Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Infamous Bear "Attack" Story

Back in the summer, I mentioned being attacked by a bear during my Camping Trip from Hell post. And I promised I would write the story one day. I saved the story for when I hit a blogging slump and needed some filler. So here goes. Trust me, this is good.

Dave and I had just gotten married, and we were backpacking through part of the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut with my friend since Junior High, Heather. We were staying overnight in a lean-to, which is a three sided wooden platform set up about 10 feet above ground with 5 or so giant wooden stairs leading to the opening. There are several of these placed on the trail for backpackers to use while hiking through. We didn't bring tents because of the cover of the lean-to, and just slept in our sleeping bags.

Well, we were a little cocky. Between me spending a summer in Glacier National Park in Montana and my husband's two week solo trip through Yosemite National Park, we thought CT was pretty tame. So we didn't take the precautions we really should have. Such as hanging our food away from our camp site high in the trees as not to attract any "uninvited guests". This is something we would normally do. Even camping in NH or somewhere close. But we were in CT, for crying out loud! which is arguably just a giant suburb of NYC. There aren't any bears here. Well, that's what we thought anyway.

So, we made pepperoni pizza's that evening for dinner. Before bed we took the bag of leftover food and hung it on a hook in the front of the lean-to so the mice didn't get into it. Which was the stupidest thing we've ever done because we were basically setting a bear trap. I should mention that in the lean-to with us was a man that I call "The Mountain Man" cause I can't remember his actual name. He was probably in his 60's and had left his family for a few months to hike the entire Appalachian Trail by himself. He was really rugged and exactly what you would picture a mountain man looking like, hence the nickname "Mountain Man". We shared our food with him and let him use our phone to call his wife. He was appreciative and essentially helped save our lives, so it was a good call helping him out. Well, he slept way on the right side of the lean-to and Dave, Heather, and I slept on the other side. Heather was pretty much positioned right in the middle of the lean-to. So late that night we went to bed, death trap unknowingly set above our heads.

Now I should mention that I don't normally sleep well outdoors. I get spooked easily and have a quite an imagination, which doesn't bode well for sleeping in dark, strange places. Sure enough, in the middle of the night, I woke up to a rustling noise outside the lean-to. I didn't want to make a big deal out of nothing and seem like a wimp, so I didn't say anything and just told myself it was probably a raccoon or something. Well, I knew it wasn't a raccoon as soon as I saw Dave pop his head up quickly. He never overreacts. He didn't say anything for a few minutes. Neither did I. I just waited for him to lay back down, again, not wanting to seem overly paranoid. It was a full moon, so everything outside was clearly visible.

That's when I felt it. Thud, thud, thud. Something....was coming up the stairs. Something big. In a period of about one second, Dave jumped straight up and started yelling and banging around. (Of course, it seemed much longer at the time, everything moves slower when you're in danger.) And that's when I heard it.

A growl.

I've never heard anything so menacing in all my life.

And I have never been so scared in my whole life. Now, you have to remember, all my bear training came from living in "Grizzly Country" in Montana. We learned that you don't mess around with bears. If you find yourself that close to one, you get into the fetal position, cover your face and neck, and you better pray to whatever it is you believe in and hope he (or she) is listening. I was inundated with horror stories of bear attacks. So my immediate reaction to the growl was to curl up in my sleeping bag and pretend I was dead. And in my mind, so should everyone else.

But Dave, knowing it was a black bear (cause it is Connecticut after all) and that they're pretty easy to scare off, started yelling at it. I was just as afraid for his life as I was for mine, and I thought he was being entirely idiotic, so I stuck my hand out of the sleeping bag and tried to pull him in so he can hide too. So all of this had taken only a few seconds and quickly jolted Mountain Man awake. So he, also seeing the bear, jumped up and started screaming at the bear and lunging at it from inside the lean-to. So, take a moment to picture this. We have the two guys jumping around making noise to scare the bear away, me hiding in the sleeping bag while yelling at Dave to lay down and play dead, and then there's Heather.

Heather is a deep sleeper. A very deep sleeper. But after just a minute of screaming all around her, she finally woke up in a frenzy, not having any idea what's going on. All she knows at this point is that people around her are screaming for their lives. And so her immediate thought is that we're being attacked by some serial killer. Now, since she's in the middle of the lean-to, and that's right where the food was hanging, she was in the best spot for a good view of the bear, which, by this time is all the way in the lean-to with us, only a few feet away. But not knowing what was going on, she sat straight up (practically head-butting the bear) and started screaming on the top of her lungs, louder and more intense than I've ever heard someone scream. Seriously, she could have a career in horror movies. And she screamed over and over and over.

And since I still had my head under the sleeping bag (self-preservation people!), I can only guess at what was going on. And with Heather screaming the way she was, I thought the bear got her. So I started screaming, thinking it would get me next, since I was the next closest. My head was flowing with all sorts of gruesome possibilities once the bear dragged me, sleeping bag and all, into the woods. And, always trying to be prepared, I quickly made my escape plan once it got me away.

But Heather is actually the one who saved the day. It wasn't until she started screaming that the bear left. He must have decided he didn't want to mess with that craziness, not even for pepperoni pizza. Sometimes you just don't want to get on a girl's bad side. So he slowly walked back down the steps, and the Mountain Man went running down the trail after him, knife in hand. I think I was trembling and maybe even hyperventilating at this point. I wouldn't come out until Dave told me several times the bear was gone.

Of course, I didn't sleep the rest of the night, even though everyone else did. My biggest fear was that the bear would come back with the rest of his family, or maybe some friends, like some kind of bear posse, and band together to kill us all to get the pepperoni pizza. It didn't come back. And I swore I would never sleep outdoors again. I couldn't get away with that, being married to an avid camper/hiker and all, but we're much more cautious now, even in Connecticut.

Now what's interesting about this story, was that despite Heather being the closest to the bear, in full moon lighting, with her eyes wide open, she doesn't remember ever seeing the bear. Give that a thought. My theory? Blinded by fear.

Needless to say, we all learned a lesson. Connecticut isn't as tame as we thought.


los cazadores said...

LOL!! Whoa Nelly, Connecticut just got some serious bear cred! lol. I would have been petrified.

When Craig and I went hiking and trout fishing in the Tetons I was petrified the entire time of bears! Much to the annoyance of Craig I was clapping and singing incessantly. Yeah, like my clapping and singing is going to ward off a Grizzly.

Next time I'm in bear country I want you to call no-fear-Mountain-Man to come with!


The Tacheny's said...

that is a super funny story!!!

Anonymous said...

OMG! how scary! I would have FREAKED. OUT.

Good story though, thanks for sharing. Relieved some back to work boredom...


JonesEthiopia said...

Ok, we used to go to the Northwoods of Wisconsin all the time when I was a kid, and I was terrified of bears. I still am rediculously scared of them.

Uh, yeah, this story doesn't help.

(Still thinking of a tshirt idea, by the way.)

Dawnelle said...

oh. my. goodness.

Heather said...

ok thanks for making me laugh till I cried today- this story never gets old, does it? I had to post it to my blog too, go check it out since you left out one of the best parts, the picture of us sitting on the lean-to steps with the bag of food dangling over our heads, ahahahahaah!

Nikki said...

Ahh, I would have been terrified!!

Rachel said...

Holy crap! I probably would have soiled my sleeping bag :) I am terrified of bears. I am sure I would have passed out or gone into shock or something bad. That is a great story to tell your kids and grandkids!