October 10, 2013

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Day 32: Stuart- Glacier National Park, MT (9/4-9/5)

Written from Nathan’s Perspective

As we posted earlier, we spent 3 nights and 2 days in Glacier National Park. Our trip report ended with the perfect day, but we left out what happened on the last night.  This is a story that we will always remember and will always bring a smile to our faces and a shiver to our shoulders.

10:20 PM The milky-way is spectacular spanning the night sky from one mountain range to another.  We arrive at our tent and I quickly start to unload my camera gear, backpack and tripod.  I set up my camera in the meadow nearby, pointing up at the stars for a time lapse photography session.

10:30 PM I return to the car and sit in the driver seat sorting through our memory cards.  Suddenly there is a scurrying sound.  It was odd how close it sounded, I wondered if there could be something under the car? I look under the car but there was nothing so I return to the driver seat.  Soon enough I hear the scurrying again, so I look behind my seat and see my camera backpack. Oh no, I thought, maybe a mouse jumped in my backpack while I was setting up my camera.  I quickly grab my backpack and lay it on the picnic table.  I stand there staring at it with my headlamp waiting for the scurrying sound to return.  Katharine returns from the bathroom and I explain what I thought was going on. I gingerly open my pack, stepping back and waiting for a mouse to climb out.  After staring at my backpack without any movement I thought I must be crazy and ask Katharine to sit in the car and listen for odd noises.

10:35PM She walks to the car and opens the passenger door. AHHHH!! She let out the loudest scream I’ve ever heard her make.  I turn and see a small field mouse on our passenger seat.  I looked at Katharine with her hands over her mouth and then around the pitch black and silent campground.  Not one flashlight, tent zipper, or voice, no one was concerned.  Amazing how a blood curdling scream from a woman in the middle of the night in grizzly bear country didn’t get one bit of interest or concern from the fellow campers. Katharine was actually glad though, she was pretty embarrassed to have screamed so loudly over a little mouse.

10:40 PM We stand in shock as we watch the mouse explore our car.  We were helpless watching him effortlessly scurry from driver seat over backpacks, gear, and clothes to the back windshield.  Our evening just got complicated.  Tomorrow we have a 10 hour drive to Grand Teton.  We can’t do that safely with a mouse in the car, so we have to get rid of it… but how?

10:35 PM We decide he might just be looking for a way out, so we open the back hatch.  The mouse ran to the edge of the car, but retreated after seconds of looking outside.  Of course that would have been too easy; we needed another idea.  We peered through the windows with our headlamps watching him stuff his cheeks with dropped nuts and Clif bar crumbs under the seat.

10:50 PM We decide we needed to remove his food supply. We agree that we needed visual confirmation that the critter had left the car so Katharine watches the open door for any escaping rodents while I nervously unload the gear behind our seats and begin removing wrappers.  I cautiously reach for wrappers half under the seats in fear of a mouse biting my fingers.  After all the food and crumbs were removed we stand back again waiting for a disappointed hungry mouse to jump out of our car.  Instead the chubby cheeked mouse continued to run around the car without attempting to escape.

11:15 PM We name the mouse Stuart, after Stuart Little.

11:30 PM We need a more aggressive plan so we decide to reduce his hiding spots by emptying the car.  Again I nervously removed our bags, bins and clothing hoping a mouse wouldn’t crawl up my arm.  Soon the car was barren, and cleaner than before the trip.  We stood watching the open hatch and waiting for him to voluntarily leave.  Again he ran to the back bumper, but wouldn’t jump.  A neighboring camper walked by looking puzzled as we stood in the dark amongst our stuff staring at an empty car.  “There’s a mouse in our car”, we told him.  He replied, “yeah I had one in my sleeping bag last night.” We can’t decide which would be worse.  He then headed back to his tent.

11:55 PM We are two engineers staring at an empty car held hostage by a simple field mouse.  We are tired, frustrated, but not defeated.  Maybe he’s afraid to jump we thought, let’s build a ramp.  We lean a duffle bag from the ground to the back bumper and waited again.  The mouse ran to the edge, but wouldn’t take the easy exit.  Instead a second mouse raced from the darkness to the foot of the bag.  No! We lunge forward, scaring the second mouse back into the darkness.  We quickly remove the bag.

12:05 AM We notice Stuart would spend a few seconds at the edge of the bumper, so what if we gave him a little nudge?  I stood near the brake light holding an extended trekking pole.  He ran to the edge and I slowly lowered the pole behind him and in one swift move my nudge turned into a bat swinging for the fences. I miscalculated that the ski-pole-like disk would raise the pole a half an inch from the floor allowing the mouse to play limbo under my swiping trekking pole.  He made a quick second loop toward the bumper and in frustration I turned the pole into a skewer, jabbing the pointed end towards the pest but obviously missing him.

12:30 AM It’s been two hours and we are depressed, how could this be happening to us?  Fatigue is setting in and we can’t think straight.  I chase him around the car trying to scare him toward an open door, but there were too many hiding spots for a mouse.

12:40 AM We change tactics in desperation – no more Mr. Nice Guy, it’s on! I pull out a canister of Cutter’s bug spray.  Katharine watches the back hatch as I spray the noxious gas under the seats.  The fumes make me cough and back away from the car.  There is no way he can survive in the DEET fog, he has to leave now.  We wait, but there is no more scurrying, no more mocking appearances, maybe he’s gone, maybe he’s dead…

1:00 AM We’re about to give up the fight for the night when suddenly a mouse appears on the roof of our car under our roof box.  “You have to be kidding me!” I exclaim.  I immediately maced the little pest with the bug spray.  He ran down our windshield and disappeared between the windshield wipers and the hood of our car.  I pop the hood and look around the engine and realize the search is impossible.

1:05 AM We give up. There isn’t any sign of the mouse, but we realize he can probably come and go as he pleases through the engine and dashboard.  Who knows, maybe there is more than one.  This is a losing battle and we are defeated.  We load our gear back into the car verifying everything is sealed and zipped.  We turn off the time lapse photography of stars that had been running the whole time and put the camera away. Our final move is placing a small cashew crumb in the center of the diver seat floor mat.  If the nut is gone in the morning, we’ll know he’s still here.

7:00 AM I wake up eager to check for the nut on the floor mat.  It’s gone! So, the war isn’t over.  We empty the car again preparing for another assault.  With the light of day and a fresh mind I decided to make some new weapons from aspen branches.  I used my knife to whittle a thin flexible rod that can reach the small hiding spots under the seats.  I also cut a branch that resembles a broom hopefully more effective than the trekking pole at sweeping Stuart out of the car.

7:15 AM I crouch down resting my head on the floor mat looking under the seats.  My anger and frustration overpowers any fear of the mouse darting out and attacking my face.  I use the aspen branch to systematically clear every nook and cranny.  I listen for the scurrying, but there is just silence.  We stare at the empty car and our gear.  Then it dawns on me if he won’t leave maybe we could trap him.  We whittle a small branch and prop up a bucket upside down.  We then removed my shoe laces and created a rope and tied it to the branch.  With a quick jerk the bucket falls a couple inches.  This totally would have worked last night when he was active, but now he’s gone silent.  Maybe he’s gone, or maybe he’s asleep in the dashboard.

7:30 AM We have a long drive ahead of us and couldn’t waste anymore time battling the mouse.  We had to do the unthinkable; drive 10 hours with the potential of a mouse surprising us on the road by running up our legs or appearing on our shoulder.

8:00 AM The car was loaded and we were ready to hit the road.  Of course we had 5 miles of bumpy gravel roads to start the nightmare drive.  Maybe the jarring will wake him up causing him to make an appearance, which might be better now than on the interstate.  We make it to the pavement with no mouse.

12:00 PM We stop at a Wal-Mart and buy 8 mouse traps.  We bait and arm 4 wooden death traps and take a break for lunch.  Later we returned to the car.  Nothing, the peanut butter is untouched, no Stuart.  Maybe he’s still asleep.  We still had hours ahead of us so we bravely headed south.

7:00 PM It started getting dark and we had another hour left of driving.  Would Stuart wake up and be active in the dark?  Every once in a while we felt a phantom tail or tickle on our legs.  It was the most suspenseful 10 hour drive we had ever made.  We arrived in Jackson Hole, WY and reset the traps throughout the car and collapsed in our motel room.

5:00 AM We have an early flight to Chicago.  I check the traps again, nothing.  My confidence that Stuart was gone grew and I knew he wouldn’t be able to ignore the peanut butter if he was still in the car.  We left the traps armed in the car over the weekend just in case, but after several days they remained untouched.

The Stuart chapter was over.  Finally we could get into our current home, our car, without hesitation.

Epic Trip Stats:

  • Days: 39
  • Mice in the car: 1 (that we know of)