Both Andrew and I could hear it in the distance, jumping up and down, fumbling around in the forest at night, crashing around like it owned the place. Our bag of food had been hung carefully from a tree branch about one hundred feet from the shelter we'd chosen to call home for the night. It was called Hawk Mountain, hidden deep in the woods and eerie mountains of north Georgia. As luck would have it a previous visitor to this shelter had taken the time to draw a detailed picture of the "counter balance bear bag hanging technique" with a full description of how to pull it off. It seemed that this person, who ever it was, had spent quite some time in the wilderness dealing with black bears, and food theft, enough time to leave this information for future adventurers which at this point we very much appreciated.
The idea was pretty simple really but also very clever. You find a good sized tree with a strong looking branch about fifteen feet off the ground, or picture a branch that it would take two tall men, one standing on the others shoulders to stretch and reach. Find a large rock, about the same weight as your food bag, tie your rope to it and with a good aim toss it over the branch being careful not to hit your friend. Once you've done that carefully pull on the rope and watch the stone rise up in to the air towards the branch. Once the rock is very close to the branch you hold it steady and tie your bag of food to the end in your hand, as high up as you can. Once it's tied you let go and you'll notice that the bag hangs there, balanced by the weight of the rock on the other end. Then find a big stick and push the bag of food up towards the branch, the rock will start to fall but because the bag and rock are the same weight it can happen as quickly or as slowly as you like. The best height to get the bag should be just enough so that if a scary, hungry bear comes sniffing for food they won't be able to jump and reach it. Bears can stand up and be very tall, taller than a man, so the higher the better.
Fortunately it didn't take us long to master the technique, our food was hanging safely in a tree a good distance from where we were sleeping. This was our second night in the American wilderness and we were both quite apprehensive and nervous about creatures coming out at night as we had never experienced any animals like these before. The evening was alive with sound. The forest surrounding us seemed to come alive at dusk - peepers, crickets, porcupines, raccoons, mice, deer, and a whole host of other animals we knew nothing about. To make us feel a little safer and more cozy we collected wood to make a nice fire. We sat around the fire until a good while after dark just talking, but also listening to the forest around us. We loaded the fire with all the wood we had left and went to our sleeping bags in the shelter. We both lay there staring at the fire and hoping that tonight would be restful and uneventful.
Only an hour went by before we heard the first big thud in the forest. Then we heard it again, and again. We both sat up and listened intently as the thuds became crashes. All the sound was coming from the area of our food bag and our imaginations were running wild. I pictured an enormous black bear, enraged by not being able to reach our food circling the area, snarling and furious. The crashing and thuds stopped, and once more all we could hear was the sound of the smaller animals going about their business. We stayed very still, alert and listening for more, but nothing. A dark figure appeared behind our fire, which had died down to a large, red, glowing pit of embers, but still throwing off enough light to see. We froze again and followed the animal moving very quietly past the fire. I could make out the dark shadowy figure as a bear. At this point we were terrified and sat motionless as this great animal lumbered through our camp. It stopped for a moment and turned it's head towards us, looking for a few seconds in our direction, enough to make good eye contact It then turned it's head and continued on it's way and disappeared from the glow of the fire and off into the woods.
We both sat still for a long time, long enough to realize that hopefully the bear had gone for good. Both of us were now feeling very uneasy and did not sleep at all, apart from a few naps here and there each time woken by the smallest sound. We were very thankful when dawn broke and the daylight made the woods seem pleasant again. The relief of making it through the night, and to see this new day made us very tired. We both fell asleep and woke at 10 a.m. We got up and went to our food bag which was hanging exactly where we had left it. The surrounding saplings and bushes clearly disturbed by that big bear the night before. We were thankful we still had our food, but we were even more thankful that we came out of our second night in the woods alive, with the hope that the following nights would not be as eventful. Sleeping in the woods takes time to get used to. but now we knew we could do it.
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