“Grant!” I whispered loudly through the tent flap.
We were camping in Seward, Alaska with friends of family and it was sometime in the middle of the night. I had to use the bathroom and the bathroom buildings were about a quarter of a mile down the road. I was afraid to walk there alone.
“Grant, I need to go to the bathroom!” I whispered again. Please, oh please wake up! I thought to myself.
I heard him stir and mumble something.
I waited in the semi-darkness a few more moments and then realized Grant wasn’t waking up. Since we weren’t married, I didn’t feel comfortable going into his tent and waking him up in the middle of the night.
I sighed and looked down the gravel road where the bathroom was located. I knew I couldn’t wait until morning. I had to go.
I worked up my courage and started walking. Thankfully, since it was summer in Alaska, it was still pretty light.
I saw a few campfires glowing in the distance as I approached the bathrooms. I went as quickly as possible and half-ran back towards our tents, looking around for any sign of bears.
I did it! I did it! I chanted to myself.
As I rounded the last corner before our tents, I saw the dog. He was standing in the middle of the road – the road that I needed to walk down to get back to our campsite.
I froze in fear.
Ever since I was a little girl I have been afraid of dogs. I like friendly dogs once I get to know them, but whenever I see a dog I don’t know, I always jump with a twinge of fear.
When I was around seven or eight years old, my brothers and I used to spend a lot of time on a plantation near our home that some friends of ours live on.
There were lots of dogs on the plantation. Whenever they would come near and bark, I would get so scared that our babysitter, Sarah, would let me ride on her back.
It probably didn’t help that around that same time I watched a Little House on the Prairie episode where a pack of wild dogs ran rampant all over the small prairie town, hurting people and killing animals.
So, that night in Alaska, I flinched and stood still and stared at the dog that most certainly was wild and was preparing to attack.
Then my fears came true. He growled at me.
Oh no! Lord, please save me! I prayed.
I could already see the headlines: South Carolina girl mauled to death by a wild dog at Alaskan campground.
It would be the type of thing where people would read it and say, “What was that girl doing out there anyway? She should know better than to be alone in the Alaskan wilderness.”
Then suddenly, the dog stopped growling and started wagging his tail at something around the bend that I couldn’t see.
Then I heard a voice say, “Hey boy” to the wild dog.
I let out a sigh as I waited for the dog’s owner to round the bend. I guess he’s not wild after all.
Then I saw the cowboy boots.
Grant smiled a sleepy smile at me as he rounded the corner.
The dog quietly trotted away.
He must have realized that he no longer had easy prey.
My hero! I almost exclaimed aloud.
“GraceAnna, what are you doing out here? You shouldn’t have come out here alone!”
“Oh, I know that now.” I said as I ran up to him and grabbed his hand.
Grant smiled again. “It took me a few minutes to realize that I wasn’t dreaming when you tried to wake me up.”
“I’m just so glad you woke up and saved me from that awful dog!”
“That old mutt?” Grant asked smiling.
Grant smiled as he squeezed my hand and we approached the campsite.
“GraceAnna, get some rest. It’s still a few hours until morning.”
“And hey,” Grant added as I started to climb back into the tent.
I turned and looked back at him.
“You’re doing pretty good out here. You’ve almost made it through the night.” He said with a wink.
I zipped up my sleeping bag and closed my eyes. I hoped that I wouldn’t have to use the bathroom again before morning.
I also hoped that I was just imagining that I felt sick.
I sat in the truck half-crying. It was the next morning and it was rainy and cold.
“GraceAnna, I’m taking you back to Anchorage and that’s that.” Grant said matter-of-factly.
“But Grant it will ruin the trip and everyone will think I’m leaving because I’m a big baby”
“It doesn’t matter what people think, GraceAnna. You are running a fever and you don’t need to stay another night outside.”
I knew Grant was right, but I felt like I was chickening out of the camping trip.
I had so wanted to be brave and adventurous and stay out there the whole weekend like everyone else.
I had wanted to do something I’d never done before.
But I had woken up that morning feeling worse and running a fever.
I couldn’t deny it, I was miserable. And now it was raining and everything was wet.
“I’m going to talk to everyone and let them know I have to take you back, okay? They will understand.”
Grant got out of the truck and explained the situation to the families we were camping with.
They were so gracious. And no one said anything about me being a baby. At least that I could hear.
As we were heading to the truck to leave, Grant said, “Wait!”
“What?” I asked.
“Let’s go back into your tent. I want to take a picture of something.”
I crawled back in the tent.
“Now sit right in front of your pallet. Yes, right there.” Grant said as I stooped over where I had slept the night before.
Grant snapped a picture. “Yep, just wanted to take this shot for proof that you slept outside.”
“Thanks, Grant. That will be a wonderful photo.” I said with a hint of sarcasm.
A few minutes later we were heading back to Anchorage in the warm truck.
I was already starting to feel better.
“Now GraceAnna, we are going to get you well.” Grant said matter-of-factly. “I’m going to feed you a good meal, you are going to get some good sleep, and we are going to kill this fever!”
I stared out the window as long as I could at the beautiful Alaskan mountains, but before I knew it, the thought of a warm bed that night, plus the effects of the tylenol lulled me to sleep.
“GraceAnna, wake up!” Grant’s voice awakened me.
I sat up. We were in an IHOP parking lot.
“Time for a good meal.” Grant explained.
Once inside, I stared at the menu. “I don’t really know what to get.” I said. “I never eat here.”
“You never eat here? You are really missing out! I’ll order for you.” Grant placed the order with the waitress and before I knew it there were pancakes, bacon, eggs, and hash-browns in front of me.
“Eat it all.” Grant told me.
When we left, I was already feeling so much better.
“See, GraceAnna, I know you. You were just run-down from your trip out here, the time-change, and the lack of sleep. Now let’s get you to bed and you’ll be as good as gold.“
Grant dropped me off at the family’s house that I was staying at.
“Get some sleep,” he said as he let me go inside.
The house was empty and we were alone.
But Grant said good-night.
I climbed in bed and and drifted off to sleep thinking about how thankful I was that I had a man who took care of me. He was already protecting and providing for me.
He got me out of the Alaskan wilderness, fed me his version of a good meal, and now I was in a warm bed instead of camping in the wet and cold.
And even though he could have taken advantage of the opportunity to be alone with me, he didn’t.
Lord, thank you for Grant Castleberry, was the last thing I thought before falling asleep.
to be continued…