After recovering from the fright of a snake slithering over my sandals and the horror of crushed feet there was more traveling to do for this summer vacation. (Read part one of this adventure.) I rolled with the punches and pretended I didn’t live through terror in the tent.
Rolling with the punches included getting up way too early, packing up camp, and roasting in the car for eight hours. The highlight of the day was stopping for ice cream in a small town on the Nebraska-Colorado border. We had permission to order anything we wanted. So of course, we all ordered the decadent and rare treat of ice cream sundaes. He served four of us immediately. Then the server disappeared into a back room for about ten minutes. The three who were not served were curious, then irritated.
By the time the server reappeared, my father had finished his ice cream. The server took Dad’s sundae dish, washed it, and filled it with an ice cream sundae which he served to me. And so it went. As each of the first four finished, their dish was washed and refilled until the last three had their ice cream. The seven of us ordering sundaes exceeded the number of sundae dishes he had. Yup. It was that small of a town.
Driving up to the Rocky Mountains was awe inspiring. Pictures simply didn’t convey the grandeur and spectacle of the mountains. Driving up the narrow, curvy, mountain roads was almost more than my poor mother could tolerate. Finally, we reached our destination. It was everything I had dreamed of. A cold, babbling mountain stream lay feet from our campsite and snow-covered peaks surrounded us.
Now, we were from the central states. We’d been to the Smokey Mountains, but nothing like the Rockies. And it was July. When the sun went down we thought we’d been teleported to another planet! It was freezing @$$ cold. We had no winter wear with us. Remember my sandals? Yikes. We each had a windbreaker. It wasn’t enough. We put on every piece of clothing we’d brought with us. Dad built a big fire and we huddled around it. I still was freezing and decided my sleeping bag would be warmer.
Inside the tent wasn’t much warmer than outside. I crawled into my sleeping bag, zipped it closed around me and, covering my head, I snuggled down. Ah, bliss. I began to warm up.
And then, something began to rattle. It sounded awfully close. The rattle sped up, grew to a buzz. And then something scratchy crawled up my leg! I screamed and shot out of the sleeping bag like toothpaste out of the tube. I yanked on the zipper for the tent door. It jammed. I couldn’t stop screaming. My parents fought with the zipper. One of them finally got the zipper unjammed and pulled me out of the tent.
Hysterical, all I could say was, “Rattlesnake. Rattlesnake. Sleeping bag!”
My father grabbed a big stick and went into the tent. We watched through the screen as he poked my sleeping bag with the stick. Nothing happened. He poked again. He bent and unzipped my bag. The buzzing started again. He took a big step back, then lifted the top corner of my sleeping bag and out flew a cicada.
My brother couldn’t stop laughing.
I couldn’t stop shaking.
I’m not sure how I managed to climb back into that sleeping bag and sleep that night.
The next morning we found all our containers of water and frozen solid. That was the last night we camped at that altitude. Thankfully, it was also the last night of terror in the tent. We had other adventures that trip—the car broke down, a cattle drive came through our camp one day, and a forest fire re-routed us for a while.
With the tincture of time, I’m able to look back at these adventures and smile. It was terrible at the time. And I swore I’d never camp again. (I didn’t for a while.) We had other family vacations to other locations. And there was always at least one adventure (like a rainstorm flooding the Great Salt Lake Desert). But the vacation that was full of terror (to my teenaged self) was also the trip where I fell in love with the Rocky Mountains. I’ve returned to the Rockies many times since but I’ve never again experienced the terror in the tent that I did the year of my family vacation.