Last summer during one of my backpacking excursions to Deam Wilderness I had hiked out to my car to bring back water. I can’t carry all my gear and 15 pounds of water when I hike in, so I usually walk out at some point to bring more back to camp. When I got to the parking area there’s three cowboy looking guys with their horses. Two of them, older, are standing around. One, the most cowboy of all, who looks to be about my age, is still sitting on his horse.
I say hello to their dog who is wagging around my legs.
The cowboy-est one looks me up and down and says in a thick Indiana accent, “Where ya been out there?”
I say, “I’m off over on Terrell Ridge.”
He says, “You been to the lake?”
I say, “You mean the big one kinda behind the cemetary?”
He spits and says, “Yeah. There’s lots of little ones too.”
“Yeah,” I say, “I enjoy kicking around that ridge. It’s one of my favorite places on earth.”
He looks away, and then back at me. “You ever hear any cats? There’s big cats been up there. A buddy a mine saw the tracks last spring.” He goes on to describe how to tell a panther/lion track from a dog track from a bobcat track and how he’s been riding around these woods all his life and he’s seen tracks too.
Now it’s my turn to look him up and down. Is he just fucking with me because I’m a girl out there alone? I see the other two guys are wondering the same thing.
I say, “No, I’ve never heard one, or seen any tracks.”
He says, “I heard one once. Now that’s a sound that’ll make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.”
I say, “I do audio recordings while I’m out here. I would LOVE to get a recording of that, though I bet it would scare the crap outa me.”
His friends can’t take it any more. “Are you serious?” One of them asks him. “Big cats out here?”
“Dead serious,” He says still looking right at me. “A few years back a buddy a mine’s was hunting down here, and he camped just off the Sycamore Trail. His dog woke him up in the middle of the night just goin’ nuts. So he looks out and there’s this big cat just a starin’ down his dog. He jumped up and yelled real loud and the cat took off. He packed up his stuff right then and hightailed it out to his car. He still won’t stay here overnight.”
The older guys’ eyebrows go up. The cowboy-est is still just looking at me.
“Well shit,” I say. “Guess I better keep my dog in the tent.”
“You ever hear one, you’ll know. Nothin’ else sounds like that.”
“Maybe if I get a recording it’ll prove that there’s one around here.”
“Maybe,” he says, spitting again.
So I walk off with my water in my pack, quietly, listening for them to crack up as soon as they think I’m far enough away. But instead I just hear the older guys quizzin the younger one about the validity of the story, and him insisting that it’s all true.
So besides my new fear of big cats in Hoosier National Forest, the only thing I’m really scared of out there is Bigfoot. I’ve been scared of Bigfoot ever since I first heard of Bigfoot. I had a coyote walk within 4 feet of me when I was out hiking quietly without a light one night. I was surprised, as was the animal, but not so much scared. But if it had been Bigfoot I would have shit and died right there. All I can say is I wish I never would have googled “Bigfoot and Hoosier National Forest” or “panther and Hoosier National Forest.”