Camping with Phyllis the Rat

“How did you guys sleep last night?”

“Fine, how about you?”

“We’re not sleeping in there again tonight,” complained the girls. “In there,” referred to a small cabin.

The cabin was nestled in a valley called the Strein River Valley. Located in the lower-half of British Columbia, and surrounded by majestic mountains and fields of wildflowers, this cabin provided an ideal location for hikers to stay. During the day, we could explore the many beautiful, little trails that wound through the woods and up the mountainsides. At night, we had all the comforts of home—from a cook stove and table, to a roof and beds.

Being courteous, we (the guys) offered to let the girls sleep in the cabin, while we all slept in tents by the river about 40 feet away. After the first night, however, it was obvious that our gesture hadn’t been appreciated. So we switched places—the guys would sleep in the cabin, and the girls got the tents.

I suppose I should at least explain why the girls refused to spend another night in the cabin. The cabin was not vacant. Someone named Phyllis lived there—or perhaps I should say something. Phyllis is a rat. And Phyllis has lived comfortably in this little cabin for a number of years. The proof of this is seen in the carvings of her name left on the walls by previous campers, chronicled in log books written by other adventurers, and brought to mind by the big steel bins which are the only safe place to store your food.

This cabin was quite the find for Phyllis. Campers are often careless, leaving food out where she could steal it. They’d build a fire in the wood stove, making the cabin cozy and warm. And in case she was discovered, there were dozens of little holes and crevices offering her shelter that she could dodge in and out of.

Being nocturnal, Phyllis had made her presence known shortly after the girls had gone to bed the previous night. Someone had felt something brush their leg, and turning their light on found themselves face-to-face with Phyllis—who they claimed was huge! Since this wasn’t the only time they had this experience, it made for quite a long night for the girls.

Now, this isn’t just another rodent story—and what sets this story apart from all the others is Evan. Evan was one of the four guys on this trip.

We were an adventurous group—all in our early twenties and thirties. Evan was about 22, and had an interest in Joni, one of the girls now refusing to sleep in the cabin. A computer nerd through and through, one would not initially expect to find Evan at home in the great outdoors. But there was a side of Evan that would come to life when not in front of his Mac, and this side was fond of the outdoors.

After a full day of hiking and a hearty meal, we were more than ready to crawl into our warm sleeping bags. Though it was early summer, the valley in which we were staying would get quite chilly at night—cold enough that we could see our breath. The tents didn’t offer much protection from the cold, so we weren’t disappointed to be in the warm cabin that night.

Before laying out our bags, we discussed who should sleep where. There was a small loft space about 7 feet above the floor on one side of the cabin with room for two people to sleep. Below, the table would double as a bed where there was room for two more.

One of the guys decided to sleep in the shelter just outside the main cabin. That left three of us inside. Not wanting to be bothered in the middle of the night by a rodent, I choose to sleep in the loft. Evan and Jesse both choose to sleep on the table.

Just before turning off the lights, Evan grabbed a large, cast-iron skillet.

“What’s that for?” Jesse asked a bit hesitantly.

“In case Phyllis shows up.” Evan responded.

“Is there room up there in the loft?” Jesse asked.

“Yep,” I responded.

Not wanting to get hit in the middle of the night by Evan’s cast-iron skillet as he was swinging it at Phyllis, Jesse decided to move up into the loft. Upon seeing Jesse moving to the loft, Evan began to get anxious about being the only one left down below where Phyllis roamed.

“Don’t worry, Evan,” we assured him, “if you kill Phyllis with the skillet, you’ll be the girls’ hero.”

This seemed to reassure Evan, so we turned out the lights and went to sleep…well, almost.

A couple of moments after the lights went out, we heard Evan:

“Uh, guys…there’s something big, and it’s staring in my face….”

Jesse turned on his headlamp and looked over the edge of the loft to see a rat, almost twelve inches long sitting at the foot of Evan’s bed.

“Just before you turned that light on, that thing was about four inches from my face!” evan exclaimed.

“Well, if it comes back, use your skillet,” Jesse said as he turned off the light.

Just as we were drifting off to sleep, there was an obnoxiously loud crash—it was the sound of Evan’s cast-iron frying pan colliding with the wood pile directly below the loft. Jesse leaned over the edge and turned on his headlamp.

“Did you get it,” we asked.

“I don’t think so,” Evan responded.

Phyllis was nowhere to be seen.

He crawled out of his sleeping bag, picked up his skillet, and after making his way back to the table, crawled into his sleeping bag. Jesse turned off his light again.

About two minutes later, we heard it again—WHAM!

Again, Jesse turned on his light. Again, there was no Phyllis. Again, Evan crawled out of bed to recover the skillet. Again, Jesse turned off his light, and I drifted off to sleep.

Apparently I sleep like a log, because that was the last I heard that night. The rest of the night I slept peacefully. The next morning I awoke to find a very tired Evan, his nearly destroyed cast-iron skillet, and no Phyllis.

Turns out that Jesse hardly slept either. He said that about every 10 minutes or so there was a loud crash as Evan’s cast-iron skillet missed Phyllis and crashed into some other object in the cabin.

After passing about half the night chucking a skillet at a very nimble rat, Evan realized Phyllis was faster than he was.

We stayed there for about a week. I think that night was the only one that Evan chucked his skillet at Phyllis—the next night he slept out in the shelter with Greg.

Perhaps one of these days, I’ll return to the cabin with this story, and leave it there for other campers to read—and to explain why one of the cast-iron skillets is mangled. If I decide to spend the night, I’ll sleep in the loft.

A Bachelor, A Camper Trailer, And Some Sketchy Food

I was hungry again.  It’s not uncommon for me to be hungry, especially at my age. I stepped into the kitchen, and looked at all the dirty dishes stacked on the counter. I quickly made my way back to the comfort of my seat in front of the computer…but that nagging hunger just wouldn’t leave. Once again, I got up and made my way into the kitchen (a distance of about 5 ½ feet). Once again the dirty dishes sat there, motionless on the countertop. It had been nearly one day now, and none of them had washed themselves yet. The situation wasn’t improving.

I’m currently living in a 30-foot travel trailer for the summer. The kitchen is nearly eight by eight. The countertop takes up only a small portion and fits between the sink and the stove. There’s just enough space on the counter for a box of cereal and a bowl—you have to hold the milk. Across from the counter is the table. This would work as a counter except that it also works as an office….

The refrigerator is worse. Originally, there was a decent-sized gas refrigerator. Unfortunately, it had quit working and had been removed. The refrigerator I am currently using is about 5 cubic feet. To give you an idea of how small 5 cubic feet is; if you wanted to put a pillow in the refrigerator—not that you would—but let’s suppose you wanted to, you’d have to take the pillowcase off, smash it down real small, and if you try real hard, you might fit it in the refrigerator—the pillowcase, that is—what were you thinking trying to put a pillow in a 5 cubic foot refrigerator? But I digress.

I went back to the computer. As I sat in front of the computer listening to my stomach rumble I decided it might be worth it to do some dishes. I realized that if I was going to eat with a fork, I’d have to wash it. However, I was out of plates as well. This meant that I’d either have to wash a spoon—as eating out of your hand with a fork isn’t pleasant—or else I’d have to wash a plate as well.  I went back into the kitchen….

The sink is smaller than the refrigerator. This makes doing dishes somewhat tedious and frustrating. It’s not uncommon for me to get more water on the countertop and floor when using a full-sized sink and with a sink this size, it’s even worse. But my stomach was still rumbling, so I started running the water.

To hold me over, I got out the peanut butter. I then opened the overly crowded refrigerator to search for the celery. As I bent over (the refrigerator is about knee-high) I saw the celery—surrounded by about a dozen other objects. I carefully began extracting the celery. Thump. The soy sauce fell out of the door. I put it back in the door and quickly closed the refrigerator door before the mustard tried to escape as well.

Now I set to work washing dishes and munching on celery sticks with peanut butter. I only own two plates, two bowls, eight spoons, eight forks, eight knives, one wooden cooking spoon, one spatula, two pans, a skillet, and one glass. All but two knives and the spatula were dirty.

One of the pans hadn’t been used, but was still dirty. This is due to the leaky stove. Well, technically it’s the vent above the stove that leaks. I use this pan to catch the drips (sometimes as much as two quarts of slightly brownish water). If I don’t catch them, they go down, through the stove, and onto the carpet in front. There’s not much carpet to get wet, but it’s all I have to walk on and it’s not pleasant to walk on we carpet first thing in the morning. But I digress again.

I finally got all the dishes washed, and nearly all the peanut butter eaten. I find myself eating things simply so they don’t go bad or get “any worse.” I suppose peanut butter won’t go bad very quickly, but I’ve thought that more than once. It’s something like this:  I open the fridge in the morning.

“Huh?” Wipes eyes. “This hasn’t been in here that long.” Sniff, sniff. “Hmmm. It doesn’t smell too bad yet. Humph, spaghetti for breakfast… Well, I gotta eat it before it gets any worse.” And who knows what Tofu really smells like anyway?

Well, that’s what was on the menu tonight; salad, because the lettuce was frozen—I’ll get to that in a moment—spaghetti, because I didn’t know how much longer it would hold out, and spaghetti sauce that’s only been open for 3 days (I’m trying to plan ahead).

I opened the fridge again. Thump. There was the soy sauce again. I pulled out the carrots, spaghetti in a zip-lock bag (moldable and space-saving), a green pepper, the spaghetti sauce, lettuce, and a slice of soy cheese. I put the soy sauce back in the fridge and thought, “Wow, it looks so empty.”

I began inspecting the objects I’d just pulled out of the refrigerator. I looked at the tomato first.

“What is that? Ewww. This has only been in there one week. Well, maybe two—I don’t know. I guess I could just cut that part off.”  Sniff, sniff. “Whoa, forget that! No tomato in the salad tonight.”

Then the lettuce.

“Oops. It’s frozen. I guess I can’t store it in the freezer.” To most people such an observation might seem a bit, “well…DUH!”  Here’s the scoop: having only 5 cubic feet to work with, I was confronted with a choice last time I bought celery sticks. Either the celery stays out, or the lettuce goes in the freezer.

The refrigerator has one cooling coil that doubles as the “freezer.”  I packed some stuff around the lettuce to insulate it and prevent its coming in direct contact with the coil, hoping it wouldn’t actually freeze.  For those of you living in 30-foot travel trailers with 5 cubic foot refrigerators that are thinking of doing this, let me tell you now—it doesn’t work.  I’m sorry, but you’ll just have to let the celery sticks wilt.

The spaghetti sauce looked fine, which was to be expected. Then I grabbed the spaghetti….

“Spaghetti in a zip-lock. Heh, it looks a bit like a brain.” I opened it up. “Doesn’t really look slimy. That’s good!” Sniff, sniff.  “Whoa, that doesn’t smell right.” Sniff, sniff. “…it doesn’t really smell wrong either though.” Sniff, sniff. “What is left-over spaghetti supposed to smell like anyway?” Sniff, sniff. “It smells like garlic. Did I put garlic in the spaghetti when I made it? I know I put some in the sauce. Did I put some in the spaghetti too—I can’t remember. I guess I’ll have to taste it.” Taste. “Hmm, can’t tell.” Taste, taste. “Hmm, still can’t tell—I guess it can’t be too bad.”

The pepper was fine.

I failed to mention that I have one well-used cutting board (I had just washed this as well).  I pulled it out and began chopping up the veggies. I put the sauce in the pan and began heating it. I put the spaghetti in the microwave just to be safe. The idea being that 7 minutes in the microwave will kill anything living in the spaghetti. I heard that ants are the only thing that can survive in a microwave. If I’m wrong, please don’t tell me.

I looked at the lettuce. “I suppose this is what frostbite would look like on a green human. At least nothing is growing on it….” I pealed off the outer leaves, and found a decent amount that was salvageable. I used what I could, and threw away the remainder.

With carrots, celery, green pepper, lettuce, soy cheese, and dried cranberries, I was able to produce a very tasty-looking salad. As with all my edible-looking creations, I took a picture of it.

The sauce was ready, so I got the spaghetti out of the microwave. I was feeling pretty safe about it at this point. I put the spaghetti on the plate and poured the sauce over it. I put away all the vegetables, making sure none of them were in direct contact with the cooling coil. It was looking good, but something seemed to be missing. Garlic bread! I pulled the bread out of the “pantry” (similar to a medicine cabinet). And retrieved the toaster oven from its cupboard—under the sink….

I won’t tell you about the toaster oven right now, except to say that it took me a while (and lots of very strong chemicals) to become comfortable about the idea of my food actually touching it. I needed the Smart Balance, so I opened the fridge. Thump. Clatter, bump, rattle, thud. The soy sauce was out again. This time ½ the contents came along—including the carrots.

“Lord, I don’t know how you give me such patience.” I put the carrots, soy sauce, curry, sweet and sour sauce, and rice back into the fridge. Quickly, I shut the door. I then “buttered” the bread and put it in the toaster oven. Then I returned the Smart Balance to the fridge—or at least tried. The door wouldn’t close. I rearranged the orange juice and milk, put the spaghetti sauce, rice, and soy sauce on the other side of the fridge, and tried again. Still, nothing. I put the carrots under the jars. This time it worked.

I stood up, proud that I’d repacked the fridge so well. Sniff, sniff. “It smells funky in here.” I turned around. “Oops…” I’d forgotten about the bread. Quickly I shut off the oven and opened it. “Hey, that’s not too bad.” I scraped off the worst of it and added some garlic salt. I sat down to eat. “Finally.”

The salad was very good. The spaghetti wasn’t bad, and I’m still feeling okay, so I might be able to finish the rest of it tomorrow….  The bread was pretty good—I even made seconds on that, and I forgot it again….

Finally full, I stacked all the dishes in and around the sink. I looked at them sitting there, motionless. I walked over to the computer and sat down. “I’ll do those later….”