In the early morning hours of a wet, windy day, I realized I needed to make that trip everyone has to make in the morning after waking up. I was high up in the Uncompahgre Wilderness area in southwestern Colorado, and even though it was the middle of July, it was quite cold in addition to being wet and windy. Oh, did I mention the early morning hours were well before any hint of daylight had arrived.
I crawled out of my sleeping bag, tossed aside the blanket lying over the bag, and I pulled on my moccasins. I figured my long johns were just fine for the short trip I needed, and besides, I wasn’t planning on doing much before returning to the tent. The tent had an inner zipper and a tie down flap over it, neither of which I bothered to close while making my run to the nearest tree.
I was delayed only a few moments before making my return journey of about 30 feet, but when I returned to my tent, it had a new occupant. It seems a rather fuzzy brown critter about my size had decided my blanket and sleeping bag inside the tent was much better than the cold rain outside.
I’ve encountered bears any number of times over the years, but I never had one decide to sleep in my tent before. Once in New Mexico I had a bear climb up a tree and jump out from one of the branches to catch my food bag while falling to the ground. I let him keep it. I had a bear sitting with his back against my car door when I returned from a pit stop along the side of a road in eastern Tennessee. I yelled at it and threw a stick its direction, and it just wandered off. While fishing in the mountains above San Bernardino, California, I looked up to see a bear on the other side of the stream about the same time he saw me. Each of us just backed away. At least another dozen times bears have entered my realm of awareness, but never before had I faced a situation like this.
I considered beating on the sides of the tent with a stick and yelling at it, but I decided that having a tent between me and an angry bear wasn’t enough of a barrier. I considered lighting a fire and trying to smoke it out, but 1) my lighter was in my pants pocket in the tent, and 2) it was raining. I resigned myself to waiting it out. Then I began to wonder just how late does a bear sleep?
It stopped raining just at dawn, and within minutes the sky cleared and the temperature dropped to the point I could see some ice forming in places. I was huddled against a tree with a thick layer of pine needles and grass piled over as much of me as I could manage. It didn’t keep me dry, but it helped retain some heat in my body. Actually, it wasn’t too bad, except for being wet, cold, and miserable.
I had placed my tent near the west end of the small clearing so the sun would strike it as quickly as it made appearance, and within minutes of the arrival of the first rays of light, the bear came out of the tent dragging my blanket with him. I watched as the bear returned to the tent to retrieve my sleeping bag, which he laid alongside of the blanket. Then he stretched out over the two items, and went back to sleep in the sun. Great!
I waited for a few hours until the bear awakened and wandered off into the woods to do what bears do in the woods before I crawled out of my nest of pine needles. I was only a few minutes getting cleaned up, dressed, packed and into my backpack ready for the trail when I heard a snort behind me. I turned to see the bear again. This time he was looking a bit confused. Where was the shelter? And where was that warm bedding? And who was this person with the big hump on his back?
The bear turned around and disappeared back into the woods, leaving me with just a memory. But what a memory.