I’ve often wondered, when confronted with real danger, if I would stand and fight … or run like hell.
On a recent camping trip in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, when a large black bear and her two cubs ambled into our camp, it only took a couple of milliseconds for my brain to totally ignore all the expert advice and yell at my feet – RUN!
We’d just finished showers and were settling in for a quiet afternoon in camp. Terri was in the van putting a few things away, and I was relaxing in a camp chair reading an ebook. The idea of a nap was forming in my mind when I heard an unusual scratching noise behind me.
I looked over my shoulder and was shocked to see a bear cub scrambling up a tree about 10 feet behind my chair. Expert woodsman that I am (yeah right), I knew this wasn’t the whole story, and a quick glance over the other shoulder found a large Mama bear and cub #2 staring at me and wondering why on earth I wasn’t getting a move on … and frankly so was I.
But in my defense, no more than a few seconds had passed before I jerked my naked feet off the bench and ran barefoot across the gravel campsite to dive into the van – startling Terri, who immediately bashed her head on the van roof.
And even though Terri might have been momentarily addled, she certainly understood the next words out of my mouth: “There are bears in camp!”
According to the National Park Service, when confronted by a bear one should :
- Identify yourself by talking calmly so the bear knows you are a human and not a prey animal. (I assume most prey animals don’t speak English.)
- Stay calm and remember that most bears do not want to attack you. (They usually just want to scare the bejayus out of you.)
- Move away slowly and sideways; this allows you to keep an eye on the bear and avoid tripping. (Your best subtle dance moves might temporarily distract the bear so you can get away.)
- Do NOT run. Like dogs, bears will chase ﬂeeing animals. (Saying this is easy, doing it … not so much.)
- And most important: Be especially cautious if you see a female with cubs.
We’ve camped in bear country all across the country, and having heard what the experts had to say, we thought we were prepared. But honestly, my lizard brain took over and I just bolted for the van. When we told Terri’s sister Ellen this story, she texted what we consider an award-wining wisecrack: “Do these claw marks make my butt look big?”
Looking back, I couldn’t have been more surprised, but I suspect the bears were as well. It’s hard to imagine that a protective female would knowingly allow her young cubs to stray so close to a human, no matter how relaxed and groggy he might appear.
It was a frightening experience of course, but we had a close-up view of a bear family as they lumbered around our campsite and we have a few cowards-in-the-van cell phone photos to prove it. And those cubs were awfully cute.
James & Terri