My First Bear Encounter

With the moving truck behind us, we could now focus on our next event.  About a year ago, I reserved a five-bedroom house in Northern Michigan in a town called Sturgeon Bay.  It was located in a remote part of the state right on Lake Michigan.  We thought it would be a great 4th of July treat for my kids and my sister and brother’s families to spend some time together.  We had decided on this trip so long ago, prior to even thinking about moving to Montana or the Bed and Breakfast venture.  It was a little chaotic trying to pack for the beach house with our storage unit the way it was and having to pack up our camping gear.  Just before we were about to head to the airport, our eleven year old dog, Charley, tears her ACL. 

Charley trying to make herself comfortable in Dylan’s car seat.

Now, if you know our Charley, then you know she is a trouble maker!  Her vet bill binder is three inches thick! So I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that this happened just before our trip.

She tore it while having too much fun running at the dog park. Silly old girl!!

We decided after talking it over with the vet to hold off on surgery.  She is eleven after all, and there was no way to do surgery while we were away.  The vet said it could wait for our return to Whitefish.  Thank goodness the kennel had no problems watching her with a torn ACL.  Incidentally, the vet said it might actually be better for her to lounge around for her recovery, something she would not get if we stayed back and camped, that is for sure.  The kennel would provide her with the comforts she needed, so we were off! 

Northern Michigan once was home to me.  I grew up there from the time I was about 9 years old through my college years.  If you have never been, I would highly recommend it.  The sunsets are the best in the world.  I have not seen sunsets like these anywhere except for maybe in Prague on a Fall day.  The skies are these deep pink, orange and purple hues.  

The trip went very well with a lot of laughs (mostly at our goofy kids).  We were able to spend a lot of much needed time with our family and the boys were able to play with their cousins.  We even had a real bed for six nights.  Caleb who never sleeps, was so exhausted from all those restless nights camping, that actually rested on this trip.  Hallelujah!!  The trip felt short mostly due to our crazy toddler.  It’s not possible to fully enjoy vacation with him in tow, but we made the best of it.  Soon enough we found ourselves back on a plane to Montana. 

When we arrived, Montana still didn’t quite feel like “home” to me.  Without having an actual house and still living out of a storage unit and suitcases, it started to feel like being on a forever vacation.  It was awesome at times, but with camping there is also so much work!   We were always having to reorganize clothing and food bins, constantly thinking about how to get some food, store our food, rotating it and keeping the ice from melting in the coolers. We had to worry about bears and other creatures trying to break into our food.  There was this constant shift of coolers from inside the van to outside the van, from one shady spot to another shady spot as the sun shifted throughout the day.  Garbage was another concern, storing it and getting rid of it…sometimes after several days.   Water was sometimes not easily found, so in those cases making sure we filled up at every stop was critical.  Then there was the never ending drying out of clothing and gear.  On a few occasions our gear was damp inside the tent, which is never a good thing.  If you wanted to get any sleep at all, you had to pull that stuff out and air them.  The hardest times by far though, were when we needed to move to a new camping spot.  Unpacking one site and then setting up a new one hours later is intense.  Especially with a two year old who is exhausted all the time.  Having our tent set up and ready with his crib by 12:30-1pm for his nap, was not especially easy to do.  But we did it and we rolled with the punches.  But then sometimes, those bumps in the road are unavoidable and just outright scary.   

The first campsite we stayed at after our Michigan trip was Tally Lake Campground.  It was a forty-minute drive from Whitefish.  The views were stunning with several horse ranches along the way and beautiful fields full of yellow flowers.  Every turn around the bend looked like a postcard.  Tally Lake Campground is one of the local favorites.  It has a public beach with a boat launch.  They have a couple prime campsites but those are usually taken right away.  All in all, we loved this place and would come back even though the mosquitos were quite awful. 

For the first couple of days, it seemed like we were just trying to find our camp rhythm again.  We needed to drive into Whitefish more times than I would like to admit for checking important business emails about our Bed and Breakfast or to check on phone messages.  Our realtors had been working on getting our house remodeled and ready for sale back in Oakland, CA.  It consisted of mostly fresh paint and some new light fixtures.  But we needed to be somewhat available to answer the many questions bound to pop up.  This was really hard with our daily schedule and the fact that Whitefish was a long drive to make on the daily.  But we made it work. 

It was July 14th,  a full week after our trip to Michigan.  I was finally able to hang back at the campground for the day.  Ryan decided to go on a two and a half hour bike ride just after breakfast.  That left me with the two kids and dogs to handle on my own.  Caleb woke up too early that morning, so I decided to try to put him back for a nap.  As I was doing so, I asked Dylan (our six year old) if he wanted to read stories with us inside the tent.  He said he did, so there we all were getting ready to read a book when I hear both our dogs howling.  If you have ever been around Siberian Huskies, then you know that they typically howl for various reasons.  My huskies howl whenever we leave them for a single second, so I didn’t think anything of it.  The howling won’t end until I go to the dogs, so I hauled both the kids back outside with me to check on the dogs and settled them down.  I decided it wasn’t going to work to put Caleb down at this point especially with Frankie acting particularly more psycho than usual.  So we switched gears and instead walked the dogs to help calm Frankie down.  Alternatively, Charley was pretty calm because not only did she still have her torn ACL, she also had kennel cough that she contracted while we were away in Michigan (sigh). 

The kids put their helmets on, grabbed their bikes and off we went for a brief walk through the campground.  Now here is where I need to back this story up and say that in the days leading up to this instance, Ryan and I have had several discussions about what we should do when sighting a bear.  This part of Montana experiences a very high volume of bear sightings. I started out thinking bear spray was ridiculous to fight off a bear, but then changed my mind and started taking it with me on my bike rides just because.  Ryan’s last statement to me on the subject was that “there were too many people around for bears to want to come close.”  Well, wouldn’t you know that only a few minutes into our dog walk, another neighboring camper stops to warn me that a young grizzly had just passed through the very spot we were standing only 5 minutes ago.  He had a photo on his phone and showed it to me.  It was small and had the reddish-brown fur that grizzlies are so well known.  I have no idea if it was a grizzly, as I am told young black bears can also have the same coloring. It freaked me out, nonetheless.  I had my hands full with the two boys and the dogs, but I had no choice and needed to turn this caravan around.  Of course, two minutes after telling Dylan that I needed him to stick to me like glue (due to Grizzly bear sighting) he speeds off on his bike back to our campground.  I could have killed him!  The bear had just wondered through our site moments ago, which explains why the dogs were freaking out more than their usual.  I grabbed the crew and ran towards Dylan to make sure he wasn’t riding into the arms of a bear.  Thankfully, when we arrived at our site, I found Dylan and there were no bears around.  Phew!  After another hour or so, Ryan returned, and I shared our first bear encounter story with him.  He didn’t have too much to say about it, but I wondered if he would start bringing bear spray with him on his adventures. 

(to be continued…..)

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