#BearLies: What Your Friends Tell You After You've Seen Way too Many Bears in the Woods

by - Monday, July 02, 2018

This weekend my friends and I went on a camping trip out in Shenandoah. I'm not much of a camper, but I went on this trip last year and was surprised by how much fun I had.

Our trip was two nights, and we went tubing one day and went for a hike the other.


Tubing was a ton of fun this year. Because of all the rain we've had recently, the river was moving much faster than last year. Plus the water was chilly and it was really warm outside, so relaxing on the river was definitely a perfect way to spend the day.


The hike the next day definitely ranks as one of the ten worst/most stressful experiences of my life. If you guessed it was maybe because of all the bears, you'd be right! We also saw snakes too, so really, I'm convinced Mother Nature was trying to see how long I could survive with such highly elevated cortisol levels before I had a complete meltdown.

The hike started out pleasantly enough. In the first mile or two there were a decent amount of people out hiking and the trails were relatively wide and open.

After that, things took a turn. While we were hiking what felt like straight up a side of the mountain, a giant black snake sort of lunged out of the bushes on the side of the trail at the guy who was in the front of our group. We all ran back a bit and let the snake slither across the trail.

When we determined it was safe to pass, we pushed on up the massive hill and eventually made it to a look out point.

Here we are, kind of happy we made it to the top and glad we'd only seen one snake.


I'm pretty sure that's also the last time I smiled the entire rest of the hike. The lookout point was about 3.5 miles into our 8.5 mile hike. So we had about five miles to go through the very dense and deserted backwoods of Shenandoah National Park before we'd make it back to the safety of my car.

I can't remember where exactly we were on the hike when we saw the first bears. We spotted two bear cubs off the our right. We paused, assessed, (I silently panicked), and then we kept going past them.

A bit later, one of the guys further back in our group said it wasn't just the two baby bears up the tree, but that a big ol' bear was on the ground right next to them staring at us the entire time we walked by. We assume that was the momma. Thank the sweet Lord she didn't spook and come after us.

I was too terrified to look sideways to see that group of bears, so I just kept walking forward. That's probably for the best because if I had seen that big one on the ground, I can only imagine I would have screamed really loudly, which probably would have scared the bear.

Somewhere between a half mile and mile later, we spotted another bear in front of us on the trail. It looked to be simply crossing the trail, and I don't think it saw us. We backed up quietly and waited a bit. Then one of the guys in our group said he saw movement on the trail. Cue epic amounts of panic (at least from me, maybe others were more calm) because we thought this bear was following us and we knew we could go back up the trail too far for fear of running into the momma and her babies.

Luckily for us, the movement happened to be another person out hiking with his daughter. We asked them if they had seen the bear. They hadn't, and we warned them about the bears we saw up ahead.

After that we pressed on along the trail. At this point, we still had about two to three miles of hiking left before we'd complete the loop and be back at our car. My nerves were pretty shot to hell at this point, and I was basically whispering silent prayers that we'd get out of the woods safely. Every little noise made me jump. Half the time it was just a squirrel or the wind.

We heard what I assume was one more bear at some point later in the hike. There was lots of crunching leaves and rustling in the woods to our right. We never saw what was making the noise, but after pausing for a minute, we started clapping and singing as we hiked along -- hoping we'd scare the bear off.

I can't remember exactly when during the hike my friends started telling me bear lies to lighten the mood. Bear lies are completely ridiculous statements that are obviously not true, but made us all giggle a little bit and relax for a few seconds.

"This incline is so steep. We're all good. Bears don't like inclines. #BearLies"
"Bears don't like water. Once we get back to the stream we'll be fine. #BearLies"

There were others that were far more ridiculous that I can't remember now, but at the time I know they were making me laugh.

When we finally, finally made it to the end of the loop, we had a mile hike back to the car along the access trail. Part of the group wanted to take a dip in the water hole since it was so hot, but I just wanted to get the heck out of there, so another girl and I decided to do the last bit of the hike to the car ourselves.

This part of the trail is wider and has way more people on it, but wouldn't you know it, we saw one more snake. It was smaller than the black one, but it was tan and marbled. Based on my research (aka looking at pictures of Virginia snakes on the Internet), my guess is that it was a juvenile Northern black racer (a harmless snake). That's what I'm telling myself anyway because I want to pretend it wasn't a baby copperhead. I'm actually pretty sure both of the snakes we saw were Northern black racers. One was a baby and one was an adult.

Anyway, after about 15 minutes of hiking, we finally made it back to the car. When I saw the road I actually yelled, "Oh my gosh it's the road." Turns out I scared the girl I was with because she thought I had seen another bear.

We waited in the safety and air-conditioning of my car for everyone else to come back and then stopped for ice cream on the way back to our campsite.

I am now very happily back in DC where I am surrounded by cars and people, not bears. I think Mother Nature and I will be taking a time out for the foreseeable future.

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