- July 23, 2019
- Posted by Gabaccia // @gabaccia // gabaccia.com
Have you? I’ve read stories about mice everywhere, from the teen magazines I used to read in high school, to your pick of outdoor online and print magazines, to the New York Times. Everyone seems to have a story. I have sure lived through a bunch, from the time I was a child growing up in Mexico, to the time I lived in NYC. So, do I need to write yet another story about a mouse? Well. It’s not until you see the little critter floating above your head, hanging out on your tent’s bug net that you realize how “powerful, annoying, even terrifying” these creatures can be. So yes, I’m permitting myself to write yet another tale about a mouse.
It all started when I saw a hole in my backpack about two days into our backcountry hitch. It was a tiny one, just in the corner of one of the outside pockets of my pack. I figured it must have been a mouse, but I thought it weird that I didn’t have anything with scent or any food in that pocket. “I probably had crumbs in there,” or at least that’s what made sense to me. I had also woken up to a squeaking noise at some point in the middle of the night. Two other crew members admitted to having heard squeaking sounds themselves, and someone had found his bag of sunflower seeds broken into, so I knew it had not been a dream.
The next day, we were out working on the trail, when I went to grab my water bottle from one of the outer pockets of my backpack and saw that a granola bar was right underneath it. I made a mental note and got excited to see that I had an extra snack for later. When we were back at camp, I eagerly reached in for my granola bar to find out I had not one but two of them. Level of excitement: BEYOND! But. To my naive surprise, both bars had already been chewed and enjoyed previous to me finding them. I was so pissed off at this little critter, who merely made two small holes in each granola bar. “So wasteful! At least he could have eaten a whole one instead of ruining both for me.” I felt like a dork and realized what had been happening. The critter had targeted me as a grocery stop in his nightly routine. I decided to sleep with my backpack inside my tent from then on to send a new message to my sneaky neighbor. There was a big storm that night. Thunder, endless rain, lightning. I doubt my “friend” even bothered to visit my tent amidst the chaos.
It was the third to last night of hitch. The storming had ceased, but it was cold outside. I tucked myself inside my tent in such a cozy way I was ready to sleep by around 8 PM. I slept the whole night through like a baby. Around 5 AM, when I woke up to set up breakfast for the crew, I opened my eyes to a realized fear I never knew I had. There was a hole on my tent’s bug net, right above my head. “So, there’s a mouse here with me,” I thought, “how the heck am I supposed to get rid of it?” I started slowly moving out of my sleeping bag as I grabbed hold of a t-shirt which I would then use to “catch” the mouse (yeah right). When I was finally out of my bag, I went to lift the stuff I had in one of the “more crowded” corners of my tent. I was expecting a little thing to jump out and start running all around in confusion. Nothing happened. I moved on to the next corner so carefully I felt like a spy in a movie. I lifted the pile of stuff. Same expectation. Same result. There wasn’t anything left to move around. The mouse wasn’t inside my sleeping bag for sure, and it wasn’t in my tent. There weren’t any other holes in my tent, so that made me realize the mouse had never come down to me (whew!).
I looked up and around to the bug net meticulously, as if trying to trail the critter. There was evidence of its doing. A minuscule piece of metallic wrapper was hanging off from the outside of the bug net closer to the ground.
So what-the———had happened that night?
Let me rewind to the few minutes before I fell asleep.
I was waaaay cozy and warm when I felt something pokey inside my down jacket pocket, which I was wearing to speed up the warming process. It was a granola bar wrapper. I thought about getting up to dispose of it, but then I realized the bear hang was already up and going outside after having built so much warmth didn’t seem logical at all. I pulled it from my pocket and decided that the best thing to do would be to hang it on a mini clothesline I usually keep inside my tent to hang/organize my trinkets and gadgets. It made sense in my head that critters sniff around the ground - not mid-air - and that if anything, they would probably sniff their way up to the bear hang where the real smelly trash was.
Obviously, I was wrong.
I felt in many ways - this is an exaggeration, I know - trespassed. The only other time I’ve felt anything similar was when my tent got stolen last summer. I knew the coming night would suck as I wouldn’t be able to sleep without being worried a mouse would maybe chew its way through my tent, just to scout what he had determined to be the new grocery store in town. Amongst all the dangers I had regularly been facing doing trail work with sharp tools in grizzly bear country, I was afraid of a tiny mouse. Maybe I will move, and it will bite me and give me rabies. Perhaps it will eat my Chacos, my backpack straps, my shoelaces. What if I wake up and it’s on my face or inside my mouth?! I was in a totally unnecessary, yet real panic.
Two more nights to go and the hitch would be over. On the night after the “event,” I decided to come up with a contingency plan. Option A was to move my tent. But the truth was I had the best spot (up to debate after the whole ordeal), and I also felt a bit lazy about moving to a new location. I knew deep inside me that being afraid of, panicked about such a small creature made zero sense. So, I went for Option B - the denial option. I poured myself a cup of tea with melatonin, one I use only occasionally when I have no room for a short night of sleep. This concoction gives me typically a solid 8 hours of sleep no matter how many trains or semis pass by. It was 10PM when I drank it. I proceeded to read a few pages from “Walk with The Animal” an ironic book choice for this particular hitch considering it is all about trailing animals big and small past “the wall” or the moment when you lose their tracks. I fell asleep thinking about “my mouse” and imagining how it had climbed above my head and away so silently and lightly.
10:37 PM. I had been sleeping for no more than 20 minutes. The sky wasn’t fully dark yet. Whether I heard or dreamed of hearing an almost imperceptible scratch to my left is beyond me. I opened my eyes, and there it was. Getting momentum from the camp chair I had tucked inside my tent’s lobby; I could see this tiny round-shaped silhouette running up the edge of my chair, grazing my bug net and sliding back down onto it again in an attempt to climb up higher on the bug net.
“GET OUT!” I screamed as I got out of my sleeping bag and started frantically shaking my tent.
For a second, I worried that my crew members would have heard me scream. But then the impending sound of the fast river reminded me that no other sounds could travel through our camping area. The fact that I had been able to hear a mouse was barely even possible. The mouse was gone.
I sat up, eyes wide open, mind wide open — no signs of melatonin whatsoever. I needed a real contingency plan since my self-induced good night sleep was not going to happen. I set up an alarm for every hour from 10:45 PM to 4:45 AM. I would then wake up each time and shake my tent in case the critter was near. It would scare him. It was a cold night, and I wasn’t going to give up the warmth inside my sleeping bag (not after having already given up some of my sleep time), so I came up with what I thought was a “genius” way to be able to execute my plan without even getting an arm out of my bag.
After I was sure “my mouse” was gone, I brought in my chair and stored it away. I then went on to assemble my hiking poles. I figured I could grab them through my sleeping bag and use them as an extension of my arm to shake up my tent upon each waking hour. It work perfectly. I also decided that leaving my lamp on could help. In my head, having a bright light would deter the mouse since its vision would be accustomed to the darkness of the night. It would act as my first line of defense, a shot to the eyes of my invader. But just maybe, the light was going to serve me for comfort. It reminded me of having a night light back when I was afraid of the dark as a child.
10:55 PM. I’m finally ready to go back to sleep. And I surprisingly do fall asleep almost immediately.
11:20 PM. I feel something, so I open my eyes. He’s floating right above my head. He’s trying to come through the same door he had “made” the night before, except he now encounters a double mending of duct tape instead of a hole. I grab hold of one hiking pole and start poking right at the mouse while saying, “GET OUT! GET OUT.” My mouse jumps off my roof so gracefully and skillfully I make a mental note of how helpless and pathetic my life is right now. I wait a few minutes and give my tent another shake just in case he has turned around for more. Once again, luckily, I fall asleep almost immediately.
12:40 AM. I wake up to a squeaking sound on the ground above my head. I grab both hiking poles and start poking all around my tent while repeating my old script “GET OUT! GET OUT!.” By now, he sure knows what that means.
I wake up before my alarm on almost every following hour. I stay awake for a few minutes, I shake my tent intermittently, and then I go back to sleep; I fall back asleep quickly every time. I follow this choreography until the sky starts turning bright again, and suddenly, the conifer shadows reappear above my tent.
I had survived. And I hadn’t seen or heard the mouse again for the rest of the night.
That last full day of the hitch, I felt drained from having woken up so many times throughout the night. Maybe I had won the battle last night, but I wasn’t going to claim any victory and let my guard down. So, on this last night, I prepared myself for the same routine. The light would be on, alarms set, hiking poles by my sides ready to “attack.” I feel silly just writing this out, but at the time, I felt very serious. I decided to go to bed as late as possible to minimize my suffering.
It was 11:30 PM by the time I entered my tent. I did as I had planned. It almost felt as natural as a habit. The mouse never reappeared, at least to my awareness. I like to imagine him turning to a new direction every time he would approach my tent and I would be shaking it wildly. I believe I succeeded in scaring him almost as much as he had scared me with his intrusions. Maybe he just got smarter and scouted around my tent silently without me noticing that last night. But I prefer to claim a little victory on this silly story which I’m sure will happen again, though hopefully not to me.
So here’s the moral, I guess: Don’t underestimate the little creatures, they will eat right through your pockets and tents. Don’t underestimate the scented power of a seemingly empty granola bar or candy wrapper; I guess all it takes is a grain of sugar to attract unwanted visitors. And lastly, don’t overestimate how you think wildlife intrusions might make you feel. I am a bit embarrassed to admit my irrational fear of a creature that’s about 500 times smaller than I am, but it’s true.
Stay safe. Be bear and mouse free out there.
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