True Tales: Give a Bear a Cracker

And he's bound to keep you up all night.

I once spent two summers working minimum wage as I attempted to chase a boy, Tyler (a summit-seeking, rock-climbing dirtbag), up every peak in sight. We would hike at night, summit by sunrise, and make it back in time for work before noon. On one rare occasion we had the same day off, which meant we could enjoy the daylight as we hiked together toward camp. Or so I thought. Off he ran, breathing like a heavyweight boxer, leaving me alone on the trail.

My mind wandered as I trudged along, when I suddenly spotted a giant black bear meandering through the wildflowers, sizing me up as a tasty treat. I began clapping and yelling as I raced up to Tyler, a half mile ahead. “Bear,” I panted. “Bear... back... there.” Tyler reacted as though I had seen a mosquito.

As we set up camp and prepared to hang our food on the bear pole, I happened to glance up. “Bear! Bear... here!” Stalking behind our tent was the bear—shoulders hunched and eyes set on the bag of food between our legs. He grunted and began a determined march around our tent. “Grab the food!” Tyler yelled, and we booked it for the bear pole down the trail.

After 45 miserable minutes of hanging the buffet, we assumed that our unwanted guest had moved on to forage elsewhere. As we returned to camp, we saw our tent had been flipped over in the snack quest, but at least the bear was gone. I started to organize my things, when—“Um... where’s my backpack?” I glanced around and saw our friend off in the shrubbery, pawing and clawing at my brand-new pack.

Tyler, not one to think things through, picked up a football-sized rock and hurled it toward the bear. I watched my life flash before my eyes. This is it. This is how I'm going to die. The rock flew through the air and struck the bear, which in turn stepped away from the backpack, and thundered down the hill, stopping feet from our tent.

“Hey! Do you guys need help?” a voice shouted from the trail.

“YES!” I screamed. A backpacker approached Tyler to assess the situation, avoiding the hysterical girl wringing her hands at the edge of camp.

“OK, I’m going to leave a line of nuts down the trail and get him to follow me,” the stranger told us.

I stared at him and asked point-blank: “Do you want to die?” But in the spirit of Hansel and Gretel, this man-of-the-woods placed one nut after another down the trail and left us to fend for ourselves. The night wore on as we waited for the bear to follow the scent. Nothing. As darkness approached and our options dwindled, Tyler threw me out for bait: “You distract him and I’ll go grab the pack.” I’m sorry, what?

Over the next half hour we managed to throw rocks, sing and dance, and distract the bear enough to leave my pack, so Tyler could grab it and run. Upon retrieval we found a single plastic-wrapped cheddar cracker—apparently enough to entice a giant black bear. The outside of my pack bore a long claw scratch, a memento of a horrific (but exciting), night in the mountains.

“Whew,” I said to Tyler as I began to gather my things. “So we’ll just grab our stuff and head out, right?”

“Why? We have a summit to bag. But you might want to eat those crackers before we take off. Wouldn’t want the bear following us.”