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    That Time We Scared a Bear at Shenandoah National Park

    August 17, 2015

    Bear FighterThis weekend was our sixth weekend in a row that we went camping. I think the continuous camping happened by accident when we decided to take a break from trying to sell our house but I’m not exactly sure. Whatever the cause, we found ourselves every Wednesday looking for a new place to go camping that weekend. For all you campers out there, you are laughing. You can’t find campgrounds with 2 days notice in the middle of the summer. But somehow we kept pulling it off.

    So when a bear attacked a woman in a park the same weekend I had tried (and failed) to get a reservation there, it grabbed my attention. Bear attacks don’t happen in Virginia. We have black bears, females average around 150 pounds and aren’t aggressive. They are still bears and still dangerous but whatever. This is no Yellowstone. A bear attack was big news here in the hiking and camping world in Virginia. A mother was out hiking with her 3 kids, 16, 19 and 22. The family ended up in pairs, with the mom and middle son ended up walking ahead and came around the corner to find a bear. Both parties were surprised and the bear attacked the mom. The story got progressively horrifying but she lived so that was awesome.


    Derek: Like we could ever be quiet enough to surprise a bear, Kristen???

    Me: Good point.

    Fast forward to last weekend. We were our annual cub scout family camping trip to Shenandoah National Park. It’s not a very structured event. Everyone picks a campsite on the same loop, we go on a hike on Saturday morning together and have s’mores on Saturday night. Other than that, it’s pretty much a free-for-all. I never pay attention to the plan until it’s happening because I’m the passenger at that party. I wear flip flops on hikes. My commitment level is questionable at best.

    So imagine my surprise to wake up on Saturday morning to finding out that the hike we were taking was one that Derek and I have done before. It’s no joke. Very steep, very  rocky. That bad boy was going to put my dress and flip flops to the test. We were driving down the park road there when we saw two cars parked on the side of the road. “Bear!” I yelled. It’s the only reason anyone stops in the middle of the road at Shenandoah. We’ve been here at least 15 times and we’ve only seen a bear once before, on the side of the road like this. I watched as the guy with the New York license plates on his high end SUV chased two bear cubs up the mountain to get a picture with his iPhone. I heckled him as I passed because I think we can all agree, you can’t cure stupid.

    We drove 5 miles down the road and parked at the top of our hike. Our destination was a natural rock waterside at the bottom of a very steep and very rocky mountain. We were exhausted at the bottom of the mountain, swam for 90 minutes and then headed back up the mountain. Every step seemed to require all our concentration. The group spread out and we needed all our energy to keep going. So we weren’t talking very much….


    Derek’s voice was impressively calm as he walked backwards and closed the gap between him and Mason, about 30 feet in front of me and my friend Julie. He had gone around the corner, surprised the bear, and she returned the favor by going up on 2 legs.

    “WHAAAT?” Me, not understanding.

    “A BIG bear,” Derek said, now standing beside Mason. The four of us froze instantly. Even Mason.


    He pointed up the mountain about 30 feet from him to a bear standing on a log, staring at us, wearing a Surprised Bear face.

    Never underestimate the ability of the “I Told You So” spouse to think “I TOLD YOU SO,” even in a dangerous situation. I told Derek we could sneak up on a bear and scare her and get attacked and he was all, “NOOOOO, we are too loud.” If it makes you feel better, I also simultaneously thought “If you step one foot closer to my baby, it’s on” and “that 250 pound bear is not 150 pounds, as described by the ranger in the All About Our Bears night.”

    And this is where things get a little weird. I look at my husband, who is standing beside Mason, and he is looking on the ground. I could feel his frustration from 30 feet away. I knew he was angry his boy scout usual bag of tricks was empty. Later he said he was looking for a stick (Mason had thrown his walking stick into a stream 1/4 mile back because Mason) but I feel like he could have mentioned this to me.  It’s not like we needed to keep our tactics on the DL from the bear. I’m just saying a simple, “I am looking for another stick to impale the bear’s eye when she charges me” shout out would have gone a long way to allaying my “I cannot BELIEVE we are about to be eaten by a bear in this cheesy East Coast national park” fears.  Like throwing a couple of tactical signs in my direction would have inconvenienced him?

    At this point I see a woman come around the corner way down at the switchback beyond Derek. I can tell by her perkiness and fancy new hiking attire that this is probably a second date (been there,  done that #Arlingtonrepresent), this is going to be her first run in with a bear and she looks like a runner. Which would be a problem solver for me except she would be running in the direction of my other children who are with the rest of the cub scout group further up the trail and she looked faster than them.

    “BEAR!!!! GO BACK!!!!” The girl was gone instantly. Bear never even looked her way.

    I can’t figure out why this bear is standing here still staring at us when they are known to turn and run, and why my husband seems to be reacting a  little slowly. I mean, let’s be honest. When you are at that initial point in the dating game, doesn’t everyone look at a potential partner in life and think, will this person protect his own in the event of a zombie apocalypse? Because up until this point, I’ve been feeling solid about the zombie apocalypse and the thought hasn’t crossed my mind that this should have also covered bear attacks.   (In his defense, unknown to any of us, he had gotten bitten by something and was in the middle of having an allergic reaction, exactly like the last time I was charged by a wild animal).

    I start screaming at the bear and flailing my arms at her. Apparently, at this point, Mason ALSO starts flailing his arms and screaming at her. Because #sixyearoldbadass. (Later I asked, “were you scared?” and he said, “OF COURSE. But you were yelling so I knew I needed to yell too!!”) She is rocking on this log about 30 feet above him and Derek but she’s not leaving. I don’t understand what’s happening. At this point I’m trying to calculate if we can take her if she charges. I’m feeling like we’d all be in bad shape in the end, Derek and me and the bear, but I was thinking we would survive and that bear would be sorry she ever looked at my baby. Also, that if an alternative to fighting a black bear presents itself, I will happily take it. I’m doing what they say in every “WHEN YOU SEE A BEAR” handout. The bear apparently has not read the handouts. At this point I think Julie is fumbling for her phone to try to take a picture, I presume because she felt I had everything under control (“Kristen, I feel like I may have underestimated the amount of danger we were in at the time, having never surprised a bear before.”)

    I look over at Mr. Still Looking for a Stick and yell,”GET BIG. NOW.” He later said he wasn’t opposed to taking on the bear but he preferred doing it with something in his hand. Valid point but his failure to mention it to me in the midst of this crisis is a fine example of the unease that occurs when there is a break in communication in a relationship. Good communication is key in every relationship and also in every faceoff with a bear.  He throws his arms up and growls at her. She hedges for a second and then bolts towards the path, but parallel to them. She jumps onto a log that is crossing the creek that runs beside the trail and heads up the mountain.

    “Awwww. Look. She’s back with her baaaaabies,” Mason happily yells, pointing across the ravine at the mama bear with two baby bears we hadn’t. even. seen. They had crossed the path before her. We were in between her and her babies no longer. And she wasn’t between me and mine.

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    It wasn’t my idea to take a 1 year old and a 3 year old camping

    July 13, 2008

    On Friday, The Husband decided we were going camping this weekend. On Friday, specifically. Like 4 hours before he got home from work.

    I am not a fan of camping. Heck, I’m not a fan of the great outdoors. You’ll probably never actually see me with makeup, but girlfriend understands the importance of bathing. Even with these crazy kids, I find the 90 seconds needed to scrape the scum off my body every day.

    So spending the night in a muggy tent with three smelly men and a dog and no hope of a shower beyond a bird bath in the sink of the less than sparkly clean bathroom with the rice cooker plugged in under the vanity? Not. So. Much. But my husband? He comes by his persistence honestly. If he says we are going camping, there is nothing left to do than to pack the bug spray, the 600 thread count sheets for the sleeping pads and pray to God they’ll be enough light when you show up so you can at least read up to the swim suit fashion page in the latest US Weekly that arrived 10 minutes before you left because God knew your children didn’t want to be fatherless.

    His desire to go camping? Because it was the first weekend without rain in nearly a month and a half. Bless his heart for not saying the first “nice” weekend in a month and a half because 94 degrees does not represent “nice” weather in my book. The park? Perpetually full. The man had no worries. Nothing says having faith in your decision like driving 130 miles one way to take a shot that there will be a spot at the campground available.

    Oh, Baby, there were THREE spots left. Two on 40 degree slopes and one in between a family of 7 and 2 tents which never seemed occupied the entire time we were there.

    The ride was relatively quiet. Quiet because The Boys decided to sleep the entire trip. I can’t think of better preparation for a camping adventure than having your 3 year old who gave up naps altogether about 8 months ago sleep for 2 1/2 hours (from 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.) on the way. The Baby was sporting a fever and cried until I set up his crate in the tent. I know. Who brings a pack-n-play on a camping trip? Um, people who tried to leave it home the last time and had a baby screeching like a banshee for 9 hours.

    It was about 9 o’clock when The Boy started to really wake up. It was right about the time my husband handed me a stick to use to roast marshmallows. A stick that I spent the next 30 minutes envisioning as the recipient of numerous bathroom breaks by all manner of dogs and boys.

    TB: MomMomMomMomMOM!!! CAN I HAVE A S’MORE?

    Have you met my child? His inside voice? Doesn’t exist. I would like to apologize to anyone who went camping the other night within 2 miles of us whose purpose was to commune with nature. The Boy? He scared nature away.

    Two hours of flashlight play, nearly falling into the fire 4 times, giving the dog lots of water, flashing the light in his brother’s face two times, breaking the lantern, eating a half a box of graham crackers, repeatedly asking to pee outside and being “shushed” 9 trillion times, he finally went to sleep.

    And then we were UP WITH THE SUN. A mere 12 hours after arriving, I was forced to put The Boys into the truck because they were being so damn loud. I could hear them yelling in the truck. I peeked in the window to find them eating the last of the Altoids, slamming back my leftover Dr. Pepper and chewing gum. I hurriedly took the tent down as The Husband loaded up the 9 camping chairs he had positioned around the fire. 6:59 a.m.

    The horn blew.

    Again and again and again. I broke into a dead run and flung myself into the truck, yanking a feisty 3 year old off the horn.

    TB: Mom. You didn’t say we couldn’t blow the horn.

    No. No, I didn’t.

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