When a bear came calling

I had been worried about the rain and now it was here, the sky had turned an angry black and was ready to let loose with great big buckets of water. We had spent the week camping and hiking in the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. I had seen the reports of rain and thunder and had gotten my wife and kids moving in the early morning so that we would be up and around and on our way home before the rain came. 

My kids, who were all relatively young at the time, were not happy with the early start, but I knew they would be even grumpier if we had to pack everything up in the wet rain. The week had been a happy one. We had hiked and toasted marshmallows over the fire and enjoyed being out in the woods. We were sad for the week to end, but glad to get back home.

I let out a big sigh when I started the car. We had made it in the nick of time. Now, I just needed to get us off the mountain and head for home, before Mother Nature let loose with her fury.

Fog hung on the mountain, but the everything looked majestic as we made the short drive toward the park entrance. The road tends to curve up and down depending on where you are on Skyline Drive, so I punched on the gas to go up one of a small series of hills that we were on, but nothing happened. The car engine revved, but we slowed, instead of speeding up. I checked that the car was in gear and punched the gas again, the car revved again, but nothing happened. This time our Check Engine Light came on and I knew we were in trouble. We continued to coast. I looked ahead and behind me, but there were few places to turn off the narrow road.

I started to worry that we might be in real trouble. If we stalled out on the road, we might get hit from behind. If rain came down hard, we might not see help for a long time. I tried to put my fears out of my mind. We crested a small hill and, I praised God, I could see a small overlook a few hundred yards ahead. If we were lucky, we would be able to coast safely to the side of the overlook and out of harms way.

I put in the car in neutral and pushed my body ahead like my little motion could somehow help inch our two ton car to safety. It certainly didn’t hurt. A few minutes later we pulled into the overlook and my wife and both let out a cheer. My kids cheered too, but I’m not even sure they knew what was going on.

We were better positioned, but we still weren’t out of the woods yet. My wife and I could both see the rain coming in our direction and phone service on the mountain had been spotty at best. We might need to wait awhile for someone to come along to help us get a tow truck. I popped the hood and opened the door to get out of the car. I was just about to step out on the road when my wife pointed and asked what was up ahead of us.

One of the kids in the backseat, shouted “What mom? What mom?”

I figured my wife meant the rain, but when I looked up, my eyes lit up. We both said it at the same time, “It’s a bear.” Fifteen to twenty yards ahead of us, a giant Black Bear walked out of the woods onto the road with a small bear cub running behind it. The bear crossed to the middle of the road on all fours and stopped. He turned to look at us and took a small step towards us, thought better of it, and then continued on across the road and down the mountain. The bear was soon hidden again in the lush green forest. The bear cub following all the way.

Black bears tend to avoid humans but they can attack for a number of reasons, like a when person encounters a mother with her cubs, defending its food, or when one is surprised or startled.

The sighting happened in the matter of seconds, but left an indelible impression on all of us. Without missing a beat, I shut my car door and told my wife that I would just wait a while to check on the engine. “You know what, I might even just wait until the tow truck driver comes along,” I said. “If it’s the transmission, I doubt I can do much of anything anyway.”

I wasn’t about to go outside. Who knows, the bear might come back.

Fortunately, we had phone service and were able to call for a tow. The rain came too, but the storm passed by the time the tow truck driver arrived, and, best of all, we saw nothing of the bear and its cub again. Oh, we watched, but they were long gone.

When the tow truck driver dropped us off at the garage, we rented a car and were off again on our way home. We got the call I expected a few hours later: Our car needed a new transmission.

My wife would drive back to Virginia a few weeks later with a neighbor to pick up our car. My wife promised to look for our “two bear friends” when she returned, but I’m not sure she gave it much of a thought.

I certainly didn’t like having to fork up the money for a new transmission, but I must admit the bear made the bill bearable: he gave us a story we’ll never forget.

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