Outdoors

Night of the Modoc

Terror in the lava beds

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Something felt off about orange crew the moment their van pulled into our weekend group camp that evening.

Usually after grinding through a week of labor-intensive projects in rugged terrain around Lava Beds National Monument our squirrelly groups of adjudicated youth ejected themselves from the cramped conveyances with gusto. 

This time, however, nobody on orange crew so much as twitched. 

From the kitchen area where the other leaders and I were plotting a weekend excursion to various landmarks of the 1871-72 Modoc War we noticed Hippie Darryl—the leader of orange crew—turn around in his driver’s seat and sternly admonish them. 

Complete sentences were rendered inaudible, but the timbre of his voice sounded uncharacteristically grave. Finally, after about 20 minutes, Hippie Darryl and his co-leader hopped out of their vehicle to give us the lowdown.

Meanwhile, an insurrectional force comprised of orange crew, plus a sizable contingent from the other crews, proceeded to occupy tactical positions in the darkening terrain around us.

“Hand over your van keys,” boomed a disembodied voice from the shadows, “or we’ll turn this campsite into a slaughter house!”

“Drop the attitude right now,” growled Hippie Darrel, advancing alone toward the perimeter, “or we’ll haul you all back to the hoosegow.”

“Try,” snickered the disembodied voice. And that’s when the first sharp lava rock came whizzing past his head. Followed quickly by another. And another. And another.

In a hailstorm of volcanic projectiles, I dove beneath a collapsible table and fashioned a defensive barricade while Hippie Darryl and his co-leader armed themselves with cast-iron skillets and made a beeline back to their van. 

Retreating to our vehicles seemed like a good move, but as my fearless co-leader pointed out, abandoning the kitchen area would only give the mutineers carte blanche to plunder provisions.

So, during a lull in the rock throwing, other staff members and I began to trundle our food back to the vans utilizing the boulder-jumbled contours of a collapsed lava tube for cover.

Night had fallen when I scrambled down into the ravine with our final food box. Gazing awestruck at the starry dome above, my mind grew boggled by extraterrestrial light.

A series of grunts followed by a shrill beeping sound vexed me. Then, streaking through my peripheral vision came an amorphous bipedal figure that promptly dropped to all fours and took a yowling leap straight into my mouth.

Waking up sprawled in the dirt soon after, I found the food box had vanished. My body was unscathed, but the terrain looked eerily empty.  

Suddenly, familiar shouting rang through the night and beckoned me back to the melee.

“Sweet Lord,” I cringed when I saw the glow of fire and heard multiple chainsaws being revved. Up to that point, I still could have escaped.

But once Hippie Darryl came hobbling down the road holding three prisoners at bay with a brush whip I was duty-bound to assist him in fettering zip-tie manacles.

The rebellion was quelled just before sunup. But to this day, the missing bear-proof box has never been accounted for.

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