This is an almost-100%-true story from my days back in Alabama. I was part of a loosely-organized camping/backpacking organization, and this tale is lifted directly from one of our adventures. Something else that's important -- we all had nicknames, which were generally earned in some way. (Mine was "Chief", which from these folks was a gesture of respect).
Things That Go Chomp In The Dark
[Here comes the lawyerly stuff]
Copyright © 1994 – 2008 by Glenn Rowe. All rights reserved
Our group offered free backpacking classes through a local outfitter shop, and we wanted to take the most recent group of students on a 3-day "graduation exercise". However, we had grown tired of our customary routes. Wishbone, Indy and I were tasked with scouting out a little-known trail that one of our Forest Service contacts mentioned.
We had traveled together enough to know that we all snored; not the gentle, slightly humorous kind, but the tree-shaking, bear-scaring, Richter-scale variety. Another shared and paradoxical trait, unfortunately, was that we were light sleepers. When planning this trip, therefore, we agreed on widely separated accommodations. Since we had to cover three day's worth of trail in only two, we planned to pack light and travel fast.
Naturally, old man Murphy took our plan as a personal challenge. The first delay came when the trail and markers simply vanished, forcing us into some map-and-compass sleuthing. The second delay was caused by a strategically placed beaver-dam that submerged about 50 yards of the trail under a lake that extended in both directions onto private and sternly-posted property. ("Trespassers will be shot: Survivors will be shot again.") We hadn't packed extra footwear, and we weren't about to hoof the next 6 miles in squishy boots, so we stripped them off, rolled up our pants, and picked our way very carefully across. Not that rolling up our pants did any good, of course. That beaver had probably been a consultant to the Army Corps of Engineers. We got wet all the way to our hip pockets.
By that time we were far behind schedule. We increased our pace, and that set up the third delay. Wishbone stepped into a well-camouflaged stump-hole and went down hard. He didn't break anything, but he was pretty banged-up and woozy. It was nearly sundown by the time he was fit to travel again, and we still had about 3 miles to go.
We finally reached our campsite about an hour after dark, dropping our packs and our bodies onto the leaf-covered ground. After about 20 minutes we had recovered sufficiently to build a small fire, set up camp, and wolf down some groceries. We tried swapping yarns but we were just too worn out, so we banked the fire and turned in.
I fell asleep almost immediately, but was awakened around midnight by flashes of light and some unusual bumping, thumping, clanking and mumbling noises coming from Indy's tent. I stuck my head out to take a look. It was immediately obvious that the flashes came from erratic motions of Indy's flashlight, but the noise was still a mystery. Before I could ask what was going on, the sounds stopped and the light went out.
Whatever it was, it was over, so I went back to sleep -- for about 15 minutes. The light-and-sound show woke me up again, but this time it stopped before I could get my head out of the tent.
This kept repeating about every 15 minutes or so, and each time the clanks, bumps, thumps and mumbles grew more strident. By 2:30 the mumbles had become words that were sharply punctuated by the clanks, bumps and thumps. "You little [BUMP!], get the hell [THUMP!] and let me [CLANK!] Son-of-a-[BUMP-CLANK-THUMP!]"
I must have adjusted to the noise, because the next thing I knew it was nearly daylight. My joints and muscles complained when I rolled out of my warm sleeping bag into the cold morning air. The fire warmed me up quickly, though, and the coffee was wonderful.
Wishbone joined me about 15 minutes later. He said he had slept straight through the night, and was ready to hit the trail as soon as breakfast was over.
When Indy finally staggered to the fire, he looked like something the cat dragged in and the dog tried to bury. His boots were unlaced, his eyes all puffy and bloodshot, and his expression like he’d just stepped in something unpleasant. We resuscitated him with two cups of industrial-strength coffee and lots of hot food, and he began to tell about his night.
Since his tent was so small, Indy had left his pack and most of his gear outside. Apparently, a wandering field mouse became fascinated by the shiny aluminum tent pole that was about 6 inches from Indy’s ear. Each time Indy got to sleep, he was awakened by the amplified sound of the critter's teeth chomping on it. The first several times he ran the mouse off simply by turning on his flashlight. A little later, however, the mouse absolutely fell in love with the salty taste of Indy's leather bootlaces. It got progressively bolder and harder to spook, so Indy had to resort to more aggressive means.
When their midnight encounter awakened me, Indy was using his sheathed machete to chase the mouse out from under his backpack. At that point he was only trying to discourage him. However, by the 1:00 performance Indy had blood in his eye and the sheath off the machete.
Similarly frustrated, the mouse began a series of psy-ops counter-strikes. It started scampering up the fabric of the tent and then diving to safety in Indy's gear. A second tactic was born when the mouse found that it could rattle Indy's mess-kit, and his nerves, by jumping on it.
Well, you get the picture. The mouse finally knocked off and went home around 4:30, leaving Indy with a foul disposition; tattered bootlaces; dead batteries; and several dents, gouges and slashes in his stuff.
Being sympathetic souls, Wishbone and I picked up, patched up and packed up Indy's gear, replaced his mouse-bitten bootlaces, and generally kept him pointed in the right direction. By our first break his foul mood was beginning to clear, and by lunchtime he was back to normal.
That is, right up until Wishbone looked him in the eye, grinned, and said "Chomp-chomp!"