1.11.2007

Bear With Us...It's a Long Story

Our son, Thom, wrote a story of his side of the "The Great Bear Adventure". It took place last year, and I think it will be the last camping trip Thom and his brother, Dan,ever go on, together.
My Bear Story (edited by his mother)

Well, my brother, Dan invited me up to go camping with him and his family in the Old Forge area of the Adirondak mountains of upstate New York. Before we even left I told him I didn't want to see any bears; that just the thought of them made me nervous, because they are so much bigger they are than we are. I guess he just brushed it off, so I decided to go anyhow.
It was a long drive from Rochester to Old Forge, and the closer we got, the more nervous I got, thinking there might actually be some bears where we were going to be camping, and I mentioned it again. I guess everyone else in the car didn't take me seriously, because then, of course, they started clowning around and teasing me, saying a bear was going to 'get me' by coming right into my tent.
We drove around looking for the perfect place to camp. We saw some nice places, then finally found a campground that had a little store, free swimming, and a very 'cool' looking camping area. It was about dark when we got to our camp site, but right where we entered, I noticed this huge wooden statue of a bear. It took me off-guard, and I thought, "Oh no! That's not good."










We were setting up the camp, in the dark, when I discovered I would be sleeping alone in a tent by myself. "Oh, how comforting; just me, in the cold air, with nothing but a thin tent cloth around me." I lay there listening to every sound; the other campers talking, the wind blowing, and all the while thinking about that big bear statue. Finally, after about an hour I fell asleep. I had a comfortable and great rest.

The next morning Dan cooked scrambled eggs with cheese, then we headed out looking for wood. I especially wanted a lot of wood, so I could keep the fire going all night. Later, we all drove to town so Dan and Jennifer could check out the antique shops. I asked a woman who worked in one of the stores about the bears in the area. I asked her if she'd heard any stories about the bears attacking anyone, or were they friendly. Sure enough, this lady didn't care if she scared anybody or not...she told about this time a father and son, about ten years ago, taunted a bear, by covering themselves with honey and smacking the bear with a big, heavy stick. (Sheesh. Now just pause a moment and ask yourself, "Whaaa...?!") These two, drenched in honey, hollaring at this bear, poking and hitting him with a stick thought the bear wouldn't do anything?? She said, "Suddenly this bear wouldn't put up with it and killed the both father and son."

Instead of thinking that it would take a lot to provoke a bear to attack, I was upset, knowing that there were bears out there in the woods where we were camping, who had actually killed two humans. I should never have asked, because now I had to go back to my tent, alone, in the dark, try to feel cozy enough fall alseep and not think about killer bears. Dan tried to reassure me by saying, "Oh, they just want food; they're very friendly". Just to convince me all the more, he decided to take us all for a drive looking for the bears, because noone else in our camp had ever seen one. We drove along all the back dirt roads we could find, and I tried to keep an open mind about it, but when Dan kept turning off the engine and very slowly coasting down down heavily wooded grass and dirt roads to keep the bears from hearing us coming, I felt that if we startled a big bear and his family; and the car wouldn't start, they might attack before Dan could get us out of there. They are strong enough to smash car windows.
I was relieved when we finally stopped trying to spot any bear and headed back to camp to get something to eat.
We stopped at the camp store and I overheard people talking about seeing bears. The place was loaded with all different kinds of bear trinkets for the visitors to buy. I guessed by that, that it was an indication that there truly were bears around there. To make matters worse, when we got to our campsite, more stories emerged from other campers around us, that bears had been coming around the campfires while the campers were cooking!
When it was time for bed, I tried persuading Dan to stay up with me, telling him how great he was at making big campfires. I guess Dan figured out what I was doing, so he went to bed. So did I. Just as I was falling asleep, I thought I heard something scuffling through the leaves, so I listened for awhile longer, heard nothing, and fell asleep.
We had a wonderful day, boat riding, watching remote airplanes, etc. That night I stayed up late again tending the campfire, and thought everything in the woods must be asleep by now, even the bears, I went to bed, the the warm glow of the campfire shining through the side of the tent. Just as I was about to close my eyes, I didn't want to believe what I was seeing! A huge black shadow, first the nose, then the head of a bear, his big body slowly walking along the side of my tent! After I was sure it was gone, I was still shaking and called to Dan, "Dan, did you just see that big bear walk between the tents??" Dan called back, "Yeah, they're just looking for food", but he sounded a little nervous himself; but he had four other people in his tent for protection. Yeah, why should he be scared. It took me 2-3 hours to go to sleep after that.
The next day I told Dan, "I don't know if I can do this." Dan's fiancee` decided to make a game out of it and did different things to tease me about it. She'd look at something behind me and yell, "Oh migosh! There's a Bear!!" which would about make me jump out of my skin, or any strange sounds we might hear from out in the woods, she'd say it was a bear growling; she even put food under my tent for the bears, as a joke. I didn't see the humor in any of it.


That night to relax, we all went to the camp store, which also doubled as a lodge and sat around watching television. Even there, from the next room, I could hear people talking about bears. Some girl had gotten stranded when a bear showed up and her 'friends' had gotten scared, ran off and deserted her. Some old guy was out there telling about walking out his door and accidentally stepping directly onto a bear's paw, who had been sitting just outside his cabin door. The man quickly took his foot back and slowly closed the door. I dreaded going back to our campsite because I did not want to see another shadow on my tent, like I had the night before. We stayed until the store closed then went back to camp. I kept trying to think of ways to keep Dan up talking with me, tending the fire, etc., but he said he was on vacation and needed his rest. He told me to take the lantern with me and leave it on til it burned out. I had only just gotten into the tent when I heard something shuffling through the leaves, right up to the tent! Now, with the light on, I could see through the tent cloth even better than the night before. I could see the whole bear brushing along the tent, and hear him sniff and snorting, pushing his huge nose into the cloth at the base of the tent. I could hear every awful breath he took; deep rough breaths in and out, hungry and looking for something to tear into. I was panicked; I could hear the blood of my pounding heart rushing through my ears. This bear wasn't afraid of the fire in the lantern or the campfire. I had even poured a trail of kerosene close around my tent earlier, in hopes that the smell would keep them away. I felt like a terrified piece of raw meat waiting to be sliced into by the sharp claws of this smelly uncontrollable animal just the other side of the flimsy, thin nylon...it might just as well have been supermarket cellophane. Of all the tents, why did it have to be mine?? While he was circling my tent 15 slow, horrifying times, my mind was going crazy. At any second I just knew his huge body was going to rip into my tent and me. I was asking myself how I let myself get into this situation, and "Why would anyone in their right mind put a campsite where bears prowl around on the loose". An animal like that can't be reasoned with, telling them to go somewhere else to find food...but wait! I could hear it's breath moving away from my tent, and heard it's big paws shuffling through the leaves, away toward some other poor helpless victim's tent.
It just so happened that some other campers had just moved in and were all settled into their comfy sleeping bags for the night. I heard one of them say, "Did you hear that? Something's out there." I could hear every word they were saying; my senses were still on high alert. They were nervous over there, and kept saying over and over, "What is it? What could it be??" I was afraid for them, because I knew what it was and they didn't. All of a sudden I heard a loud tearing sound over there and the people starting shouting, "What is it? What could it be!!?" I wanted to yell at them, "It's a BEAR...what do you THINK it is?!" Then it sounded like a cooler being pulled across the ground and the people in the tent got real quiet. There was a loud bang and I could imagine the bear was demolishing the cooler and going through it, looking for his reward. The noise didn't stop...I heard dishes smashing and things flying all over the area; and what was that? In the distance I heard other bears tearing things apart, smashing and banging, dragging coolers around at other campsites, and other people almost calmly calling, "What's going on? What's going on out there?" I wanted to yell at all of them...what did they expect any how? "It's BEARS...What do you THINK would happen out here...there's even a big statue of a bear...What do you THINK all of the racket is?"
I stayed quiet and still in my tent, and so did the people in the next tent over, for quite awhile til all the commotion died down. When I finally dared to, I yelled over at Dan's tent, "I want out of here! You knew I don't like bears!" I heard the other people murmuring to themselves over there, but then when they heard me talking about bears, they started talking as though they were panicked, too. I just had to do anything to get out of there, so I yelled enough to get Dan awake. (I don't know how he slept through all that, but he had.) I wanted him to at least take me to any local store that was still open; anywhere away from here. Dan was still half asleep and didn't want to get up in the cold and dark and told me to just try to go back to sleep. He refused to get up so I yelled all the more that he had to do it...he HAD to get me out of there. Well, he got mad. He said the only thing he was going to do if he had to get out of that warm sleeping bag was to come over there and kick my a--! Right then I was more scared of the bears than I was of him, so I taunted him and said, "I'm not afraid, DO it!" , just to get him up and out of bed. He was tired and really mad, and came staggering wildly out of his tent, shouting as loudly as he could. Actually, I was happy about it, thinking,"Great, the more he shouts, the bears won't come around". He was angry, saying I was disturbing his vacation, and raced me down a curvy road, spitting stones left and right to an all-night convenience store. He stayed and talked with me for an hour or so, and made sure I had enough money with me to get something to eat before he went on back to camp.
I talked all night with the cashier, and she didn't mind my being there. She told me more stories about bears, telling me not to be afraid of them. She knew about them killing people too, so telling me not to be afraid didn't help all that much. When the sun came up, I got the courage up to ask someone for a ride back up to the campsite. I walked back to my tent as though nothing had happened; I was going to get some sleep. I noticed that the new 'neighbors' were gone. They had packed up and left town. The neighbors on the other side of Dan's tent asked me what had happened last night. I told them about the bear wandering around the outside of my tent. He said he had heard terrified yelling and screaming. How embarrassing.
Dan moved us into a cabin that night, thinking he was finally going to get a nice vacation out of the deal, with some peace and quiet, and for once and for all, shutting me up about the bears and the tent.
When everyone was asleep, (the people in our camping party who loved picking at me because I had seen the huge shadow of the bear) I barricaded the door, because, by then I'd even heard that the bears were breaking into the cabins, too, ransacking them, and terrorizing the people in them. About an hour after everyone had gone to bed, I was still lying there trying to go to sleep, when I heard something big and heavy creeping up onto the wooden cabin porch. I thought to myself, "Sure...now it's out here where I am, and could just push this door open. I've seen all I wanted already, and I'm not looking again." I know what it looked like, so I just lay there in the dark and let my ears 'look' at it until it eventually wandered back to where it came from. It went away...and so did we the next day.
I learned not to be fooled by a nice looking campsite. It can also be a bear habitat, and they're running the show. I'm not going to give them the chance to get the best of me again. (I'm almost positive Dan won't let it happen, either.)

Now this is Dan's side of the story:
Back in 2005 I had a blog, and I wrote a little piece on how it went... We enjoy the great outdoors... The smell of it... The taste of it... The wild life... ahhh the wildlife.... THE WILDLIFE!? We like to tent when we camp. We could get a camper, RV, or rent a cottage, but we like the real outdoor experience. So when we planned our Camping trip we decided that the Adirondack Mountains were the destination of choice. When calling through potential camp sites, that usual "expedia.com vision" did not pop into my head when they brought up the fact that black bears live in the area. So I jump feet first into a 5 night commitment via the internet (still safely withdrawn from reality 180 miles from these bears that they speak of). We spent a day and a half packing and arrive to our site at 10pm... Yes it is dark at 10pm. Not a prob... I was a boyscout... And I am MAN!!! The setup went fine, and women and children were first asleep. The next morning all went as usual through the glorious breakfast and fascinating first urination barrier. Then everywhere we went people spoke of the bears, there were statues of the bears, there were posters of the bears, and there were victims of the bears. This promoted my brother Thom to the position of Wildlife Investigator for the protection of the Miles Campsite. He made great breakthroughs interrogating the locals and exiting campers (they had to pry him away with a crowbar). He now had credible witnesses, he found that food sources without a pulse was the motive, and now he needed to see the perpetrators first hand! We spent countless days and night searching for them, they must have known...!!!! We then started to joke about the possibility that all of the hype may just be overblown and a publicity stunt to lure tourism in, and that the locals could have conspired to dress up like wildlife to give legitimacy the black bear stories to the disbelievers... Til the night of the spotting.... I awoke to a light rain and as I thought that I heard another sound of heavy breathing accompanying the light pitter patter. I then looked over my pillow to the side of the tent and saw the silhouette of a big hairy ear followed by a seemingly endless hairy back (not my own). I then heard almost simultaneously Thom say "Dan... Did you see that"? In my mind I wanted to say "no... Thom its all in your head" but I knew that investigator Miles would not let me go easily. The next day we walked slowly around and saw the prints left by the bear and now Miles had the evidence that would convict his perpetrator. The next night Miles thought that the bear was trying to "snuff" him because he was circling his tent and breathing hard... The bear then went the neighbors campsite and beat up a cooler. Miles finally said "Dan, you got to get me out of here"!!! I took him to a 24 hr. Gas station where there was a bear savvy convenient store clerk that just happens to be bored every night and welcomed his company til sunrise. He described feeling like the bears were like the warlocks from the movie "Time Machine" where they would retreat back into their caves underground with their live meals, and just like the bears they only came out at night... Hmm At this point Miles thought that everyone must be crazy... To just live, play and even tent camp so close to these barbaric creatures. We stayed in a cabin the rest of the time spent in the Adirondacks. Well fortified and Miles on high alert caused him to get very little sleep. So please if you want to have future pleasant camping experiences, I would recommend your kids watch the "Animal Planet" and refrain from showing them movies like the "Time Machine" .
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