When I was 14, like many teenagers, I felt like a partial adult. I couldn’t drive a car, but I could go on my own to the mall with friends on a Saturday night. I wasn’t allowed to have boys in my room, but I did my fair share of making out with them, secretly, in other parts of the house. I wore a bra, but was mortified for anyone to see it hanging up to dry. So, imagine my horror…

The summer after freshman year, I spent a month volunteering in Montana with a dozen other high school students, most of them boys. We took a trip to Yellowstone and stopped to appreciate Old Faithful on our way to a backcountry camping spot, where we hoped to see some bison and elk, but not any grizzly bears or wolves. We were stocked with trail mix, hot dogs and packs of Uno.

A few hours after we’d pitched our tents and filled up our Nalgene bottles with spring water and iodine tablets, a ranger came by. He told us grizzlies had been in the area and asked a question: “Is it that time of month for any of the young women here?”

My heart pounded. I’d been visiting the latrine that day with my supplies hidden up the sleeve of my shirt so nobody could see. The ranger asked for a show of hands. I had no idea what to do or how his question related to bears, but I slowly raised my arm and felt everyone staring at me.

The ranger advised me to SLEEP IN A CAGE! For my safety. Something about the bears and menstruation and… I didn’t even hear the details, but I spent the night in a tiny, three-sided wood structure that had a fourth wall of open metal bars secured by a huge, rusty lock. In reluctant solidarity, the two other girls on the trip kept me company that night.

I’ve camped a bit since, but I’ve never, ever forgotten the bear cage. It’s a memory that stands firmly in front of what might have been a lifelong love of camping. (By the way, scientists now know that periods don’t attract bears. Camp with confidence!)

What about you? Have you had any camping nightmares? And, if you’re a big camper, what do you love about it?

P.S. Yurt vacations and amazing ideas for family travel.

(Photo by Andrew H. Brown, via National Geographic)