Tag Archives: camping

so there i was, staring at a bear…

So there I was Sunday evening in the woods near Mammoth Lake, my 2 1/2 year old near our car, my 3 month old sleeping in his car seat next to our tent, my eyes locked with a big black bear’s.

We were ready to camp for a third consecutive night on the route home from a camping/climbing adventure near South Lake Tahoe.

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Earlier that day, we got a flat at the ghost town in Bodie, Calif. (My theory is the Wild West bandit/drunk ghosts were angry because they heard me say I don’t believe in ghosts. So they popped our tire.) A. put on a spare while I nursed and we hatched a plan. It was after 5 p.m., so we decided to drive near the closest town — Mammoth — camp and then get a new tire in the morning.

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We turned onto a side road off of the Mammoth scenic route. “Think we can camp here?” A. asked. We looked around. Seemed OK. “It’s so gorgeous,” A. said. “I wonder why no one else is out here.”

We set up our tent on a bed of pine needles and laid out the sleeping bags. We sat in our camping chairs and ate tortillas with peanut butter, grapes and Hershey’s chocolate. We spotted a small bear in the distance that wasn’t interested in us. We brushed our teeth. CM and I were at the car to put on PJs, and A. had moved our bear canister with everything I could think of: my deodorant, our baby wipes, sunscreen.

And then I saw a big blur moving through the trees.

… “Babe?”

It was camouflaged.

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A. and I yelled a few times, but the noise didn’t phase the bear. It stared at us, its ears standing up. I pretended to charge it. It took a few steps backward, but then cocked its head and took a few steps forward. I picked up a stick and yelled loudly and ran toward that m’f’ing bear — wild and crazy — before it turned and fled, kicking up pine needles as it ran. My heart was pounding and A. said he’d seen lots of bears in the wild, but that was the most nervous he’s been. And then: “If I was a bear, I would have been afraid of you, too.”

We had already spent two nights at a beautiful campsite about a half hour from South Lake Tahoe: Fire! S’mores! Privacy! Stars! Trees!

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A. went trad climbing on Saturday, while I wandered Tahoe with another mom and her two kids. We ate breakfast burritos at the funky Keys Cafe, went on a mini hike at the Taylor Creek Visitor Center where we gawked at trout and blew dandelions and then we dipped our feet in the ice-cold water at Pope Beach.

We were happy and didn’t need another night sleeping on the ground. So, after a short discussion, we decided it was wise to pack up and drive home the three hours on a spare. We can put everything that smells like food in the bear canister, except for me and CP. I’m not a shrinky dink. And this nursing mom didn’t want a bear sniffing around our tent for milk in the middle of the night. [Shudder.]

As we got on 395 in the last minutes of soft evening sun, we laughed together as the boys slept in the backseat. “Are we wimps?” “Yeah, we’re wimps. But it’s the right call.”

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we scared off a bear in yosemite

I’ve had visions of what I would do to protect C. if our house flooded or if a fire blazed or if we were attacked by a mountain lion on a hike. I’ve even envisioned sacrificing my life for C.’s I’m sure I’m not the only mother to do this.

But when I looked up on Friday evening as we sat in our camping chairs with our jet boils making dinner in Yosemite on Lake Harden, this came out of my mouth, very quietly and calmly: “There’s a bear.”

It was walking toward our campsite, its head peeking over logs, sniffing our cous-cous. It looked small — at first I thought it was a baby. A. and I and our friends R. and R. looked at each other and said, “What should we do?” and then we remembered to make a racket to scare off a black bear. We started yelling, and the bear ran off, but at a safe distance it looked back at us.

All the while, I knew that C. was by my left side, but I didn’t know where, exactly, just close, and my eyes were fully focused on the bear. Our friend R. took A.’s walking stick and chased after it to ensure it wouldn’t come back (and it didn’t).

Here’s what surprised me: That I didn’t grab C. and hold him tight. But I also wasn’t scared – and I didn’t want to scare C. The bear was ambling along and it looked lumbering and curious, but not angry and certainly more frightened of us. Had it come closer, I most surely would have nabbed C.

A friend of mine said, “Good work” for scaring the bear away. I said I was more proud of myself for hiking three miles with 35 pounds of toddler on my back and sleeping two nights in a tent as dirty as can be with an equally dirty child.

I admit that I find back-country camping a bit stressful because of the wildlife, the physical strain, the lack of sleep, wondering if we packed enough food and being far away from any help if there is an accident.

But on this trip it was all worth it when I had one of the sweetest moments so far in C.’s 20 months, as we lay in our sleeping bags in the dark, looking at each other. He kept putting his hand near my mouth and I said, “If you put that near my mouth, I’m going to kiss it!” And he did and I lunged with puckered lips and he giggled like crazy, over and over. Then he rubbed my arm before taking my hand and closing his eyes and falling asleep in the woods.

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camping with a toddler: how we survived (and some tips)

OK, so I was dragging my feet. Every now and then, A. would say, “When do you want to go camping again?” and I’d change the subject to what should we have for dinner, or, “Look! Look at the big cat wandering through our backyard!”

The first time we took C. camping was on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland. It was September, and C. was nine months old. We hiked two miles along a creek deep into the woods. I held C. on my chest and a few other “essentials” on my back and A. carried everything else: tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, food (he had back spasms the next day). When we came to a suitable campsite, I nursed C. against a log while the mosquitoes buzzed and nipped at me and A. ran off to filter water from a nearby stream.

It was humid and I was exhausted. And I still cherished sleep like a queen cherishes her jewels.

Then, when I laid C. down in a tent within a tent and I said, “Good night,” he freaked the hell out. He was full-on panicking with his fire-alarm cry like, “Um, EXCUSE ME? I’m sleeping WHERE?” So we got him up and sat around a warm fire and smelled the pines and watched the flames dance and spooned him some beans until we all laid down in the tent together.

In the middle of the night, I heard a growl that sounded like a big cat. I nabbed a hysterical C. — now panicking myself — and whispered loudly to A. “Did you hear that?” and A. mumbled something in his half-sleep about how it was probably a bird and I actually believed him and relaxed. But C. was now sleeping with me and kept rolling off the mat and I spent the whole night making sure we didn’t squish him.

Here is a photo after we hiked out — my smile reflects relief that the three of us were alive:

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So, I have to say that I’m pretty awesome for agreeing to go again not even a year later.

On Saturday, we drove to Sequoia along twisting roads, parked and loaded up our packs. We hiked a mile in and C. ran around picking up sticks while we set up camp. A. fired up the jet-boil and we ate a dinner of lentils, cous-cous and long-grain-and-wild rice on a huge platform rock and watched the sun set. And then we all went to bed together, around 8 p.m. We read C. “Harry the Dirty Dog” and told him he was sleeping next to mama and papa and isn’t this fun? C. was wired — he was singing and standing up and saying, “Woah!” and babbling and making us laugh.

This time, C. fell asleep with his little head on my sleeping bag, my cheek squished against the top of his head and his body cradled like a C against mine. And oh my god, I love sleeping next to this sweet little guy who would wake up now and then and look at me and smile and lay his head back down.

We got up with the sun and C. was happy and we ate oatmeal with dates and honey-roasted almonds and took down camp and went to find the majestic Sequoias before the crowds arrived.

And I felt relaxed and more than relieved — I was happy. We did it and C. loved it.

So next time A. asks, “When do you want to go camping again?” I expect I’ll say: “Let’s pick a weekend!”

Here are a few tips for camping with a toddler:

  • Bring something you know know he/she likes to eat. I’m so happy we had two peanut butter sandwiches — one for the evening and one for the morning — that filled up C.’s belly because he wasn’t interested in the oatmeal.
  • Don’t forget the winter hats. Even if you don’t think it will be cold, they pack well and it’s worth it if you need them.
  • Bring one more diaper than you think you’ll need.
  • Tell the toddler well in advance that you’re going to camp and sleep in a tent with mama and papa for one night. I think this helped take away the surprise factor.
  • Bring a water filter. Carrying water and a toddler and, well, everything else, is too much and you might end up breaking your backs.
  • Get a sleeping bag for the little one. We had C. in a fleece sleep sack on his own sleeping pad and he was fine, but I would have gotten more sleep (i.e. worried less) if he was in an actual sleeping bag. We plan to buy one for him before our next trip.
  • Relax and enjoy! Losing one night of sleep isn’t the end of the world — and finding adventures is soul-charging. At least, it is for me.

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