We left the rangers' station after partially listening to the customary encouragements: 'make sure you camp in your designated site', 'don't leave the trails', and 'make sure your backcountry permit is showing on your tent at night'.
Although we were thankful for the help, we'd traveled to the iconic Bryce Canyon National Park, and we were ready to explore.
So, we breezed our way through the ranger station, grabbing a one-night permit for camping, and made our way out to the most picturesque views of the park.
The famous hoodoos were beautiful, but were also surrounded by people. We wanted to be active, so (after a few minutes with the hoodoos) we headed south on the Rim Trail—straight for the backcountry.
Our spirits immediately lifted, the conversation deepened, and everywhere around us the forrest danced with life.
As we came upon a clearing that exposed the valley to our left—full of monochromatic orange rock and deep emerald green—we realized we'd let ourselves get carried away in reverie.
It was twilight, and our campsite wasn't anywhere near us. We went further, but couldn't see the trail. We knew that it would be improbable to find our site in time, yet we were too far out to turn back around.
There'd ben mountain lions spotted in the area recently, and since we were alone, and—essentially—lost on a ridge in the middle of the backcountry, we found the flattest spot and set up the tent hastily.
We said our prayers and bade goodnight to the sun as we zipped ourselves into the tent and slid into our sleeping bags. Nervously, I worried that somebody or some-animal-body was going to find us in the night and realize that they didn't like us very much, or that they liked us so much they wanted us for dinner.
Nevertheless, we chatted for a few minutes before saying goodnight and attempting to sleep on the 15-degree slope.
After a few minutes, I heard a noise close-by. I sat up and turned, wide-eyed, to check with David. He'd heard it too. Scratching.
We froze, the air tense like our muscles. Again, more scratching. This time louder.
"I think it's an animal," I mouthed. He nodded in agreement. There we sat for a couple minutes before David gave up waiting and resigned himself to sleep. I understood, but I wished I had a cohort to be vexed with. Eventually, I surrendered myself to sleep as well, slipping back into my bag.
Clearer than ever, the sound rang out again.
I sat bolt upright. Eyes like saucers. Heart-pounding out of my chest. I turned to see David, still asleep. And again, scratching at the corner of the tent by my feet.
I woke him to say, "I'm going out there." Mostly so I'd have backup incase things went south.
Silently, I slipped out of my bag. Both tent zippers were gonna be loud, so I made quick work of them. In a second, they gave way and I thrust my head harshly out the door, hoping to startle whatever was out there.
I looked immediately to the corner of the tent. Because my adrenaline was spiked, it took me a couple seconds to register what I saw.
Sitting at the corner of my tent was the backcountry permit flapping in the wind, scraping with unusual force across tent and ground—the same permit I'd tied to the tent pole not thirty minutes prior.
I picked up my shameful head and reached to tuck the permit under the tent.
The next morning, after my adrenaline had died and David had stopped laughing, the smile on my face hid some truth: yes, we'd lost the trail and track of the time, and we didn't camp in the right spot...but we did put the permit on the tent.
At least we did something right.