I struggled greatly with this journal entry. Not based solely on the subject matter, as I had ‘made it out of the forest,’ so to speak; but more so because I didn’t want to alarm my family & friends. But, it’s part of the story of this journey, so I have to write it.
I had had a decent day if hiking, and settled in to a campsite on a ridge above the middle fork of the Feather River.
This was easily the most terrifying 8+ hours of my life. But I wasn’t without protection: I had knowledge of what best to do…and I had the knowledge that I wasn’t alone. OK…so you’re probably thinking, “Dude is NUTS, because his two greatest tools to survive were merely ‘knowledge based!’”
But the biggest part was that I wasn’t alone. God was with me.
You might still be thinking, “Dude is nuttier than I first thought!”
And that’s ok. Faith in the unseeable and a belief in God isn’t always the culturally or socially popular way of thinking, much less method of defense against large predatory animals. That can be for another journal entry. In my life, though, I look to God as my provider, protector, comforter, father, & compass through life. But, on with the story!
Tuna fish. WHY did I have to choose last night to eat tuna fish?
It’s early, sun is just coming up, and I don’t think I slept at all last night. There may have been once I dozed for no more than 10 minutes, because I remember a dream I had. I was coming off the trail into my friend Devon’s neighborhood, and warning him about a big mountain lion in the area.
The dream made sense. One of the last things I mentioned in my journal last night was looking forward to calling Devon. The other: he’s really not a ‘cat person.’ He likes dogs a lot more.
Yet another reason: my visitors last night.
I had just finished journaling, and was a couple bites into some tuna fish mixed with mayo, mustard, relish & bacon bits. Then I heard it for the first time. A shrieking howl. I couldn’t place what kind if animal it was in that first moment…but it was loud, and it was fast. I settled on a theory it was a big cat. I would hear it behind me, then to the side, then somewhere in front, then the other side, at different distances. Finally, I heard it close enough to make out the softer between-the-screech sounds: a gurgling, soft, purring growl. Cougars. I was probably one of the least happy people I knew last night.
There were two of them, and it seemed they were hunting in tandem. One stayed back & was quiet. The other would occasionally go into the canyon, only to return. It seemed he wanted to draw me out & get a reaction, while the other waited & watched. (Trying to trick me? Maybe, but could be that they didn’t even care about me curious, but indifferent, possibly). I could hear one walking, barely. He was quiet when he moved. They decided to stay. All. Night. Long.
It began about 8:30pm, and they stayed until about 5:00am. So much for being rested. I won’t lie, I was petrified. My clothes I put back on, just in case, are drenched in sweat, as is the upper part of my bag. I was needing to go to the bathroom before the cats arrived; wasn’t going to happen after their arrival.
I layed low in my little bug tent, my bag over my head, one eye poking out, barely breathing. The last thing I did after the howling started was reach outside and quickly get a few shots of mouthwash…I keep a small disposable spray dispenser on a ring on my backpack. I thought that would help mask the tuna smell on my breath. Then I threw my trash bag as far as I could away from the tent, and did the same with my food bag in the other direction. It seemed to be all one motion & took less than a few seconds at most.
Then I waited.
I got some audio of it…spooky to say the least. When I made the positive I.D., way more spooky. The fact they wouldn’t leave let me know they knew I was there.
I’m going to wait about 20 more minutes, then do the quickest pack up job ever known, and later on down the trail maybe eat a little breakfast.
I had a strange feeling about this spot last night when I stopped here. But I shrugged it off, since I was tired and at the end of my day. It was extremely shady (literally & figuratively), and and as datkness approached it added to the funky unease. There was still daylight left, I suppose I could have kept walking another hour…but everything happens for a reason.
It’s light out now, and I’ll be hoping the cats are sleeping or elsewhere now.
I knew when I started there would be encounters with wild animals. I was holding out hope it would be more like squirrels, eagles, or the kittens back at Hiker Town. . Thankfully I made it through the night, and I continue on!