Once, I heard one of my coworkers ask a friend/AMC employee from another department if there was a general sort of stereotype associated with backcountry campsite caretakers.
“Well,” this friend said, hesitating slightly, “You usually have to be a little weird.” She meant no harm with the statement, and went on to elaborate that it takes a certain kind of person to go live alone in the wilderness for a few months, with no friends to speak of except for maybe red squirrels, grey jays, and rocks equipped with their own special names and imaginary characteristics with whom to converse out loud.
Proper doses of solitude can be incredibly rewarding, meditative and soulfully beneficial for the human spirit. Very, very large doses may, it turns out, emphasize and beckon outward the small insanities, twitches, paranoias and conspiracy theories that already live within you somewhere tucked away in a deep, dark, spider-webbed crevasse.
Tonight up at the Guyot campsite, everyone is talking about bears.
“5 sightings near Ethan Pond,” one guy says.
“A mother and her cub!”
“Bear poop on the logging road!”
And others insist on sharing stories past of aggressive, sly, mean, gigantic bears that had visited campsites in the area before. As a result, I am a tad bit on edge. The moon tonight is full and intensely illuminating and appears weirdly unreal. From the summit of West Bond, it looks as though someone has slapped a sticker of the moon on the eastern horizon amongst the purple- and pink-hued cotton candy clouds that narrate the blackening sky.
I could never sleep during a full moon. Even in the real world where things such as pizza, Netflix, and thick, light-voiding curtains are readily accessible, I could never sleep. I already know this is going to be a problem tonight, and when I go to bed, I do so anxiously, feeling absolutely convinced that tonight is the night. We’d blown it. We’d talked about the bears too much, and they’d caught wind of it, and now they were coming for us all.
I go to bed tense, rigid, my ears perked, zeroing in on every little noise, every scuttling leaf on the breeze. I have my headlamp at the ready, strapped to my forehead, feeling positive that I’ll need to jump up in the night, and the last thing I want to be doing in the midst of being mauled by a bear is fumbling for a light in the dark. My axe lays at the foot of my cot, but it’s my Nimbus 2000 broomstick that I stow right near my head for easy access. Unlike Harry Potter’s Nimbus 2000, mine doesn’t fly, so I suppose my master plan is to somehow sweep the bear away (this method seemed to work on thieving squirrels and misbehaving 8 lb Maltese dogs, so surely it’ll have the same effect on a 200 lb black bear.)
Every possible scenario runs rampantly and irrationally through my mind in my almost manic state in which my fear is completely disproportional to the actual danger at hand (especially the scenario where I’m a dual-wielding ninja poised for battle, and really I’m going to defeat the bear in hand-to-hand combat with nothing but my pocket knife as some grandiose act of valor and heroism, and in fact, I’ve been trained in the arts of assassination since birth, and actually, I’m only living in the wilderness because I’m in hiding, awaiting the aftermath of my previous assignment to blow over so I can return to civilization anonymously, and I’m going to wear the teeth and claws of the defeated bear as a token of my victory and possibly receive some sort of reward for ridding the Pemigewasset Wilderness of a vicious man-eating monster.)
(At this point, I think of the comment my friend made about caretakers being “a little weird.”)
But really, I’m just a skinny 24 year old girl totally untrained in martial arts, and I’m not at the ready for any gesture of warriorism. Really, I’m stiffly mummified in my sleeping bag, thinking about how, statistically speaking, criminal activity increases during the full moon, and then I start thinking about people instead of bears, and quite suddenly I am completely certain that that creepy thru-hiker with whom I was speaking earlier is just standing out there, staring at my tent, and I think maybe I should dig around for my pepper spray, because, come to think of it, he did look a little axe murdery…
When I finally fall asleep after numerous hours of the above thought patterns, I dream of being stalked by a polar bear. In the dream, my older brother laughs and tells me that polar bears kill you the same way a crocodile kills you: it violently drags you underwater and drowns you in a tumultuous roll before devouring you.
Suddenly, I awake to a loud crashing noise and I sit bolt-upright in bed, thinking that the bear had finally arrived – until I realize that I’d just knocked something off my shelf while being mauled by the polar bear. When morning finally arrives, it’s an enormous relief, and I forget all about the full-moon-and-solitude-induced irrational fear and paranoia of the night.
Two nights later, I go to sleep thinking of wonderful, non-bear related things. I awake to noises in the night, coming from down the hill. Someone’s dog is whining. When I strain my ears, I note that it is most definitely coming from the area in which the bear boxes full of food are located. Slightly annoyed, I drag myself out of bed, don my jacket, grab my headlamp and my Nimbus 2000, strap on my boots, and then step outside. Before, it had sounded like someone, or something, was fumbling around down there. I stand on my porch and listen for minute, shining my light. The noise ceases, and doesn’t come back. I think I must have imagined it, given my history of undue paranoia.
The next morning, I’m down in the kitchen area chatting with one of my friends who happens to be staying at the site with the teen backpacking trip that he is leading.
“That bear box definitely looks like a bear got to it,” he says casually. I look at the box, and see that he is right – the box is out of place, and it dawns on me that that I hadn’t imagined the noises at all.
Huh, I think. That was anticlimactic.
I’d like to add that black bears are not inherently dangerous and are extremely unlikely to cause a human physical harm under normal circumstances. Additionally, all caretakers have been trained in appropriate bear precautions and “bear hazing.” Assuming that they have not be habituated to acquiring human food in campsites, black bears are frightened of humans and although they may “bluff charge” a hiker, there is little actual danger involved in terms of being attacked, injured, etc..
The above paragraph is to make sure my Grandmother knows I’m safe. Have a great day everyone, 6-6 Guyot clear.