There’s bears in them thar woods

After taking the zipline canopy tour on Tuesday morning, I headed from Lula, Georgia to Helen, Georgia. I figured, if I’m in the mountains, I may as well stay and enjoy a few days, right? The thought was especially alluring since Tuesday’s high (the day of the zipline adventure) was a record for the summer that only topped one other day – Monday (when we set up camp … in the sweltering temps). Surely, the temperature will go down a bit if I hang around?  It has to, right?

Upon checking in at Unicoi, I was warned that there had been a bear sighting on the grounds. “Okay. A bear,” I thought, “No big deal?”  Right? I mean, what are the chances of ME seeing a bear? Me? A female …. camping alone …. in a tissue paper-thin building (tent) … did I mention, by myself?

I was told there are two sites left so I had my choice of sites.
“Go find them and pick one,” I was told. And I did.
After I have all my gear strewn on the ground and begin to set up,
I make conversation with the people across from me
who tell me that
the rambling, ambling bear
rummaged through their rubbermaid
to excavate cookies and marshmallows
in broad daylight
about forty-five minutes ago.
(Did I mention that I am alone?)

See, I have this theory about camping alone.
If I’m camping WITH someone and am bothered, the other person will at the very least SCREAM
and at the most, kill the intruder.
If I’m alone ….. well …… if someone slices my tent open
like the bad guy did Glory’s car roof

and they grab me, cover my mouth and drag me off
or *coughs* m.a.u.l  me
… well …. I’m in trouble.

I’ve already chosen my site and am starting to set up. These folks across from me are also in a tent AND they have a (small, yappy, restless) dog. I’m figuring that that this little furry fella will help stave off the larger, wild furry fella. And besides, four sites down won’t afford me much more safety than right where I am. Right?

And honestly … the thought of spying a real, live bear on the prowl in the wild was pretty exciting.
I knew I’d be keeping my camera even closer than usual

As I set up my tent, I noticed the foot path
that leads up over the hill
which is probably a wildlife created trail
NOT a people trail.

Great. Within minutes, I hear clapping and pot-and-pan-banging over on the other side of the ridge. That there is bear-scaring noise-making. Moments later, add to the pots and pans,  hollerin’ … a police siren. Okay. Okay. Now, the rangers are helping to shoo away the menace. My thought? “Hold up! That bear is going to come up over the hill!” *trembles*

Soon …
he shows up.

He topped the incline and stopped to consider his next move. He was moving slowly. I tooted my air horn several times. He walked parallel the sites. First he investigated the site next to me (where there was a robust, active boxer inside the camper … a boxer that didn’t seem to even recognize the Ursus Americanus presence), then strolled on further, looking for groceries in less active sites … where there weren’t blaring air horns and clapping hands.

Grand. My tent was up, I had eaten dinner and soon I would be going to sleep
at the foot of a trail
used by a bear.

Sundown settled in quickly. I debated as to whether or not to sleep in the van or the tent. After discussion with Stone (who is an avid camper and has done some primitive camping in more isolated areas), the park ranger and my not-so-smart neighbors (who unintentionally left out bait … uhm, I mean sweets for the bear in the first place), I decided to go the night in the tent. I showered but didn’t use lotion and I made sure that my tent had nothing inviting inside (no food, sweets or even yummy smelling body products like chapstick). All food products were locked securely behind the glass and metal barrier of my van.

Even as I dined on tuna & some flavorful whole grain bread, I wondered
“Is that morsel of bread crust enough to draw in a Black Bear?”
Just in case, I picked it up and p.o.p.p.e.d  it into my mouth.

And the night was long. I felt like I slept with one eye open. I left my windows down so I wouldn’t have to UNZIP to see if a creeper came over the hill. I kept my air horn and pepper spray beside me. In fact, I start to sleep HOLDING my air horn or the spray, but was afraid that I might accidentally press the button in the night and end up with a face full of acid OR give myself a heart attack from a screech of the horn. (*Let’s see … death in darkness … alone … by mauling, allergic reaction or heart attack? Which would be worse?)

As I tried to sleep, I realized that I’d never be able to HEAR the bear ambling his big, gigantic, scary paws through the ferns and crunchy leaves BECAUSE the crickets were SO.CRAZY.LOUD! You really must turn the volume up all the way to get the full effect. I promise you they were THAT noisy. No, really.  Click HERE to listen.

I attempted to sleep with one eye open
and both ears shut.

The next afternoon, I attended a Survival Skills class offered by DNR Rangers. It was very informative. Stone has agreed to teach me to primitive camp (if I can recover from my most recently acquired bear angst), so a class like this might teach me something new.  As storm clouds rolled in, spending an hour in a rustic cabin setting – with air conditioning – learning a new skill sounded like a nice respite to all the excitement of the last few days.

Our ranger, Amber, answered some bear questions for me. Among them; “Would it be helpful to spray the perimeter of my tent with pepper spray to deter entry into my domicile? Yes. She seemed to think it might be a good idea. So, after a bike ride, a little more hiking (after the skies cleared), a shower and dinner, I circled the tent with my pepper spray and got ready to crawl inside.

I was sure NOT to apply my favorite Bath & Body Works Body Cream … as my BFF, Della, and I have a consensus that it smells like fresh cake batter. If marshmallows and cookies are appealing to a bear, the smell of cake batter might also be tempting. As I thought of my ashy legs, I had a recollection of Haley Mills in the old Parent Trap with strings strung back and forth across the inside of the cabin and a bear sticking his head in through the window to lick the honey off the twin’s legs. Yikes. I really didn’t want to wear cake-batter-scented bear bait.

Okay. So, I’m set. I’m clean, but safely not”delicious,” every morsel of food is in the van (or my belly) and I’m ready to crawl into the tent.
As I unzip the tent, my nose is burned by the pepper spray
and I begin to question my extra precaution.

Remember that it rained all afternoon? So, the pepper spray is not drying.
And I sprayed it around the perimeter of the tent
where it happened to get on the tent …
which is breathable, thin nylon.
So, I find myself
lying on an air mattress
surrounded by faint – but noticeable –
pepper spray fumes …
fumes that begin to burn my nose and mouth.

Okay. Next step?

Well, I thought that a bandana might help filter the particles. I JUST purchased a pretty little bandana at a shop in downtown Helen. The thought that I’d be using it later in the day to filter carcinogens never even entered my mind as, leaving the store, I tied it around my neck.

Oddly enough, I felt a burn inside my nose, but my eyes weren’t bothered. The bandana is not a fine woven material, so it didn’t effectively filter. Next step? Cover my head with my sheet, as an extra layer of protection.

All this did, was make me hotter … in the steamy, sultry evening air.

It COULD have been my imagination, but I’m pretty sure that I could feel my lungs swelling within my chest. I wondered if I could have an allergic reaction to the fumes in the night and suffocate? Yes, the thought crossed my mind.

In the end
… and the darkness …
I rearranged all the camping gear, the bicycle, cooler, grill, luggage  and storage trunk in the back of my van.
I drug my single, twin mattress OUT of the tent …
careful NOT to touch the edge of the tent contaminated with pungent, potential death spray
and slid the bedding into the back of my van.

Really, it wasn’t so different from camping HERE
except it was 40° hotter
and I needed v.e.n.t.i.l.a.t.i.o.n much worse.
I sealed myself in the van …
because leaving a cracked window would allow all the food that surrounded me in the
cooler, storage trunk and on the grill racks inside my Little Smokey Joe
would LURE a bear in for a snack … right?
Surely he could break through a window if he just had a cracked window
to stick his tremendous claws inside and leverage open that window, right?

At 3:00 am I woke up needing to go to the restroom …
probably from the two extra bottles of water I needed to wash the Capsaicin fumes from my mouth and throat
just before I finally went to sleep.

Do you think I walked down the hill to the bathroom? Nosirreee.
I cranked my van and DROVE through the campground …
even though I felt badly for the tent campers.
See, a luxury camper (any hardshell) has an air conditioner that drones outside noise away.
And the thickness of the walls of the camper also muffles noise.
But, the tent campers like me?
My driving past them
would be about the same as me driving through the bedroom next to your own bedroom at home ….
except of course the walls of your home are SHEETROCK not breathable, thin nylon!
It’s really sort of a rude thing to drive through a campground after “sleeping” hours … but I did it anyway.
I figured the air horn or my screams from being attacked would have been much more rude.

I write all this with tongue-in-cheek. While these thoughts did go through my mind, I didn’t feel that threatened or I would have slept in the van from the start. Or, of course, I could have packed up and headed home. As it all unraveled, I saw God in all the cool ways that He graciously, thankfully shows His big Self to me.
I had an awesome new bandana (so I could be cute, if I was attacked)
I got to see and take a few photos of an American Black Bear (probably a cub). That was VERY cool.
When I did find myself sleeping in the van, the temps had dropped a bit due to the cooling rain.
I have recently downsized from a queen to a twin blow up mattress … so my bed would FIT into a cramped van.
And I made some new friends. The people in the site next to me are actually from just down the road (Aiken, SC).
We’ve traded email addresses and may camp together later. One daughter is a violin player  and the other is eleven (both like Joy). And we swam against their swim team just a few weeks ago, as they swim for Houndslake swim team! It’s such a small … crazy, fun, exciting world!

It turns out that this bear may be a cub that was accidentally left alone. A female bear had become a nuisance and was moved about a week ago. This little guy (though, not so small, really) may be her cub. He may have been taught this behavior by his Mama. And he may be struggling with finding lunch without her presence. If he is a 2011 cub (usually born in Jan/Feb), he may even still be a nursing cub as American Black Bears will nurse through the first year, but the Mama will chase away the cub the second summer. One of the rangers pointed out that the Mama that was moved will probably return soon if that was her little one. The relocated bear was only taken about thirty miles away to a Wildlife Management area. Hopefully, they’ll be reunited and then relocated out of the area of campers ….. who carelessly leave out goodies for curious, hungry wildlife.

13 thoughts on “There’s bears in them thar woods

  1. Reminds me of close bear encounters…always in the middle of night when I walked to the latrine…always close by because other campers are too stupid to put EVERYTHING away…during the years that we tent camped in the Sierrras. Now we are retired and travel in our motorhome…I don’t ever use the word “camping” to describe our current arrangement…giggle!


    1. Bev, we need to sit down over an afternoon pot of coffee (decaf, of course). Our stories are so similar. It’s so sweet to have a kindred spirit reading from afar.
      I wonder if I’ll ever graduate to “glamping.” I’m still in love with the tent … and my friend, Stone, is helping me to learn to take it down another notch. I’m loving it!


      1. When our “glamping” finally takes us down to your part of the country, I’ll let you know. It would be so cool to meet you! This time of year though we’ll be heading north, sometime in the next couple of weeks, trying to escape this beastly heat.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s