Jason and I had the chance to spend almost a week in New York City last month. It was a much-needed get-away for the two of us. A time to reconnect, to explore a new place (one of our very favorite things to do together), and to have new experiences.
Our first night we had a crazy experience. I was having a tough time sleeping. We’d taken a red-eye flight the night before and didn’t sleep at all on the plane, so I was overly exhausted. But the place we were camping didn’t feel quite safe. I’m not a novice camper by any means, but this place was unlike any we’d ever stayed. It was simultaneously in the middle of a very busy city and also away from it all. Just enough away that we saw a lot of suspicious traffic: drag racing, potential drug deals, creepy people sitting alone in their cars for hours. A helicopter flew low over the campground and came close enough to rattle the tent around. In my exhausted state, I was sure they were on a man hunt and that we were in danger.
While all this was tumbling around in my mind, I heard a scratching on the tent. I looked down to see the clear shadow of a rodent near my feet. Its paws scratching at the fragile mesh on our extremely light backpacking tent (had we been in a more robust tent, I may not have felt so unprotected, but this tent is made to be as light as possible and thus doesn’t offer much protection from unwanted guests). I swatted at the animal, trying to scare it away. It jumped and left for a moment but quickly returned. I punched at it and made good solid contact, through the wall of the tent. It ran away.
Jason, who had been sleeping up until this point, woke and found me sitting up. He rubbed my back and asked sleepily, “You okay?” I replied, “I’m freaking out! I think bad guys are going to get us…Also, I punched a squirrel.” Jason, thinking I was delusional, said, “Okay…” and promptly went back to sleep. I lay there for a few minutes, thinking for sure the “squirrel” was gone for good and I’d be able to rest. What kind of animal would come back after being punched in the face?
Foreshadowing: A fearless animal who wanted to get into our tent.
A few minutes later, the rodent was back. I was fully awake now and could tell that it was much larger than I originally thought. It began scratching at the tent again. I was kicking, and pushing at it. I probably yelped, or yelled because Jason woke up again. He still thought I was dreaming and attempted to calm me down. “Heidi, you’ve got to calm down,” he said. I yelled, “It ripped a hole in the tent! It DID!” At this point Jason woke up more fully and looked down to where I was frantically fending off a very determined raccoon. Jason yelled at it, shoved it, picked up a backpack and used it as a battering ram, but that raccoon would not leave us alone. It circled the tiny backpacking tent (which was barely large enough for us to kneel in) while we shone our headlamps at it.
It seemed so ridiculous. We are not unseasoned campers. This is something we do often and enjoy it immensely. But as we sat there in our tent, shaking and full of adrenaline, we were held hostage by a very aggressive raccoon. We felt much better once we got out of the tent and were able to stand up. The raccoon still came back multiple times, but Jason chased it off with his flashlight. It didn’t seem so scary once we had shoes on.
In the end, we decided to pack up and find a hotel. We felt like there was no way the raccoon would leave us alone and allow us to sleep. As Jason put it, “That raccoon was determined to get into the tent with us. We either had to skootch over and let him in, or find a new place to stay.”
We packed up our belongings and walked down an ill-lit and deserted runway to a bus stop. We sat waiting for a bus to arrive at two o’clock in the morning and we still felt safer than we did while fending off that dang raccoon. We found a not-so-cheap hotel nearby and after settling in finally fell asleep around 3 am. Initially I felt guilty about leaving. Why pay extra and change our cool plans? We’d been looking so forward to camping in this unusual place. In the end, I am so grateful we left.
It was completely bizarre and terrifying, but the rest of our trip was amazing!
We like to experience the less-touristy side of places we visit, so we found several off-the-beaten-path options that we loved. Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, Brooklyn Library, Prospect Park, were favorites. We wandered around DUMBO, we saw Jimmy Fallon’s monologue rehearsal, visited Rockaway Beach and rode the Rockaway Ferry. We took the tram out to Roosevelt Island and wandered there for a while, including visiting the abandoned Smallpox hospital and Roosevelt park. We attended the Manhattan Temple, the Folk Art Museum (with a fascinating exhibit about called Charting the Divine Plan with artwork by Orra White Hitchcock) and the MOMA. We walked a bit through Central Park.
It was a lovely trip, and many of these pages were completed either while we were traveling or just after we got home.