This wilderness survival exercise seemed like a lark; how hard could it be to survive one night in the forest, with no tent, no sleeping bag, no camping gear? Very hard, as it turned out.
He forgot the bug spray, and less than an hour after the group dropped him off along the trail, he was itching like crazy. Mosquitoes orbited his head constantly, their high-pitched whine never leaving his ears, no matter how he waved his hands and swatted. It was the chigger bites that itched the most.
He lay down in a crease near the top of a ravine, less than 20 yards from the trail. Other members of the group talked of building rudimentary shelters out of tree branches, but Jeremiah thought the best course was to go minimal and just get through the night.
In the best spirit of making the best of a situation, Jeremiah decided that it might be fun to quietly observe the nocturnal doings of the local fauna. His eyes adjusted to the night, he could just make out the occasional shape, low to the ground, scurry between the trail and his position. His ears felt more sensitive, as he heard the rustling of leaves and the scratching of tiny sets of claws on tree bark.
He was not afraid of the animals; he reasoned that his all-too-human scent would be enough to keep them away. That theory was put to the test around 3 a.m., when a low, rounded shape approached him slowly. It stopped, 10 feet away, and watched Jeremiah, hunched down, motionless.
For what seemed like hours, but was probably only 30 minutes, Jeremiah and the visitor eyed each other, neither daring to move. At length, the sound of a snapping twig, somewhere behind Jeremiah, convinced the animal to quickly depart. With a relieved sigh, he wondered what kind of animal it was. Raccoon? Opossum? Surely they don’t have badgers out here. He chuckled...
...And suddenly he was moving, sliding, tumbling! Jeremiah flailed about, reaching blindly for something to grab onto. When he stopped, finally, at the bottom of the ravine, Jeremiah was covered with scratches, dirt, and, of course, countless insect bites. He shook his head, felt for injuries and found only bruises to go with the scratches. As he looked back along the path of his fall, he could see now that he had perched in an erosion channel that led down into the ravine. In daylight, it would have been easy to spot.
Jeremiah looked at his watch: 4 a.m. Sunrise would come in almost three hours...three painfully long hours. He sat in place, at the bottom of the ravine, and freed his mind to wander and think of happier things.
Like calamine lotion.