I grew up camping and love visiting the wild, smelling the fresh air, and embarking on adventures in the woods. Many times a year my family and I would grab some sleeping bags and our oldest, hole-filled clothes and head out to stake our tent at a camping ground. My favorite camping expeditions were in the Tennessee Smoky Mountains.
We would meet my aunt, uncle, and two cousins, Julie and April, and camp out for weeks at a time. The national park had campfire talks every night with a slideshow set up on a wooden stage to give you information about the park. One night, a ranger told us about the parks bears and how dangerous they could be if you fed them.
Little did I know that the very next day, I would have a chance to meet a bear for myself. I awoke the next morning to the appetizing aroma of pancakes and bacon sizzling on Coleman stove. Hungry, I groggily bumbled out of my cozy sleeping bag, finding the morning air so prickly that I quickly shimmied into sweats. I poured a cup of decaf into an old can and plopped down in a ragged lawn chair by the campfire.
The warmth oozed into my frozen limbs and even when the smoke wafted in my direction I was too snug in the cocoon of warmth to budge. As the morning passed, my cousins and I grew restless, so we saddled up and took off on our purple bikes with metallic steamers dancing on the handle bars and petals whirring.
The wind kissed our faces and we laughed as we raced each other, whooping and squealing like banshees. We rounded a sharp curve and screeched to grinding halt, for straight in front of us loomed a genuine Tennessee black bear. The world stilled, fear paralyzing us as it does a trapped animal.
His fur was rich and dark, the color of coffee without milk. His nose was wet and moist and from his muzzle dripped a fine sliver of saliva. He turned his gaze on me, his coffee eyes bored into mine, seducing me so I would never look away. The world disappeared, for I knew nothing was left but the bear and that I would never escape from the bottomless pit of his stare.
My cousins beckoned me in shaky whispers and jolted me out of my reverie. We threw our bikes around and fled to camp with a speed I could never hope to equal again. I only dared to glance back once and saw the bear slowly ambling towards our campsite. Badly shaken, we ditched are bikes at the front of the camp and sprinted over to the adults.
Out of breath I barely managed to stutter, ‘The… thehehhhhe… there is a bababa… bear coming to our campsite.’ As their eyes flickered towards the road, the bear rounded the bend and casually meandered towards our tents. We scurried about away and watched as the bear ambled closer to our gear.
All of a sudden my uncle threw up his hands and yelled, ‘Oh my gosh! We forgot the food!’ Just before the bear was entering our camp sight, he sprinted to our picnic table like a possessed person, grabbed the food hamper and shoved it into his pickup just in time. He dashed back and we solemnly watched the bear vanish into the woods.
I have seen many fascinating things and have been on magnificent adventures on my escapades in the wilderness, but running into that bear takes the cake. Although it was a frightening experience, I am proud that it is one of the family’s favorite campfire tales. I can’t wait to visit the Ole’ Smokies again and hopefully the next time I go, my black bear will decide to visit another traveler’s camp.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.