• Updated: January 01, 2014
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

This was the last day of our 2014 New Years trip out to the Tucson area.  After several caves and technical climbs we were planning to fit in one last big cave before making the long drive back to Orange County.

For what the actual cave was like see the writeup Cave of The Bells: The Trip When No One Was Bitten By A Skunk.  Because this is not that story.

We'd done Finger Rock the day before and by the time we'd finished and found a place to eat in Tucson it was was quite late.  The drive out to the Cave of the Bells was rough, we were exhausted, and it seemed to take forever before we pulled into the small turnout that marked the trailhead.

I slept in the back of my Wrangler just because it was cold out while Jeff and Jen threw out their bags on the ground outside.  This is something we do all the time and I've never had an issue.  Until today that is.

I'd fallen asleep quickly dreading waking up to my alarm in just a few short hours.  Instead I woke up hours later from a dead sleep to hear panicked yelling. 

It was Jeff.  I could make out the words "Matt!  It's biting me!" through my sleep haze as I struggled out of my sleeping bag and ran over to find Jeff bleeding from the face. 

None of us were fully awake at that point and our conversation about what had happened must have been a bit muddled.  The gist was Jeff had awoken to something biting him in the face and it hadn't let go for some period of time.

At that point I heard something and started shining my headlamp around.

And found we were surrounded by skunks.  They were in the grass on multiple sides a short distance away and they seemed to be moving in our direction.  Shining the light on them seemed to cause them to back off but for a brief moment it seemed like we were about to be besieged.

Jeff had several bite marked on his right cheek that were oozing blood and once it became apparent we weren't about to be attacked we got him a jug of water and started cleaning him up.

Jeff had the jug in his hand and was washing off his face still partially in his bedroll when he suddenly gave a very manly yelp and flung the partially filled gallon at the cute little baby skunk which had just hopped up on the foot of his sleeping bag.

The skunk got wet, looked surprisingly miffed from my recollection, and then tottered off.  We all stared at each other not quite believing what had happened.

Things quieted down after that with the skunks wandering off and Jeff getting cleaned up.  We now had to decide what to do. 

Being modern day young adults we did the obvious thing and tried to google if this was an emergency.  After all we were really tired and rather far from town.

We ended up getting a very weak cell signal and determining that while being bitten in the face by a skunk wasn't good care was only needed within the first 24 hours.  So on mutual agreement we all went back to sleep.  Jeff moved his bag about 10 ft away.

The rest of the night passed without further incident and once the sun was up we could have a better look around.  This was where he was lying when he was attacked.  You can see the grass around the turnaround.

Jeff insisted Jen and I should at least stick our heads in the cave and look around since we were already out there.  As tempting as that was it just didn't seem right and we packed up and left without even seeing the entrance to Bells.

As soon as we got far enough out that he had reception Jeff called his insurance to talk to a triage nurse and figure out if we needed to go to an ER now or if we could drive home first.  This conversation was made more difficult by the fact that as he was explaining "Yes, a skunk.  Yes, in the face" Jen and I would break into uncontrolled laughter.

The insurance nurse told us to get help now so we made a plan and dropped Jeff off at an Urgent Care in town.  We still had the Cave of the Bells key on us and needed to return it to someone who lived nearby.  After doing that we returned and asked at the front desk about our friend.

"Oh, the skunk face guy!"

Turns out the anti rabies shots they needed weren't in stock so we had to drive across town to a real hospital.

This time we went inside with him and waited in the lobby.  When they called Jeff back to see a doctor just about as he reached the door I heard the nurse ask "You let a skunk bite you in the face?"  A security guard walking by apparently heard as well because he laughed so hard he nearly fell over.

We waited for several hours.  Since we didn't have the animal they had to assume it was rabid and so Jeff was going to have to suffer through a rabbis vaccine.

The good news was they didn't have to use the old treatment which according to what I remember from watching Beavis and Butthead growing up was a large number of shots to the stomach.  Unfortunately the new and improved treatment involved shots all around the bite location so it didn't spread to his brain and then several large shots into his thigh.

Hours later we were discharged and did the only thing that made sense: went for mexican food.

The drive home from Tucson was long and possibly periodically punctuated by muttering of "in the face" followed by laughter.

Jeff didn't have any negative side effects from the bite beyond the 3 or so follow up treatments which also involved uncomfortably large shots.  When we returned to Bells in 2015 (without Jeff as he had had enough of caving and that area) we didn't even see a sign warning us about attacking skunks.

My personal theory as to what happened was that a family of skunks wandered through where Jeff was sleeping explaining why we saw more than one.  He later realized one of his flipflops had been chewed so I could see the baby maybe chewing on that when he woke up enough to send the mother into attack mode.

And that was how we wrapped up the New Years trip.

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