Tuesday, August 21, 2012

the one with a bear story

A camping getaway at Vogel State Park in the north GA mountains was our spontaneous weekend activity of choice.  We pretty much decided Thursday it was going to happen, so we packed up everything we could think of that we might need for a two-night stay in a tent when we arrived home from an Upward soccer coaches' meeting at our church that evening.  The finishing touches were packed Friday morning before school began.
Even with the chance of rain being rather good, off we went Friday afternoon; tents in hand, smiles all around, and spirits high.
Friday evening was spent setting up camp, roasting hotdogs and marshmallows over the fire, and relaxing in between bike rides and short walks into the woods around us.  The weather was perfect for camping.
Saturday Alex was up early stoking the fire and getting it going again for us.  It wasn't needed for warmth, but for our favorite breakfast when camping:  pancakes and sausage/bacon cooked over the open fire.  No better tasting pancakes anywhere.
As we were cleaning up our breakfast items, thunder rumbled in the distance.  Scott finished cleaning up while I went into the tents and gathered our bedding items and placed them in the truck to keep them dry.  Just. in. case.
We were both finishing up our tasks when the first drops fell.  We all gathered in the big tent while the downpour ensued.  Not often do we find ourselves all together with nothing to distract us from each other.  It was a great way to begin our day...even if the rain was falling.  We decided together to head out of the campground and explore some places around Blairsville once the rain let up enough for us to get out and about.
I really do not know how long we were in the tent, but it rained hard enough and long enough for us to realize that our tent, one that was my father's for many years and we acquired after he passed away, is no longer waterproof.  The puddles were pretty large under the air mattress, but since all of our bedding and baggage was tucked safely away in the truck, all was okay.
We took a few minutes to shower and get ready for the afternoon ahead of us.  They keep a very clean campground, including the shower houses, at Vogel.  A huge thank you to the park managers and volunteers!  It was rather comical, however, that as Scott was going in for his shower, the electricity was off. No big deal, right?  Well, apparently, they use an instant hot water system which was off due to the lack of electricity, so the water was straight out of the ground cold.  Poor guy!
Almost lunch time found us heading into Blairsville with tummies grumbling.  We ate at a quaint restaurant there, truly a mom-n-pop restaurant that had amazingly good fried chicken and bbq ribs.  Good thing a hike was in the near future to work off lunch. :)
After lunch, we went over to Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia.  Driving up the mountain, we joked about a mysterious fog that would probably roll in just as we reached the top.  We have a history of being at high elevations with great overlooks and not being able to see one single thing except fog or clouds.  It happens all the time to us.
But not this day.
Thankfully, the clouds were providing cooler temps by hiding the direct sunlight, but were still high enough for us to have a wonderful view of the valleys below and the mountainous terrain all around us.  It was a great hike and time spent up on the mountain.  The visitor's center on top had so many photos and information about the history of the mountain and surrounding area.  It was a great way to begin Alex's 4th grade study on our state.  They also offered a free 15 minute movie on Brasstown Bald.  I had no idea that it has never reached a recorded temperature above 84 degrees on top of that mountain.  Crazy to think about, especially this summer, when the temps only 1/2 mile below were nearing 100 just a couple of months ago.
Hiking down gave me time to process all the info we had just heard and read about up top.  I love and appreciate the history of our country now that I am older.  In school, a few things were interesting and a few things stuck in my mind, but the appreciation for how our country was founded and what it took for people to make a life here just wasn't there.  I hope my boys gain an appreciation a little earlier in life for their forefathers' hard work and determination than I did.  Exposure to our history outside of a book is one of the reasons we try to travel as much as we are able.
We stopped off at a car show in Blairsville before we headed back to the campground.  The old cars are so cool...and looking really good all polished up for display.  I often wonder what a person who drove one of the first cars would think of all this fuss over the cars.  Thankfully, the first car I drove is not included in the lot...just sayin'...
Driving back into the campground we stopped off just outside the park entrance to look at a waterfall and try to figure out how to get to it.  Tim and I wanted to hike down to the bottom of it.  The trail that went around the lake in the campground led to the trailhead for the waterfall.  Off the two of us went.  It was only about 12-15 minute hike from where we began...and we were thankful for the relative easy climb.  It was worth the time and energy, though.  I love having some 1:1 time with my boys when I can get it.  Their little personalities come out and it's just a great way to chat and catch up.  Scott did us a favor and came and picked us up once we reached the beach in the campground...saved us a few long minutes through the camp sites to reach our own.  It was a really sweet gesture and we appreciated it.
Evening time at the campsite had more open fire cooking, relaxing, bike rides, walks, and prep work for the night time...like putting things under a tarp to keep dry in case of rain and tying shut the cooler to keep critters out during the hours of darkness.
We were all tuckered out from a fitful sleep the first night and a busy day outdoors.  The boys retired around 9:30  and we turned in around 10 pm.
All was well.
Until...
I heard "it" and knew instantly we were no longer alone on campsite #79.
A bear.
A bear, trying to get into our cooler, had successfully knocked it off the picnic table with a loud crash. I awoke to that sound, contained, cooled items and ice sloshing around inside with a vengeance.  I lay there awake and more alert than I have been ever in my life, listening and trying to anticipate its next move.  The bear was insistent on getting that cooler open.  I found myself holding my breath, not moving, in disbelief that no one else had been awakened by such a raucous.  I prayed the boys would remain asleep and that God would make that bear go away!  I prayed for wisdom and protection.  I prayed for headlights to come through at that very moment and scare the bear away.  I prayed he wouldn't get that cooler open right outside the tent.
As I listened, prayed, and tried to remember to breathe, I remembered a friend's advice on a return trip to Alaska...
"Don't let the bears eat you."
Okay...that applies here too, I hope.
Also heard was Scott K.'s bear instructions again and again in my head from all my summer weeks in Alaska.  "Make noise," he'd said.
How can I make noise when I can't even remember to breathe???
Fright had overtaken my flight instinct.  I was useless to make any noise.  My heart was in my throat...a heaviness sat upon my chest.  My mind was racing, but my body was frozen.
I was making plans of action in my head, but my limbs and voice refused to cooperate.  Somebody wake up already!
With every flip of the cooler and every scratch of its claws at the rope tying it shut, I knew he was a determined bear.  One pretty frustrated, too.  He wanted what he came for and wasn't leaving without it.
Finally, Scott stirred and rose his head up as if he'd heard something.  I finally found a whisper and said, "It's a bear!"  Having my voice again, the fear went into irrational thinking.  It seemed with each toss of the cooler, it was getting closer to the tent.  I began thinking of "What if..." scenarios.  What if he flipped it over and it landed by or on the tent?  What if he got it open and planted himself there for his feast?  "What if the boys woke up?"  I rolled closer to Scott and he held me for a moment, telling me it would be okay.  He asked if we had a cell phone.  "No, they are both in the truck in case of rain."  Never again will I make that mistake.
Then, Scott became my hero.  He made noise.  He clapped his hands loudly, several times.
Silence.
He clapped his hands again, just in case.
The sloshing ice noises sounded farther and farther away from the tent.
Halellujah!
Wait a minute...that bear just stole our cooler!
And, then, up on the hilltop, just above where our tents stood, his determination to get inside of the cooler to the bacon, sausage, milk and other chilling items, got the best of him and he again was trying to get that bearproof twine off his newly discovered treasure.
After a few more minutes (I'm guessing), it went quiet across the campground again.
No more clawing.  No more flipping cooler.  No more ice sloshing.
Scott was ready to go back to bed.
The boys never even turned over on their air mattresses.
But, I had found my flight plan.
Heart still pounding in my throat, I found enough words to get out that I was not intending on remaining in this tent for Mr. Bear to come and find later when looking for dessert.
Insert irrational thinking in overdrive here.
Never mind that countless others were around us with other items of delight for him to find.  He knew where we "lived" and might come back again. He was just up the hill.  It wasn't like he was going to forget...he was just here!
My kind, thoughtful, considerate husband then took it upon himself to relocate his family without a harsh word toward his filled with fear and determined to leave the campsite wife.
We relocated to a hotel in Blairsville.
Within an hour of the first noise from the knocked over cooler, the boys and Scott were back fast asleep.
Me?  Not so much.
It was a couple of hours later that my mind finally settled down and my body relaxed in the comfort of the bear free environment in which I was now residing.
As I laid there, the comedy of it all hit me.  I laughed out loud; trying to keep it quiet only worked halfheartedly.  Thankfully, no one was bothered by my muffled laughter.
The thought of a bear stealing our cooler, taking off up the hill with it and my irrational thoughts of him returning to the scene of the crime for more was too much for me not to laugh.  Fear and stress does things to people...I first froze and then I laughed.  Better than crying any day, I figure.
Would I remain at the camp site if it ever happens again?
Probably not.
Would I be a little more brave next time?
Hope so, but probably not.
Will I sleep in a tent again?
Yes.  But the cooler will be relocated far and away from our tent site. :)
When we made our way back to the camp site the next morning for our things, the cooler was visible about 180 ft or so up the hill.  Further investigation found it opened with its contents spilled over onto the ground.  Split open cans, cartons, and containers emptied of their contents were all right there beside the cooler.  A very tidy bear, he was.  Gone were the bacon, sausage, and hotdogs...and he apparently prefers ketchup over mustard.  Never touched the mustard, but the ketchup was devoured.
Oh, the humor of it all!
When we reported it to the ranger on our way out, his response..."You are one of about six people he visited last night."   Guess they don't get too excited about bear activity up in the mountains these days.  He didn't even ask how we knew...I would have loved to tell him my side of the story, but I don't think he'd find the humor in it like I do now.  Not a chance.

1 comment:

  1. wow so scary......i dont know what i would do in that situation...

    ReplyDelete