So, there we were. Four middle aged women, a little medicated, a little inebriated, and, let's face it, a little crazy, snoozing away in a tent in a nearly deserted campground engulfed in the biggest storm system the region had seen in years. This same massive system would go on to produce 162 tornadoes across fourteen states, including a couple in our region, and cause a total of 43 fatalities.
A satellite image of the weather bearing down. Imagine four crazy sleeping campers tucked into the extreme western end of Kentucky.
I am still amazed at our ability to sleep under these conditions, even considering the level of medication involved, both liquid and otherwise. (In hindsight, I am also amazed that the untried tent sheltered us so well). Though I am a famously deep sleeper (once asleep), I remember waking that night several times to the sound of some ungodly howling wind in the distance, and the sound of the rain slapping the tent was fierce and constant for hours. Despite it all, when the wind and storm would rouse me, I could muster only a faint thought of, "Wow, that really sounds awful..." or, 'Gosh, this could be it...I suppose..." before quickly lapsing back into a comatose state.
This would go on into the wee hours of Saturday morning when what would REALLY rouse us all from sleep would not be the wind or the rain or the weather at all. What would wake us would be one among our number peering out the door flap of the tent and screeching in a piercingly loud whisper,
"Something's out there!"
Trust me when I say, that's a statement that is right up there with the very last things you want to wake up hearing at 3:00 a.m. in a frigid, dark, but still drippy and now eerily quiet campground. My guess is that the three of us still ostensibly snoozing by this point were about half awakened by this unwelcome news.
Not one of us stirred.
After a few seconds of silence, our one alert, lonely camper made a final, ominous, and VERY LOUD announcement,
"THERE'S VARMINTS OUT THERE!,"
before charging out of the tent and commencing to engage in what sounded like possible combat with whatever was threatening the camp site.
This last declaration was enough to stir the rest of us to clumsy, if confused action (I'll confess in my case to looking for my iPhone for the camera--I did want to squeeze off a photo or two of whatever was about to kill us all*). After a great deal of flailing around, one of us would be alert enough to charge out after the first hefting the world's dullest hatchet, whilst Camper #4 and I, vacillating between terror at what might be happening outside, and uncontrollable giggling hysterics at the use of the word "varmint" (both of us agreeing the last person we knew to use the term being possibly Jed Clampett), crawled together toward the tent flap to peer into the darkness.
By the time we got our head torches (still on our heads) switched to "on", it was all over. According to Camp Defenders #1 and #2, Camp Smokey Hoe Pie (don't ask) had fallen victim to a couple of marauding raccoons. The pair, described as a young, agile raccoon who had likely cased the joint and, finding our unsecured coolers easy pickings, had signaled to "Grandpa", a brooding, obese raccoon comparable in size to a human four-year-old. The pair then gleefully worked their way through half of our provisions prior to discovery. And none too quietly, either. The trash, the chocolate, the Reese Cups, an entire package of Bratwurst, and eight of our dozen eggs (smashed!) were consumed by the time Camper #1 realized what was happening.
Keep in mind that accessing some of this food required the little bastards to open not only the coolers, but also the Tupperware containers within the coolers. Accessing the garbage meant they either shimmied up an eight foot pole, or climbed atop two stacked coolers and jumped for it (it was suspended in mid-air). That's right, kids, it was a veritable raccoon freaking flying circus up in there. And for God knows how long, too.
According to Camper #1, when she shouted at them, the smaller, more agile raccoon made an immediate break for it, but big, fat Grandpa merely snorted in her direction and continued to casually enjoy his plunder. It wasn't until she was fully out of the tent and actively engaged in shouting and throwing shit at him that he finally decided he'd go ahead and waddle back into the forest.
Shell shocked, groggy, and creeped out to say the least by the predator encounter, the four of us, by now all out of the tent, were slowly coming to a few realizations. First, we'd survived the storm. Secondly, it was really, really cold. And, thirdly, damn, these head torches are handy! The restrooms, which were quite clean, warm and well lit (thankfully) were located about 50 feet away. This would have been a very dark (but no less frequent) hike indeed without the aid and effortless hands-free light of our our bright, shiny headgear. Since we were the only women in the campground, the restrooms and showers would quickly and happily become our personal domain for the duration of our stay. Our blow dryers, flat irons, lotions and towels would stay tucked away there--almost just like home. If, you know, home was a freezing cold campsite that had to be constantly defended against a pair of wildly aggressive rogue raccoons.
I won't lie, the idea of giant furry vermin pawing through and feasting on our foodstuffs was enough to make me weak with germ nausea. I mean, disease, hello? Botulism? Rabies? Trichinosis? Misfolded prions, anyone? My semi-recent experience in Biology class had left me with just enough knowledge flying ineffectually around in my head to keep me terrified at times like these. I mean, dear God, I had to go ahead and assume that, at the very least, fat grandpa and junior aren't regular bathers.
But, again, not for nothing was the chuck stocked for months. I had Lysol (previously used to spray down the ENTIRE bathroom facility prompting one nervy camper to suggest chemically induced asthma could possibly be a danger equal in severity to the germs themselves--to which I responded, "Did you bring your shower shoes? Because you know you can't step a naked foot...EVER...onto this floor, right?) and some antibacterial wipes which were used to wipe (and it pains me to say this) the raccoon prints ((skeeve)) off of everything. That accomplished, the coolers were stacked and the lids fastened down securely--this time with bungee cords.
By now, it was 4 a.m., and all of us were teeth chattering cold. Again, I had my doubts about how we would sleep in the now quiet camp in light of the fallen temperature and recent excitement, but once again, against all odds, we would pile back into the tent and fall again almost immediately to sleep...
[To be continued. Again.]*My photos were all uniformly black. Alas.