2018.01.31 Old: Strange bedfellows

Reading this old column takes me back to some interesting nights from the past. The only recent episode that comes to mind occurred last year when my wife and I stayed in our first Airbnb.

A very nice house, a very nice family, but a little weird to be sleeping in a bedroom with the kids and parents across the hallway. I hope I didn’t snore too loudly.


One of the problems of traveling is that, eventually, night falls and you have to find a place to call your bed. Whether you’re passing through a strange city or out in the middle of nowhere, you have to stop driving/pedaling/walking and lie down for the night.

The word “reservations” takes away the evening problem, but that word doesn’t always apply. Salon magazine has run a continuing series of reports on strange bedtime experiences. They bring back some memories of my own, such as the Night of a Hundred Slugs.

Night is often a problem for the bicycle traveler. There isn’t always a campground nearby and you can’t give up half a day of riding just to grab a site in a park. Many times you end up rolling out the sleeping bag most anywhere.

When riding home to Michigan from New Hampshire a few years ago, I walked my bike off the road a hundred yards to get away from the traffic and state troopers, and set up my tent on a grassy hill.

In the morning I saw small, dark shapes through the tent roof that turned out to be slugs. I counted them as I packed up and flicked the critters off into the grass. One hundred slugs.

My friend John and I searched for camp sites night after night when we were pedaling through the Canadian Maritimes. We stayed in youth hostels when they were available, but I remember the night we spent in a burned out house and another on a picnic table and yet another in some boys’ club house.

I’ve had some odd nights over the years, but nothing compared to the international travelers responding to Salon’s request.

• Staying in a glorified tree house in a Malaysian jungle, guests could watch various animals foraging down below. But up above was a jungle rat that made its appearance about 4 a.m.

“The rat was about the size of a small dog and made weird snarling sounds. Its eyes were red and its tail was naked. It was like a Disney character gone bad.”

• Sleeping in tents along the Mara River in Africa, “the low, guttural grunting cough of the lion and the high, rising whoop of the hyena made up our somewhat eerie bedtime serenade.” 

About 3 a.m., a deep snuffling sound awoke the sleepers. Something heavy and ponderous was moving between the tents. Hippos.

The saying: Never get between a hippo and water.

The warning: Hippos are responsible for more human deaths than any other African animal.

The travelers made it through unharmed, but they never did get back to sleep.

• The first night in an Ecuadoran jungle didn’t come without warnings. Sleep off the ground so the snakes and spiders don’t bite you. But not too high or else the vampire bats might take a drink. And even though it’s 90°, you’ll probably want to stay in your sleeping bag to keep the critters off.

• After a day of skiing in the Peruvian Andes, one member of the party looked up and noticed about 60 men in black outfits skiing toward the group, all carrying rifles.

They turned out to be an elite military unit and the American skiers ended up camping with them for two nights. Every few minutes, throughout the night, the close-by footsteps of the man on guard were heard.

Now, as an aging family man, there’s nothing even close to the strange sleeping experiences of the past. Occasionally a child will walk past in the night and grab at my face, and every few years a branch will fall onto the roof to startle us out of sleep.

When we’re really looking for adventure, we trade bedrooms and spend a strange night in one of the kids’ beds. It’s like a mini-vacation—at least until someone grabs my face.