I don’t really know if the headlights shining into my tent or the engine driving within feet of my air mattress awoke me, but having been asleep for what felt like several hours in the silence of my isolated campsite, the sudden arrival of another vehicle brought me from deep sleep to deep terror in a moment. What time was it?
Certainly space remained for another group of campers since the other four sites at Janice Landing were unoccupied when the rain lulled me to sleep. How long ago had that been? Time’s passage was uncertain and I awoke groggily, but with urgency. Now I heard voices, more than one, maybe as many as three, all men, and they didn’t attempt to be quiet, nor did they sound intoxicated. Nor did they sound as if they were setting up camp.This wasn’t my first time camping, even if I still considered myself a novice. Having a routine for setting up and breaking down my gear, my tent, my blankets, and my belongings, both in my car and in my tent certainly seemed much easier when I enjoyed a private campsite, like the one in which I fell asleep just at the tail end of dusk. Now I remained still, listening to the unexpected voices over the chirping of the damp, forest night, wondering what these intruders’ intentions might be. My mind went to the worst possible scenario.
The engine kept running, even after the vehicle came to a stop. I patted my hands around my head trying to recall where I set my phone before falling asleep. When my hands found it, I pulled it under the blankets, hiding the light of the screen from the increasingly uncertain strangers. How late was it?
My eyes squinted shut against the immediate illumination. If I arrived at a campsite this late, I would certainly attempt to keep my disruption of sleeping neighbors to a minimum. Clearly these men had no such intention. Panic was only superseded by my half-hearted attempt to think rationally given the wide band of sleep still wrapped around my head. ‘Think,’ I told myself. I should send a text to someone so if what I thought was about to happen did indeed happen, at least someone would know. I was debating with myself as to whom I should send the text when I finally again squinted my eyes open enough against the screen’s light. I only had six percent battery life and my phone, in its own mode of self protection, shut itself off.
I silently pulled the blankets away from my face, already feeling claustrophobic in addition to terrified. I tried to hear any type of specific dialogue, without making noise myself, but over the running engine, the task of identifying the activity outside my tent without a visual proved fruitless. I was even less relieved when the engine shut off but the headlines remained on.
I recalled being afraid the first few times I camped, primarily of wild animals and my car breaking down. I tried to recall how I handled my fear previously, but I never felt fear like this. I faced the real possibility of attack, perhaps violently. Sexually assaulted. Raped. Injured. Killed. And no one would ever know. I tried to remain silent, focusing on the voices, and I felt certain they could hear my heart roaring above the sounds of nature. I certainly could hear it and feel it. I could only catch bits and pieces of their conversation, and a small, uncontrolled part of me, still hovered on deep sleep, tugging on my eyelids. I tried to remain alert, but silent, and calm while terrified, and non-judgmental despite the horrific feeling that my life was about to change forever by the light of the strangers’ headlights.
Damnit I wanted to be brave! No footsteps approached my tent, yet why would I still not hear any indications of a camp being set up? The strings of “Dueling Banjos” uncontrollably strummed in my head. I hated that I was stereotyping these men, but I was a woman alone in the forest. The closest object I had to a weapon, should self-defense be my last option, was a two-blade utility tool. I presumed I would have better success with the serrated blade, although with three or four of them and my mere two-inch blade, my odds of success were slim. My odds of being gang-raped were much higher. I tried not to think about it, but rather how possibly to protect myself. Still no one approached my tent, but it was only a matter of time until they did.
The only other structure in the area was a vault toilet, which was on the opposite side of my tent from the truck. They obviously did not stop to use its facilities. Perhaps they didn’t realize I was alone. Clearly that was wishful thinking, though. If their headlights shone in my SUV the way they crossed my tent upon their arrival, they would have noticed the interior so full that only one occupant were possible. I toted so many of my personal belongings on this voyage that even the bag of belongings strapped to the roof left itself easily accessible. If they approached, the rudimentary wind chimes I attached to the bag’s zipper would do less to alert me to the thieves, and more likely give away the fact that inside the small, blue, pup tent, a female cowered by herself.
I did cower, and I hated myself for it. I kept my face buried against the pillow, keeping my mouth exposed to keep from suffocating under my blanketed bunker. My body wanted to sleep, my mind wanted to focus, and my fear just wanted the men to leave.