It was a relief to reach the takeout after fighting headwinds for the last three days of the trip. The rowhouse campground at the provincial park was crowded, but I was glad for the company and ready to relax. Relaxing was difficult, though, thanks to the black bear that kept dropping by looking for a snack.
Kevin Callan’s black bear bust-up
I couldn’t understand why he was picking on me. I had the cleanest site in the campground. Charlie, the bear biologist camped beside me, told me it was because the bear could sense I was scared of him.
But I was more exasperated than scared when the bear ambled into my site the second night after my peaceful dinner of mac and cheese. I grabbed a pair of pots and banged them together. The pots made a racket but it didn’t scare the bear off. It probably made the situation worse when the remnant cheesecaked noodles flew out of the pots and across the campsite.
I threw down the pots, grabbed a rock and tossed it at him. He gave me a stare that said, “That was stupid!” and charged.
The bear bore down on me like a freight train, pulling up only five feet from me before rising up on his hind legs, snapping his teeth and growling.
My mouth hung open in fright, but the lessons from a dozen bear safety manuals leapt to mind and I waved my arms up in the air and yelled surprisingly creative things about his mother.
They must have hit home. He turned on his heels and ran to the edge of the site.
He who laughs last
That’s when I should have called it quits. But I was buzzing on fear and adrenalin and, what’s more, I was angry. Long suppressed rage from years of being picked on in grade school playgrounds welled up from somewhere deep inside me and burst out. I wouldn’t be bullied anymore. I had chased the bear out of my campsite and now I would beat him at his own game of intimidation.
I advanced wild-eyed on him, snapping my teeth and making as fearsome a growling noise as a 150-pound weakling can make. The look he gave me told me he was very unimpressed. He turned and scampered down the shore, but he couldn’t be said to be running scared.
The bear swung close by a row of boats, passing two Grummans and one kayak before digging in his heels as he came to my canoe resting innocently on the beach. He gave it a sniff, and immediately went to work on it, tearing at the bow with his claws and ripping off part of the deck plate.
With a final snort in my direction he skipped off, leaving me in a macaroni-strewn campsite with unpleasant memories of schoolyard bullies once again bouncing around in my head.
Kevin Callan has gone back to banging pots nervously when confronted by bears.
This article originally appeared in the Early Summer 2006 issue of Canoeroots. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine and get 25 years of digital magazine archives including our legacy titles: Rapid, Adventure Kayak and Canoeroots.
What’s cooking? | Feature photo: Marc Olivier Jodoin/Unsplash