I woke with a start, recognizing the sound that had awakened me even as I came out of sleep. I listened but there was nothing more. No grunting, no heavy breathing, no tearing plastic.
Outside my tent the campground was dark, even the starlight filtered out by the canopy of Douglas fir and broad-leaf maples. And silent. No kids, no barking dogs, no players dealing one last hand of Crazy Eights.
Lying completely still, I continued to listen. There would be something. The bear that had snagged my food bag off the bench of the picnic table would give itself away sooner rather than later and I didn’t want to draw its attention away from the tropical-fruit trail mix and Minute Rice. My mind raced back over my bedtime preparations. Had I purged all the food from my panniers before I brought them into the tent?
Rebars. Yes. Gatorade powder. Uh-huh.
Wait! Tea bags? Yes, they were with the bouillon packets. Whew.
What else was there? I ran through the list. It was all outside.
But my toiletries…. What had I been thinking? Ivory soap, unscented deodorant, okay, those weren’t going to be big draws, but my toothpaste was right beside my head! I couldn’t smell it, in its tube in the little zippered plastic bag, but a bear probably could!
I’d been sloppy because this wasn’t a wilderness site.
This campground was populated by RVs and car campers, picnic tables with tablecloths and bottles of mustard and relish, and propane barbecues on which large men cooked burgers. It had the same kind of garbage cans I had at home – suburban wheelie-bins, not bear-proof caches.
Still, something out there had just nabbed my breakfast, lunch and dinner and it could be a matter of time until it came looking for my organic fennel toothpaste for dessert.
On the other hand, wouldn’t any self-respecting bear head for those garbage cans redolent of meat and barbecue sauce? Of course it would.
I settled into my sleeping bag again, adjusting the pillow of clean T-shirts beneath my head. As my brain slowed, so did my heart rate and I drifted off again, only to jerk awake at the sound of my food bag hitting the dirt. Again.
My heart hammered as my brain whirred. I knew that sound. I’d already heard it once that night. Why was I hearing it again? Clearly the bear had, what…picked up the bag and dropped it?
Just like the last time, there was silence once more. No chittering raccoon, no snuffling bear. No paws padding over the hardpacked pea gravel. Nothing but my own pulse scampering through my ears for a hiding place in my head.