In 2001, my Father and I visited a remote and highly restricted bear viewing area. It is accessible only by float plane and has one food cabin and two park rangers who guide the small number of visitors each week around the area. The rangers stress that the bears in this area are not a threat to people because they are more interested in the fish. However, we were told that attacks were still possible unless you followed three rules:
- Never startle the bears (loud noises, sudden movements, etc).
- Never carry food on your person or eat outside the food cabin.
- Never get fresh blood on your clothes or hands (from fish kills).
Our second night in our tent, I was woken up by the sound of heavy breathing. It was very heavy breathing and it was coming from outside the tent. It was the sound of a curious bear who was repeatedly circling our tent. The huffing and snuffing continued for several minutes before I could muster the courage to wake my Father. I gently poked him and whispered what was happening. My Dad made a snorting noise (that sounded slightly louder than a grenade) and yelled, “there’s no bears here!” before rolling over – never actually having woken up.
All noises outside the tent ceased.
In the silence, the phrase “never startle the bears” blazed in my mind. I held my breath and waited for death.
But nothing happened. No growl, no death, no nothing. I started to wonder if I had been dreaming the whole thing…
UNTIL THE SIDE OF THE TENT BULGED INWARD AS THE BEAR BUMPED AGAINST IT!!!
At this point, I was desperately trying to think of why the bear was so interested in our tent. My mind was spinning in circles until it suddenly screeched to a halt with one thought – I had a Nutri-Grain wrapper in my pocket! Without thinking, I had stuffed it into my pocket when I had been eating in the food cabin.
I had food on my person. It was rule number 2. I was breaking rule number 2!
What did I do? First, I stuffed the wrapper as far down into my sleeping bag as possible and pulled the opening as tight around my neck as I could. Secondly, I panicked. In fact, I panicked so completely that my nose began to bleed.
Nose bleeds = fresh blood.
I had broken all three rules. All three! As I lay there silently pinching my nose with one hand and frantically clutching my sleeping bag tightly around my throat with the other, I wondered how long it would be before the end came.
Obviously, the end didn’t come. The bear continued to circle the tent, bumping it every few passes for about an hour before finally moving off into the night.
Despite breaking all three rules, I lived. Why? I can only assume that the 12 gallons of sweat I had released during the ordeal was enough to ruin even a bear’s appetite.