Reader Essays: Close Encounter

Paula Patterson learns how to share the trail–but not her tent–with the wildlife.

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John Muir Trail, Day One: Shortly after making camp, we hear frightening sounds—branches breaking, hooves trampling through the forest, and a screeching cry that’s like a dolphin screaming. A huge black bear comes crashing through the middle of our camp, only feet away from us, chasing the deer that’s making this horrible noise.

The deer escapes but the bear comes back to investigate the neighbors’ tent. Jack, a friend, blows his whistle and scares it away. 9 PM: My husband Tom is sleeping and I am in my bag, reading with my headlamp on. Suddenly, we hear the same sounds of the afternoon. Branches breaking, hooves trampling, deer screaming bloody murder.

This time, it is heading right toward our tent. I sit up, shake Tom frantically, and shout, “The bear is coming back!” And that’s not all. I don’t know if my light attracts the deer, but it crashes directly into our tent. It ricochets off of Tom’s shoulder and then mine and punches two holes in the nylon and completely breaks the tent poles. Apparently the deer got away, but the bear eventually rips into our Ursack bags and devours our supplies. Wonder what will happen on Day Two?

Patterson lives in San Luis Obispo, CA. Favorite hike: High Sierra Trail.