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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.

    Me: THAT COULD HAVE BEEN US, DEREK.

    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….

    “Bear.”

    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.

    “Where?”

    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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    The continuation of the allergy story: fastforward two days after the “ant incident”

    October 6, 2005

    We met up with B in Glacier National Park. It was still light out so we decided to go to the Visitor’s Center to see what was up. It was already closed when we arrived and the parking lot was pretty empty except for a ranger’s truck and a couple of Brits standing beside a rental car, chatting.

    We got out of the truck and out leaped Zinni with us. While there is an actual law that dogs must be on leashes, we rarely follow these laws. You know, what with Zinni being so obedient and all. I mean, he comes when you are grilling steak. I think we had a leash with us though.

    Anyway, Derek had once again been bitten by ants while putting up the tent and was jacked up on Benadryl. He wandered down the little gravel road with the sign that said “PARK RANGERS ONLY.” I started yelling to him but he was clueless. Taking dazed and confused to a whole new level. He took the dog with him. Realizing that I would get more of a response from a brick wall, I gave up.

    It was then that we looked up to the top of the hill and saw the most gorgeous ram standing right outside the Visitor’s Center. I thought it was fake because it was standing so still. As he stood there checking us out, the dog started to trot back to me. Oh, yeah. You can see this coming, right?

    With that, the ram looked at the dog and then came charging at me at about a million miles an hour. Having been on wilderness trips with B in the past that involved her spewing forth directions in advance while on a flight to the end of the earth (“if you see a caribou, run. If you see a bear, stand still. If you see a beaver, …”), I yelled to her, “What do I do?”

    Sure, she can’t friggin’ shut up on a 7 hour flight about what the hell I am supposed to do when I see any manner of creature in Alaska (which doesn’t even matter because after 4 Bocci Balls, I don’t even know my OWN NAME and I clearly didn’t remember all her coaching when the caribou charged me in Denali), but now she’s got nothing to say. As my life passed before me and I realized that not only was he going to run me down, he was probably going to maul me as well, the dog stopped his advance toward me and the ram ran in the 4 feet between us.

    With that, I heard, “GET THAT DAMN DOG ON A LEASH!”

    I almost die and Ranger Rick is worried about a damn leash? The Brits in the parking lot are freaking out and B is looking like she is going to pass out.

    My soon-to-be husband turns around and walks toward me.

    K: Did you see that? That ram almost killed me.
    D: Huh?
    K: Didn’t you see that?
    D: No.
    K: I almost died.
    D: Huh?

    I hate Benadryl.

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