Peace In A Tin Can

Peace In A Tin Can

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Bear Is Not The Scariest Thing In The Woods

For several years, I have dragged my best buddy, Debbie, into the wilderness while she kicked and screamed and sang patriotic songs to scare off the bears.  Armed with her telescoping hiking stick, a whistle, and a complete repertoire of songs about the good ole' U.S. of A., Debbie reluctantly followed me into remote areas, where her pretty little head never stopped moving as she constantly scanned the woods and wildflowers for bear, coyote, wolves, and all other manner of life-threatening wildlife.

After I got Debbie lost in the wilderness for 11 hours, I promised her that if she would continue to join me each year for our annual camping trip, I would change my obnoxious ways, allow her to stay firmly rooted in her comfort zone, and make the trip "nice".  I was happy enough to save my adventures for another time, instead tailoring the trip to a more civilized method of camping, just because I treasure my time spent with Debbie and want her to treasure the memories of our trips as well.

Last year, I chose to camp at Petoskey State Park, which is the creme of the crop in the Michigan State Park System.  Debbie was excited to wander around Petoskey, visit a French antiques store she knew of, sleep in her cozy bed in the tin can, and sit beside a warm campfire reading a good book.  She was most excited to be camping on the shore of Lake Michigan, where she could wander aimlessly on the beach without getting lost, search for Petoskey stones, and fall asleep to the sound of waves gently lapping on the shore.

Even though Petoskey State Park is surrounded by hardwoods and conifer stands, giving it that rustic feel, I assured Debbie we were in an urban area and would not be accosted by a bear at our campsite. I said, "Trust me", which raised an eyebrow with Debbie, who learned long ago not to trust me in the woods, but she felt comfortable with our surroundings and did not break into a rousing rendition of "God Bless America".  I assured her we had nothing to be concerned about this time.

We should have known the bear in the woods would not be our biggest problem.

We had only been at the campground a short time when we both needed to visit the restroom, and then wanted to walk around the park, checking out other campers and finding trails (for me) and paths to the beach (for Debbie).  As we walked up the sidewalk to the bathroom, a sudden, awful, screeching sound had us stopping in our tracks.  As we turned, a car (and I use the term loosely) laden with conservation bumper stickers announcing the arrival of a proud tree-hugger who was driving an ancient, rusted hatchback slammed to a stop in front of the bathroom.  A man, who appeared quite manic and possibly crazy, jumped out of the car and yelled "Hey!" to us.  Debbie took a step closer to me, (actually, she pretty much hid behind me) while the man launched a verbal assault on us, the campground, Michigan, and the perils of traveling from Maine to Minnesota through states that simply do NOT understand the joy of cross-country journeys.

We've all been in that frustrated frame of mind when things are not going well on a long trip, but Guy from Maine was over the top.  He was downright scary!  His longish grey hair was flying out from his head, spittle was spewing from his mouth, and his raised voice attracted the attention of other campers.  His main beef was having to pay $24 to park overnight and sleep in his car.  I told him there was a State Forest Campground 5 miles up the road, where he could stay in his car for $14, but that only angered him further.  He also was very upset because there was no one at the check-in station.

Enough time had passed listening to Guy from Maine rant and rave that the bathroom was now becoming a serious issue for me.  In an effort to remove Guy from Maine from the direct path between me and the bathroom door, I calmly explained self check-in to him, suggesting he drive through the campground, choose a few sites he liked, and check the list at the station for availability.  He finally got back in his time-warped vehicle and sped off.

Whew!  The guy was weird, and manic, and a little fearsome.  I hustled to the bathroom, and as the rain started to fall, Debbie and I opened our umbrellas and set out to explore the park.  We walked for about 45 minutes, noting the location of other campers, deciding the number of campers made us feel like we weren't all alone, but the distance they all placed between campsites was good for privacy and quiet.  There were several loops in the campground, and everybody had spread out.

As we approached our campsite, Debbie grabbed my arm and stopped.  She pointed, I looked, and crazy Guy from Maine had parked his car directly across from the tin can.  Of all the empty sites in the campground, he chooses to park right on top of us?  Creepy.

We were a little uncomfortable with his presence.  I kept trying to convince Debbie, and myself, that cross-country travel can be stressful, Guy from Maine was just having a bad day, he's probably a really nice guy under normal circumstances.  Neither of us was buying it.  He was just scary.  We stayed close to the tin can, kept our eyes open, and watched his every move.  Guy from Maine sat in his little car for a while, listening to a baseball game on the radio, which we could hear loud and clear.  We saw him get out of his car, disappear, and then make an unexpected appearance right behind us when he came up from the beach.  He complained about the beach, said it wasn't very nice.

Later, without saying a word, Guy from Maine strode right through our campsite to walk on a trail behind us.  Talk about rude!  He made us uneasy all evening, coming and going and pacing and mumbling. We gave up trying to relax by the fire, and went in the tin can.  Three times I left my bed to make sure the door was locked on the tin can.  Three times Debbie said, "The door is locked, right?"  I had my dog, Rooney, and some personal protection items, which I kept right next to the bed.

I don't normally run into this problem.  People who camp and spend their time outdoors are good people.  I have never felt threatened.  Guy from Maine took away my sense of peace, my ability to relax.  He drove me into the camper, which is not how I camp at all.  It was sad.

The next morning, I awoke early to the feel of Rooney staring at my head and drooling.  He needed to go outside.  I dressed, fill my pockets with safety devices like pepper spray, a knife, and an alarm, and cautiously stuck my head out the door.  Guy from Maine was gone.  I wasn't sure whether to be relieved, or more scared wondering if he was really gone.

Debbie and I spent the rest of our trip enjoying the area, walking the beach, reading by the fire, laughing, and then laughing some more.  But each night, as we sat by the fire after the sun went down, if we heard a snap! in the woods, we both jumped.  We were almost hoping it was a bear, and not Guy from Maine coming back with a chainsaw and hatchet.  You can imagine the scenarios that were running through our heads.  I could still feel his presence, smell him lurking in the woods.  It didn't help that I was reading a James Patterson novel.

It was, overall, a great trip.  But the dark shadow of Guy from Maine hung over us the whole time and served to remind us that the bear in the woods is not necessarily the scariest thing we might encounter.  Another lesson learned.  Be aware, be prepared, be safe.  I hope Guy from Maine made it to Minnesota, I hope the rest of his trip was better.  I hope he was just having a bad day on the road and we only saw the worst of him.  I also hope we never run into him again!