By: RJ Thompson
If you’ve spent any time sleeping in a primitive backcountry shelter, you’ve undoubtedly seen evidence of the most menacing creature known to hikers and trail runners. The mouse – AKA candy criminal, backpack bandit, and/or sleeping bag slayer – is a camper’s worst nightmare.
At the Mass. state line, post-mouse bite.
I’ve had my fare share of run-ins with these knapsack nibblers. Earlier this summer, as I was boiling some water at the Clarendon Shelter on the Long Trail, a pair of mice went scampering over my camping pad right after I had blown it up for the night. On a separate occasion at the Cowles Cove Shelter on the LT, mice scampered around my head all evening, and even my earplugs couldn’t eliminate the sound of their tiny feet pacing throughout the shelter. This led to an evening of roughly 45 minutes of sleep between the hours of 10 and 4 AM.
But nothing compared to the Battle of Congdon on July 26, 2014. I arrived at the shelter (located just 10 miles north of the Massachusetts boarder on the LT) at around 7:30 PM. All of the bunks were taken, so my options were limited to the floor or outside on the dirt. The forecast called for rain by early morning, so I opted for the floor.
Everyone was in their respective sleeping areas shortly after sunset, and I gave it my best effort to fall asleep quickly so I could wake up early and finish my run before the rain started. My earplugs were in, my head was covered with a thin base-layer to keep the bugs off, and my sleeping bag was zipped. To me, it was luxurious.
And then the nemesis of the night approached. At first I could only hear them scampering around, sniffing for crumbs and trying to find a late night snack like a drunken college student stumbling into his apartment after an evening at the bars. Since I was on the ground, I was right in the middle of their regularly traveled path. I did everything I could to block out the sound and fall back to sleep, but then it happened.
A mouse had crawled directly onto my head. What occurred next was a fit of fury and a few sub-audible curse words (I didn’t want to wake anyone up if I could avoid it). The mouse had crossed a line. Scamper around my head and body if you’d like, but keep your dirty paws to yourself. Even more insulting – the mouse decided to leave a few droppings on my camping pad before it mounted my head. I imagine the mice refer to this prank as the “poop and pounce.” Very creative for a mouse, I must say.
I resolved to waking and asking a nice, middle-aged woman if I could place my camping pad next to hers (head to toe) on the low bunk in an effort to avoid further mouse harassment on the floor. She kindly moved her pad over to make room for mine. I crawled into my sleeping bag and made a silent truce with my enemies below. If I could fall back to sleep, I would still be able to get about four hours of rest.
The truce did not last. Not long after I fell asleep, the scampering resumed. Even the woman next to me admitted to hearing them around her head. I attempted to stuff my earplugs in extra far to eliminate the sound of the pesky creatures, and that seemed to help a bit, as I ultimately drifted back to sleep. But not for long.
What happened next was completely unacceptable. I had removed myself from the floor – the apparent domain of the mouse. I even made a silent truce after enduring the poop and pounce. Instead of accepting my surrender and leaving me be, I was rewarded with a bite to my right index finger. This time there was an audible curse word, for I was fast asleep until the bite happened. Naturally, I was startled to have a tiny animal attempt to nibble on my finger in the middle of the night.
There was not much more I could do to avoid the (wait for it…) finger foragers. I placed both hands inside my sleeping bag, zipped it up all the way, and pulled the drawcord as tightly as I could so only my nose and mouth were exposed. This would have to do. There was no other option.
I was up with the sunrise and made my exit as quickly as possible. As I was about to start my run, a fellow camper came out of the privy and asked if I had been bitten by a mouse last night. I said, “Yeah, sorry if I woke you.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, “one got me two nights ago at another shelter. I woke everyone up when I yelled.”
I asked him if he was familiar with the poop and pounce trick. “It’s demoralizing,” he replied.
After a few laughs, I said farewell to my comrade and let the rain wash away the sins of the mice as I entered the foggy forest.
Sunset over Stratton Pond.
Below are some pics from the Long Trail Run, which started in Killington, Vermont and finished in Williamstown, Massachusetts. RJ plans to attempt to break the unsupported speed record on August 23. Weather may delay my start date.