Randy and I just spent a much-needed vacation backpacking in the Allegheny Mountains, in Pennsylvania. I enjoyed our un-distracted time alone, very much.
We didn’t get into the mountains until 7.30 Sunday night. We decided to hike in right away, and try to find some flat ground to set up our tent. We also decided to try to camp by the water reservoir, so we knew we were in for a hike. What we didn’t know was that the hike was going to end up being 5 miles long. Now 5 miles doesn’t seem like a long way, but 5 miles, in the mountains, with heavy backpacks, ends up being very very long. Two hours of our hike ended up being in the dark. We saw hundreds of “diamonds,” AKA spiders. If you’re wearing a headlamp in the dark, spider eyes reflect back at you. Yeah, it kind of grossed me out.
We finally arrived at a place we thought would work for our tent, set up our tent, ate a snack, and went for a swim. The lake was beautiful—all shiny and quiet, and surrounded by mountains. It was a full moon, and the moon lit everything beautifully.
When we wanted to go back to the tent, we put our headlamps on and started climbing a dry riverbed uphill. Randy stopped to hang out our bear bags (with our food in them), and I was about 10 feet ahead of him. All of a sudden, we heard a noise in the woods. It was loud, but we had been hearing noises all night, and seeing a lot of deer. The deer were everywhere. Randy knew it was louder than deer, so he immediately grabbed our bear spray, just in case. I thought it was deer, so I just stood there stupidly, 10 feet ahead of him.
The crashing became louder, and I turned to my left to see two very big retinas reflecting back into my headlamp. No, actually, they were CHARGING ME! Oh my god. Those eyes were running at me, from what looked to be a distance of about 20-30 feet. In bear distance, that’s about 3 seconds away…because it was RUNNING. I did something immediately, without thinking. I yelled. Now, to clarify, it wasn’t the kind of scared yelling, or screaming, that you would think would come out of my mouth at a time like that. It was a yell that came from deep within. I yelled, “HEY! GO AWAY!” In hindsight, I wish I had used a phrase more powerful, or more clever, to add to my story. Instead, what came out of my mouth was if I was yelling at a big mean dog. A dog that needed to know I was in control. A very BIG dog.
But it worked. The bear stopped and looked at me. It didn’t immediately run away. It thought for a moment, probably only a few seconds. In those few seconds, I thought, “It probably will not eat me, but it’s deciding if it’s going to maim me for life. I wonder if it will take out my eye?” That’s the funny thing, in the moment when something was thinking of attacking me, I was thinking about my eyes. But only one eye–I thought it would only take out one eye. I’m not sure why I thought the other one would be okay.
Then it decided to run around me, and not eat me. In thinking about it later, I realized I hadn’t been scared. It happened so fast, but there wasn’t any panicking, or fear. I just took AUTHORITY over that bear. I think my tone of command scared Randy—you know, for the future of our marriage relationship. Although he did say that he was impressed that I had acted so quickly. He had grabbed the bear spray (a from of very strong pepper spray) when he heard the noise, and was just about between the bear and myself when the bear stopped and made its decision not to eat me. He thinks he could have sprayed it before it attacked. I’m not so sure. I’m thinking one of us would have been hurt if I hadn’t yelled.
The whole experience was, well, special. I’ve never been on a food chain before. It was also very unusual for a black bear to charge a human. It was obvious that it was attacking me as prey. In the morning, we found out by looking around that we were on a game trail when it attacked. It was probably his bear trail. We thought it was our hiking trail, and had walked on it for some time in the dark. Along with just eating some delicious beef jerky, and being on my menstrual cycle (which attracts bears, btw), the bear probably thought that I was the most delicious piece of wounded-venison-from-heaven that he had ever smelled. So it wasn’t really his fault. Overall, I felt that the entire experience was confidence building. I scared away a bear. How many people can say that? I decided that having the ability to scare away charging bears is probably the best skill I can ever put on a resume. I might contact the girl scouts, and see if I can get some kind of patch for this.