The sound I most fear tore through my little tent like a carnivore's claw, severing me from sleep. At 3 a.m. in Kokanee Creek Provincial Park, people don't throw pots and pans around, bears do.
While my new girlfriend slept unaware, my throat tightened as I Ieft the tent to investigate. I could hear the beast in the next campsite on the other side of dense brush. My neighbours, inside their RV and marinating in a beer-based slumber, were oblivious. Hearing the noises, I relaxed because I knew where the bear was. But then it went quiet. Was it headed my way?
With my eye trained in the bear's direction, I knelt beside our tent and with faux calm said, "Babe, wake up. Don't panic, but there's a bear here. Get dressed. We need to get in the car."
A bear encounter was her biggest anxiety. I heard her draw a sharp breath of fear and surprise as she groped for clothes in the dark tent. In near panic she hissed, "I can't find my *#& underwear." She was still nude from an earlier and very different bare encounter, one where I played another heroic part. I heard fabric tear as she frantically donned her delicates.
She burst out of the tent, wearing only her skivvies, my T-shirt and a pale complexion. I guided her to my car. She was visibly frightened, almost shaking. I turned the headlights on and we waited.
Peering through the windshield, I felt smug and imagined myself a hunky forest hero who discerned a threat and calmly saved his new partner from marauding, insensate danger. I was earning major points that I could redeem for future bare encounters.
We see-sawed between fatigue and adrenalin. With no sign of other campers, this moment was ours alone. Then the bear crashed through the bush and into our headlights' glare. But it wasn't a bear, it was a raccoon. To me it looked huge. I mean, not bear size, but hey, a good five kilograms, easy. Four other raccoons, three of them babies, soon emerged and they all waddled across our food-free campsite and disappeared.
Sensing a new danger, I turned to my amour and said, "Wow! A raccoon family. They may look cute but those claws can do some real damage. We better stay in the car."
Shivering from the cold, my girl glared. In silence and without me she went back into the tent, emphatically zipping both flaps closed behind her.
I was going to follow her until my wilderness acumen again kicked in. I sensed that at that moment in the dark forest, I was safer in the car.