The Great Bear Escape

Honey Badger rides again!

For those of you just tuning in, Honey Badger is the name of our off-road vehicle, a 1993 modified Toyota 4Runner.  See Toto, Are We in Kansas? for additional tales.

This time Honey Badger’s playmate was a Nissan Xterra, who was new to the splendors of mountainside trails and backcountry camping but eager for the adventure.  After some careful planning with her parents, we decided a weekend of wheeling was the perfect way to celebrate this year’s Midsummer.

Being old hats, my husband (Doug) and I were more than happy to lead the way deep into the wilds of the George Washington National Forest.  Especially since it’s one of our favorite stomping grounds and have spent many a good time happily exploring its vast wilderness.

By Friday morning, Honey Badger was laden with enough equipment and supplies to spend three nights and four days off-the-grid in Virginia’s lush mountains.   Here’s a picture that Xterra took of Honey Badger on I-81 South, just outside of Harrisonburg, VA.

Honey Badger, packed for adventure
Honey Badger, packed for adventure

It was a bright sunny, day.  We knew we’d be starving by the time we reached our campsite so we stopped at the Pilot to get fuel for the ‘girls’ and sandwiches for us.  We still had about an hour’s drive to reach the trail entrance, a tight unmarked turn off one of Rt. 33’s twisty curves.

After fording many a stream and squeezing through tunnels of bright green undergrowth, we climbed ~3,500 feet via dirt trails crisscrossing the steep mountain side.  Honey Badger’s engine growled as she worked her way upward through the cool shade of towering spruce and into dappled sunshine beneath tremendous oaks, poplar, and walnut trees.  Honey Badger didn’t care.  She would have kept on going just like the EverReady Bunny.

However, when we reached the ridge-top, Doug wisely steered us directly to Flag Pole where it’s customary to take a beauty shot before heading to camp.

Honey Badger (left) and her friend Sierra Xterra
Honey Badger (left) and her friend Xterra

 

Luckily we had the mountain to ourselves (or perhaps not so much luck as the fact of a hefty rain forecast) so our favorite campsite was ours for the taking!

A beautiful wooded glen beneath majestic oak trees with a field stone fire-pit in its center.

We made short work of setting up camp as well as the camp kitchen.  I wisely reminded our friends that we were in bear country.  It was absolutely mandatory they store all dry goods and unsecured foods inside their Nissan Xterra.

Camp Honey Badger
Camp Honey Badger

All went well, until dusk.  The clouds burst open and dumped rain so fierce, we huddled within the center of a screened tent I had brought along just for that purpose.  Except I had expected rain – not an unholy downpour of sodden proportion.  We could hear the rainwater rushing down the very same trails we traveled earlier that day with a roar like a mighty river.

“Looks like we’re stranded.  Those trails are impassible now,” Doug said.

Ominous looks were exchanged and I shrugged my shoulders.  “Ach, so what.  We won’t need to leave for another couple days anyhow,” I said, hoping to ease the worried looks I saw cross our newcomers faces.  Remember, this was Xterra’s first-time camping backcountry.

Then we joked that we were living out the perfect setting for a horror story.  You know the type.  The kind of B-rated movie where stranded travelers, who were little more than strangers, are thrown together and must survive the deranged attack by one in their midst who happens to be a psychotic killer. MWHAAAAAA!

It was a good thing that Xterra’s folks were such good sports and that Doug and I, being experienced campers, knew to build up the campfire before the rains started; because we still enjoyed the evening, laughing as Xterra’s daddy ran between the tent and fire to toast marshmallow’s for her mama’s smores.  Here’s a picture of our camp kitchen and screened refuge.

Camp Kitchen and Rain Refuge
Camp Kitchen and Rain Refuge

Eventually the rain stopped.  Our friends decided to call it a night and we bid each other a pleasant evening.  Not quite ready for sleep, Doug and I moved our chairs back to the smoldering fire.  We decided to stoke up the coals and add a bit more wood so we could enjoy some cheery warmth before retiring to our luxurious, double-mattress air bed waiting for us in our tent.

Ok, yes I admit it.  I am a bit of a princess when it comes to my creature comforts.  We camped all the way across country last year, sleeping on that very air-bed, which is really designed for home use…thus, extremely comfortable.  It even had a headboard so I could prop my pillow and read a few pages before turning out the light as is my usual custom.

The only downfall is that it’s a queen size air bed.  It takes up the entire floor of our tent so that it touches all three exterior sides of the nylon walls – the fourth zips open into a screened vestibule – and my face is usually pressed up close to the edge.  Doug sleeps on the side that faces the zippered door since he’s usually last to bed and first to rise.

But hey, lack of head room and dressing room is a small price to pay for such wonderful comfort.  We just slip into our mummy bags, zip up nice and tight locking in warmth, and lay our heads on the same pillows we use at home.  We sleep quite contented.  Like innocent babes in the wood.

It was almost the witching hour when we decided to call it a night.  Too tired and sore from the long day’s trials we skipped our nighttime hygiene and normal routine of straightening up camp.  But we did give the camp a quick once-over.  We discovered the boxes of chocolate bars and graham crackers in the screened tent along with a make-shift garbage bag hanging from one of the chair arms.  I opted to stash the smore paraphernalia in an empty, insulated lunch bag close by while Doug stowed the garbage inside the large plastic bag we had hung from the limb of a nearby tree.

Just as we were drifting off to sleep, a horrendous clanging sound jarred us into instant alert.  Doug immediately unzipped the flap on our screen door and shone a flashlight beam out through our vestibule, barely cutting through the fog that had descended like a blanket across our campsite.  All was quiet.  Everything looked to be in place.  We saw no movement, animal or otherwise.

Doug said, “Must have been a raccoon after the garbage.”

Too tired to care about the possibility of strewn trash, I lay back down and snuggled deeper into my mummy bag.  “Pft, let ‘m have it,” I said.  “We can just clean it up in the morning.”

I’m not sure how much time elapsed.  I only know that I was sound asleep when I was suddenly jolted awake by a loud snort.  My adrenaline soaked brain immediately registered the question “deer in rut?” as my eyes grew large with the realization that something very big was outside the paper-thin nylon wall, only inches from where I lay.

Next thing I knew, a vicious jab impacted the tent wall, literally four inches from where my face rested on the pillow.  Immediately the airbed emitted a loud hissing noise as it began to rapidly deflate and I floundered like fish out of water – imprisoned within the cocoon of my mummy sleeping bag, unable to work the zipper fast enough.

I yelled out.  “Oh my God.  Doug!  A bear just bit the tent!”

In nano seconds, Doug donned his britches, grabbed both hand-gun and flashlight, and was out of the tent scanning the campsite.  After struggling for what seemed a lifetime, I finally released the zipper and scooted to the front of the tent to see what was happening.  Doug had his light trained on an adolescent black bear, all 250-300 lbs. of him, happily chewing on the corn husks that fell from our garbage bag he had ripped to shreds.

Bear!
Bear!

Well, if baby bear is there…did mama bear bite the tent?  If so, where was she?

I saw Doug casting the flashlight beam as he tried to pierce the heavy gloom searching for mama whilst keeping an eye on baby – who seemed to not have a care in the world as he continued munching on corn husks and other assorted goodies from our garbage.

But the thick mist severely limited our visibility.  He shouted at baby.  Baby, who stood maybe 10 yards away, barely looked up from his dinner let alone register Doug as any threat.  Finally, Doug shot twice into the air over Baby’s head.  That got his attention, and he immediately turned tail and booked into the dense woods outside our camp.

The shots also awoke Xterra’s daddy who was quick to exit his tent and move their things into the back of Xterra.  Good thing she has a long, enclosed body like Honey Badger.  No bears would be able to bite through our girls tough, metal hides!

Ruined Air Mattress by Bear Bite
Ruined Air Mattress by Bear Bite

Since our tent now had holes, and no comfy air mattress, Doug & I bedded down with Honey Badger for the balance of the night – after we all picked up the garbage and discovered that baby bear had also tried biting open the lunch cooler that held the leftover smores.

In the morning, we examined all evidence of our bear attack in the bright light of day.  The back wall of our tent sported holes from where where the black bear’s teeth ripped through the nylon and into our air mattress, leaving a four inch gash rendering our oh-so-comfy bed totally useless.  We also found a huge paw print, bigger than a large man’s hand-width, right under the bear’s bite mark in the tent wall.

Black Bear Teethmarks Black Bear Bite

Afterward we marveled at my close call, and the fact that had the bear actually bitten me – intentionally or not – at 1:00am, stranded by seven miles of impassible trails deep in the wilderness, it would have been near impossible to seek emergency medical help.

Our first aid kit was only outfitted to deal with your basic bumps and sprains, not the carnage of razor sharp claws and tearing teeth.

However, we weren’t going to let a little old thing like me almost getting my face ripped apart by a bear spoil our fun, so we went about our day as planned.  We had a big breakfast, enjoyed coffee by the fire, packed our lunches, and headed out to the trails.

The 'Girls' Playing
The ‘Girls’ Playing

Both Xterra and Honey Badger laughed and giggled as they growled over the steep, rocky terrain into wooded trails with deep pools of muddy water.

The forest looked spectacular.  The drenched leaves glistened in the sunshine, framing dark, interior mists of the wilderness beyond.

Dark Forest Mists
Dark Forest Mists

 

Later that evening, guess who showed up to camp? And again the following evening?

Yup.  Our friendly neighborhood bears.

But Honey Badger didn’t care.  By then, neither did Xterra.

Apparently, unbeknownst to us, our camp had mysteriously turned into … Black Bear Central.

Camp Black Bear
Camp Black Bear

 

 

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4 thoughts on “The Great Bear Escape

  1. Your are the best story teller!! And now, exterra don’t care either!! So when are we going back for more??? bc our girls don’t play, team honey badger will ride again!! Bears? who cares about bears!!!

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