Lions and tigers and bears…oh my! (Part 3)

Part III

Have you ever had an experience that leaves you filled with anxiety whenever it is mentioned? Y’all, I think I will always be weary of bears now.

As we made our way back to Arkansas we made another stop in Waco. This time we visited the Waco Mammoth National Monument. Mr. Ber is a history buff and takes every opportunity to provide a teaching moment for the kids and this one seemed perfect. It’s a cool little stop for those interested in a time before us. After a tour you are invited to spend time at the dig site where you can view the work being completed.

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We had reservations to stay at Queen Wilhelmina State Park. We’re quite fond of Arkansas state parks so take this recommendation as you will, but I encourage you to spend a night or two here. Not only is the site beautiful it is quiet and the perfect place to unwind. I have two wishes for our next stay: I’d love to go without kids so Mr. Ber and I can sit in the rocking chairs and watch birds and other wildlife in peace and that there be no more run ins with bear.

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We arrived to the lodge only an hour before the restaurant closed and hurried to get a bite to eat before we would be forced to survive off vending machine fare. While waiting on dinner we overheard our waitress telling another couple about a mother bear and her cubs that are often seen on the road leading up to the lodge. I’ll admit I was a little excited at the prospect of seeing a bear in the wild. When I was a young girl I saw one crossing the road and haven’t seen one since. It also excited me that maybe Mr. Ber and Boo could see one.

We woke early the next morning to try to catch the sunrise. Since we arrived so late the night before we missed sunset and I had my heart set on a sunrise photo. We asked Boo to join us, but he was fast asleep and couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed at 5:45 in the morning. I don’t blame him. I’m not a morning person. At. All. The lodge has a cute little overlook equipped with benches that I had planned to sit on and enjoy the breeze and watch the light fill the valley I was looking out upon. When Mr. Ber and I got to the overlook we realized we were facing the wrong direction for a sunrise. However, there were trails nearby and another overlook that we might possibly get a better view from. Somehow he talked me into taking one of the trails to the Lover’s Leap overlook. We’ve taken many a trail before and I didn’t anticipate this one being much different.

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Approximately a quarter mile into our little hike, not far ahead of where this picture was taken, I stopped suddenly and turned to Mr. Ber. “Did you hear that?” We had seen deer earlier and I hoped beyond hope that he would tell me it was just a deer. Deer are much less frightening. He turned to me to speak and I hushed him. There was the sound again. A low growl. It wasn’t far from us but we couldn’t see a thing. Where was it coming from and what was it? “What do you think that is?” I asked him. “I think it’s a bear,” he replied to me. “No! That’s not a bear. It’s not a bear is it?” Mr. Ber likes to tell me now that all the color had drained from my face. In those brief moments a wave of horror swept over me. All I could think about was Boo back in our room, the girls not seeing us again, and no one in the lodge realizing we had left. I began to doubt every decision we had made that morning. I was terrified. I moved slowly to get in front of Mr. Ber. If anything was going to happen one of us had to be able to run back to the lodge, right? By the way, am I supposed to play dead of run? Then I heard the chuffing. This bear was warning us. This had to be the momma bear. We couldn’t have been far from her cubs or her den. They had to be just down the mountain from us. After Mr. Ber shared this story his friend said, “There are only two things that run up a mountain faster than they run down: Bears and fire.” We started walking slowly away from the noise. I felt sick. She knew we were there and we had no idea where she was. Every noise was now magnified. I started noticing every piece of foliage. Were those berries that bear would eat? Is she hungry? I was going crazy, y’all. Okay, I’m already a little crazy, this was driving me mad. Mr. Ber was teasing me all along the way. I briefly forgot about the bear when we reached the overlook but my fear returned as soon as we were back on the trail.

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We finally made it back to the lodge. After a 1.5 mile hike, by the way. Oh, and we never saw a sunrise. We were still on the wrong side of the mountain. We walked into the lodge and straight back to our room where Boo was still sleeping. We showered and packed up the car. And as we were checking out Mr. Ber mentioned the bear to the staff at the lodge who didn’t bat an eye! There was no concern at all. They were probably thinking, “These idiots!”

I could not have been happier to leave that morning and get home. The problem is once we were home I kept experiencing anxiety surrounding the hike. While lying in bed I would begin to drift to sleep only to open my eyes in a panic, heart pounding, and breathing heavily. I kept hearing that bear. Now the anxiety only returns when we talk about the experience with people. My chest feels heavy and I have to breathe through it.

In the days following the hike I did a bit of research on black bears. You are supposed to fight them, by the way. Aim for the face. They are most active at dawn and dusk, also. I would suggest avoiding trails in western Arkansas during their peak active periods. And when your husband suggests doing something like the Ozark trail remind him that you have absolutely no interest and prefer to drop him off or pick him up.

Next time I’m going to enjoy the sunrise from the comfort of the lodge or sleep in and enjoy a spa day.

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