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Just about a year ago, I spent a solo week out on the Arizona Strip. At the beginning of the trip, the weather was classic fall perfection and I slept on the ground most nights, content, happy, and comfortable. On the last night of the trip, though, clouds and rain moved in and I turned north of Route 89 on some dirt and headed back into the hills to post up in my vehicle.

After a quick dinner, I stretched out inside, turned on some string lights for a little atmosphere, and settled down to watch an episode of American Horror Story on my phone. All of sudden, the patter of rain on the roof didn’t sound so benign. The tree branches rustling in the wind looked like accusatory skeletal arms. When I hustled outside to answer nature’s call, my skin filled with goosebumps–not from the chill, but from the eerieness I’d spun up in my own empty head.

I don’t get creeped out often, but when I do it’s of my own making. Come to think of it, it’s always of your own making. But sleeping in lion or bear country distills to a fairly logical, safe pursuit; hang your Twinkies from a tree branch and you’re probably fine. It’s those nights when you imagine jailbroken serial killers or cannibalistic redneck locals that you get yourself worked up—when the irrational lurks at the edge of your consciousness and occasionally dabs one foot over the line.

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Steve Casimiro is the editor of Adventure Journal. Follow him on Instagram at @stevecasimiro.

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