Its time for our annual fall camping trip. Last year it was brutally cold. We went to Stokes State Forest and Jake decided that this was the best place he’d ever been camping and wanted to go back. I reserved a campsite and got our permit in the mail yesterday along with too many brochures and warnings about bears. As I reviewed the “Bear Facts” I realized I needed to tell the story I promised a while back about an encounter with New Jersey’s largest land mammal.

The card published by NJ Fish and Wildlife which Jake looked at and said “why does it have boxes, are you supposed to check them off when you encounter a bear?”

Tim was always looking for an excuse to use this smelly rubber boat that he had acquired and during one of our seasonal camping trips he got the chance. The idea, Ala Deliverance was to park the car down river and hitchhike up to where we dumped the boat. We timed it so that we would have to spend the night along the river and finish up at the car sometime the next day. It wasn’t long before we got our ride. The driver, a young guy along with his mother in the passenger seat seemed a little off as we reached the back door handles but we needed to get up to that unattended boat so you make concessions. The guy drove incredibly fast along the winding road all the while arguing with his mother about smoking each others cigarettes. Tim and I were struggling to steady ourselves in the immense 1960s American car backseat. It was like an amusement park ride that you weren’t enjoying just wishing it would end. At least it was quick and soon enough we were saying our thank you’s and good byes in the parking lot of the boat ramp at the start of our trip, Hancock, New York.

We always get a late start and I blame this on Tim who has absolutely no sense of time. I had reserved a campsite at some campground on the Delaware that we needed to reach by nightfall and it was becoming increasingly unlikely that we would make that. If you know anything about the Upper Delaware you know that the New York/New Jersey side is pretty heavily populated and camping along the river other than at a campground is almost impossible. The Pennsylvania side however has miles of woods along the river from the bank on up the hill to the Delaware-Lackwanna train tracks. As darkness fell on the river we pulled the boat out of the water on the Pennsylvania side at a fairly hidden spot to camp for the night.

I think I was making spaghetti when I heard the first sticks breaking up the hill. I focused my flashlight and moved the beam back and forth but didn’t see anything. Back to draining the spaghetti when I heard more rustling up on the hill above us. This time as I panned my flashlight beyond the campsite I caught a very brief glimpse of a large animal shape. When I told Tim what I had seen he was very dismissive. “It’s probably just a raccoon” he said. I knew it wasn’t a raccoon, this was much bigger. Many minutes had gone by without hearing any noise so we decided to eat. As we eat, the unmistakable sounds of a body moving in the woods came back. This time I made Tim look up into the darkness as I turned on my light. As soon as the light went on we were confronted with an extremely scary sight. Thirty yards or so up the hill was a large hairy ass, apparently belonging to a black bear. I immediately switched off the flashlight and we began to panic. Lets make the fire really big I think was our course of action. We began burning up all our wood. We moved any food and the used plates and pots away from the campsite and waited. As we stood next to the fire the bear continued to move closer to our site. This was increasingly evident by the sounds of its breathing and low growl. Back and forth in a crescent shape methodically inching closer towards us. With our backs to the pitch black river, staring at the fire so bright we were blind to the steady sounds of the animal moving in the darkness. It was at this point that we decided we needed to leave. Grabbing our packs we rushed to the boat but as we trained the flashlight on the boat we screamed at a startled opossum within the boat! It hissed and we ran back to the fire. Aside from the hissing opossum we thought more about taking the boat out into the darkness and realized that wasn’t a good idea.

I don’t think I’ve ever been that scared in my life waiting for that bear to come down to my campsite. Hours had gone by and still we didn’t see the bear. We heard it, but it never did confront us. At some point I said I’m going to sleep and I crawled into my sleeping bag and fell asleep by the fire. You know how you just get to that point when sleep pretty much wins out over any looming catastrophe? Morning came and there was no sign that the bear had even touched the uneaten spaghetti sauce. As we packed up the boat and dragged it into the water we caught sight of the campground we were supposed to have stopped at just 100 yards away on the other side of the river.

This time I’m ready. I read the “Bear Facts”. I’ll have the food in the car at all times and at the first sighting of a bear, I’m going to sleep.

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