I did research, I got a bear canister for food, I know what to do if I see a bear (at least, I think I do). There will be park rangers around, and other campers. We’ll be fine.
That’s what I told myself as my new German friend and I embarked upon our week-long adventure into Bear Country. This would be a whole new experience for me. I was excited… And a little scared.
Being the kind of travelers we are, Gary and I don’t really make a plan. We booked a car, and the rest we’ll figure out later. We show up at Enterprise mid-afternoon, get the car, make a few stops for coffee, internet, etc. and, as evening nears, we’re off driving. “So it looks like we’re not going to make it to Grand Teton or Yellowstone today (we don’t really know what our destination is). Where can we stop to camp for the night?”
And that’s where it started.
This camp site is great. There’s no one around, the views are amazing, and we’re pretty sure we can get away with not paying (there aren’t any services at this time of year so I don’t feel too bad about it – I’m not even sure if it’s expected). We set up our tents a great distance from the car (and the food), and heat up some canned chili for dinner. In preparation for the night, I begin to put our food in the nifty bear canister we borrowed, only to find out that we’ve bought entirely too much food and it doesn’t all fit! My thoughts jump to the pictures I saw of mangled cars after bears found a way to the food inside them (I would later find out that park rangers suggest putting extra food in your car and no one seems to think much of this, though it’s not ideal. I would also find out later that bears aren’t common this time of year and there really isn’t much to worry about). There’s not much we can do, so we leave the food canister directly outside the door where the rest of the food is. Do you think the bear might not distinguish between in-the-car and out-of-the-car food smells? I sure hope not (I still don’t know if this was a completely ridiculous idea).
As we smoke the last of our Colorado weed, I share with Gary that I’m very scared. I’ve never camped in an area where dangerous animals are a concern. He reminds me what small percentage of deaths occur from bear attacks each year, and reassures me that we’re likely to be safe here. I feel better, but still (unnecessarily) worried.
As I lay down to sleep, I hear strange, unfamiliar noises. What I first think has got to be deadly animals outside, I soon identify as no more than the wind blowing the leaves, grass, and trees.
Relax, Lauren, you’re not going to die!
I hear a loud bang, and think immediately of the food just inside the door of the car. Shit, what if that’s a bear? I consider asking Gary to sleep in my tent with me, but instead I continue to tell myself that we’ll be alright. If a bear is around, it’s going for the food, not us. I’ll be fine.
I drift in and out of sleep for what seems like hours, but is probably less than one. Every time the wind blows, the walls of my tent bang around, often hitting my head. I lift my head to look around. I see no shadows. With such a bright moon, I would definitely see a shadow if there was an animal nearby… right?! Right!
I think I hear Gary’s tent open… But I’m not sure. Maybe it was just the zipper on his sleeping bag. No, I hear him outside. Maybe he’s going for a leak. I wait, listening. I don’t hear him moving anymore. I guess he’s doing his business, maybe enjoying the starry sky. And I listen. I hear Gary rustle around in his sleeping bag. Wait, what?! So what’s outside then?
Calm down, Lauren, it’s just the wind again… But it sure does sound like someone or something walking around.
I drift off again, telling myself that the night will be over as soon as I fall asleep. I’ll wake up to a bright sun and animal-free grounds.
Yeah, I wish.
I awake suddenly when I hear this weird sound repeating itself, like those popping candies we used to toss in our mouths, a handful at a time. Or like those things that you throw at the ground and they may a popping sound when they hit. Yeah, more like the second one, because these sounds are coming from the ground, all over, right by my head. What is that? What could possibly make that sound? Then it hits me – what would probably have hit any sane person about 15 seconds sooner – it’s rain! Sweet, calming rain. Maybe bears take shelter when it rains? If there was a bear around here, it’s probably disappeared into the forest for shelter. Yeah, that’s it. And the rain sounds kind of nice. I’ve always liked the sound of rain on the car or the house, but here, in this tent, it’s just that much better.
This is not so bad. I can enjoy this!
After what could have been 2 minutes or 2 hours, I awake again to the sound of rain falling, wind crashing, and the feel of water dropping on my face. Eek. It doesn’t bother me much, but I wouldn’t mind if the rain stayed outside my tent.
As I shiver myself back to sleep, I hear Gary moving around (I’m certain it’s him this time). He’s moving his tent… Weird (I would find out later that his tent never moved). I see his huge shadow engulfing the wall of my tent, right beside my head. I know it’s Gary, but a part of me wonders if I’m wrong again… What if this actually is an animal? Close enough to make such huge shadows (though I know that’s not necessarily how shadows work)… “Gary, are you moving your tent?” I ask hopefully. Please be Gary, please be Gary.
“Oh, I’m glad you’re awake – can I have the car key?”
Phew, it’s just Gary. Okay, Lauren – you got this!
The sun has started to come up, and I feel confident that I’ve made it through this night without trouble. I lay awake for a while, letting my thoughts go, enjoying the serenity of such an isolated campsite. Not long after, I hear three honks of the car horn. Wait, three? Aren’t you supposed to do things in threes if you are in danger? I’m sure the distress call is anything in three… Shit, what if Gary’s trying to warn me? Maybe there’s a bear near my tent? Maybe there’s a bear at the car? What if he drives away to get away from the bear, and leave me all alone here?
That’s it, I’m a dead woman.
I peak out the front door of my tent to see Gary casually sitting on the picnic table (probably smoking another joint). I roll my eyes at myself and him (why the heck is he honking the horn…. THREE times?!), and attempt to catch a few more minutes of shut eye.
The next time I wake, it’s still cloudy and rainy (I really was hoping for some sun to warm me up), but I pack up my stuff and make way for the car. I eat breakfast, locate the toilet (that would have been nice to know last night), read, and write. I go for a walk, mingle with the cows, and return back to the campsite (all the while, Gary is sleeping). No bears, no mountain lions. Just birds, cows, and the occasional insect. I survived my first night camping. It can only get better as we move into populated campsites with rangers, bear canisters, and all… I hope.