When camping make sure your food is locked away, for the bear’s safety as well as your own.
I’ve read recently that campers have been trying to take selfies with bears, and—surprise—the bears don’t like it. They get mad and eat people. Rangers are having to post warnings: No Selfies With Bear! I have no desire to get within selfie distance to a bear. For good reason. Last summer I had a bear encounter that caused my heart to skip a beat and my head to spin.
After hiking in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, I returned to my campsite to find two park rangers’ SUVs blocking the car pull-in and path next to my tent, capsized, the fabric flapping in the brisk wind. I hollered from a few feet away. “What’s the matter, Officer?”
“Bear was in your campsite.”
“Got your coffee.” The uniformed park ranger shook his finger at me.
Now, normally the news of a bear in my campsite would have been frightening enough, but a bear after my coffee was doubly terrifying. I rushed up to the picnic table. The soft-sided bag of vanilla coffee was ripped open at its belly, the precious beans spilling out, like somebody’s guts in a B-rated horror film.
“You can’t leave any food out at your campsite. Didn’t you read the warnings?”
“I didn’t think coffee counted as food.” I thought coffee was the same as water, zero calories. How could coffee be food? Something a bear would want to eat? Did this mean I would have to start counting the calories in my coffee? Please don’t take this calorie-free fantasy away from me! “I thought coffee was more like water. And if the bear wanted a drink of water he could have gone to the river.”
The man in uniform gave me a level look. “Bears love coffee.”
“They do? I didn’t know.” I slapped my hands to my cheeks.
“Almost as much as they love beer. Got into the cooler at the campsite next to yours before he came over here and got into your coffee.”
Talk about not reading signs. There was a big sign, “No Alcohol Allowed in the Park.” I would never have left an illegal alcoholic beverage out in a cooler for anyone to find. No, my bottles of wine were locked in the trunk. Bears could get into coolers, but not trunks, at least not quite so easily. I pictured the bear breaking into the cooler, sinking his teeth into a cool one, tossing his large head back and guzzling down a six pack or two. Jerking his head and spitting the cans aside with a “ppttteuwee.” Wiping the back of his paw across his gaping jaws, staggering his way to my campsite in need of my coffee…
Ground beans were spread across the edge of the table and around on the ground. I dusted the remains from the table with the heel of my hand back into the half sack the bear left behind and started to roll the bag closed.
“You don’t want to keep that coffee, ma’am. The bear had his nose in that.” The ranger made a pee-ew face.
“Oh, right.” Darn it. I had other bags of coffee, but might run short. I would growl like a bear myself if I ran short. This is where my heart skipped a beat and my head spun.
“In fact, I’d like to take that bag if you don’t mind.”
“No, for the bear trap. That’ll be sure to catch him. He does love coffee.” Unfortunately, bear-human encounters were becoming too frequent and bears often needed to be trapped and relocated away from people who wanted to get too close.
“Where’s the bear trap?”
“Right on the other side of the river from your campsite.”
“That close?” I gulped a few times and handed the coffee over. The ranger took off as I surveyed my downed tent, flat as a pancake in the dirt. I touched the delicate fabric and resolved to exchange the tent for a hard-sided camper. One that had electrical hookup so I could bring my espresso maker. Bears may like coffee, but the ranger said nothing about espresso. So, I should be safe, right?
No selfies with bear – at least not without offering him coffee first.
Another bear encounter is featured in my book, No Grater Evil, about the gourmet dinner club’s camping trip in the Rocky Mountains. Nothing puts out the flames as fast as finding a dead body at the campfire.