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Something's Out There!

by John Allen

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I've been a cop for over 14 years now. During that time I've been in just about every tense, high-pressure, flood-of-adrenaline situation that you can envision for an officer of the law. What could scare a guy like me on a simple camping trip in Colorado? I found out last summer.

My wife, Sherri, and I were in the San Isabel National Forest at the foot of the

Sangre De Cristo Range. We found a great campsite on Lake Creek and, after dinner and

Gin rummy, were down for the night. The lullaby of the nearby creek sent me into a comatose slumber. The feeling of suffocation awakened me. That same feeling you get in a dream when the bad guy is after you and your feet have turned into lead weights and you're gasping for air.

Only I hadn't been dreaming of anything. I realized that my sudden loss of precious air was caused by the death-grip my wife, Sherri, had on my chest. She was attached to my back tighter than I could ever cinch my internal frame pack. In my stupor I began making out a whisper. It was Sherri, frantically trying to tell me something.

"John! Something's out there!" she whispered in my ear, which was against her cheek compliments of her boa constrictor clutch.

I didn't answer, but acknowledged that she had my attention by moving my head against hers. It was the only movement her hold would allow. I listened for a few seconds and heard some rustling sounds near our tent. As I listened to what sounded like some sort of clawing sounds I realized that my heart was hammering my chest, though not enough to loosen Sherri's bear hug.

Having observed the "Beware: Black Bears Are Active In This Area" sign when we entered the area, I was now much more of a believer. What else could it be? The sounds were only feet away from of our tent. No grunting, growling, howling or any other identifying sounds. Just persistent clawing, but at what? No food was left out. At that point I didn't really care as long as it wasn't the tent.

There was no moon at all that night so when I leaned up on an elbow to look out the tent window to see what was visiting us all I saw was tent window. It was black inside and out. I did notice that it was a little difficult to raise up with Sherri still glued to my back.

"What is it?" she whispered.

"I don't know" I answered, realizing how frightened and excited I was at the same time.

I eased us back down on our sides. We listened to the scratching and clawing sounds, thankful they were not getting any closer to us. After several minutes the clawing stopped and the unknown visitor scurried away. It was several more minutes before my heart rate began to return to normal. As I lay there, trying to calm myself, I wondered what had just frightened me more than any burglar, robber, or crack-head in a dark alley, ever had.

It took a while, but the tranquil sounds of the creek lulled me back to sleep.

Daylight woke us, and our routine began. Sherri would be first out of the tent to start breakfast while I put away the sleeping gear. I was, however, eager to get out and investigate what had visited us. I found myself moving much quicker, stowing gear.

"Holy guacamole! (A pet saying of ours) John, come look! You won't believe this!" Sherri shouted.

I must have looked like a shuttle launch coming out of the tent.

"Wait, look down," Sherri said. "Tracks are everywhere."

She was right. Everywhere you looked, the ground was covered in some sort of tracks. I didn't recognize them. They were not deer or elk, but were left by a hoofed animal. And they were less than a foot from two sides of the tent. We had been sniffed all right. Then I noticed another, much smaller, set of tracks a few feet from the tent. These I recognized. Then I noticed a pack of wet wipes (Sherri's luxury) that had been scratched at. That endorsed my suspicions about the small tracks. A raccoon had tried valiantly to get into the wipes before losing interest and moving on.

The realization that the sounds of a curious raccoon had caused Sherri to almost squeeze me in half, not to mention my own self-induced cardiac crisis, brought a reluctant chuckle from within. Sherri thought it was funny also. But, at the same time, we were somewhat humbled by the fact that another, larger animal, had been literally inches away from us as we slept. And it never even let us know it was there, leaving only clues to be discovered in the daylight.

We came across a ranger the next day and sketched the tracks for him to identify. He informed us a Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep had visited us. They were all over the area, he added. Indeed, while having lunch along the Arkansas River the day we were visited, Sherri and I saw a ram standing majestically on a high bluff above us. I felt like we were part of a daily survey he conducted from that spot. We were in his domain and we all knew it.

Had he come for a closer inspection as we slept? That's doubtful. But the experience restated why I so enjoy the backcountry. I think it's actually quite necessary that someone like me, a person of authority by profession, get that dose of inferiority that only wilderness can administer. My badge meant nothing to the ram, or the raccoon. Or, for that matter, any other wildlife that may have visited us as we slept. Dominion in those parts was theirs.

I actually look forward to being humbled by the splendor we encounter on trips to the backcountry. It's always different. The vastness reminds us of how tiny we are. The thrill is in the seeking. We are enriched by the whole experience.

Just the same, the wet wipes stay home from now on.

About the Author

John Allen (JALL215@aol.com) is a 14 year law enforcement veteran, currently a Sergeant for the Baylor University police department. John is also a part time st


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