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Why Camping Makes Me Nervous

Today, I am posting something a little different. A few years ago, my husband and I camped on an island at Tims Ford State Park. It didn't go quite as planned, and I wrote the below essay about the experience.


Tims Ford State Park is stunning, and I highly encourage everyone to visit. Over the years, I've learned I actually enjoy kayaking; I'd love to return to spend some time on the water.


A densely wooded small island sits in a lake not far from the shore in Tims Ford State Park in Tennessee
The island where we camped at Tims Ford State Park

So please don't think I am criticizing the park in any way with this essay. I mean it as a humorous account of a particularly memorable camping experience. If you enjoy camping, please consider renting one of the park's islands; it's a unique opportunity. Just remember: if you enjoy being near the water, you're probably not the only one!


 

I shouldn’t have ignored the two spiders crawling out of the kayak. But I didn’t need bad omens. My husband and I had reserved a little island with a camping spot in a state park lake, and I was dreading the kayak trip there. By the time I loosened my white-knuckle grip on my paddle, they were easy to forget. 


On shore, I admired the serene island, our own sanctuary. Statuesque trees crowned by golden leaves protected a balmy haven; everything was still except for the occasional leaf gliding down to the ground. If fall had a snowglobe, this would be it.   


After setting up camp, we strolled to the lake.The setting sun sprayed orange and pink through the sky as we skipped stones and splashed in the glittering water like kids. When the sun finally slumped below the treeline, the dusk swallowed all of the color. We headed back to camp expecting our perfect evening to continue.


“Let’s start the fire for s,mores,” I suggested.


My husband lit a fire starter and placed it underneath our firewood. The flame shrank and died. 


He lit another under the wood. It valiantly flickered before giving up and fading into a wisp of smoke. 


Clinging to our picture-perfect paradise, I pleaded, “One more try! I mean it’s not like we need a big fire for s’mores. Just some heat will work.” 


My husband lit the third. “Let’s grab the s’mores stuff before it goes out,” I advised.


“No, we need to get in the tent,” he insisted.

“What about the s'mores?"

"We're not doing the s'mores!" He pointed at the ground. 


It was twitching. I turned on my flashlight and saw a tangle of wiry legs and brown torsos - a carpet of spiders. This living crust rippled as the spiders wrestled to free themselves from the mass. I jerked my flashlight around our campsite searching for a safe spot to stand, but we had been invaded. Spiders had seeped into every inch of space. I turned to our tent. 


Daddy Long Legs encased it, their spindly legs spreading into a net over the green material. 


My mental faculties flatlined into a high-pitched alarm that rushed through my head. I itched from head to toe. “What do we do?” I gasped. 


My husband ran to the tent and began knocking spiders away from the zipper with his flashlight. 


“Okay, when I say, jump in the tent as soon as I unzip it”, he ordered swatting spiders as fast as he could. “Then I’ll zip up after you. You have to be fast though or they’ll come in after you. And check your boots for spiders when you get in.” 


“Hurry, hurry!” I pleaded. By now I was trying to limit the amount of time my feet were on the ground by yanking one knee in the air followed by the other, a textbook-perfect display of “high knees.”  “They’re on me! They’re on me!” I screeched. The floor was lava, and I was in it. 


Like a soldier in a military epic ensuring all of his parachutists make the jump, he hunched over the tent and barked, “Go, go, go!” emphasizing each order by swinging his arm in circles towards the opening. I dutifully flung myself headlong through the flap he held open for me. After skidding to a stop with a face full of sleeping bag, I grabbed my boots and carefully inspected them for spiders. “I’m clear!” I bellowed.


I heard clanging. “What are you doing?” 

“I’m going to grab only what we absolutely need for the night and pass them inside to you. Don’t unzip the tent until I say, then grab the stuff and zip it up as fast as you can. Got it?” 


A stream of objects crossed the barrier punctuated only by his shouts of “Now!” letting me know when to unzip. 


Halfway through, I leaned forward to reach the tent’s zipper and heard a crack; my teeth involuntarily ground together; the high-pitched alarm returned. The side of my head suddenly felt hot, and I covered it with my hand. As I felt the goose egg, I realized what happened. I yelled, “You hit me!”

 “What?”

“You hit me with your flashlight!” 

“Oh… sorry; I needed to get rid of more spiders before unzipping.” 


“Here I come!” he yelled. I managed to unzip the tent just in time with my free hand. 


Sealed inside our own island of safety, we had just enough room to sit cross-legged and stare at each other. The spiders had crawled beneath the tent’s rain cover and gotten trapped between it and the mesh ceiling. I shrunk down to keep my head clear of their legs poking through the holes in the mesh. The spiders began to fight. Their skittering over the cloth as they lunged at each other was surprisingly hard to ignore. 


We went to bed shivering under one sleeping bag. We had started out with two, but my amateur paddling drenched one on the trip over so we had hung it out to dry. It had fallen to the spiders.


I had almost convinced myself that the spiders’ scratching wasn’t all that bad when I heard something else - something lower. I shook my husband awake, and we listened. 


It was unmistakable - something was grunting and crawling closer.


This thing had friends. The single string of grunts had grown to a cacophony of snorting and huffing. This disembodied din prowled outside the tent while I tortured myself trying to imagine what was menacing us.  


The horde was on the move. I listened to them crawl from one side of my head to the other. I lay there gasping for breath with my heartbeat hammering in my head. Each lungful of the cold air stabbed my dry throat. 


One of the swarm lumbered closer to my side of the tent. I heard it sniffing me through the thin layer of fabric; its staccato snorts echoed in my ear. I was drenched in a cold sweat. Flashes of spiders, the darkness, and the unknown mass outside whipped through my dizzy mind. 


“I can’t do this! I can’t listen to them!” I shrieked. If this was a horror movie, this was the part where one of the trapped victims loses their mind and runs screaming straight into the killer’s path. “It’s like we’re cursed with Biblical plagues!”


My husband calmly put his arm around me and gave me his earbuds and phone. 


“Here. Put these in; drown them out. They can’t get in here.” 


Inexplicably, I chose a New Age mix of whale music and chanting. I turned it up as loud as possible and lay shivering listening to the echoing intonations of one creature to drown out another. 


When we woke, cheery sunlight replaced the spindly shadows. We surveyed our campsite - no footprints, no destruction. Other than my throbbing head, misshapen by a huge lump, it was as if we had imagined the ordeal. 


I started shoving in my backpack anything I could grab. My husband strolled to the hammock.


“Do you want to hang out before we go?” I glared at him. He laughed and started packing up. 


 

The events in this essay are true. I've recreated the dialogue as accurately as possible from my memory.


2/5/24






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