Camping trip to Pennsylvania woods ends with wild mouse tale


This mouse made itself at home in the dessert of the author during a camping trip in Pennsylvania.

By the time you’re reading this, I should be deep in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania for some R&R.

That is, rain and rodents.

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Even non-campers know that rain is a certainty when tents are involved. But rodents may not feature as prominently in the average camping trip as they do at 7-Mile Camp in the Tiadaghton State Forest.

I discovered this last summer.

We’ll call this story, “The Tale of the Dump Cake Mouse.”

Columbus Dispatch Metro columnist Theodore Decker

The 7-Mile Camp is, fittingly, about seven miles outside the community of Slate Run in Lycoming County. The road in between is narrow and winding; Evel Knievel would have balked at the idea of taking an RV to 7-Mile.

It is big woods and beautiful country. At the six campsites you will not find electricity, or a shower house, or an outhouse for that matter. Bring your own trowel. The only running water is about 50 feet below in the headwaters of Slate Run.

What you get at 7-Mile is a picnic table, the chance that you may not see another person for a week, and a million-dollar view of one of America’s finest wild trout streams.

The picnic table is where we first noticed the mice.

We were relaxing in camp at dusk when we saw flashes of movement beneath the table. Two mice were using the diagonal legs of the table as highways to reach the tabletop and peruse our dinner fixings.

We marveled at their audacity. 

For dessert we made a chocolate-cherry dump cake in the Dutch oven. It isn’t fancy baking, but it is delicious after a long day in the woods.

Clearly the Dump Cake Mouse thought so. 

We’d finished our meal and were kicked back around the fire when we saw movement again, this time inside the Dutch oven. Our titular mouse had seated himself in the remaining cake and was going to town. He was in a deep state of gluttonous bliss.

“Not a care in the world,” my son said as he took pictures. The mouse was so confident, he noted, we could probably catch him by putting on the oven lid.

We probably should have done that. Then I might have gotten some rest.

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This is bear country, so you don’t leave your coolers out or your leftovers lying around camp. Before bed, we made sure everything went in the car. While we did that, we left the doors and trunk of my Honda Pilot open.

We won’t be doing that this year.

I’d placed the trash on the floor in front of the driver’s seat. My son retired to his tent. We were pulling up stakes in the morning.

By then it was well past dark. I made one last check of my car to ensure the windows were up and doors locked. In the beam of my headlamp, I swore I saw a mouse leap out of the trash bag and scurry under the driver’s seat.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

I switched my headlamp to red-light mode and tried to remain motionless while peering through the window. I waited a full 10 minutes before a mouse snout appeared between the driver’s seat and the center console.

He climbed atop the trash bag and dove in.

I whipped open the door, thinking I could grab the bag with him in it and yank it outside. Mice, it turns out, have far better reflexes than I do. Back under the seat he went.

I pulled the car apart, knowing it was an exercise in futility. There was no way that mouse was going to be chased from that car. There were too many mouse-sized nooks and crannies.

But what is that old saying? You catch more mice with dump cake than with vinegar?

I opened the driver’s side door. I pulled a camp chair up close and grabbed the drawstring for the trash bag.

I waited, red light on, not moving a muscle. For 15 minutes.

This is how it went down, more than once:

Mouse appears, climbs into bag. Man yanks bag out the open door. Mouse leaps clear in plenty of time, bolts for cover. Man waits another 15 minutes to try again.

Eventually, a new idea:

Car door open. Trash bag on ground, also open, dump cake calling out to any and all rodents in the vehicle above. Drop from side sill of car to bag, about four inches.

Man, seated, remains poised to slam the car door closed once mouse exits vehicle. Man’s son, prone in nearby tent, lost in deep slumber, misses entire spectacle.

This had to work. Had to.

The mouse followed his nose cautiously to the edge of the open door frame. He peered down at the smorgasbord just out of reach. I kid you not, he tried extending himself to the bag without leaving the car, holding on with his back toes.

Sorry, fella. Too far.

To reach the cake, he had no choice but to drop into the bag. I slammed the door behind him. Startled, he darted from the trash and into the dark woods. After a thorough search of the trash bag to make sure there wasn’t a second stowaway waiting me out, I returned it to the car.

By then it was well past 2 a.m. 

At the start of this column, I wrote that “I should be” deep in the mountains this week. I wrote it that way because I know that, especially when it comes to a trip to the woods, things don’t always go as intended.

I had been hoping for a good night’s sleep before a long drive home. The Dump Cake Mouse had envisioned the best night of his life, secure from owl attacks, awash in chocolate and cherries until the break of dawn.

But what is that old saying? The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.



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