The Good-Ole-days Series
#5 Remember when…
I had no idea how this trip would affect me for the rest of my life. Terror lurked underneath the hands of fate for lucky-ole-me.
The summer of 1973 came to be one of many memorable moments of my life. I had the privilege of being invited to partake on a three-day camping trip up in Grayling, Michigan; which was about two hundred twenty miles North of our home. My first all guy trip to boot! Unfortunately, my father could not join us because of employment responsibilities. Our neighbor volunteered to watch over me and other friends. There would be three men, four boys total.
We had a week to prepare for the trip. Luckily for me, I owned a two-man canvas pup tent with an extra thick canvas bottom and other camping gear. My neighbor friend and I were stoked about the trip. Not only was it going to be a camping extravaganza. It was about canoeing and fishing.
The buzz we created around our upcoming trip made it more exciting. I’ve always enjoyed spending time in the deep woods because city living wasn’t for me. Nature made me feel alive where the city felt stifling.
Two vans’ and two trailers hauled and carried a bunch of eager campers to their destination. We hit the road leaving late evening to miss rush hour traffic. We passed time by laughing and telling each other goofy stories by challenging and taunting each other who will catch the biggest fish.
LATE EVENING ARRIVAL
We arrived at our destination well into dusk, so we all thought? Vehicle doors flew open as we jumped out to stretch our legs and arms. After all our grunting and groaning, our adult guides realized we were not at our proper location. While it grew darker out by the minute, the decision was made to tough it out and sleep in the vehicles for the night. Waiting until the crack of dawn to find our camp area would be wiser to do as opposed to searching in complete darkness.
We made a small campfire for all of us to gather around. The night sky consumed my thoughts. It looked so bright, I felt as if I could reach, and touch, the bright stars from where I stood. When lost in those moments of reflection, I would try to comprehend the awe and wonder of the heavens. Usually, I would never end with any conclusion in mind, only more questions from a young teens perspective. The beauty of the sky engaged my senses far better than the light polluted skies of the city.
The small talk continued until we all retired for the evening. Finally, our laughter diminished into absolute silence.
GOOD MORNING SUNSHINE
The sun rose just enough for some of its morning light to flicker through the van window to nudge me out of my slumber. Eventually, we all awakened to a brand-new day with hopes of fun-filled activities. All of us scurried around to make sure our gear or trash wasn’t left behind. We left the area to find our reserved camping spot.
We laughed to discover our designated campsite was only one mile away from where we had spent the night.
SETTING UP CAMP
I carefully grabbed my tent from the van to go pick out a smooth flat area to erect my small temporary canvas home. Me and one of the boys were paired up to set up our campsite. With pride, I pulled out my dad’s little hand ax he entrusted me with out of my back-pack. One side of the tool could be used for hammering, and the other had a sharp edge for chopping wood. I cautiously pounded each tent stake into the ground, inserted poles inside for support, and checked the bottom canvas floor for smoothness; tied off strings that needed tying. It was imperative no sharp objects were beneath the canvas flooring before I laid our sleeping bags down. Afterwards, I went and gathered small branches for our evening fire.
When we all finished setting up camp, we ate and planned our day. The intense heat from the sun increased with each passing minute indicating to us what type of day it would become. None of us cared, we all looked forward to jumping in a canoe to do some fishing or swimming in the beautiful ice-cold Au Sable River.
My fellow camper’s laughter echoed through the open land in response to my constant deep breathes I took. The air quality seemed sweeter, fresher than the city. I couldn’t get enough of it.
Time flew by for better part of the day. We tipped, flipped and tossed the canoe on each other causing us to submerge underwater. We didn’t have a care in the world rolling around the crystal clear shallow water on the sandbar and swimming against the strong river current.
After all the dunking, rolling and wading around in the sandy waters of the river. I felt an annoying discomfort below my waist area of my body. To my dismay, the sand from the river filled my underwear with a gritty discomfort that I did not find comfortable. I verbalized my agony to the others upon which I immediately headed back to my tent to change clothes.
Lunchtime was fast approaching anyway, so I thought I would clean up a bit before I ate.
CHANGE OF CLOTHES
I grabbed my backpack from the van, went into my tent to change clothes. I sat and leaned back to slip my denim shorts off only too wish that I hadn’t done so. What an absolute sandy mess I made on top of the sleeping bags.
There I sat in my underpants, smack dab in the middle of my tent, strategizing my next move.
While thinking, common sense told me, I should go back outside and change since no one was in sight out in the great outdoors. Then I could remove my gritty drawers and put a fresh pair on, remove the sleeping bags and shake them.
You would think this is a rock-solid plan, NOT!
I climbed out of the tent, pulled the sleeping bags outside. Shook the sand off and draped them over the top of the tent.
One problem solved another one encountered. I started pulling off my undershorts when panic struck! When I looked down, I realized I had sand in every nook and cranny, including my fanny.
The problem, no showers because we are camping at a no facility campground. The only modern accommodation we had was a hand-operated well-pump for drinking water three hundred feet away from me and a few stinkin outhouses.
NOW, WHAT DO I DO?
Now, I did have a choice. I could walk back to the river and rinse off, but that was farther away than the well-pump. We did not collect any water for our consumption because we were all too eager to go have fun, so no water to wash up. Right about this time I heard someone walking back to camp. There I stood with my drawers around my ankles like some deranged fool who lost his mind.
I dove into the tent to hide. There I sat bare-bottom on the canvas floor. My tent buddy yelled out my name wondering if I was around. I responded that I’m changing.
THE MYSTERY HUMP
I decided to clean up best I can, I’ll deal with my circumstance later I thought. I didn’t want anyone to know what had happened to me for fear of being teased. While sitting on the tent floor, I looked down between my legs, puzzled. Where did this rock come from?
It occurred to me I was sitting on a huge hump that I had not noticed before. Surely, I didn’t miss this when I set up the tent? Where did this rather large pile come from?
I slid my fresh pair of underwear on and immediately began pushing and thumping my fist on the dense mystery hump. It was soft but firm to the touch.
“This can’t be a rock!” I shouted. “It’s too soft.”
I became frustrated with curiosity about what this dumb hump was doing here. I know for sure I had cleared the area before I set up my tent.
I continued to beat and now stomp with my foot thinking it’s a dirt clump underneath my tent. My efforts were futile in smoothing out the hump
I’M OVER IT
My friend outside asked me what the heck all the commotion is over. I replied, “something weird is going on.”
I exited outside and stood in front of the tent dressed in skivvies only. My friend stood ten feet in front of me with his mouth and eyes wide open like he saw a ghost or something.
“Why is your face all goofy looking? What’s the matter with you?” I shouted.
His face expressed absolute horror looking towards the ground near my right foot. Out of curiosity, I lowered my head to see in the same direction as he did. When my eyes focused on the same object as my friend, I too took on the same horrific dumbfounded look.
Below me on the ground with its mouth wide open and teeth as sharp as razors laid a genuine Eastern massasauga rattlesnake!
I apparently angered my slithering three-foot tent guest by interrupting its midday siesta by my constant thumping of his body!
MOVE OR DIE
Paralyzed with fear is an understatement in this circumstance. I was so freaked out by the sheer size of the snake’s head and body that I didn’t know what to do.
The snake I’m sure was a bit ticked himself. It assumed the position to strike at my right leg when my friend screamed move as he grabbed a shovel and began to clobber the snake over the head!
Well, unfortunately, it made the snake a tad angrier.
Feeling threatened, I grabbed my hand-ax without any hesitation and began to chop up my uninvited guest into tiny little bits of stewing meat.
My friend joined in on the massacre with his shovel.
There I was in my whitey-tighties, along with my shovel slaying partner, both in a fit of barbaric rage, screaming and uttering tribal warrior sounds throughout the land, slashing and gashing in rhythmic patterns of complete annihilation.
We only wanted to survive our ordeal. Our adrenaline levels were off the caveman chart as blood and guts flew everywhere. My heart never beat so fast before!
When we thought the snake was dead, we stopped. Like any fresh kill, there is a process a living animal goes through before it ceases to exist. That would be no movement. Mind you; this is a snake we are talking about here. Even tho the snake is technically dead, its nerves continued to twinge, therefore sending us into another barbaric panic attack.
ARE YOU TWO CRAZY OR SOMETHING?
Out of the woods came running the rest of our camping party.
“WHAT THE ______ IS ALL THE SCREAMING ABOUT?” Said my friend’s dad.
It didn’t take them long to figure out what took place.
The two fathers looked at me and my friend, staring us down from head to toe. Our bodies were covered from snake purée.
You would think we would have gotten a medal of valor pinned on us for the bloodied war we had endured, instead, one of the dad’s asked me why I was in my underpants.
We had no sympathy from our fellow campers, at all. Instead, we were teased the rest of the day, and into the night with their own version of tribal warrior chants.
AFTER THE BATTLE OF THE HUMP
We dug a deep hole to accommodate the remaining chunks of the snake to rid the evidence of a protected specie. Once we finished shoveling dirt over the hole, my friend and I grabbed some towels and fresh clothes to carry down to the riverbed to wash and clean ourselves up.
While we walked, we talked about what had happened. It was clear to both of us how this event seared our minds with fear. We were actually afraid to walk on the ground to the river.
We took turns watching the area for snakes while the other person washed up. When we completed our quick wash and rinse, we ran as fast as we could back to camp for some more taunting and teasing.
Neither one of us had an appetite to eat any food. We only wanted to drink lots and lots of water, which unfortunately caused another unwanted dilemma. Why so much water? Who knows, maybe our bodies were depleted of necessary liquids from our hot sweaty day, or perhaps it’s normal after you shred a snake to pieces.
My friend and I stayed as close to the fire as we could tolerate. We figured snakes wouldn’t want to come close to the heat. Nobody seemed to understand how severely the incident wounded our spirit.
The two of us were terrified to walk anywhere around our campsite as the evening progressed to darkness. Neither one of us wanted to spend the night in the tent after what happened. To us, our canvas homestead became a haunted burial site for repulsive reptiles.
Unknown to us, the terrified twosome, the rattler from the snake had been recovered by one of the campers. The guys thought it would be funny to shake it a little bit to get our attention.
My friend and I made a mad dash to the van faster than an Olympic runner to the finish line.
At the time, we did not understand the humor. It felt more like torment.
The van became our sanctuary this particular evening, quite honestly, the remainder of our camping trip. My friend and I sat and watched the fire from inside the van.
All the doors were closed, and all of the windows were open. SNAKES WERE NOT WELCOME!
At the expense of our mishap, we became the object of laughter and ridicule. Innocently enough the rest of the group may have thought our circumstance was funny, but I often wondered what would have happened if it were someone else in our predicament.
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS
An hour had passed, and I needed to use the restroom; so did my warrior friend.
We had a problem, I emphasize, WEE!
We both looked at each other and said, “there ain’t no way I’m setting my feet on the ground.”
I had a plan! I went to the rear doors of the van and opened them wide. I stood on the back bumper quietly, so I wouldn’t draw any attention and proceed to water the woods. The downside to this peculiar pose is the height at which I conducted my personal business. Thus, drawing attention, plus an audience from the splatter sound hitting the dry ground that conveniently echoed so loudly throughout all of the land.
I looked like one of those famous Manneken Pis statues in Brussels.
Next thing you know, I had a friend standing next to me in solidarity. So, to our audience, we presented two Golden Water Arches to commemorate the evening of our traumatization. Sadly, we didn’t receive a standing ovation, only a lot of finger pointing and a lot of gut-busting laughter.
Thank you, Jesus, we didn’t have cell phones and facebook back then.
WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE
When all the laughter subsided for the evening. Everyone one settled in for the night. I had a terrible time falling asleep. Every time I began to doze off I kept thinking the snake lurked near the bottom of my feet causing me to flinch in fear and hallucinate all night long. The same thing held true for my friend. The entire night we kept thinking the snakes were going to eat us alive.
We, the traumatized duo, inconvenienced the other two van homesteaders by disrupting their sleep from all our constant moving because we did not sleep in the tent outside, nor did they, I wonder why? We became objects of annoyance to our fellow roommates.
I remember how badly I wanted to go home and the weekend to be over.
MY GUT HURTS
I’m guessing it may have been around 2 AM, when my gut started churning and spasming. I realized I’d not done my other business for a couple of days now. But tonight, of all nights, Mr. Stomach wants to clear himself.
I laid in pain holding back as hard as I could when out of no control of my own, I BROKE THE SEAL!
Breaking the seal meant, when all the air in your gut builds up to the point you can’t hold it back any longer, it passes its way around old digested food then seeps out through a human release valve (are you picking up what I’m laying down?).
It didn’t take long for Lé Pew to knock on nostrils. I have to say, there were no happy campers in this van.
Twenty seconds into gasification, my first sensitive smelling compadre woke up out of a deep slumber gasping for air. He spoke out loud asking if a skunk happened to be outside the van.
That’s all it took, next thing you know, everyone is hemming and hawing.
TAKE ME NOW, OR ELSE
My roommate friends demanded I go outside and take care of business. I wasn’t budging because I had no desire to encounter another snake. The more pressure I received from the masses, fouler the air became because of nervous stress.
Finally, one of the dads ordered me to go outside, I refused. After a few more attempted prompts. My friend’s dad sensed I wasn’t going to listen to him.
“What do you want me to do?” My friend’s dad asked.
With an emotional shout, I said, “drive me to a gas station or take me home.”
“Are you kidding me, just go outside, whats the big deal,” The dad answered annoyingly.
I became more upset by the whole ordeal. With a quivering voice I threatened to leave a vile pile right on the floorboard of the van if I didn’t get a ride to the gas station.
Judging by the look I got from the dad, he knew, I meant what I said.
The van started and off we went.
CAMPING TRIP CUT SHORT
Our camping trip lasted one more day. Both my friend and I were afraid to walk anywhere at this point because of our frightened state of mind. The short getaway weekend ended that evening. We packed up and left the campsite.
It was a silent ride all the way back to the city. No one said much. I, on the other hand, celebrated in secret about going home.
Forty-five years later, I still fear snakes. I continued to have nightmares about snakes attacking me for weeks after my camping trip. Eventually, the dreams stopped, but my fear of them did not.
What has piqued my curiosity about my snake slaying day is how I automatically went into survival mode. The only thought I had going through my mind at the time was to eliminate the threat the two of us felt by the slithering reptile. I believe the snake wanted to protect itself from harm much like us.
Like the snake, life itself can deliver unexpected frightening circumstances. We manage to overcome obstacles because of our will to live.
Have a critter story to share? Let me know all about it.
This wasn’t the only tangle I had with a snake. Another story for another day.