“Take me down to the paradise city where the grass is green and the girls are pretty. Take me home. Oh, won’t you please take me home.”
Apparently those few lyrics from the Guns ‘N Roses 1987 hit song Paradise City are the only parts of the song I know and also the only song I know the lyrics to. I can’t even recite the Star Spangled Banner. But singing in a false seagull strangling soprano while hiking and camping in grizzly bear country was my way of not creeping up on a bear and surprising it and thus becoming bear food.
However, there was no amount of preparation I could have done that wasn’t immune from my own self-inflicted anguish and anxiety. Learn from my failure: when camping by yourself in bear country never ever ever ever read a book about grizzly bear attacks while you’re trying to go to sleep in your sleeping bag. Sleep just doesn’t happen with that running through your mind and every little sound in the forest is sure to be a grizzly bear on its way to attack you. And for God sakes, skip over the parts about the bear’s mating habits.
Last week I spent a whole week camping by myself in Yellowstone National Park doing a story about the environment of the park. Seriously, how cool of an assignment is that? Growing up in the west and having a Dad that loved the outdoors, I had been to the park many times. But this was an opportunity to travel the park by myself. That meant being able to get up before the crack of dawn and staying out late well past the end of the good light to get the shots I wanted and not having to worry about inconveniencing others. But it also meant a lot of time to think about what a bear would smell like up close and what I would do if in the middle of the night I found myself confronted by one. “Would the bear eat my arms first? Wait, I read they disembowel their victims to get to the good stuff. Does bear spray really work?”
But I had been given an opportunity to do an assignment that most people would kill for. The park is full of photographers, but most are there on their own dime. I was actually getting paid for this. So after the first night alone I put the book away and it will not be pulled out again until camping season is over. I towed my Burro camping trailer (a glorified fiberglass shack that can be pulled by car or a cyclist with great quadriceps) with my Subaru and set up camp in the Canyons campground which is centrally located in the middle of the park. I was able to sleep well most nights in it and I could cook my own meals. The layer of fiberglass gave a false sense of protection from bears… or at least would slow them down… I thought.