A Minimalist in Bear Country

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Bear country means extra gear to handle the risks. As a minimalist, I managed to keep the gear down to a dull roar while still planning for the probability of bears. The Adirondacks are well known for bears, and there are certain times and certain years when a bear sighting is more probable than others.

There have been years, like this year, when the bear warnings are so high, that you are required to sign legal waivers to be in the Adirondacks knowing the risks of encountering bears. There are also pretty strict rules to follow for bear safety and to decrease the chance of a run-in with a bear.

One of the options for minimizing the chance of bear contact is to keep all food, including coolers, in a car trunk. Bears are smart. Even if the food is in the car in the passenger area, the bears will see and smell the food and break into a vehicle to get it. Trunks are a safer choice for food storage while in bear country.

A few years ago I had bought a new cooler for camping. The new cooler I purchased is one that is designed to withstand high heat, up to 90 degrees for up to 3 days and still stay cold. The other attractive feature of this cooler is that it has a drain spout at the bottom for me to be able to drain the water from the cooler as the ice melts. This alleviates the impossible balancing act of trying to dump out water while retaining ice and food.

When I had bought the cooler, I threw it in the backseat of the car and brought it home. This year was very exciting because it would be my first trip and opportunity to use the new cooler. Imagine my dismay when I discovered that this super awesome cooler is too tall to fit into my trunk. It fits into my backseat just fine, but this thing is too large for the trunk. So I was unable to take my fancy new cooler on this trip. It will have to wait for when I go on a camping trip that is not in bear country. The cooler will be fine in the back seat while camping if I go to a place and a time when there are no bear warnings.

Given the requirement that all food and coolers should be in the trunk when under a bear warning, I ended up taking a different cooler entirely. This is one instance in which I am happy I had not yet decluttered the “old” cooler when I bought the awesome new one. It is obvious that I am going to need to keep both coolers and then make a judgement call on which one to use based on where I am going and when.

Other options available when camping in bear country to minimize attracting bears to your camp site include: stringing the cooler on rope in the air between two trees. For me, this is way too challenging. If I’m going to string anything between two trees, it would be a hammock, and I would be in the hammock, so forget the cooler between the trees deal.

Some campgrounds have “bear lockers,” which are designated areas where food is locked so that bears cannot get to it. Bear lockers are usually in an area well away from where campsites are located, so that if bears are attracted to the lockers, they are less likely to hang around people’s tents. The camp site where I was at did have bear lockers available, but the bear warning was not high enough at the time to require their use. You could use them if you chose to use them, but they were not required.

Being under a bear warning effected the way I packed for my vacation.

Another safety tip when camping in bear country is that any clothing that is worn while cooking or eating should be taken off before you go into your tent for the night and the clothing should also be put in the trunk of the car. This includes clothing that you wore at your campfire, even if you did not use your campfire for cooking purposes. In my situation, I use my campfire for cooking purposes, pretty close to 100% of the time.

Given the clothing parameters for bear safety, this means that I actually have two pairs of “camp pants.” Camp pants are what I wear when I decide I am “in my site” for the evening – tending the fire, cooking, roasting marshmallows, etc. They go in the trunk of the car once I have put my pajamas on and am “in the tent” for the night. Since my camping trips are typically 2 night/3 day events, two pairs of camp pants works well for me.

Having “camp pants” for bear safety means that I end up packing more luggage for camping than I would when I go on vacation in a city. For example, when I was in Chicago a few years ago, I made it through my entire trip with only a backpack for luggage. This included even having a dressier outfit for an event I attended. For camping, I have to take the small duffel bag due to the “extras” needed for bear safety.

In addition to camp pants, I also pack two hoodies when camping, as I usually wear a hoodie when tending the fire. It typically gets down around 40 degrees at night when I go camping.

This way the hoodie can also go in the trunk when I am in the tent for the night. By using a new pair of camp pants and a new hoodie for the second night of camping, it prevents saturation of smells compared to using the same outfit for meals. Any way to dissipate smells so as not to attract a bear works for me. If I was not in bear country, then I would only take one pair of camp pants and one hoodie and I would wear them more than once.

Of course, you can take all of the proper precautions and still encounter a bear. I did have that experience a few years ago. In 20 years of camping, I have only ever physically encountered a bear once. I’m not sure who was more scared – me or the bear. Luckily, he ran away, so I did not have a negative bear experience.

Even with all the “extras” required for bear country, I happily noticed that I have effectively decreased the amount of gear I need for camping over the years. It used to be that the car was so stuffed full of gear that I could barely see out the back window.

Since I have started my minimizing journey, I have not only downsized my camping gear, but gotten more efficient at packing and at choosing what needs to be packed for a successful trip. Not only was I more than able to see out the back window of the car last week, but when I arrived, this is what the set up looked like:

The tent held my sleeping bag, pillow, and small duffel. The truck was full of food, cooler, and wood that I picked up at a stand about 5 miles away on the way into camp. The backseat of the car was completely empty, while the front seats held items such as camp chair, stereo, toiletry bucket, etc.

Just the fact that my car was not jam packed full of gear was amazing. I was not lacking or in need of anything. I am still in the process of playing with my camping checklist to see if there is anything more I can minimize, but for the moment I am in a pretty good place.

The one thing I always seem to over pack on while camping is food, and I consider this to be a good thing. When you go off in the middle of nowhere with no cell service, and the nearest town is a good 40 miles away, you need to have food. I always splurge and pack the good stuff for food when I am camping.

As I was packing to go on my trip, I was amazed at how full my freezer and refrigerator both were. It’s been a few years since I have had that much food in the house. It was all because I was preparing to go camping. Thus, the need for the fancy new cooler that is too big for the trunk. I’m trying to minimize the need to leave camp for ice. That way I can spend more time hiking and less time driving into town to refill the cooler.

Just because you are heading into bear country as a minimalist, does not mean you have to scrimp on safety. I plan for safety first. If that means extra gear, then so be it. I’’ll save the backpacking for the cities. A small duffel works for bear country.

No More Matching

People who know me well know that I have a small obsession with lingerie, particularly Victoria’s Secret. It’s an indulgence where no matter what I am wearing clothing-wise, only I know what I am wearing underneath and it gives me a sense of empowerment.

For example, when I was finishing my bachelors degree, my “advisor”, whom I called the Dragon Lady on the 4th Floor, called me white trash and said I would never do as well at my 4-year school as I did at community college. For the record, I was valedictorian at my community college, and # 6 of 2,000+ at my 4-year university graduating Summa Cum Laude. But while she was berating me about how much of a lowly scum I am, I knew that underneath my $9 outfit I had gotten from Salvo, that I was wearing a $5 pair of Victoria’s Secret panties with a bunch of apples on them that also said “Bite me.” My underwear was appropriate to the situation.

My underclothes almost regularly cost more than my outfit. About 95% of my wardrobe is second hand, but I truly believe (for sanitary reasons) that my underclothes should be new. If I’m going to buy something new, then I want the good stuff, or if not good, then I at least need to be having fun as I kiss my money goodbye.

So generally, my bra and panties are matching, even of I’m having trouble getting my outfit to match. My excuse is that I’m legally color-blind (which is true, according to my paperwork from when I tried to join the Navy back in the 90s). So, gosh darn it, my socks may not match, but my underwear does. You gotta take what you can get sometimes.

Now, it is well known by anyone and everyone who has a hankering for horror movies that the girl being terrorized, hurt, maimed, or killed in such flicks is most usually wearing a matching bra and panty set.

I have never understood why this is the case. I just figured it to be a costuming snafu or some sort of elaborate Hollywood joke. Maybe its some well-placed, subliminal advertising. At any rate, I’ve always thought horror movies were pretend.

That is, at least, until I took the vacation that made Freddie and Jason look like a daydream.

I took my worst vacation in 20 years this week. It was the first time that I have ever come home early from someplace. I came home a day and a half early. In fact, I was gone less than 24 hours.

Things went to hell in a hand basket fast, and now I am starting to think there just may be something to this matching bra & panty gig that Hollywood perpetuates.

I refuse to end up in a body bag, so from now on, I will not be matching my bra and panty sets. From now on, when I get dressed in the mornings, I will do so with an abandon that makes a 3-year old dressing themselves look like executive level material.

Why have I decided to stop matching and have this linked to matching panty sets? Let me set the scene ….

So Monday left to go camping in an area of the Adirondacks that was brand-new to me. The spot I had chosen was about an hour to the north and east of my usual haunt. The place I go camping in August, I’ve been going to for 15 years. This trip this week was a new experience.

The drive was gorgeous, the directions easy. I arrived with high expectations for some relaxation. The first maybe 6 hours were great, and then everything changed into a horror flick. Damn Hollywood and matching panties.

Hindsight is 20/20, and now after the event, I realized what happened was this: I went hiking through the campsite to locate showers, garbage, bear prevention accommodations, etc. when I passed some guy on a bicycle. I said hello, as I normally do to other campers. Later, I passed this same individual on foot. So, he parked his bike, right? I thought nothing of it.

That night as I was tending the fire, I noticed the wood truck went by several times. I do mean several. It slowed down next to me quite a few. The guy was wearing a hat. In retrospect, it was the same guy from earlier. When I left the campground, I found out that this location does not offer wood service. It was NOT in fact, a wood truck, but some creep-o stalker dude.

At the time, I thought it was the wood truck.

After properly distinguishing my camp fire at about 10 pm, I was in my tent by 10:30. The purpose of staying in a tent is to reset circadian rhythms.

At about 11:30, I woke up due to some rustling in the brush. I have seen chipmunks, squirrels, ducks, deer, and even a bear once while camping. I am quite familiar with woodland animal sounds. The interesting part is that at this camp site, I had not seen any animals earlier, and the sound was not entirely familiar. Also note that I was told at check-in that the ranger station closed at about 11-11:30 pm.

I looked outside the tent and saw nothing. I went back to sleep.

I was once again awakened, this time at 1:30 am. It was a human sound. Directly outside my tent. I have spent enough time running trails when I train for my marathons, that I know the sound of sneaker on dirt. Especially when the sound is close to my head. I have been camping enough over the past 20 years to know it was not an animal sound. I have been homeless before and know from living on the streets what it sounds like to be laying down with people walking by you.

This was a human sound, and suddenly I was scared as hell. Now, most normal people know better than to walk through other peoples camp sites. They most certainly do not do this at 1:30 am.

Not knowing the intentions of the person, who said nothing and ran off, I then spent a very uncomfortable night in half of the backseat of my car. The other half was taken up by the cooler.

I finally got to sleep at 4 am, only to be awakened at 6 am by some extremely loud children 4 sites away (4 sites!) screaming their heads off. I taught preschool for 11 years, and I have no problem with groups of children being loud when having fun. But these kids were screaming to be assholes.

I left the camp site and reported my experience to the ranger station. They seemed to know the exact person I was referencing, but were not concerned, as that person is “harmless.” When its someone you don’t know standing right outside your tent at 1:30 am, it does not seem harmless.

I came home from vacation less than 24 hours after I left. Needless to say, I won’t be going back to that location again.

When I returned home, I ended up sleeping 15 hours recovering from my ordeal. I also set the tent up in the yard to be sure it was dry and swept before putting it away again. The “harmless” individual had left a bodily fluid on the side of my tent. I’m glad I came home when I did.

I spent the last day of my vacation having a beach day at Lake Ontario. Some vacation. It was not the relaxing reset I had been envisioning.

So now I am just continuing to trudge on until my week off in August. Lets hope that trip goes off without a hitch. If I have another experience like this one, I’m pretty sure I will lose my mind. I have had plenty of experiences like this pretty much every time I had ever visited New York City, but this was the first time I ever had anything like this happen to me upstate.

I can tell you right now, I won’t be wearing matching bra and panty sets anymore. Freddie and Jason can just keep their Hollywood starlets, thank you very much.

I’m just going to keep hoping I get the break I need in August. And I’m never going to match my clothes again.