“Traci...you awake?” A rattled voice spoke from next to my tent. It was Jen, my co-guide.
“Something just walked past our tents and I left my bear spray in the kitchen. What should we do?” Jen continued.
“It sounded big, it grazed my tent with its body,” she emphasized.
“Stay calm, Jen, I think we should stay in our tents.” I replied, feeling my heart rate increase.
My orange sleeping bag illuminated in the tent as the impending thunderstorm announced its arrival with a flash of lightning.
Jen and I were deep in the backcountry, co-leading a trip in the Dailey Creek area of Yellowstone National Park. We had four guests, and a party of five llamas that had aided our wilderness travels. The trip had gone without a hitch thus far—minimal llama drama, wonderful guests, and the wildflowers were in their full July bloom. As we settled into our wilderness camp that second night, Jen and I had discovered fresh bear signs near the camp.
“Ok, stay in the tent, got it.” Jen nervously confirmed our plan against the ominous mystery creature lurking outside.
I laid in my tent, body rigid in fear, I wondering what else we could do to protect ourselves. The guests were camped on a different platform than us. Hopefully the mystery creature did not already capture them into the night. Suddenly the storm kicked into gear, and the wind pushed strongly through the dark woods. A tall lodgepole pine began to creak loudly. It swayed in the wind, slow enough to convince my 3 a.m. mind that surely the mystery animal was standing upright, pushing the tree back and forth in aggression.
“Jen do you think that is the wind making that tree creak?” I whispered into the darkness. I was hoping if she said yes, I could sleep soundly.
“I don’t know,” she said.
The storm continued to flash and boom as it swiftly passed our camp. The clouds spit out a small amount of rain, while the creaking tree tormented our sleep.
Lacking earplugs, I put my earbuds in and turned on a soothing playlist I had downloaded the day before. I hoped that if the mystery animal did want to drop in, at least I would be surprised and not laying there in anxiety mode. Finally the music in my ears became distant as I drifted to sleep.
First light came, and I realized we had lived to tell the tale of the mystery creature. Jen and I were flipping pancakes when the guests came over to the kitchen.
“How did you two sleep?” The doctor from Illinois asked. Jen looked at me with a sheepish grin. We broke out into laughter, both remembering the harrowing night, which now seemed more hilarious than terrifying.
“We slept ok,” Jen said, casually flipping another pancake.