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.