Dr. Strangebear -or- How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bears



I’m gonna cut to the chase here- Bears are no joke. Seriously, if you run into a bear take caution. Get the fuck away. This shit is no joke.

Remember me? I thought bears were all fun and games.

Remember me? I thought bears were all fun and games.

Here’s a little tidbit of info that may help you remember why you should stay away- Bears do not kill their prey when they eat them. Unlike big cats, the bear lacks the instinct to break the neck of its prey, so instead, it will attack you, hold you down, and start munching away on one side of you, while you try to drag yourself away. Here’s a news story that made the rounds a few years ago about a woman and her stepfather who were eaten by a bear and her cubs. The woman managed to make a call to her mom WHILE BEING EATEN BY BEARS. She is actually telling her mom on the phone,  “Mum, the bear is eating me.” For those stout of heart, here’s an audio recording of the phone call. However, If I were you, I’d let Werner Herzog take the hit on this one.

“I got this, girl, this is just a drop in the bucket of darkness that is my soul.”

“I got this, girl, this is just a drop in the bucket of darkness that is my soul.”

I’ve only had one encounter with a bear in my life, but it has left with me a deep and profound respect for them. It was the summer of 2003, and my buddy Kyle and I had ourselves some pretty sweet black gel acid. Super clean and bright, happy visuals. One time, I tripped for 48 hours straight, and came down with no hangover, no back pain, no achy brain… delicious, clean acid.

Kyle and I decided, hey we have some acid, no tent or fire making implements, why not go camping? We were in Northern California, so there were plenty of camping options nearby, but no, we said, let’s go camping in Yosemite, it’s just three hours away. By the way, there’s a lot of bears there, but come on, what are the chances of seeing one? As soon as we pulled into the entrance, there were huge signs that showed pictures of the damage a black bear could do to your car while looking for food, or even toothpaste.

I think he found it.

I think he found it.

I'm not talking about grizzlies here, I'm talking about their smaller cousins, who still have the strength to rip a car door open and shred the interior with no hassle. The ranger stopped us and gave us a flyer that had more pictures of black bears and shredded cars, probably just to hammer in the point that there are fucking bears here, you guys, you sure you’re up for this? Of course we are we said, we have LSD in our pockets! Ok, he said, and handed us a bear canister.  

You should not be standing there taking pictures if a bear is working on your canister. Do you hear me? Back away, slowly…

You should not be standing there taking pictures if a bear is working on your canister. Do you hear me? Back away, slowly…

“Wait, so we have to put all our food into this thing?

“Yup, black bears can smell food from up to a mile away. They’ll go after your toiletries, so make sure you take everything out of your car and put it in the cannister. They can even climb trees and untie knots, so don’t even bother trying to hang your stuff in a tree.”

“That’s ok, we didn't even bring rope. Thanks!”

We drove off into the sunset to find parking. Once parked, we decided to drop our tabs and hike into the park and find a campground. As we began hiking into the park, I couldn't help but notice that people were leaving the park in droves. You see, bears are nocturnal, so sundown was prime time for bear action on the trails. Most everybody was getting their asses off the trail during this magic hour when the bears were waking from their slumber, but not me and Kyle. Nope. We’re all in at this point. We already dropped the acid and it’s a three hour drive back, so we've crossed the point of no return.

I noticed more and more signs of bear activity as we made our way deeper into the trail. I saw claw marks on trees, I saw giant non-human turds that answered the question, “Does a bear shit in the woods?” The answer is yes, they sure fucking do. By this point the acid was kicking in and the fractal patterns I normally saw had a bear-like tinge to them. Moss, dirt, leaves… all arranging themselves into bear-like patterns. It was clear from the get-go that this trip was going to be all about bears.

We made our way to a clearing after hiking about an hour. The sun was nearly down and we decided to walk over to a small nearby waterfall, just a little further up from where we put down our stuff. It was there that we saw her- a bear. We were both starting to trip at this point so we both doubted what we saw. I was seeing trails so what could be a bear could actually be just a big brown fuzzy dog maybe. I rubbed my eyes…. Yep, that’s a bear.

Luckily we were on a small cliff of sorts, about 10 feet high, and the bear was a good 50 yards away. Then we saw two smaller fuzzy shapes. Cubs. Fuck. This is the most dangerous bear encounter you can have, a momma and her cubs. We looked at each other, in a confused hallucinogenic uncertainty. I looked down at our feet and saw an empty can of sardines, still slick with oil. The ranger’s warning came flooding back to me. Kyle asked,

“Should we pick it up?”

“Dude, don’t touch that.”

“But the bear could smell it and come over here.”

“Yeah, that’s why we shouldn't touch it, we’ll get fish oil all over us.”

“But then it’ll just be near our camp.”

“What are you nuts? How about we just slather it all over ourselves while we’re at it? Let’s leave it alone.”

Kyle concurred. What happened next though, was not the result of a discussion, but a strange impulse, perhaps colored by the mixture of adrenalin and LSD. Kyle raised his arms over his head and started screaming at the bear. Scream is not quite right word. It was more like a loud turkey gobble. Keep in mind that up to this whole point, none of the bears had noticed us. When Kyle started his wild turkey yell, the bears turned and looked our way.

My mind was swimming with a million impulses and thoughts. Why the fuck did he just do that? Now they’re looking at us. No they’re looking at me. Shit. If Kyle’s yelling and I’m not, I’m the weak link here, a delicious weak link that can be separated from the pack and turned into food. So I joined in. I gobbled wildly waving my arms back and forth, putting out whatever energy I could that would make me appear to know what I was doing, but it was an act of sheer desperate terror. The momma bear, unfazed, lifted her paws onto a nearby tree and gave herself a stretch. The increased visual acuity from the acid let me see the claws and musculature of her massive paws. She then lumbered away with her cubs in tow. I wonder if she thought I was Kyle’s cub and had heard in bear circles that the most dangerous human encounter she could have were when they were with their cubs.

We backed away slowly and got back to our camp. By camp, I mean the grassy clearing where we dropped all our shit, since we didn't have tents or anything. It was dark now and since we had no fire, we decided to put our sleeping bags up against a big rock after a spirited debate about whether it was better to sleep with the rock as cover, or if the rock was actually a blind spot from which a bear could jump on us from above. The debate was unsettled, but we decided that the rock was better than being totally exposed. So we each got into our sleeping bags and proceeded with the charade that were were now going to sleep despite it being the peak hours of our trip and that our fight or flight mechanisms were going haywire.

Another thing to keep in mind is that Kyle is 6’3’, just under 200 lbs, so he’s bigger than I am. So there we our in our sleeping bags. I’m lying down with my eyes closed, trying not to cry, when I head Kyle mumble, “I don’t know, dude… I don’t know.” I look over and he’s wide-eyed with fear. Fuck. If the big dude’s scared, I probably should be too. I sat up. Sleep was not going to happen. We both were imagining the forest teeming with bears, slowly making their way to where we were in the darkness. We gathered up as many stones as we could find and we perched on top of the rock. We had one flashlight between us and Kyle would whip the light back and forth on the off-chance we could catch a glint of some bear eyes, and then we would start throwing rocks. This was a pretty shitty plan, but it seemed like a much better plan than waking up to a bear mauling one of us and having to explain to the ranger that the bear canister didn't work.

We stood on that rock for a few hours. I regaled Kyle with tales of how were were huge hits on the bear comedy circuit and that they were all watching us now laughing hilariously. I wondered if we were actually attracting the bears with our frantic flashlight beaming and laughing at bear jokes to keep from sobbing. Then we got hungry. All our food was in the bear canister, way the fuck over there. After another discussion, we decided we would come down from the rock and get some food out of the canister. We both munched on some granola bars, hoping to God that we didn't get any crumbs on us. We shoved the wrappers back into the canister and chucked it far from the rock and went back up. A couple of hours later, we were coming down and dead tired.

We climbed down from the rock and got back into our sleeping bags. We decided that we would take turns keeping watch. I was first and when I got sleepy, I would wake Kyle. He fell asleep and I was alone with my thoughts staring into the night sky. I saw a satellite or something moving slowly across the sky and I told myself, when that thing gets to where those trees are, I’ll wake Kyle. I stayed up just watching this celestial object cross the night sky and when it got to the trees. I woke Kyle up for his turn. I was exhausted and fell right to sleep.

The next thing that I remember is my eyes opening to the bright light of the new day. The first thing I saw was Kyle happily snoozing away in his sleeping bag. He slept through his watch, the son of a bitch. If there’s such a thing as alternate realities, I believe that in most of them, one or both of us were eaten or at least required an amputation. Perhaps we are living in the best of all possible worlds.