Several have asked whether I was scared or apprehensive after our encounter with the polar bear on our first day in the wilderness. My answer was "no," because I had complete confidence, not in the electric bear fence, but in John, our Inuit guide and bear monitor.
That being said, we were all vigilant and got in the habit of scanning the horizon whenever we walked about. Speaking for myself, I was most watchful in attending to "nature's call." The prospect of being caught with my pants down by a black bear while doing my "business" away from camp was sufficiently unnerving so as to sharpen my senses. With my awareness thus heightened, I soon came to relish these delicious moments of solitude in a spectacular natural setting.
One incident, however, got my blood pressure and heart rate right up there. Thursday morning, the park helicopter flew down the North Arm and touched down in the grassy meadow behind our camp. Jacko, John's brother and a park ranger, bowing low under the whirling blade of the copter, jogged over and handed John a candy bar. And, oh, by the way, he said, he had seen a large male polar bear in the next bay over. Better keep your eyes open. Off went Jacko and the machine gracefully lifted off, circled round, and sped down the valley and away. Silence.
We went about the day's activities--a long hike down the valley in the rain. Back at camp, I noticed that our tent was leaking, with little pools of water collecting in one corner and out in the center between our sleeping bags. I alerted Josh, my tent mate, and we in turn spoke with Greg, our gear guy extraordinaire from Chewonki. Greg erected a second fly on poles over the existing one, and fastened the corners down tight with stakes and rocks.
Now, as an aside, Josh is a big guy. Not tall mind you, but BIG. Not fat big but muscle big. This guy garnishes his morning cereal with steel bolts. By profession, he's a fitness trainer, so it's his job to stay in shape. With telephone pole arms and tree trunk legs, he weighs in at well over two hundred pounds, heavier than me, despite my being several inches taller. On our hikes, I was gratified to be able--more or less-to keep up with the guy.
That night it continued to rain and the wind picked-up considerably, with gusts in the forties. It was dark. Wicked dark. I was slumbering away peacefully when "WHACK"--Josh's side of the tent was violently concussed by God Knows What. Josh was airborne and landed in my lap shouting: "Jesus Christ!!! What the f--- was that!!!" We later confessed that, at that moment, we both thought we were dead meat and expected that the huge clawed paw of a ravenous male polar bear was about to be thrust through the side of the tent, eviscerating us as it swept all away in its wake.
Benson called from the next tent: "Are you guys all right?" As I had had the wind knocked out of me by a guy who could have been a tackle for the New England Patriots, I caught my breath and gasped that we were O.K. "But what the f--- was that???" I yelped. It turned out to be the second fly, sprung loose from its moorings in a gust of wind, slapping hard against the tent. It was now flapping about wildly, making a racket. I also had to pee, badly. But was I going to venture forth into the black of that rainy night and run into God Knows What? No way. Bladder be damned, I was going to stay put.
The next morning, it became apparent that everyone was awakened by the ruckus in the night. The story went through many iterations throughout the day. Its most amazing feature was that a two hundred pound plus man could actually go airborne from fright. Take it from me, it's true.
Photo Credit: David Heald Tents in Camp, North Arm, Saglek Fjord