Hey, everyone! It’s Jessica. I have a hilarious story to share from this summer in Franconia Notch, which has lead us to develop a whole new section for Love Maine Adventures – Campfire Stories!!! (#campfirestories) Camping is a favorite past time for us in Maine – but it doesn’t always go as planned. Check out our most recent misadventure – what to do if you encounter bears while camping – and please share any that you have had in the comments below!
As we checked into our campground, Lafayette Place, located in the heart of Franconia State Park in Franconia, New Hampshire, I pointed out the pale green tri-fold brochure stapled to a corkboard above the ranger’s head to Quinton.
“Campers and hikers: Prepare for bear! You can keep black bears away from your campsite by doing the following:”
Obviously, our neighbors in a pop-up from New Jersey or New York didn’t get that instructional pamphlet when they checked in.
Site 47, located alongside the river, was spacious enough to accommodate our gigantic tent, complete with slap bracelet (best invention from the late ‘80s) windows and a combo fan/light for the ceiling. Camping is our jam but as we get older, we’re finding we prefer to be a bit more comfortable. So this Taj Mahal tent is perfect for us until we spring for some mobile walls. Along the back of the site, was a small river with spots that looked just deep enough to be able to sit and be covered with the cool runoff water. I liked (notice the past tense) this site immensely and found it to be comfortable and wooded enough between neighboring sites that we could talk but not feel like we were invading someone else’s space.
All in all, the campground was wonderful. It was located in the perfect spot within the state park and everything was great the first night…until we were awoken around 3 or 4 a.m. by our neighbor. It was pitch black and silent. Our neighbor, in his thick New Jersey/New York accent, was hollering from his campsite and shining a flashlight into the woods between our sites.
“HEY, YOOOOOOOU BEAAAAAAH, GETTTT OUTTTTTAHH HERAAAHHHHH, BEEARRRR!!!”
Quinton jumped up and unzipped the far window. I sat up and just sort of stared off into space. For some reason, I had no sense of urgency or feeling of danger. Quint started putting on his pants and I just wanted to lay down and go back to sleep. “Why are you putting on your pants?” I actually asked this in my sleepy stupor. “We’re getting out of the tent and going to the bathroom. Let’s go.” Clueless, I was mad at him.
Finally, something snapped in my head and I started to shake from fear while putting on my shoes. I could hear my Nanapants in my head, she’s always been scared to death of bears. I get it now…sorry, for making fun of you for all those years, Pants. Meanwhile, our neighbor was starting to get louder. We get out of the tent and walk over to where my car was parked. Headlamps in tow, we peered out into the forested area where the bear was “seen” by our neighbor. I didn’t see Mr. Fuzzy Wuzzy, but Quinton did and promptly escorted us to the ranger’s station/store/bathrooms, where we went to the bathroom and then walked back to the site. Strangely, I was laughing and calm again.
Back at the site, we stood and stared into the woods. There were several campers walking up and down the road with their lanterns and headlamps. The bear appeared to have been “misplaced” and people were searching for him.
As we were just headed back to our tent to see if we could salvage what was left of the morning, our neighbor started screaming again.
“GETT UPPPPP! GETTTT UPPP! HE’S COMINGGGGGG! HEEEEEYYYYYY BEAAAAAHHHH!”
The bear was headed down the small dirt road towards a group campsite full of boy scouts, who surprisingly hadn’t been awoken by the previous episode. A motorhome had pulled in late the night before into to the site across the road from us and out of the darkness came a man running in a white undershirt and blue boxers. In his hand was a rifle and his shoes were untied. He ran over to the boy scouts’ site and the bear ended up running off into the black woods without a shot being fired.
Everyone, visibly shaken, headed back to their sites and, somehow, everything was over faster than it had started. We retreated back to our, pretty much, windowless tent and laid in bed, 100% on edge. Not knowing where the bear went was worse than knowing!
Waking up the next morning, tired and still hyper aware of our surroundings, we decided that we would skip hiking, which we had planned to do, and replaced it with a drive to Long Trail Brewery in Bridgewater Corners in Vermont. We are beer people and love Vermont breweries. Plus, the day’s forecasted weather was going to be ultra-wet with heavy downpours with dangerous lightning.
While getting ready for the day, we stopped and talked with our NJ/NY neighbor. “My wife woke me up because she heard rustling outside the camper. She kept trying to make me go outside. I didn’t want to go outside,” he emphasized. “I looked out the window and there was a bear getting into our cooler! He stole a chocolate bar and then ran into the woods to eat it!”
Baffled, we stared at him. How could he leave his cooler outside?! Franconia = bear country. It is always worth listening to the rangers. They spend their day-to-day life in the park and usually know the wildlife’s snacking preferences. Chocolate is a favorite, I’m assuming.
Following our enlightening conversation, we hopped into the car and headed out to start our day. After visits to Long Trail (for lunch – highly recommended), two other breweries, King Arthur Flour, and some general stores, we headed back towards Franconia, but not before we drove through one of the worst thunder and lightning storms I’ve ever been in. I couldn’t even begin to think about what our site looked like.
The rain had slowed to a drizzle and the river behind our site had risen about two feet. The intense rain had dampened our bedding and pillows but not our spirits. We started a fire and made some s’mores. I started people watching and
across the way, there was a site with two tents. I noticed them earlier because they had a “student driver” and he tried unsuccessfully to back the family’s Volvo station wagon out of the site. Anyway, the father was sitting at their picnic table as I watched him read his book. All of a sudden, his body jerked and he screamed, throwing his book to the ground. It was a squirrel, just a lonely, scrap-seeking squirrel running through the woods. The dad looked around embarrassed of his mini-freak out and I stifled a fit of giggles. I guess we weren’t the only ones on edge.
As the rain got heavier, we decided to abandon our fire and bunker down to play some cards in the tent. Just as we were about to deal out hands of UNO, the familiar voice of our freaking neighbor started screeching again. “BEAAAAAAAAH! BEAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!” Why was he always the first one to see these things?!
We got out of the tent and went to investigate. There was a cub sitting in the woods. The dim light of the remaining day seemed to give everyone courage to get a closer look and the rangers arrived shortly. I heard a laugh and realized there was a woman that had climbed up on top of her motorhome and was sitting there scared out of her mind. She just sat there, hovering above all of us laughing… Realizing that where there’s a cub, there is usually a momma bear not too far behind, we decided to take some action.
I do have to say, Quint and I are hardy campers. Nothing much can sway us from staying in a tent. We even camp in the White Mountains in October each year but on this trip, we’d had just about enough. From the shrill neighbor, damp pillows and domesticated bears, we were out. We packed what we needed into the car and headed down the road. TripAdvisor lead us to the cutest little cabins, which we rented for $59 for the night. As we were unpacking our things, a car pulled in and it was another couple from the campground. I realized he must get a ton of business just from campers like us! Inside the mini-cabin, we sat down on the couch and drank some beers; happy to have a warm dry place to sleep, with walls to keep the bears out and zero chance of hearing our neighbor’s voice.
For more info on Bears in New Hampshire – http://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/wildlife/faqs-bears.html
Still want to feel a bit safer – get a bear bell!
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