That One Time: The Van Mouse

By Justen Sjong ,

Illustration: Mario Zucca

Chris Weidner and I were in Zion National Park in 2006 trying to link Moonlight Buttress, Spaceshot, and Touchstone Wall, all free in 24 hours. We’d get up in the middle of the night to climb Moonlight by headlamp, then Touchstone Wall in the morning, and finish on Spaceshot. While training that winter, we slept outside the park in our respective vans at a campground that’s now closed. Since it was midweek and freezing cold, we figured we were the only people there.

One night while sleeping “upstairs” in my van’s camper top, I heard the pitter-patter of a mouse scurrying about and munching on crumbs. Mice aren’t super loud, but they’re loud enough. Remote campsites seem to have these rodents that crawl into your van, basecamp for awhile, then leave. They drive me nuts! I could hear this one close to my stove, so I was ready with my headlamp and something to throw. Every time I saw it, I jumped out of bed and chased it down. This went on all night, but I never caught the mouse—I’ve never caught one of those things.

The next morning while making coffee, I noticed a paper plate on my windshield with a $5 bill attached. There was a note written on the plate: “Thanks for the show last night. Here’s a tip.” With complete darkness outside and a bright light inside the van every time I started chasing that mouse, combined with the fact that I happen to sleep naked … I slowly connected the dots. It turned out we weren’t alone in that campground.

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