M husband Nikhil and I are as different as night and day. He is athletic, while the only sport I will compete in is ‘who will sleep the longest.’ He is organized and methodical, I thrive on chaos. He will not read anything that is more than five lines (his made-up rule) while my love for books is like a drowning man’s love for oxygen. He is an extrovert, I am introvert…..You get the point. A lifelong fan of romantic Bollywood movies (yes, I unabashedly admit I have watched ALL Karan Johar and Yashraj movies multiple times. I am sure some of my friends have unfriended me by now), maybe there is something to the theory of ‘opposites attract.’
About two years into our relationship, when we had been newly engaged, Nikhil suggested we go on a camping trip. Now, he is a seasoned hiker, who has been hiking since childhood with his family and friends. He has led several camping, rappelling, and trekking trips in India. He will happily spend his life in the mountains. I, on the other hand, am a ‘city’ girl through and through. My ‘camping’ resume was….BLANK. Zero, Nada, Zip. I had never been camping, and while I love Mother Nature, I am happier when I am looking at her from inside the safety of my concrete house. However, I knew that for this relationship to last any longer, I had to try “roughing it” in the wild with my man. He was a keeper in many ways (I have already done a blogpost on that!) and I thought a little adventure might be nice.
To spice it up even more, my dear fiancé (he was only a fiancé then) suggested that it be just the two of us going alone. I gulped (quietly) and like a love-struck idiot, agreed. He reassured me he “would fiercely protect me from all forces of nature” (I am rolling my eyes writing this as to how naïve I was then). So, we booked a campsite in the beautiful Smokies, a mountain range in Tennessee, U.S.A. I feverishly researched camping recipes, not wanting to starve myself on the mountain. I am not kidding when I say this- Nikhil has a large car, and it was LOADED with food. We were going for only two nights but I had packed hard boiled eggs, lots of cut vegetables (I was so intent on grilling stuff at the campsite), bread, butter, jam, soda, milk, lots of water bottles, etc. We actually bought special coolers to fit all our stuff.
In my enthusiasm to make sure we have enough supplies, we ended up leaving our apartment in Ohio at 5 pm instead of the decided time of 10 am! It was an 8-hour drive to our campsite. With stops for bathroom breaks and dinner, by the time we finally reached our campsite, it was close to 2 am in the night/early morning!
The pitch black of nighttime in the mountain was, to put it very mildly, TERRIFYING! To top off my fears, our campsite was right next to a river, and there were warnings posted all along the route that animals, including bears, tended to use that river as a watering hole. And of course, we had no cell phone reception that deep into the mountains. I had already started imagining us falling to our deaths in a valley like the movie ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’ (told you, I am a sucker for sappy Bollywood movies!).
I guess God had other plans though. We found our campsite (I am pretty sure I pledged eleven coconuts to Lord Ganesha and vowed to ask my father to fulfill that wish at the Siddhi Vinayak temple in Mumbai as soon as I got my cell phone reception back!). I stayed in the car, with the headlights on, while Nikhil quickly set up our small tent. Thankfully, our location was very close to the restroom on the campsite and the light was on in it. Exhausted, we crawled into the tent, into our sleeping bags.
Right as I was about to doze off, I heard the sound! At first, it felt like a scuffling noise, and I thought that something was sniffing right outside the tent. I was petrified,like a stone. I shook Nikhil awake, whispering to him urgently, “I hear something!” He mumbles sleepily and then he hears something too. He sits bolt upright, and I am pretty sure my heart stopped beating. It was then that we saw the shadow- a long, towering shadow over our tent! If I had been an old person, I truly believe I would have had a stroke just then. My mind rapidly went through all the pages of research I had done online about the possibility of bears on the campsite. The Smokies were famous for them, and this one looked like it was going to knock down the tent. I knew our time was definitely up!
Out of the blue, Nikhil takes our flashlight and starts jabbing vigorously at the roof of the tent. I looked at him, very worried that he was losing his sanity. I make him stop. “Are you like TRYING to get us killed?” I hiss at him. He looks embarrassed and then comes up with another “brilliant” idea, “I will go out of the tent and distract the bear. You run to the car and get it started.” I look at him, quite at a loss for words. Then I say, “so, you do want to get us killed.” “Do you have a better plan?” he huffs. “Yes, pray,” I retort.
We sit in silence for a few minutes, sweating through our clothes despite the cold weather. The shadow is unmoving. Finally, I whisper, “why isn’t that thing attacking us?’ He looks as confused as me. He then says, “I think I am going to have to unzip the tent and poke my head out.” I am pretty sure all the blood drained from my face when he said that. Before I could protest, he unzips the entrance, the only flimsy protection we had. I brace myself for claws and teeth and instead……. IT WAS A TREE! The whole time, it was the shadow of a tree that we had mistaken for a bear in the light from the bathroom!
He crawls back in, and we both look sheepishly at each other. An unspoken agreement between us that it had been a long night. We could finally laugh wholeheartedly about it when we woke up the next morning, to the beautiful wilderness around us and saw that the campsite was actually packed with a lot of other humans. It was definitely a memorable trip- not only my first camping experience but my first time having smores, grilling on campfire, white-water rafting, and learning to properly enjoy nature. It also reaffirmed my belief that I was going to marry a man who would ensure that I never had a dull moment in my life. I admit- I do feel a tiny twinge of disappointment that we never saw any actual bears on that trip. However, I am intensely glad that those moments of terror that we experienced, where my life literally flashed in front of my eyes, were all for a tree!
Written on the prompt: Opposites attract.
Featured Image: It is a picture of me with our tent.