We had an uninvited guest.
Living on the road can bring some unusual concerns that we never experienced when we lived in a wheel-less house.
For example, when we want to backpack, we have to figure out a place to stash our home for the weekend. That’s not always an easy task and can be a little nerve-racking.
These types of backpacking trips take a little more research than a typical day hike. Sometimes, we have been able to store our camper at a private campground, but other times the logistics don’t line up, so we have to make plans around which trailhead we can park at.
We spent our entire summer in the Pacific Northwest. We started out with an impressive list of backpacking trips to accomplish over three months, but each brought disappointment since the majority of the trails remained inaccessible. Each time we applied for a permit we found out all of our picks were still under snow, even late into the summer. Everyone we talked to told us how the past winter was a big one, with excessive amounts of snowfall. Seeing 7-14 feet of snow mid-summer was, and still is, mind boggling for someone born and raised in the South.
There were a few trails that were accessible, but we lacked the equipment, experience, or knowledge of ice climbing or whatever else was necessary to complete the trip. We decided to do as much as we could over long day hikes.
We ended up having a great summer, but needed to arrive in Nashville, TN by early September for our best friends’ wedding. We were determined to get one great backpack trip in to close out the summer. We decided we would pick a trip in the Midwest, in hopes that the snow had melted and nothing could hinder our last ditch efforts to spend a weekend under the stars.
We picked a trail in Wyoming. After one phone call to the ranger station, our excitement was deflated. We were reminded that the Solar Eclipse was passing right over and the rangers expected that an influx of people would head to the mountain range. We hoped for more solitude, so we scratched those plans and started to look north to Montana. Finally! Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness had a trail that was snowless and had a trailhead that could accommodate the camper. The ranger reassured us that the dirt road was well used because the parking lot was set up to accommodate horse trailers.
Even though it can be stressful leaving our house in a parking lot for the weekend, the upside is we have everything with us so there is no way we could have ‘forgotten anything at home’.
We double checked to make sure we had everything. I had overpacked Harper’s pre-measured dog food bags, so Jeremiah tossed the extra one right inside the door of the camper and we were off.
We had an amazing weekend. I plan on sharing trail information and photos in a later blog post.
When we got back to the trailhead, we walked around to make sure everything was in its place. Everything, including our empty Yeti cooler that I forgot to put back in the car, was sitting there. Oops! We opened up the camper to grab a change of clothes, a Gatorade, and get Harper’s water bowl. Jeremiah picked up that extra bag of dog food and saw there was a small hole in it. He said something like, “I hope we don’t have a critter”. I shrugged it off and thought it might have torn on something when I tossed it, days before. We locked the camper and were off in search of food and showers.
The next morning, we started our drive back east. We drove from Montana to the Black Hills in South Dakota. We had plans to stay overnight at a winery. We wouldn’t have electricity or water so we knew it would be a quiet night…
At 2:15 a.m., I woke up to an unfamiliar, unusual sound. I waited a second until I heard it again. I grabbed Jeremiah’s arm. “I hear it” he said. I didn’t know it had woken him too. Whatever it was made the sound again. “What is it? A bear?” Keep in mind we had just spend our last few nights in grizzly bear territory, with bear spray at the ready by our pillows. As I was becoming more awake, I knew that bears wouldn’t be in the area. “A human?” Now I could see Jeremiah’s face as he looked down at his phone to see the time as he shook his head “no”.
He got up to turn the outside light on, to see if he could see anything. There was nothing and the sound stopped. Jeremiah leaned against the kitchen sink as I stayed under the covers because it was a bit chilly. “What are you thinking?” I asked him. “I think it’s something trying to get into our grill” he said. That made total sense; the sound was probably a raccoon flipping over our portable grill. With that in mind, we decided to try to get some sleep and hoped that the animal would move on since it wouldn’t be able to pry the grill open.
Right about the moment we were sound asleep… “SCRRRRRAAAATCCCHH”. “What in the world, Jeremiah?! It sounds like something is scratching the outside of the camper.” He got back out of bed and walked across the camper, all of 5 steps, to peek out the back window. The sound had stopped again. Every time we made a sound, the sound would stop.
If you are wondering where our attack dog is during all of this, she is still sleeping soundly, in fact, she’s snoring. She woke up at some point only to stand up, turn around, and let a loud sigh out as she plopped back down in her warm spot.
About 3:30 a.m., Jeremiah now felt confident that we had a mouse in the camper. If it was a mouse, it made so much noise. He said the only reason he didn’t think of it sooner was that we should have seen some mouse droppings or some other signs of one. Lightbulb moment for me…when we got back to the camper, and he showed me the small hole in the dog food bag, I remembered knocking some black stuff out of the dog bowl, which I thought was dirt, but now maybe I was thinking it was mouse droppings.
Another sleepless hour went by and each time we talked, the noise would stop, and each time we were about to fall asleep, the noise would start again. Eventually we both fell back asleep, but woke up a few hours early to get on the road again.
We made a slight detour to Lowe’s before getting on the road. Jeremiah bought a catch and release trap and a few catch and throw away traps. We decided to start with the catch and release since we planned to use peanut butter. Peanut butter isn’t a safe word in our house, it’s one that needs to be spelled out since it’s our dog’s favorite treat. We didn’t want her getting caught in the trap.
We drove from South Dakota to Minnesota and planned to stay at another winery for the night. When we arrived, we looked for where the mouse entered. We found a hole that we were able to seal with expanding foam. We also found a place where it tried to make a nest out of a rogue paper towel and some dog hair. The only damage we found was one of my tank tops was destroyed with about 12 holes in it. We were finding droppings everywhere now.
We set up the camper, set up the trap, and then headed in for a wine tasting. We were hopeful to have the mouse trapped by the time we were done. We headed to bed around midnight, but there was no mouse in the trap.
At 2:15 am, the noises started again. We had a mouse in the trap! We gathered our flashlights and headed outside to set it free.
We let it go amongst the screeching owl and roaming stray cats. I’m sure it lived a long great life in Minnesota. How many mice can say they were a stowaway for eight hundred miles?
TIPS FOR KEEPING MICE OUT OF YOUR CAMPER AND RV
Mice are nocturnal so it’s most likely you will hear them at night, like we did.
Find where they can enter and fill the gaps. Expanding foam worked well. I read that some people also use steel mesh and steel wool so mice can’t dig though.
2. Home items that work: peppermint oil on cotton balls or spray, fabric softener sheets (although once the smell is gone they don’t work), Irish Spring Soap, and moth balls.
3. We used to think RVers were very festive with their rope lights under their rigs, but we have since learned that mice don’t like light and the rope lights help keep mice away at night.
You want to get rid of the mice as soon as possible as there are plenty of horror stories of mice tearing up wiring and other important parts of RVs.
There are many products on the market but we have found the ones that I listed above worked fine.