Many camp stories stem from small incidents, while others are more public knowledge. This one fits in the latter category.
Joe came to camp bursting with a delightful mix of high intensity, high pitch, and high intelligence. Much of Joe’s knowledge, we came to find, revolved around Bigfoot.
Being a professional, Joe knew that the likelihood of locating an actual Bigfoot was much greater in the wilderness of Northern Arizona than it was at his suburban home, so he came to Arizona Camp Sunrise with a plan. He made certain his bunk was next to the window looking out onto the front porch, and he had us bait the picnic table each night. (With Jack Links Beef Jerky, of course.) Joe hoped the bait would lure the beast onto the porch where he could catch a glimpse through the window. It was a moment he anticipated with both exhilaration and terror.
He didn’t see one that night. But come morning, the jerky was gone, evidence enough to steel Joe’s resolve in his quest to find Bigfoot.
In one of many instances of camp coincidence, we had actually purchased an adult XL Bigfoot costume prior to camp. It was still in the packaging waiting for us in the supply tent. And naturally we thought it a good idea to have a costumed counselor stalk the woods just beyond the comforting light of that evening’s campfire.
During the campfire, Joe surprised us all by jumping up in front of the entire camp, not to do the standard sing-along or a repeat-after-me-song, no, he delved into a rapid-fire list of Bigfoot facts:
* “The average Bigfoot is seven-to-ten feet tall and has footprints seventeen inches long.”
* “Bigfoot is shy and generally stays away from populated areas.”
* “Bigfoot is on the endangered species list in Russia and France and some other country that I can’t think of right now.”
* “Some Bigfoots are vegetarians, while others are carnivores. That means they eat meat.”
Many a counselor obtained information previously missing from their education. And Joe–generous with his knowledge and fearless with his presentation–was a hit. We clap, cheer and show support for any child bold enough to go up front, but Joe brought down the house. He was a veritable superstar of Bigfoot proportions.
And I suppose it was no surprise that he was the first to spot the shadowy creature doing a walk-by in the woods beyond the campfire. We looked where he pointed and most everyone caught a glimpse. From that moment on, the camp had Bigfoot-fever, and Joe was our commander.
Later that night, after Joe and the other campers were safely tucked in bed, Stumpy and I sat on the porch of the lodge marveling in our newfound knowledge of Bigfoot. At that moment we decided to escalate the situation to the next logical level.
I used my phone to videotape an interview with Stumpy. The pointless exchange was interrupted after just eleven seconds when he heard a noise from the darkness.
“Wait! What was that?”
It came again.
We crouched at the porch’s railing and peered into the dim-lit darkness. Sure enough a large, furry, bipedal figure sauntered upright through a thin slice of moonlight.
Seriously? we thought. Did we just see what we thought we’d seen? Then, being males and of questionable mind (is that redundant?), we took pursuit.
We bolted across the field in a maelstrom of fear, adrenaline and darkness, flashlights strafing this way and that, not knowing where or even what we were chasing. Suddenly, something crossed our path. Something big. Something ominous. Something Joe had warned us about.
I tripped and fell to the ground, dropping my phone. (Okay, possibly I just instinctively assumed the fetal position. It’s unclear.) Hopefully we’d captured some decent footage.
Reviewing the video later, it was poorly lit, shaky and grainy– reminiscent of the Blair Witch Project. If this went public, it would no doubt cause a camp-wide panic and sleepless nights for many. We pinky-swore to keep it secret.
The next morning we gave the video to Kegan, our camp IT guy, and told him that for everyone’s sanity, we had to keep it quiet. And we did just that, all the way until dinner.
As people finished their meals, I took the microphone and announced, “Last night there was an incident…outside, in the dark.” I spoke in a slow, sober tone so as to not alarm the campers. “We’d chosen not to share this with anyone outside of the directors,” I told the camp, “because we didn’t want to scare anyone. But we just got word that all of the TV stations in both Payson and Christopher Creek are airing the story, so we felt obligated to show it to you first.”
The screen lit up with the interview of Stumpy, which was interrupted by our not-so-clear pursuit of a furry, sauntering biped, and ended with my phone hitting the ground.
“There was more footage,” I told the camp, “but, I admit, I was scared and dropped my camera.” The room seemed a bit concerned, so I offered some solace. “But don’t be alarmed, Kegan is working on fixing my phone. And there are seconds available on the banana Nilla Wafer pudding.”
Next thing I knew, Joe had commandeered the microphone and was explaining that it was clearly a legitimate Bigfoot sighting of scientific import. Then he backed up his statement with another barrage of Bigfoot-related facts.
I thanked Joe for his professionalism and returned to my seat where my banana Nilla Wafer pudding awaited. But my pudding-revelry was repeatedly interrupted by fellow-counselors saying: “Bob, our girls/boys are scared to death and you need to go back up there and tell them it’s not really true.”
“Kegan is working on restoring the rest of the video,” I assured them.
Before I was half way through my banana Nilla Wafer pudding, Kegan hollered, “Bob, I fixed your camera, and I have the rest of the video! I’ll play it from the top.”
Again we watched the interrupted interview and the grainy pursuit. But, right after the part where I dropped my camera, a warm orchestration rose over top of Stumpy’s whimpering, and a fully-produced video followed. Text scrolled across the screen, reading: Our Night With Bigfoot, while Louie Armstrong crooned, “What a Wonderful World.”
Then, there he was–Bigfoot, reclining on the porch, his size 64 feet crossed on the railing. The music played on as we witnessed Bigfoot drinking straight out of the milk machine; attempting to read a book; baking cookies; and singing karaoke. The video climaxed with Bigfoot on a hoverboard, gliding across the lodge and then into tight concentric circles choreographed with the music. The video ended with the caption: Thanks, BF! See you again soon.
While the entire lodge hooted, hollered and applauded, Joe again reached for the microphone. “I’m pretty sure that this was just one of the counselors in a Bigfoot costume,” he announced, pointing to the screen.
Game over. He’s found us out.
“However,” he continued, “in the earlier footage, THAT was a legitimate and scientifically important Bigfoot sighting!”
Way to hold firm to your beliefs, Joe!
And thank you for helping make camp a magical place.
Like Louie said, “What a wonderful world, at Arizona Camp Sunrise.”
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