Thursday, June 14, 2012

Almost Solo Camping

Last night, I took the kids camping on my own.  We didn't go far, and Balsam Provincial Park isn't exactly where you'd expect to have many run ins with wildlife, so I wasn't too concerned.  We've camped here many times, so I was able to pick a site fairly close to a comfort station so that my one worry wouldn't be an issue (that being having to make a bathroom run in the night and leaving the kids alone in the tent.)

We got there after the park office closed, so we were told to just head into the park and pick a site, then pay for a permit in the morning.  I'd already picked out a site I thought would be a good one, based on location and the pictures on the Ontario Parks website.  We pulled into the site, set up our brand new 6 person tent (way more than we needed for just us three, but I'll post later on why we got one.)  The tent was easy to set up with the kids help, then we headed to the beach for a swim.

The beach at Balsam is pretty awesome, and was completely deserted.  After our swim we had dinner, then I realized my first mistake...I'd brought the little car and it was packed with stuff, but I hadn't brought any games for the kids.  I'd meant to take Viking Chess (I'll rave about this game in another post) but there wasn't room.  And since the park office was closed, and I didn't have cash, I couldn't buy wood to have a fire.

I had brought books for everyone, and the kids were happy to lounge around in the tent reading so it wasn't the crisis it could have been.  As it grew dark, the kids fell asleep while I kept reading.  There was only one other site in use in our section, but they stayed up very late talking (loudly.) But despite that, I could hear the loons clearly.  There must have been a lot of them, and I've never heard so many loons calling all at once.  It was pretty amazing.  It was like listening to the Dan Gibson's Solitudes CD's I used to have.

Then I heard wolves, or maybe coyotes, a pack of them, howling in the distance.  Also cool, but a little creepy.  We often hear them at my parents house, but inside where it's safe, you don't really think about it.  Inside a tent?  Yeah, I admit, I was a little freaked out.  Then I heard more, this time from in the other direction. Still, they were pretty distant, so I kept reading.

Then I heard something sniffing the wall of the tent about 3 inches from my face.  Probably raccoons, and since I'd been careful to make sure everything was locked in the car, I wasn't worried.  Three seconds later, when I heard what sounded like two dogs snarling and ripping each other's throats out in the vicinity of our picnic table?  I admit it, I almost screamed. We see fox in Balsam frequently, so I wondered if that's what might be out there. Swear to God, I thought I would get out of the tent in the morning and find a dead animal five feet from the door. I spent ten minutes shining a flashlight through the door window mesh but didn't see anything so I went back to reading.

Eventually, the other campers packed it in for the night, and shortly after that, I swear I heard a woman walk past our site talking to herself.  Lots of people had walked by earlier and I always heard footsteps crunching on the gravel, but this time, nothing.  Now I'm lying there freaked out about wolves, coyotes, raccoons, foxes, and ghost campers, plus the usual bear phobia I've been plagued with since I was a kid.   After that, every noise made me jump, from someone coughing at the other campsite to my own stomach gurgling.  I've never heard so much non-camper related noise while camping.  I even heard owls and ducks in the middle of the night.

I know, pathetic right?  Logically, I know that if an animal was going to attack our tent and rip us to shreds, having Chris there isn't going to stop them.  That's not really the point though, I guess.  It's like having a security blanket, knowing that there's someone to help fight off a potential Discovery Channel moment.  Plus there's the fear of knowing my kids safety is totally in my hands, and worrying I might not be strong enough.

While lying there with my heart pounding, I thought of a few things I could have done to make myself feel a bit more secure.

1) I could have parked the car closer to the tent, with the seat forward for quick access to the backseat.  If we had to make a run for it to the safety of the car, the kids could get in easily, then I could push the seat back and jump in as well.  Not really a realistic strategy, but it's the knowledge that safety is close by that makes you feel a bit more secure.

2) I could have found a sturdy stick to keep in the tent. I know, chances are I'd never actually need it, and if I did find myself facing a ravaging wolf pack or a bear, a stick wouldn't do me much good.  Not really the point.  I'm pretty sure I can delude myself into thinking I really could fend off a hungry bear, looking like a mighty amazon warrior while doing so.

3) Keep something in the tent that would make noise.  I only now realized I had my phone with me.  I could have turned up the volume and put on a bit of music or used one of the alarm tones to scare off whatever was rooting around the tent.

4) Call someone.  I knew Chris would still be at work, so I called just so he could tell me I was being silly and that we'd be fine.  I don't recommend this one if the person is going to be fast asleep...they probably won't be all that willing to coddle you.

It was a good experience though, and I'm glad I did it.  Would I do it again?  Of course.  We had fun, and when I woke up in the morning and we were all in once piece, I felt more than a little proud of myself.  I think it'll be a while before I try a completely solo trip in the back country though.  And why would I want to?  The best part of camping for me is sharing it with the kids and Chris.  When I got home I did a bit of research on the internet and decided it was two foxes fighting outside the tent.  Check out HERE to listen to a fox and a raccoon fighting.  The squealing sound is the raccoon.  The dog-like snarling is the fox.

Anyone else have any camping scares they'd like to share?


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