Fun fact: James believes in Bigfoot. Not in an ironic way either—he genuinely believes there’s a seven-foot ape wandering around Northern California, eating deer, and howling in the night for the sake of it.
I’m not really a paranormal kind of girl. I don’t believe in ghosts or anything otherworldly, and while I SUPER wish mermaids were a thing, I’m reasonable enough to be satisfied with my undying love for narwhals as a compromise for the non-existence of Ariel (the first Disney princess I wanted to be). But James really, really believes in Bigfoot. He’s 100% convinced. And since I went through (what I’m sure was a super obnoxious) New Age phase of believing in random nonsense, I’m as supportive as I can be of his Bigfoot shows, t-shirts, stickers, and other nerdy paraphernalia. I don’t judge. I’ve got like six copies of Sherlock Holmes and at least twice that many of Harry Potter and my sisters threw me a Hogwarts themed birthday party (thanks again guys!) so, let’s be real, the nerddom is in full force on both sides of the relationship here.
The only problem with the Bigfoot thing is that (unlike my peculiarities) it requires being outdoors, in the woods, at night. I may not believe in Bigfoot, but mountain lions I’m pretty sold on. Despite my fears of being DEVOURED at 3am I ended up agreeing to go along with James for a weekend of camping and bigfooting.
I packed up a bunch of books (some of them forced on me by my mother) and absolutely no sunscreen or bug spray whatsoever (because I’m an idiot) and we drove my tiny two-door hatchback into the mountains to find a little lake to camp near. The drive was lovely, but we had an unusually difficult time finding the lake and when we finally spotted it we had to pull over into a weird, dirt patch sort of area to park, which meant we had to lug all our camping gear all the way around the far side of the lake on this hugely steep path to where there was somewhere relatively flat that we could set up our tent.
Nature is lovely, don’t get me wrong. I love hiking and going to the beach and all that good stuff. What I don’t love is bugs. I am terrible at dealing with bugs. Not just spiders. All bugs. Mosquitos, worms, butterflies, all of it– my instinct is to scream and run. And that’s what I do. I’m not a squeamish person (I’ve worked in a morgue and before that I trained to be an EMT) but something about bugs does not jive with me. So what’s there to greet us at our carefully chosen campsite? A MILLION FLIES.
These are not the random mildly obnoxious kind of flies, either. These are the flies that BITE. And once they’ve bitten you they HUNT. YOU. DOWN.
So we drop our stuff and James goes back to get the cooler while I try to set up the tent (haha, as if) while being eaten alive by flies. By the time he gets back I’m in full freak-out mode. The flies have found their chosen one and they are sticking with me—plus James has been gone for nearly an hour. He comes back covered in dirt because he decided to take a “shortcut” down the side of the mountain with the cooler (which he dropped, spoons went flying) and he basically rolled his way down a steep hill of dirt, trying not to break the styrofoam cooler and also not, you know, die.
So he returns, with less cutlery than we brought, to find me super stressed out and frustrated (because I’ve got a million fly bites), and surrounded by a bunch of canvas and metal poles because tents are a myth and they do not and never will work. But fortunately James, amateur mountain man and my true love, has a solution: mud.
Yep, that’s right. Mud. We abandon the not-tent and head for the lake where he rubs me down with mud. If that’s sounding sexy at all to anyone let me disabuse you of that notion right now: it wasn’t. Wanna know how you’ve chosen the right significant other? Wait until you’re all sweaty, dirty, half-crazed from bugs, right after he’s finished rubbing you down with mud and then see if he sticks around. I looked hawt, you guys. No denying it.
The mud helped some, but we decided to build a campfire because apparently bugs don’t like smoke. Fun fact: humans don’t like smoke either. Nevertheless, I stood directly in the path of the smoke to deter the bugs until finally, FINALLY, the bugs found another tasty princess to feast on and left us alone. Which is when James decides it was time for dinner. Or, at least, it was time to catch our dinner.
Wanna know something else I’m not good at (so, so many things)? Fishing. I really enjoy it—mostly because I just sit there and read while I hold the pole, catching nothing—but I’m terrible at it. I don’t understand fish or how they think (do they think? it’s hard to tell.) or really even where they are and so I have no idea how to catch them. Fishing for me is mostly just hanging out with James and enjoying whatever new book I have on hand, so I’m usually pretty down. But this lake looks cold and somewhat dirty, however, James tells me there’s even less bugs to bother me if we go out into the lake (not true) and that the water is nice and warm from the sun (also not true) and that trout taste good (haha, no).
Two feet into the water, I bailed. The water was cold and some other weird type of fly liked to land on the surface and somehow it didn’t drown like it should have which freaked me out. I was all ‘hard pass’ to the Jesus Flies and the mucky water, but James insisted that it’s warmer further out where the water isn’t shaded by trees so I gave in and tiptoed my way along a big log jutting out into the water and onto a large rock to stand on and held my pole and fished with James standing in the water nearby.
I couldn’t really risk bringing a book out into the water and getting it wet when I (inevitably) fell off the rock and into the lake, so I got bored pretty quickly. I talk when I’m bored. I talk a lot, actually. Only to people I know and like though, and James is one of those people so I started chattering away to him, sort of stream-of-consciousness style, which, although funny, he assured me, was also apparently scaring away the fish. And it was attracting the attention of a few other people on the far side of the (not vey big at all) lake—a couple of families and some dudes who were clearly way more serious about fishing than we were, that thought my babbling was either obnoxious or charming. My bet is on obnoxious.
James’ bright idea to get me to be quiet is to pull me, waist deep, into the lake where he is. This has the opposite effect. The water was colder, now that the sun was going down and I shrieked—loud. I don’t remember what I said, probably because I blacked out from extreme cold, but James tells me, much to my horror, that I screamed OH MY GOD IT’S COLD ON MY LADY PARTS and that everyone at the lake burst into laughter, while I flailed about in the water like an idiot. For the record, it was really cold on those particular parts.
Once James was no longer doubled over in laughter and had managed to resume a standing position, he decided it would be fun to use the flies landing on the surface of the lake as bait for the fish. For the record, I had long since given up on catching anything. I caught a fish once in Yellowstone when I was really little (or maybe the dude driving the boat had it hooked on already, I Love Lucy style) and I remember almost nothing about it except that the captain of the little boat we rented thought it was really funny to make me touch the fish before we threw it back. I touched it, it did a little squirm/wriggle, I screamed, and my relationship with fish was cemented. I don’t do live fish. Or even dead ones really. I will happily break down a turkey or clean a chicken carcass, but I don’t like fish in any kind of recognizable form. They have creepy eyes. So James, bless his heart, is happily catching bugs and securing them to hooks, while I’m freezing and being useless, because, once again, I don’t know how to fish and, let’s be honest, I don’t really want to catch one anyways.
This goes on for a while, except that my bugs kept falling off my hook through no fault of my own (or maybe it was, I don’t really know) and the rest of the people at the lake seemed to be having similar luck, which is to say none, because no one had caught anything thus far. My bug fell off again and I was like whatever, but James switched poles with me for a minute to squish another one on for me (ew) and as I was standing there watching James cast my line out (I’m terrible at it, you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve caught my own hair), waiting to switch back, I saw a dark shadow swimming towards James’ little red and white bobber (the only fishing-related thing I can identify, yay me).
The line gave a HUGE yank (I almost fell face first into the water) and James’ head shot up and he went YOU CAUGHT ONE and honestly it felt like quite the reverse and that somehow I was the one who had been caught and James was freaking out, trying not to get tangled in my line, so I started freaking out too because he was freaking out and so much was happening all at once, but somehow we managed to switch poles and James started reeling the fish in and I kid you not, within a second of us trading poles I felt another huge yank and now I had a fish too, but James was busy trying to keep his fish hooked and I had never caught anything on my own before until literally the last thirty seconds so I panicked and yelled WHAT DO I DO and everyone around the lake started laughing at me again (except for the serious fishermen who seemed more annoyed than amused) and James shouted what I guess he figured would be the only thing I would understand in the moment which was PEDAL PEDAL to get me to start reeling the fish in and that, ladies and gentleman, was how I became the proud conqueror of two, soon to be eaten, trout.
James skewered the fish and cooked them over our campfire, but after watching my dinner stare at me while it was cooked I was less than enthused with the idea of eating it and since James and I were both pretty exhausted from all the hiking/bugs/lake fiascos that had taken place we decided to call it a night and give Bigfoot one more evening of peace before we went to find him. This is not a joke. James really wanted to go wander around the woods and find him in the middle of the night. Thankfully, he decided Bigfoot could wait and he assembled the tent (a miracle in and of itself) and as the stars were coming out we hunkered down and went to sleep.
Well, one of us did.
Let’s talk about my mom and how she likes to force books on me. I’ve got really wide reading interests. I’ll read nearly anything (I’m that way with music too) and so I’m always interested to hear about pretty much anything anyone is reading, but my TBR is so long and my Amazon wishlist is like 100 books deep, meaning I’m really bad at reading books that people lend me in a timely fashion (don’t loan me your books guys, you’ll have to wait months to get them back, I’m sorry!) and my mom, who likes to push books on me and go READ THIS RIGHT NOW, usually gets frustrated when a week has gone by and I still haven’t read whatever she lended/recommended to me. So this time, good daughter that I am, I stuffed a bunch of books she’d been telling me about into my bag and brought them, thinking I’d be able to read them while we camped. Maybe, if I’d looked at the books beforehand I wouldn’t have included the one where a family goes camping and a bear KILLS AND EATS the parents leaving two little kids alone in the woods. And how does the book begin, you ask? “Based on a true story.”
So, James was soundly asleep and I was frozen in my sleeping bag, listening to every little creaking branch or snap of a twig and totally panicking because bears are real and they are coming to get us. We’d cooked fish at the campfire, bears love fish (this I know, because I’ve seen Brave), and they were going to follow the smell to our campsite and rip our tent open and eat us alive before we even knew what was happening. This is absolutely how I was going to die.
I was freaking out. Had we even googled this camping area before to check for bears, or mountain lions, or moose, OR AXE MURDERERS? No, of course we hadn’t. Because we were fool-hardy city folk and we deserved to be moose food. Finally, in the middle of the night, James sat up, asking if I was still awake (YES SOMEONE HAS TO LISTEN FOR THE SOUNDS OF IMPENDING DEATH) and after I explained the bear/fish/eaten alive scenario that was most certainly our future he agreed that we could go sleep in the car.
I don’t know why, maybe my sense of direction is backwards at night, but we abandoned our tent and headed off into the dark woods, in the exact opposite direction of our car. I think maybe we thought it would be easier to go around the other side of the lake than the one we came by earlier that day. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.
This side of the lake included the river that filled the lake and so, wrapped in sleeping bags, carrying pillows, blankets, and water bottles, we started trudging, through mud and over rocks, trying to figure out where in the hell our car is. We went down and over big boulders (in our pajamas mind you) and through creeks and finally up the side of a big rocky hill and discovered—ta-da!—my car! Which was exactly as small as it has always been.
James squished in the back seat (oh did I mention the inside of the car was all wet because the cooler leaked everywhere? yeah, we were killing it at this camping thing) and I folded myself into the front seat, but I still couldn’t relax, because even though we were safe from bears (unless they can open doors like velociraptors can) there was for sure some creepy dude stalking through the woods with an axe.
After a while sleep won out and the next morning I woke up just in time to see the sun rise and from my weird angle in the car guess what I could see through the trees: the gorgeous, prearranged campgrounds that we totally missed just thirty yards over from our weird makeshift one, with a lovely little paved path leading directly to them and a parking lot, not fifty feet up the road from where we parked— all of it just over the hill and above where we had splashed and trudged our way to the car the night before. We could have camped right next to all the other fisherman/campers and walked our stuff to and from our car in about three minutes.
Also, when we got home we googled and found there were no bears or large wildlife of any kind in the area. Not even deer. But James didn’t mind since he said that meant there probably wouldn’t be Bigfoot around either.
The moral of this story is if I ever ask you if you want to go camping with me—say no.
P.S. I had James read this before I posted it and his reaction was: “Actually, the average Bigfoot is eight feet tall.”