KEVIN TATE: Camping amid close encounters of the striped, furry kind

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

The Boy Scouts of Troop 80 and their leaders were having spaghetti for supper, but we weren’t the only ones who liked pasta, it seemed.
It was Spring break of 1983 and, as a brand new Scout, I was on one of my first official trips, having tagged along unofficially for years leading up to this august occasion. We were in one of the many campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and we were halfway through a week of ambitiously-planned day hikes. It was a trip laden with memorable events.
One of our scouts brought along a flashlight whose power was generated by revving it with a hand grip trigger, an act that made a high-pitched whine which would have been annoying under the best of circumstances, and a week-long tent camping trip with others is never the best of circumstances. Midway through one of our daily marches, generator man was walking along zinging the flashlight just to aggravate the rest of us when another of our guys came up behind him and, in a deft move of crafty athleticism, punched the thing out of his hand from below. The light arched up and out, still winding down from what would be its last mortal zing before falling into a stream about a foot wide but, it turned out, both swift and deep. The act cost the guy his flashlight but likely saved his life, because a red-eyed mutiny could not have been more than a few zings away.
The highlight of the week though, at least for me, would have to be the spaghetti supper we had toward the end.
I had taken my paper plate and found a seat on the concrete pad where the vehicles were parked. Sitting cross-legged with the plate on the ground, I was winding the second bite around my plastic fork when one of the many skunks that call the campground home walked between my elbow and my knee and stuck his nose into the noodles. Everyone in camp saw him at the same time I did, which was far too late for comfort. I left the fork standing upright in the food and eased away slowly, looking back just long enough to make sure I wasn’t going to mash any other unseen skunks during my getaway. Before the plate was emptied, two or three other striped denizens joined the feast. When I policed up the trash the next day, all that remained of the two-pound helping was skunk lick marks on the plate, reminders of as close a call as I’d care to have.
I was issued another ration of spaghetti by the way. This time, I ate standing up.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.