Chapter 4: Politics, Thermals and Apples, Oh My
We pulled into the campground to find everyone gathered around a picnic table talking in small groups. The main group was clustered around an old picnic table with the green paint peeling off. At the center of this group sat Matt, staring intently at the screen of a laptop. We went up to the table and tried to get his attention, but he just waved us off. I couldn’t believe it. According to the BFRO’s encounter ratings, I just had a class B encounter and found a Class A handprint, not to mention everything that had happened the night before, and he didn’t even want to hear us. What was he so engrossed in anyway? As it turns out, nothing. You see he had just gotten a new thermal camera from a financial backer and was reviewing a whole night’s footage, scanning it for signs of squatches. But in the end nothing was to be seen.
I was incredibly frustrated. I had to tell someone; I felt like I was about to burst.
Kris and I walked a ways away, and were discussing things with each other. Kris was angry; I was seriously annoyed. At that time, two women we hadn’t met yet approached us.
“Hey guys, I’m Patty,” said the first. She had red hair and was smiling in a friendly way.
“And I’m Caroline,” said the other, somewhat taller than Patty with short dark hair. “What’s going on?”
“Um, Hi,” I stammered mid-complaint. I don’t normally switch gears very quickly or gracefully. Thankfully, Kris does.
“Hi,” he said, “I’m Kris and this is Andy.” I smiled in acknowledgement.
“We’re investigators with the BFRO,” said Patty. “”What’s the problem.”
Looking over at Matt, I replied, “He won’t listen to us. We had a lot happen last night and this morning and we wanted to report it.”
“Yeah,” said Patty, “he’s pretty intense about the new thermal camera. Why don’t you tell us what happened.”
So Kris and I told them everything that we had done and experienced since the previous night. They were very attentive, breaking in once in a while to ask questions or have us elaborate on a point here and there. When we were finished they interrogated us about the fine points of what had happened. It was an interesting technique. Their questions made me stop and think about the events of the previous day, almost reliving it.
After we finished telling them about the print and I made my own version in the sand, Caroline looked at Patty and said, “Matt has to hear this.”
“Yeah,” said Patty. “Follow us,” said Patty as she and Caroline turned and walked over to Matt at the picnic table. The group clustered around Matt at the table parted for them.
“Matt,” Caroline said to him, leaning down over the table looking at him over the back of the laptop screen.
“Not now,” he said gruffly, dismissing her without looking up.
“Matt, you have to hear this,” she continued more forcefully.
“What!” he snapped, pounding the left mouse button. He looked up glaring at her.
“Kris and Andy here had some serious encounters last night. You should listen to them.” she said undaunted by his gruff manner.
I was though. He looked at Kris and I, scowling. I gulped, Kris stayed silent. The whole group had gone silent and everyone was looking at us. I cleared my throat and once more relayed the story of our trip down the trail and this morning at camp. As we talked, Matt’s visage turned from one of annoyance to interest and excitement. He even turned away from his computer and engaged with us, asking questions from time to time.
When we’d finished, Matt rubbed his hands together smiling and said, “Excellent! We’ve found them. Here’s what we are going to do. We just got this new thermal imaging device from a benefactor, so tonight we are going to move it to Red van camp which we’ll now call thermal camp. I want you and Kris to pull up stakes and go find another camp. Patty and Caroline, I want you two to camp in thermal camp tonight.”
“What?” both Kris and I exclaimed. “You want us to move?” I asked, dumbstruck. I really didn’t want to move. I felt that I had a start of something good with the squatch and my bait area, and it seemed incomprehensible to move at this point.
“Yeah, well squatches are more attracted to women and we don’t want you guys making them more skittish. If it is just the girls, they’ll come in closer and we’ll get them on the thermal.” Matt said dismissively.
“Uh, where should we go then.” Kris asked.
“Just find somewhere else. I’ll be down later this afternoon and you can show me the site.”
Matt returned to his screen. I looked at Kris, feeling a bit used at that point. Kris looked angry to say the least.
Patty interjected, “Matt, these guys obviously didn’t deter the squatches last night and they did everything right, why send them away now? We could just join them.”
Matt glanced up with a scowl, “No, I want it to be just you. It is important that we maximize the use of the thermal and this gives us the best chance.” He returned to the computer.
Kris left in silent, brooding anger and I followed, crestfallen. It felt like we were being punished for having done exactly what he’d asked us to do. But then, maybe he was right. If it could help us get the thermal video, then it would be worth it.
Caroline came over to us and apologized for Matt. She introduced us to another man who had a better map of the area than we did and we decided on a few other camp spots to check out. One problem we had now was that all of the good spots were already taken by this point in the trip.
People stated breaking up and heading back to their respective camps. A couple guys came up to us and asked us if we would show them our finds on the trail. One was wearing a camo jacket with a turkey patch and the other wore a large straw hat, so Kris and I, having a hard time remembering names on this trip simply referred to them as Turkey Hunter and Straw Hat Guy. We agreed to meet them at our camp in an hour. Kris and I then got in the van and headed back to our camp to have lunch and begin breaking it down.
We drove around to several of the other locations, but they all looked horrible, either out in the open of a logged area, or already very crowded. We returned to our camp very frustrated. Turkey Hunter and Straw Hat were waiting for us. We discussed the prints with them and then took them down the trail, showing them the bait site, the tree twists, and the first bite mark. The High School Guys came up behind us at that point, moving fast.
“Hey guys. What’s up?” I asked seeing the tense looks on their faces.
“Matt told us we had to clear out, now. We’re grabbing our camp and moving to the Entrance camp. He wants everyone off this trail immediately.” One of them said.
“He wasn’t happy,” said another.
“OK,” I said, “I’m not sure what he has to be unhappy about. He never told us we couldn’t go here again. Whatever.” I said shaking my head.
We all turned around and headed back to camp.
Turkey Hunter told us that he might know of a spot for us. He took us over to Century 21 camp, then to a small trail he had found that went into the swamp side forest and up a hill. On top was a flat spot totally matted down. On reflection back on it, I think this may have been a spot the squatches were using to observe the Century 21 camp down below, but at the time it just looked like a nice little spot to put our pup tent. We thanked him and then returned to our camp planning to move to this spot.
When we were about half way back to camp, walking along the grassy road between Thermal Camp and Century 21, the radio squawked to life with Matt’s voice, “Does anyone know where Andy is?” He sounded annoyed.
I radioed back, “We’re on our way. We’ll be at Thermal Camp in two minutes.”
“OK,” came the reply.
I looked at Kris as we quickened our pace, “Did we do something wrong?”
“Who knows?” he replied with a shrug and an eye-roll. “From what I’ve seen so far, this seems normal for him.”
We walked the rest of the way in silence. As we did, I noted that it was after dinner time now, about 6:00 pm. We’d need to hurry if we were going to show Matt what we found and still have enough time to move our camp before dark.
As we approached the camp, we noticed that Matt’s rental car was parked up against the side of the trail on the edge of our camp, facing the squatch trail we’d been on yesterday. He was busy setting up a blue tote in front of the car. The tote had a square hole in one side and he was lowering a huge thermal camera into the tote. As he did so, he, Patty, and Caroline were having an ongoing discussion that they broke off when Kris and I approached.
“Hi,” I said walking up, “we think we found another spot to camp.”
“Don’t worry about that,” said Matt, glancing at Caroline, “we decided that you should stay here with Patty and Caroline. It will look more natural that way.”
“Uh, OK.” I said smiling. “Is this the thermal?”
“Yeah,” he said with enthusiasm, “I’m putting it into this tote to disguise it. We think that sasquatches shy away from round, lens-like things, probably due to their fear of lights. So, I cut a square hole in the tote to mask the lens shape. Then I hook the camera up to the car’s battery and it should run all night. Do I have it pointing down the right trail?”
“Yep, that’s where most everything happened.” I answered. Kris had walked over to the fire with Patty and Caroline and was showing them the knuckle prints. I helped Matt finish hooking the camera up and then we joined them at the fire ring. The prints had lost some of their distinctiveness as the loose soil they had been in had dried out and crumbled on the edges.
“Wow, those are bigger than I thought.” Matt said. “Probably a large male. Here put this by it and take a picture for scale.” He reached into his pocket and handed me a cigarette pack. I placed it by the print and took a couple more shots with my camera, then handed it back to him.
“Do you want to see what we found on the trail?” I asked Matt.
“No,” he replied thoughtfully, “I don’t want to intrude on them any more than necessary. I want everyone to stay off of that trail tonight.”
“Uh, I have a spot, just out of sight down the trail where I have been gifting them with apples. I think they took them last night because there were no prints in the mud and only something with long arms could have reached them without leaving prints. I’d really like to continue leaving them the apples in that spot.” I said.
“Oh, yeah, that’s a good idea. Why don’t you do exactly what you did last night then, though don’t put the apples so far into the mud tonight. You don’t want them to think you are trying to trap them.”
“OK, I can do that.” I replied.
Patty, Caroline, and Kris were busy by this point setting up their tent near ours on the swamp side of the clearing. Matt and I chatted a bit more, with him telling me more about his benefactor and his hopes for the new thermal technology. He gave me a crash course in why thermal is superior to IR night vision cameras. I was genuinely intrigued and wanted to see for myself, but could not because the camera was already set up, aimed, and running. About then another car drove up.
Matt said, “That’s my ride up to the entrance. Have great night and good luck. Be aware of where the camera is and don’t block it.” He waved goodbye to Patty and Caroline and got in the car which then turned around and headed back up to the camp entrance.
I went back into camp and helped Patty and Caroline get situated. Kris and I went up the trail toward the entrance and gathered enough dead firewood to last us late into the night if needed. As we did so, we noticed that the area had gone very still and silent again. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing up and I had a general creepy feeling.
About then, Kris asked, “You feel that? My skin is crawling.”
“Yeah, me too.” I replied, a little surprised that it wasn’t just me. “You think they are here?”
He shrugged in response, scanning the woods. He started going into “Hunter” mode again.
“Dude,” I said, “you need to relax.”
“I can’t help it; it is setting my teeth on edge.”
“Let’s just get the wood and get back to camp.”
We returned to the camp, and Kris broke up the wood while I started the fire. As I was setting up, I heard what I thought were footsteps and cracking sticks in the woods behind the ladies’ tent.
“You guys hear that?” I asked without obviously looking as I scanned the woods.
Kris stopped breaking wood and Caroline poked here head out of the tent both saying “What?” in unison.
I laughed a bit ad said, “I thought I heard something walking in the woods behind your tent.”
Caroline smiled and I heard Patty say, “Excellent!” from inside the tent.
After getting the camp ready, we all used Kris’s camp kitchen to prepare our meals and ate sitting around the fire. I didn’t realize how hungry I had gotten until I started in on the pasta a homemade salmon jerky.
“So when are you going to put out the apples, Andy?” asked Patty, before taking another bite of her food.
“Uh,” I mumbled, trying to swallow a mouthful of salty salmon, “I wanted to wait until twilight so that I am doing it at the same time as last night. I really hope they are there watching.”
“They are,” she said smiling. I gulped nervously, looking at the darkening woods.
“Well, it’s about time I go I guess.” I said, putting my plate and scraps in the fire.
“Want someone to go with you?” Caroline asked.
“No, I’ll be fine. The site is just around the bend down the trail. Matt didn’t want too many going down there.”
I went to my car and got out two nice red apples. With one last look back at my friends laughing around the fire, I headed down the darkening trail. It was still light enough to see well, but the colors were just starting to fade with the light. I lifted the apples up, making sure that anything watching from the woods could see them and proceeded down the trail. As I walked, I thought I heard something moving through the woods on the swamp side. I can’t say I actually heard anything in particular, but my instincts were screaming that I wasn’t alone.
I reached the bend in the trail and turned to look back. I could see the fire burning brightly between the three seated figures. It was a warm and inviting scene and I imagined what it must be like being a sasquatch standing here watching us. It gave me a bit of a shiver. I turned back to the trail. Most of the color had gone out of the woods now, only green remained and that was quickly fading to grey. I took a deep breath and continued down the trail toward the mud. I raised the apples forward, bowed my head, lowered my eyes, and said, “I brought you more apples. I hope you like them. Thank you for letting us stay here.”
At that, I had reached the mud spot. I got on my knees and leaned way forward, setting them on the far side of the clear patch, closest to the woods. Just as I set them down, I was startled by the loud crack of a branch breaking followed by what sounded like a deep guttural grunt, barely on the lower edge of hearing, which came from the woods less than ten feet in front of me. I don’t know how, but I got the distinct impression that the meaning was Thanks, now go away!
My heart jumped in my chest and started trying to pound its way out. I looked up at the brush but saw nothing but dark forest. I thought I heard deep slow breathing in sharp contrast to my rapid panic breaths. I took a deep steadying breath, bowed my head and backed slowly away, being careful to keep my posture submissive. When I got to the corner, I slowly stood, then turned and walked back to camp, picking my way in the dark. I had all I could do not to run at top speed back to the welcoming camp fire.
When I got back, I sank into my chair by the fire. I must have looked spooked because the rest all were staring at me.
“What happened?” Patty asked.
“I’m not sure.” I answered truthfully, still trying to digest it. I told them about how I placed the apples and the stick snap and possible grunt. I left out the part about me knowing what it was saying, I mean that just sounds crazy, right?
To be continued…