Tuesday, March 10, 2009

there's no bears in Connecticut


I received an email from my friend justice today, perfect timing to give me a good laugh till i cried moment in this blah week i've been having.... I guess b/t the head cold this past weekend and pat just not getting the point that my annoyance tolerance has plummeted in these last few weeks, i just haven't been feeling my usual perky self. But the following story certainly lifted me out of the slump for a bit.

Since Justice has told it so well, I'll just copy her version, and add my own thoughts when needed in the (parenthesized italics):

"Dave and I had just gotten married, and we were backpacking through part of the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut with my friend since Junior High, Heather. We were staying overnight in a lean-to, which is a three sided wooden platform set up about 10 feet above ground with 5 or so giant wooden stairs leading to the opening. There are several of these placed on the trail for backpackers to use while hiking through. We didn't bring tents because of the cover of the lean-to, and just slept in our sleeping bags.

Well, we were a little cocky. Between me spending a summer in Glacier National Park in Montana and my husband's two week solo trip through Yosemite National Park, we thought CT was pretty tame. So we didn't take the precautions we really should have. Such as hanging our food away from our camp site high in the trees as not to attract any "uninvited guests". This is something we would normally do. Even camping in NH or somewhere close. But we were in CT, for crying out loud! which is arguably just a giant suburb of NYC. There aren't any bears here. Well, that's what we thought anyway. (Not to mention we were cooking in the lean-to, another no no. And I have to say, I did ask these two "professionals" if we should hang our food, but went with the flow when they said we didn't need to- we were all pretty confident that the chance of encountering a bear was too slim to worry)

So, we made pepperoni pizza's that evening for dinner. (Since we were only going out for one night we decided to go all out on camping food rather than backpacking food) Before bed we took the bag of leftover food and hung it on a hook in the front of the lean-to so the mice didn't get into it. Which was the stupidest thing we've ever done because we were basically setting a bear trap. I should mention that in the lean-to with us was a man that I call "The Mountain Man" cause I can't remember his actual name. He was probably in his 60's and had left his family for a few months to hike the entire Appalachian Trail by himself. (I swear this guy was more like 75, atleast in my memory) He was really rugged and exactly what you would picture a mountain man looking like, hence the nickname "Mountain Man". We shared our food with him and let him use our phone to call his wife. He was appreciative and essentially helped save our lives, so it was a good call helping him out. (And was very tolerant of us, since first we were cooking in the lean-to, and second we were having a little ground fire which was clearly stated as prohibited.... haha, we probably looked like inexperienced punks...) Well, he slept way on the right side of the lean-to and Dave, Heather, and I slept on the other side. Heather was pretty much positioned right in the middle of the lean-to. So late that night we went to bed, death trap unknowingly set above our heads.

Now I should mention that I don't normally sleep well outdoors. I get spooked easily and have a quite an imagination, which doesn't bode well for sleeping in dark, strange places. Sure enough, in the middle of the night, I woke up to a rustling noise outside the lean-to. I didn't want to make a big deal out of nothing and seem like a wimp, so I didn't say anything and just told myself it was probably a raccoon or something. Well, I knew it wasn't a raccoon as soon as I saw Dave pop his head up quickly. He never overreacts. He didn't say anything for a few minutes. Neither did I. I just waited for him to lay back down, again, not wanting to seem overly paranoid. It was a full moon, so everything outside was clearly visible.

That's when I felt it. Thud, thud, thud. Something....was coming up the stairs. Something big. In a period of about one second, Dave jumped straight up and started yelling and banging around. (Maybe he did this eventually, but even though I was asleep i clearly remember him at first saying something more of a calm "shoo, get out of here, shooo" to which in my sleep I thought he was merely shooing off a raccoon or something) (Of course, it seemed much longer at the time, everything moves slower when you're in danger.) And that's when I heard it.

A growl.

I've never heard anything so menacing in all my life.And I have never been so scared in my whole life. Now, you have to remember, all my bear training came from living in "Grizzly Country" in Montana. We learned that you don't mess around with bears. If you find yourself that close to one, you get into the fetal position, cover your face and neck, and you better pray to whatever it is you believe in and hope he (or she) is listening. I was inundated with horror stories of bear attacks. So my immediate reaction to the growl was to curl up in my sleeping bag and pretend I was dead. And in my mind, so should everyone else.

But Dave, knowing it was a black bear (cause it is Connecticut after all) and that they're pretty easy to scare off, started yelling at it. I was just as afraid for his life as I was for mine, and I thought he was being entirely idiotic, so I stuck my hand out of the sleeping bag and tried to pull him in so he can hide too. So all of this had taken only a few seconds and quickly jolted Mountain Man awake. So he, also seeing the bear, jumped up and started screaming at the bear and lunging at it from inside the lean-to. So, take a moment to picture this. We have the two guys jumping around making noise to scare the bear away, me hiding in the sleeping bag while yelling at Dave to lay down and play dead, and then there's Heather.

Heather is a deep sleeper. A very deep sleeper. (I had trouble falling asleep that night b/c my nose was so cold. I hate having the covers over my head b/c I feel like I'm marinating in my own breath, but I finally sucked it up and cinched up the head part of my mummy sleeping bag and was finally able to fall asleep) But after just a minute of screaming all around her, she finally woke up in a frenzy, not having any idea what's going on. (After hearing dave "shooing" the small animal away, even though I was still asleep, I knew something was wrong when I heard the Mt. Man start yelling like a wild banshee and then Dave start yelling just as loud- two men yelling, not good) All she knows at this point is that people around her are screaming for their lives. And so her immediate thought is that we're being attacked by some serial killer. Now, since she's in the middle of the lean-to, and that's right where the food was hanging, she was in the best spot for a good view of the bear, which, by this time is all the way in the lean-to with us, only a few feet away. But not knowing what was going on, she sat straight up (practically head-butting the bear) and started screaming on the top of her lungs, louder and more intense than I've ever heard someone scream. Seriously, she could have a career in horror movies. And she screamed over and over and over. (Once I came too out of my sleep to both guys screaming, my immediate instinct was to start screaming too..... this isn't the first time this has happened- when I was about 12 my family had rented a trailer at one of those "resort" type campgrounds. My bro was sleeping in the top bunk and my dad in the lower since he was having trouble sleeping and was keeping up my mom in the front bed. in the middle of the night my bro rolled out of the top bunk and my dad, still being awake, caught him. my bro was completely out of it and started screaming bloody murder, causing my other bro to wake up to some man holding onto my bro, causing him to start screaming bloody murder. I woke up to both of my bros screaming bloody murder and could only picture that someone had broken into the trailer and was killing my bros. So I started screaming bloody murder. All while both my parents were screaming over us to try to calm us down and let us know it was just them. All in a tiny little campground. i'm sure we woke the entire place)

And since I still had my head under the sleeping bag (self-preservation people!), I can only guess at what was going on. And with Heather screaming the way she was, I thought the bear got her. So I started screaming, thinking it would get me next, since I was the next closest. My head was flowing with all sorts of gruesome possibilities once the bear dragged me, sleeping bag and all, into the woods. And, always trying to be prepared, I quickly made my escape plan once it got me away.

But Heather is actually the one who saved the day. It wasn't until she started screaming that the bear left. He must have decided he didn't want to mess with that craziness, not even for pepperoni pizza. Sometimes you just don't want to get on a girl's bad side. So he slowly walked back down the steps, and the Mountain Man went running down the trail after him, knife in hand. I think I was trembling and maybe even hyperventilating at this point. I wouldn't come out until Dave told me several times the bear was gone.

Of course, I didn't sleep the rest of the night, even though everyone else did. My biggest fear was that the bear would come back with the rest of his family, or maybe some friends, like some kind of bear posse, and band together to kill us all to get the pepperoni pizza. It didn't come back. And I swore I would never sleep outdoors again. I couldn't get away with that, being married to an avid camper/hiker and all, but we're much more cautious now, even in Connecticut.

Now what's interesting about this story, was that despite Heather being the closest to the bear, in full moon lighting, with her eyes wide open, she doesn't remember ever seeing the bear. Give that a thought. My theory? Blinded by fear. (After it all had happened I was still kind of clueless as to what we were all screaming about, despite as Justice said, I had my eyes wide open and was nearly nose to nose with the bear while screaming. When I asked if it was a bear in the lean-to and everyone realized that although I was awake and staring down the bear, for some reason I never registered it, Justice and I broke down into hysterical laughter. I think we probably laughed for hours after. Until I eventually fell back to sleep, knowing that Justice wouldn't fall back to sleep and therefore was probably keeping dave awake too.... I'd be safe to fall back asleep. To this day I still go into hysterics when I think about that night)

Needless to say, we all learned a lesson. Connecticut isn't as tame as we thought.

4 comments:

Banana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Banana said...

Banana said...
wow what an exciting story! thanks for sharing that! i can totally relate to being deep sleeper. i've been known to have full conversations while i'm asleep but look awake. lol it's a bit zombie-is

J-momma said...

thanks for the picture. i wanted to post it but i couldn't find it on my computer. so i "borrowed" yours.

J-momma said...

okay, i just read the whole thing and i STILL laugh about it. even reading it on your blog it's still freaking hilarious. and i like your additions to the story.