restless from the long winter spent indoors.
Soon my roommate and I were searching the deepest, darkest corners of every cluttered closet in search of enough second-hand gear to get us through the trip. Food wasn’t a problem, since we didn’t eat back then. Our nutritional requirements were simply graham crackers, marshmallows, and a chocolate bar or two. Camping essentials.
Using our Tetris skills, we maneuvered our supplies into what was left of the trunk. An impressive sub-woofer already claimed much of that real estate. Task complete, we cranked up the stereo in her little red Celica, pulled away from the curb, and left our dreary brown rental house behind.
We were heading off to play at Mount Rainier, but our adventure really began when we left the house. This would be a unique adventure for us. Usually we were part of a larger group with children or boys or parents. This time we were independent women. We took our time and enjoyed the ride. We found a convenience store along the way where we spent most of our cash on a bundle of firewood and a couple of bottles of Boone’s Farm, sangria flavor. The last of the necessities.
Heavy metal music exploded from the speakers as we rolled over the curving mountain roads watching the trees go by. With no cars and no buildings in sight, it seemed we had the entire world to ourselves. We amused ourselves on the journey by laughing at the unfortunate graphics on the “Watch for Falling Rocks” signs, pulling over to check out the teeniest tiniest wild strawberries, and endlessly repeating our inside joke, “Shut up and look at the trees!”
We had no specific campground in mind, just something cheap with available sites. We cruised right by the first few we came across, assuming they were full and/or expensive. We continued down the highway looking for something a little more remote, thinking our chances of finding a campsite would be better.
“It just occurred to me that nobody knows where I am right now,” she said when Trent Reznor paused for a breath between songs.
“Huh. Same here. We can call once we know where we’re staying.” I wasn’t too worried about it. We both had cell phones.
The trees scrolled by on either side and the music raged on as our search continued. There was no hurry. I had never been this far down the road before and it felt like we were circling the mountain with a subtle but continuous left turn. As I was enjoying the scenery, deer began to appear between the woods and the highway. We idly speculated why there were suddenly so many of them as we began to count the sightings. Eventually we realized the approaching dusk was bringing them out to feed. We needed to find a place to spend the night soon or we’d be caught in the dark.
We pulled into the next campground, the signage so subtle we almost missed the turn. Gravel crunched under the tires as we made our way deeper into the campground and found the registration box. For ten bucks we could set up camp. A quick scan left and right revealed no signs of human life, only deer. This was probably the most peaceful spot on the whole mountain. We had found the perfect accommodations.
The light continued to fade as we selected a level grassy site near the river. I erected the tent, pleased to find that we had brought all the correct poles. We briefly scavenged for kindling, then wadded up pages from a Little Nickel paper for fuel. She built the fire using a tepee method she had learned when she was a Campfire Girl. The technique worked beautifully and the fire caught on the first try.
With our chores now complete, all that was left for us to do was relax by the fire, admiring our work. It’s empowering to be self-sufficient. We had all our needs covered, no men required. Licking melted marshmallow from our slightly grubby fingers and sipping Boone’s apple wine, we watched darkness fall. Everything had come together perfectly for this impromptu adventure.
The sound of moving gravel intruded on our silence as another car rolled into camp. It must have been close to ten o’clock by then. There were plenty of sites available, but I did not envy them trying to set up camp in the dark.
It was time to turn in, so I took the flashlight and went in search of an outhouse. I found one not too far away and the soft glow of our fire led me back to our campsite.
“Did you notice anyone else come in?” she asked.
“Just that one car. Why?” The only sound was the flowing river. She would have heard a car come in just as clearly as I would. We both knew no one would arrive here on foot.
“That poor guy is supposed to meet his girlfriend out here, but he had trouble finding it. He thought she would be here already. He tried to call her but his battery is dead so he came over to see if he could borrow a phone. I checked mine but there was no signal out here. I checked yours too. Nothing.”
“That’s right, we were going to call when got here! I totally forgot.”
“Yeah, that’s what I told him. We were so busy setting up camp before dark that we forgot to call anyone. I guess we couldn’t have anyway, because of the signal.”
I couldn’t believe what I just heard.
“Let me get this straight. In the five minutes I was away, a strange man drove into this remote campground with an unlikely story about meeting someone and you told him that we were here alone, nobody knows where we are, and our phones don’t work? Tell me you’re kidding.”
“Oh, I didn’t think of it like that. I guess I did.”
We had both seen more than enough horror movies to know how this would end. We were going to die here. She had always fantasized about getting eaten by a bear, while I had assumed I would be murdered by my ex-husband. Neither of us had ever seriously considered meeting our end in the axe-murderer scenario which we now faced.
There was no sense in wasting supplies, so we finished off the Boone’s as we silently contemplated our fate in front of the dying fire. Later, cowering in the tent while waiting to be murdered, I wondered if maybe the deer would come to our aid. With no personal experience to draw from, we could only speculate about the attack to come. Would he charge the tent with a sharp object? A blunt object? The peaceful meadow we had chosen to pitch the tent in would muffle his footsteps. Perhaps it wouldn’t be like that at all. Maybe he would attack us one by one as we ventured to the outhouse. There were so many possibilities. I no longer felt empowered and self-sufficient. It suddenly didn’t seem like such a bad idea to bring a man along, even if we didn’t technically need him for anything.
Silence, but for the gentle sound of the river flowing behind us. We laid awake as minutes stretched endlessly into the night. Then came the sound of crunching gravel carried across the stillness. A new car was making its way slowly through the campground. It passed our tent, then came to a stop. A single car door opened then closed. We heard friendly sounding voices, one female.
It was hard to believe, but our stranger’s far-fetched story must have been true after all! We could finally drift to sleep, comforted by the knowledge that we would live to see another sunrise.
Unless, of course, we got eaten by a bear.