There was a time in my not-so-distant past where I was deathly afraid of bears. I’m talking full on panic attack, can’t catch your breath, you’re hot and cold at the same time, heart pumping fast with blood pounding in your ears, and you’re 100 percent sure that you’re going to die.
There was a justifiable reason for this fear: A bear ransacked my campsite in 2015 for what seemed like an eternity — and all because of a rookie mistake.
It was day one of a nine-day camping trip back in 2015, and we were nestled in the very remote White Mountains of New Hampshire during the month of August. Temperatures were cooler as summer dwindled in New England, but it would bode well for our summit to Mount Moosilauke, which has an elevation of 4,803 feet; my first time attempting a summit of this height.
With our mission accomplished and our muscles strained and sore from reaching said summit, we spent the night celebrating around the campfire, and failing to heed all of the ranger’s warnings to remove trash and hide coolers in vehicles before bed.
I know. Rookie move. Really, really, rookie move.
Around 4 a.m., we were jolted awake by the sound of what I thought was Hulk smashing our foam coolers filled with Gatorade, or more realistically, a friend stumbling out of their tent and tripping. It didn’t take long, though, for the thing to get within two feet of my tent; I can still vividly recall the sound of its breathing as it huffed and puffed in circles around us. Every step was a labored thud, and I was convinced that it would eventually lift its paw, slash the tent, and I would die, like Leonardo DiCaprio should have died in “The Revenant.”
The creature would lumber around the site, grabbing vittles from various coolers, then take them to the edge of the woods to consume them, and then lumber back for more. Eventually, he/she attempted to get into the back of the pickup truck, where they proceeded to relocate a metal charcoal grill we brought with us, surely waking up everyone within our vicinity due to the loud scraping sound of metal grinding into the truck bed. It was deafening; not even an early-morning bird made a peep.
When we made a supply run back into town — and back into cell phone territory again — the damage to the pickup truck made for a really fun phone call to Dad.
“Hey, Dad. So, uh, a bear left giant scratch marks down the side of the pickup. No, this isn’t a lie.”
Thankfully, no one was injured and the bear eventually left after someone in our party got up and started causing a ruckus. Emotionally scarred, though, it was my last night of sleep; I turned into a vampire. Sleep during the day, stay awake all night waiting for the bear to return. Hyperventilate all night. Repeat. It was a shame. I love camping, and I ruined it for myself.
It wasn’t until my Harley-Davidson road trip to Sturgis, South Dakota, about a year ago that I was able to camp again, and sleep through the night without having a full blown panic attack each time I heard a noise. Maybe it was exhaustion, or maybe I’d finally come to terms with the fact that most camping trips are bear-free, especially if you listen to the park rangers.
Today, it’s a good story, and I’m frequently — and affectionately — still tagged in bear memes or news stories online by family members. Remember that guy in Michigan who single-handedly wrestled a black bear in May to save his beagle’s life? I heard about that one a lot, and yes, his story is way cooler than mine.
Would I risk it? I can’t say.
What’s your craziest wildlife encounter? I’d love to hear it.
In the meantime, get outdoors! Just follow the park ranger rules.