It ended up being more than three miles and after it had already gotten dark I arrived at the shelter, basically a log cabin with one side completely open. The wind had been kicking up steadily until all I could hear was a dull roar and my night vision was ruined from having to stare at the light my headlamp shone on the trail. So, deaf and nearly blind I stumbled into the shelter and dropped my pack, quickly pulling out my tent and sleeping bag since the temperature was dropping quickly and I was a sweaty mess.
I had my tent halfway up before I caught a shape out of the corner my eye. At the other end of the shelter, about ten feet away, there was another tent already set up completely but with one long gash running down the side. The front flap was open. What the hell was this?
Drawing my knife I yelled to see if anyone was somehow inside. There was no answer so I forced myself to walk over and peer through the ragged gash and check inside. There was nothing, absolutely nothing. Whoever had left the tent there had taken everything else they had with them. There was also no sign of anyone being in distress and there were no belongings scattered outside the shelter like you might see if a bear had wandered in.
I took the tent down. It was an odd distraction and there was literally nothing I could do to figure out what might have happened while it was still dark. Afterward Id taken it down and shoved it in a corner I went back to setting my own up then go my camp stove going so I could get something in my stomach. The wind had died down a bit thankfully and the water was boiling in no time.
After eating I killed my lamp, climbed into my bag, and zipped up the tent leaving my pack outside the shelter walls. I was feeling better but still unsettled and the wind had kicked back up again when I heard what I thought sounded like voices and saw a faint light flickering and bobbing like someone making their way through the woods. Thinking they might be the same people who left the shredded tent, I unzipped the front flap of my tent to get a better look.
For about five minutes I watched the light appear and disappear among the trees but then, off in the woods to my right I heard a knocking like a tree branch falling. Night sounds like that arent uncommon. Tree branches fall in the forest all the time so at first it just startled me. But then, as I looked up towards the sound which was up on an embankment I saw what appeared to be a small white face contrasting against the deep dark of the forest. Focusing as best I could it appeared to be a person crouching and looking down at the shelter.
Frantically, I grabbed my flashlight and jumped out of the tent onto the shelters wooden floor and shined the light up into the trees. There was nothing there but the underbrush, clearly still moving from where the person had been. I looked over to the left where Id seen the flashing light in the trees and it was gone. That did it, the couple hoofing out of the wilderness in the evening, the backpack, the tent, the light, and however had been watching me from no more than fifty feet away. None of this was normal. The hair stood straight out on my my arms but I didnt freeze up.
Get yourself together, Michael. Get back in the shelter.
And thats what I did. I got back in the shelter, knife now in hand and ready to stab, slash, and gouge anything that came near. But I didnt get back in the tent. If someone came by in the night I wanted to be able to run, not be trapped in a nylon prison. Who knows, maybe thats exactly what the previous shelter occupants had done. Maybe theyd had to cut their way out for some reason.
So, I dragged my sleeping back out of the tent, pulled by backpack into the shelter with me and sat down for a long night. The wind howled again in great gusts whistling through the cracks in the shelter. I could have sworn I heard voices over and over again but I never turned the flashlight on again all night. I couldnt tell if you if that was because I was being smart or because I was scared to death.
At some point during the night Id fallen asleep because when I awakened the sun was shining and snug and warm under my bag, knife still gripped in my right hand. I decided that I would continue on the trail since I couldnt have been more than ten miles from the top of the ridge at which point the trees would give way to bushes and Id be able to see anyone coming for miles away. I didnt want to head back the way Id come into the forest because at this point I was convinced I wasnt alone out here and that someone very screwed up in the head was messing with me.