I spent part of the spring and the whole summer in the National Forest, but I didn’t see a bear until it was almost time to leave.
I don’t know why bears didn’t come into my campground. I don’t know where they were hiding, but I didn’t see any until September, after I moved back to the larger campground.
I didn’t see (or hear) the bear who scratched on the back of a toy hauler, but the campers told me all about it the next morning. They’d awoken around midnight to the sound of scratching on the their RV. At first the woman thought their dog was making the noise, but that proved to not be the case. When the man when out to investigate, he found a bear trying to open the back ramp door. The couple had cooked in the kitchen inside the RV, and the bear was probably enticed by the lingering food odors. The bear was smart enough to figure out which part of the trailer opened, but was not (yet) smart enough to figure out how to open the latches keeping the door closed. The man chased the bear away by shouting at it, which worked because the bears in the area are very timid and afraid of people.
The attempted bear invasion happened on Thursday night. I scared several campers over the weekend when I told them about the bear in the campground. As I told a group of (so very) young women, I wasn’t trying to scare them. I just wanted them to have as much information as possible to stay safe.
Here are my bear safety tips:
#1 Keep all food in bear-proof boxes or in a vehicle with locked doors and closed windows. No food in tents!
(If you’re back country camping in bear territory, you really need to keep you food in a bear canister.)
#2 If a bear is in your campsite, chase it away. Make yourself as big as possible. Yell at it. Make a lot of noise. Throw rocks at the bear if you have to. Let it know it’s in your territory.
#3 If the bear already has your food, don’t try to take the food back.
#4 Don’t run from a bear! The bear might chase you, and the bear is faster than you are.
Bears can run more than 60 kilometers [37 miles] an hour…more than twice as fast as we can run, and they can do it up hills, down hills or along a slope.
#5 Don’t think climbing a tree is going to save you.
Despite all their timidness on the ground, black bears seem to feel more courageous in trees. Bears sometimes kill each other by throwing their opponents out of trees. The bear below has the advantage because the bear above cannot easily hang on and face downward to fight back.
On my next day off, I planned to go to the post office/WiFi spot nine miles away to pick up my mail and catch up on my internet work. I planned to leave as soon as the sun was up so I could get an early start.
When I tried to start the van–disaster! The battery was dead.
I saw some campers had arrived during the night, but no one was stirring on the campsite. I decided to make the two minute walk to the highway and flag down a driver and ask for a jump start.
The highway was slow around 7am on that Tuesday. (By “slow” I mean no vehicles whatsoever.) I paced as I waited to hear an engine coming around the curve.
I glanced over to the north and saw movement, something headed in my direction.
My brain fills in the blanks of the world around it in strange ways. I swear, my first fleeting thought was to wonder whay that man was wearing that crappy bear suit and walking on the side of the road.
Then I said out loud, Oh shit! That’s a bear!
The bear was brown in color (although in California, all wild bears are technically black bears, no matter the color of their fur). The bear looked like it was having a rough morning, a rough life. I know I’m anthropomorphizing here, but the bear looked tired and possibly hung over. The bear looked like a bear in a Tom Waits song (if Tom Waits sang about bears).
The bear’s coat looked shabby and dull, as if it had been worn too long or retrieved from a dusty attic, or maybe picked out of a free box on the outskirts of skid row. The bear was lumbering along slowly, on all fours, on the dege of the road, as if it just didn’t have the energy to climb the hill into the forest and pick its way through the trees.
Bears don’t like crashing through bushes any more than people do, and are often found on trails, especially early in the morning, near dusk and at night. – Linda Masterson in Living with Bears (pg 177)
The bear was about as big as a medium-size man, which added to my snap conclusion that I was seeing a worker from a down-and-out carnival too tired to remove his shoddy costume at the end of a long night.
But then I realized I was actually seeing a bear, a bear that was walking toward me, and I felt a little panicked.
The bear was maybe 100 yards from me. (I’m really bad at estimating distances, so I’m not sure.) It was moving toward me, albeit quite slowly.
I decided I did not want the bear to think I was trying to invade its territory, so I scurried across the road and into the large driveway leading into the campground. Once i crossed the street, I could no longer see the bear, but after only a few moments, I heard crashing through the trees. I walked back to the edge of the driveway and peered down the road. The bear was gone.
That was my first California bear sighting, but it wasn’t my last bear experience.
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