Lions and Tigers and BEARS! Oh MY!

Dear Dylan,

I thought you might be interested in hearing about my adventure with the bear up in Canada....

I arrived in Algonquin Provincial Park in the late afternoon. I don't know if your Dad told you or not, but he and I had been there a long time ago camping on this same lake.

I went to the Ranger's office and rented a canoe and got a Permit so that I could go into the Interior of the park (where all the wild things live). You have to get special permission so that the government knows roughly where you are going and when you are supposed to come out and can go looking for you if you don't show up on time. In fact, just two years ago, two people were killed by a bear only a few miles from where I was going.

Now, throughout this story, keep in mind that I had never seen a full grown bear up close before. I did know that black bears were about 1 1/2 - 2 feet tall at the shoulder and weighed about 150 - 200 lbs. and were afraid of fire and liked to avoid people if they could. Your grandpa Bud had taught me what to do if a met up with a bear, but I hadn't expected to have to use what he taught me. I'm always careful not to leave food around and to keep a clean camp, so there isn't anything to attract a bear and there are plenty of human things to keep them away.

Anyway, I loaded all of my gear into my canoe and paddled away from the Ranger's dock into Lake Opeongo. I spent a little while exploring the lake looking for the first campsite we stayed at when we were here so long ago. It didn't take me very long at all and there it was. Out on a small point with a sheltered bay off the south side. I got out of my canoe and couldn't believe I'd found it that easily. Everything was very similar to the way I remembered it, only a little smaller. Of course, when I was hereView From First Campsite that first time, I was only about 8 years old (about the same age you are now!) and much smaller myself. It's only natural that everything seemed large to me then and small to me now that I am bigger. I spent some time wandering around the campsite and finding all of the places we had done things when we were here.


Unloading my canoe, I set up camp. I put my tent in the exact same spot that your Dad, your Uncle Mike, and I had our tent that first time. Then, I fixed myself some supper and sat down to watch the sun set. I had hoped to hear some wolves singing, but they weren't in the mood tonight I guess. I did get to watch some Loons out on the lake, but nothing like they were that first trip when Tent & Gearwe would listen to the wolves set the loons off, then the loons would run up and down the lake, and then everything would get quiet until one or the other would start up again and the whole cycle would start over. Not that it mattered that they weren't doing that tonight. Just being in the same place was wonderful and very relaxing. Once ISunset On The Lake finished dinner, I cleaned my dishes and loaded everything into the food pack and then hung that between two trees and about fifteen feet off the ground. That way if a bear did show up, he wouldn't be able to get at my food and would probably leave anyway. I made very sure that I didn't have anything in my tent that a bear might like, 'cause I didn't want a bear coming in my tent after it!

By now, the sun had pretty much set and I decided to read for a while and then go to sleep. I crawled into my tent and got out of my clothes. I played my flute for a little bit and settled down with The Hobbit, a really good book. I hadn't gotten far when I heard something moving my canoe around. Now, when I had pulled my canoe out of the water, I had flipped it upside down (so that if it rained it wouldn't get filled with water) and wedged the bow (the front part) in between two trees so that the bottom of the canoe was about even with my chest - say 4' off the ground. I was a little annoyed hearing someone messing around with my canoe. When you're in the wilderness, the canoe is not only your transportation, its everything you need to keep alive, and to get out of the park again. If someone was playing a joke, they had a very poor sense of humor. I sat up and looked out of my window at the canoe and saw the biggest blackest bear I have ever even heard of stepping over my canoe.

He was huge. When I put my canoe up, I had put it across a small path. Now, I thought that path was for people to use...the bear apparently thought it was for bears. He was walking down that path and when he got to the canoe, he was too big to fit under it so he stepped over it. His claws were scratching all over the bottom of the canoe and he was pulling his belly up onto it. From what I could see, he was just about 5 feet tall at the shoulder and he was having no trouble at all walking over my canoe - except for pulling his belly over it. Bears are fairly thick in the middle, you know. I could see that his claws were about the size of the fighting knife I carry, say 4 or 5 inches long. My canoe was made of Kevlar, which is the same stuff they make bulletproof vests out of, but it wasn't made to hold up giant bears. I was sure he had broken it's keel, or at least damaged it, and that was my only way out of here.

I sat back and tried to think. The only weapons I had were two knives, and I didn't think much of my chances against something that size, so I certainly wanted to avoid that! I thought about getting my camera out of the bag I had it in, but that would take a lot of time and I didn't want to make any noise that might startle the bear. Your grandpa Bud had told me that you never want to surprise a bear. He said that if you do, the best thing to do is to talk to him politely so he knows you aren't going to try and hurt him. So that's just what I did. I figured he maybe didn't know that I was here. I was being quiet and I was in my tent, so he was probably smelling my food up in the food pack and thought he'd get himself a quick evening snack! I was just hoping he wouldn't snack on me.

"Hey there Mr. Bear!" I said. I put on my combat harness (I liked the one I wore when I was in the Army and I've camped with one ever since) and got out my two knives. If this sucker was going to come in here after me, I was at least going to cut his nose once or twice. "There's someone in this camp, so why don't you go hang out someplace else tonight?" I kept talking to the bear while I put on my pants and pulled on my boots. "Now, I'm going to come out of the tent, so don't let me surprise you...Here we go...I'm unzipping the door now." I poked my head out of the tent and looked around, trying to see the bear. He was nowhere to be seen. I wasn't sure if he was behind the tent though, so I quickly got the rest of the way out of the tent and spun around, just in case. *WHEW* No bear.

I kept talking to the bear, saying whatever silly things I could think of so he would know where I was and what I was doing. Suddenly, I heard something CRACK just off into to the woods. Now, your grandpa Bud had told me that one way to tell the difference between the types of bears in Canada was to climb a tree - A grizzly bear can't climb. So, once you're up there, if it comes up after you, it's a black bear, if it knocks the tree down, it's a grizzly. This was a black bear, so it could climb. Except he had also said that if I climbed up a tree that was smaller around than the bear could reach, he couldn't get his claws into it to climb. I climbed up the nearest tree as quickly as I could, leaving a lot of skin behind in the process (Remember, the only clothes I had on were my unlaced combat boots (these were the same boots I had in the Army), my BDU (also from the Army) pants, and my harness.

After a few minutes of sitting up in this tree, my arms wrapped around it for dear life, I looked around. No bear. So, I slid down the tree - leaving even more skin behind me. I decided that a nice big fire would probably scare the bear away - since most wild animals are afraid of fire - and fill the area with smoke (another thing critters are afraid of). So, I gathered some dry wood and built a nice big smoky fire. Since it was now totally dark out, this gave me some source of light. I took out a large pine branch that was burning cheerily and putting out a lot of smoke and started wandering around with it. I was taking no chances that this bear might miss the smoke. I waved it around my tent...I waved it around the shore...I waved it around the canoe. All in all, I mustíve looked like some demented Cardinal with a censer trying to chase demons away from the Pope.

As my fire began to die down I took a look around to make sure that the bear had left for good. No sign of a bear, so I crawled back into my tent, took my clothes off again and tried to relax enough to go to sleep. Of course, I had both knives right next to me; Not that theyíd do much, but they made me feel better. Slowly, I began to relax.

And sure enough, I heard something making crackling noises again! I shouted out "Hey! Mr. Bear! Iím still here! Do me a favor and go away for a while, OK?" He snorted once (That was probably bear for "Good lord, this idiotís still here!), and that was the last I heard from him for a while. Since I wasnít hearing any more large bear noises, I started to drop off - it was about 9:30 PM now and I was exhausted. I wasnít very deeply asleep though so when about 11:30 PM something brushed my tent, I woke up immediately.

I opened my eyes and looked out the window in my tentís door - just in time to see a HUGE silhouette slide past it, blotting everything out except a row of stars at the very top. Mr. Bear was back, and he had an attitude. I watched the tent vibrate as he walked past on his way to the tree where my food bag was hanging. I was very glad that Bud had taught me never to have anything that might tempt a bear in my tent. If I had, he would have smelled it, and probably invited himself in for a snack. Bears are like that...and they never use the door. They just rip open their own door, which is hard on the tent, not to mention any occupants.

By now, Iíd had enough. This bear apparently was one of the few that not only had no fear of humans, but saw them as a source of tasty treats. Someone had probably fed him, or been careless with their camp and he got used to finding good things to eat where people were. I wanted OUT. So, I once again began to talk to the bear, telling him what I was doing - "Mr. Bear! Iím going to come out of the tent again and Iím going to pack up. You can have this entire side of the lake. Iíll go to the other side." He snorted again. (No doubt bear for "Geez, itís about time!) I got out of the tent and looked around - A black bear at night is rather difficult to see. I traded one knife for a flashlight and started to shine it around the camp to see where he was. Didn't see anything, so I went over to the canoe to see what shape it was in. It looked OK, although I could see claw marks from where the bear had dragged himself over it. I flipped it back over - looking over my shoulder the entire time - and slid it into the water. Believe me, I only LOOSLY tied that sucker to the tree!

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