I smelled them long before I saw them. It wasn’t the flailing arms and hurried pace of a pair of day-hikers dressed in bright t-shirts and shorts rushing towards me that got my attention. It was their laundry detergent. Tide. Maybe Cheers. Either way, it was delicious enough to break the hypnotic spell that comes from hiking 20+ miles a day for more than two months.
“Hey!” the husband shouted. He was a little out of breath. “Hold up. There’s a mama bear and her baby cub back behind us.” The wife, also excited but a little triumphant, held up her cell phone. “I got pictures!”
Yup. I thought, Definitely Tide.
Making the most out of your bear encounters
For many outdoor enthusiasts, bears claim a special place in the fear/fascination centers of our brains. Rightfully so, as you are 17.8 times more likely to cross paths with a ravenous bear than the docile Sasquatch (Insert indisputable FoxNews-esque source here). As a public service, I’d like to share a few tips that have helped me to conquer fears about bear encounters along the Appalachian Trail.
Always hike with someone slower than you
(for obvious reasons)
Getting that perfect shot.
When trying to get that stunning close-up with your phone’s camera, if you can’t get the mama bear and ALL her cubs in one frame, you’re too close. Switching to video is just common courtesy. The rescue teams will be cleaning up a huge mess, the least you can do with your last moments is provide a bit of light-hearted levity.
Racing a bear up a tree really is a thing.
While no one has ever won, all competitors are automatically short-listed (posthumously) for the annual Darwin Awards.
Sharing is caring.
You know how hungry you get after a full day of hiking? Now imagine that you had to carry an extra hundred pounds of muscle around all day. Sharing your food with our fuzzy friends is not only good manners, it’s an excellent way to pay it forward because you’ll be teaching bears to show extra attention to the hikers that come behind you.
Bears love to be spooked.
Remember how much your dad laughed when you snuck up behind him while he was changing the oil under the car? Bears think this is even more fun. With their poor vision, they rely on a strong sense of smell and hearing. So, hikers that haven’t showered in days and walk around as stealthily as possible, especially at night, are primed to catch a bear unaware. You can’t buy that kind of fun!
Know the difference between “play time” and “work time.”
Sure, it can be fun to play chase and tag in the woods with these furry scavengers, but it’s important to remember that they have busy schedules too. You will know play time is nearly over when their nibbling on your limb starts to remove chunks of flesh. At this point, it’s usually best to just play dead. Not only is this practice for the real thing that’s only a few hours away, but you don’t want to cause extra stress by making them work too hard. That just makes them grouchy.
Hair Spray is the ideal bear repellant.
The stores will try to sell you “bear repellant,” but these harsh sprays tend to stun or even frighten them off. For a truly meaningful bear encounter, I recommend a sweet-smelling hairspray, like AquaNet or Bed Head. Bed Head offers truth in advertising rarely seen these days when it promises: “Relentless hold and control. The more you use, the harder it gets.” Every bear you meet will thank you for sharing this amazing gift.
These tips are guaranteed to provide you with a once-in-a-lifetime bear encounter. While I can’t guarantee your survival by following all of these tests strategies, I’m pretty sure you’ll Conquer any residual doubts about your place on the Bear-Man food chain. Your welcome.
However, for those of you interested in what the “experts” recommend with respect to bear encounters, here’s a link. You may notice a few discrepancies, but I suspect this has more to do with a new-fangled trend towards “safety” over an unparalleled immersion in Beartopia (Trademark pending).
Just in case this is the last time we speak
Whether you’re getting ready to hit the Trails, or settling in for a virtual stroll through the woods, I hope you all have an amazing hike!