Guest post by Tyler Thursby
We arrived to our campsite sometime in the early afternoon; my friend Mark who had a penchant for anything that involved the outdoors and his girlfriend Alice, who was always game for spontaneous plans.
This camping trip was about as spontaneous as it gets – a half-hearted joke about moving to the woods over dinner evolved into a ‘well, why not camp tomorrow?’ conversation, Alice finally offering to drive us. Three hours and one detour to greasy diner later, we’d successfully managed to leave civilization behind.
I was soon to realize I didn’t arrive on this trip prepared. Anyone going camping owes it to themselves to research the area beforehand and become acquainted with the land. That’s a camping ground rule everyone should abide by.
“Did anyone actually check the weather report for the weekend?” Alice asked as she started removing fold-up chairs from the back of the Suburban. I looked to Mark in an admittance of my own ineptitude.
“Yeah … couple days back. We should be good,” he said, helping Alice lower a heavy cooler from the trunk of the car. Mark looked at me and shrugged, which essentially meant he only made the previous statement in an attempt to appease Alice. Oh well, I thought, we’re here now.
We quickly settled into the campsite, Alice breaking into a bag of turkey dogs to roast over the modest fire Mark and I had teamed together to build. As I peered across the flames, the light dancing across Alice and Mark’s faces as we laughed about old times, I felt as though there was no place else I’d rather be.
As Alice was recounting tales from her turbulent student teaching internship, a roll of thunder interrupted her. We all peered overhead but couldn’t make out any storm clouds, in the midst of engaging conversation it had become night time.
“I just felt rain,” Mark said. “Definitely just felt rain.” We looked at each other in a moment of grim realization before everyone burst into action.
Alice got up first, rushing over to the tent that had yet to be fully pitched. She fumbled around on her hands and knees, feeling out for stakes, finding nothing. The only light was from the campfire and it was too dim.
Mark looked over to the car. “Flashlight … shoot,” he said, “we forgot the flashlight!” Mark ran back to the car and looked around for a miracle as another crack of thunder rolled overhead. Seconds later and the rain really started coming down.
“Let’s just get in the car,” Alice said, abandoning the site of the tent. “We’re going to get soaked.” It sounded like the most logical solution but somehow I couldn’t allow it. My mind was on the firewood pile nearby quickly getting saturated, becoming useless to us the rest of the trip. Rain aside, this trip could be miserable without the warmth of the fire.
“I’ll be right back!” I said, racing past the fire. Alice called after me but there was no stopping me from making a desperate effort to salvage the campfire. The only problem was I was searching through relative darkness for my pile.
When I couldn’t see the campfire anymore, I realized I’d probably gone entirely too far into the woods. Attempting my way back only caused me to grow less familiar with my surroundings. At least I had the luxury of Mark and Alice knowing I was somewhere in the woods – someone should always know where you’re venturing off to.
I was hardly prepared with survival gear, a realization that brought upon immediate anxiety. I stopped myself from panicking and assessed my options. I decided to sit down and collect myself and ultimately observe the surrounding area, looking for materials I might need to get through the night.
I had learned from an early age that if I were in a situation like this, I should stick to one place. Not only does it increase your chances of being found but it also prevents you from wasting energy in the body. So I familiarized myself with the immediate area and counted my blessings. I was still in one piece and my friends were savvy enough to find me, the roar of the rain made it difficult to communicate by calling out – not to mention my friends were probably huddled in the car.
The storm had loosened some nearby branches so I started building myself a modest shelter. It wasn’t anything worthy of Bear Grylls but it managed to keep most of me dry which I was thankful for. Hours past and I slipped in and out of sleep until dawn crept in.
The early morning light allowed me to see some tracks I knew were mine. I decided to follow these tracks for a few minutes, marking the trees so I could find my way back if necessary. Eventually I came far enough that I saw the car peeking out in the horizon. I couldn’t help but smile – I made it through a night in the woods alone.
This article was written by Tyler Thursby, a regular writer for Vagabond Summer.