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Wildlife

The Three Bears: Part 3 — Decision Time for the Trailbike Rider

By Stephen Mullaney July 30, 2021

Wildlife

Editor’s Note: Below is final part in Stephen Mullaney’s three-part series of essays about encounters with bears in the backcountry. The first essay in the series recants the shock Stephen experienced with one particular bear encounter, while the second essay in this series attempts to find humor in a persistent bear taking up quarters in an NCOAE camp late at night. This time around, Stephen — who serves as Director of School Partnerships here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE) — writes about a timing issue.

Decision Time for the Trailbike Rider

When NCOAE offers larger courses or custom outdoor education courses, we try to have a floater in the field. The floater is an instructor who knows the course area, can navigate to multiple groups in a single day, and has the ability to be flexible and help out when groups are in need of extra support.

I enjoy being a floater because it allows me to see the NCOAE field staff in action. To watch an NCOAE instructor teach is inspiring to me. It also has the added benefit of allowing me to discover different approaches to teaching our curriculum. As a result, being a floater is akin to real-time professional development.

On one particular wilderness course for which I was the floater, we 11 crews/groups in the field. Because of the distance between the groups, the terrain that would need to be traversed, and the need to reach groups quickly, I figured using a trail bike was a no brainer. I could get to each group every four days and still be able to respond to any group that may need outside support in a quicker fashion. 

Stephen Mullaney Bikepack
Our intrepid Director of School Partnerships’ trail bike, used to support groups in the backcountry.

Each day I woke up, left the crew with which I had spent the night, and headed off to meet the next crew before they had even had their breakfast. Then I was off to the next group before lunch, and I usually showed up to meet my final crew for the day a little before dark. Or very much after dark depending on circumstances.

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The Three Bears: Part 2 — Some Confrontations Can Be Humorous

By Stephen Mullaney July 22, 2021

Wildlife

Editor’s Note: In this, the second installment of “The Three Bears,” we’ll hear from NCOAE staffer Stephen Mullaney tell yet another true tale about confrontations with bears. In this post, he’ll attempt to find the humor in a persistent bear taking up quarters in an NCOAE camp late at night. But let’s let Stephen tell the story:

The spot where this particular bear adventure occurred is conveniently located near an area we used for climbing instruction. Unfortunately, the site is also known for its occasional bear activity, and with proper planning and risk mitigation, can be safely used for that purpose. This was an outdoor education industry training trip, and all participants were adults with lots of experience guiding in the backcountry. 

We had finished cleaning up camp, putting our bear canisters well away from campsite and had settled down for a well-deserved night of sleep after a long day of climbing. I laid down in my hammock and was asleep in an instant.

Having spent an incredible number of nights sleeping in the woods, I have learned the difference between a stick or branch falling, being blown by the wind or being cracked in half under the weight of a large animal.

The crack that woke me up was the crack made by the weight of a large animal.

I rolled over, lifted my tarp, and took stock of the situation. I didn’t get out my hammock, because I didn’t want to fully wake up if everything looked copacetic. No more sound means more sleep, and I rolled over and fell back to sleep.

Crack!

There it was again.

I repeated my previously approach of taking a peek while buried in my hammock. However this time the cracking continued, and I was able to (more…)

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The Three Bears: Tales of Terror and Trepidation — Part 1 “The Shock”

By Stephen Mullaney July 17, 2021

Wildlife

When folks find out that my work often takes me into the backcountry, one of the first questions they usually ask me is, “Have you ever had a run-in with a bear — a bear encounter?”

After I tell them that I have had run-ins with bears in the backcountry, they ask what’s that’s like. And that’s when I share that there are many emotions attached to an encounter with a bear in the wilderness, ranging from shock, to humor, to the sudden and unexpected “meet and greet” where you wonder, “Am I going to have to physically engage with this bear?”

First up in this three-part series on bear encounters in the backcountry is a true story about ashocking bear encounter.

A Shocking Bear Encounter

It was Day Two on a multi-day backcountry expedition when someone in the group needed to stop and use the facilities, meaning off the side of the trail. The hiker asked for the “Poop Kit,” which contains hand sanitizer, a trowel to dig a hole and everything else needed for a semi-comfortable sitting.

Brown Bear Image © by JT Ray

Problems arose when no one could find the kit. As an aside, when traveling as a group, each participant is responsible for carrying the same communal gear each day — that way, nothing gets lost. So, who had been carrying the kit for the entire trip?

A voice spoke up, “I’m supposed to have it, but it’s not in my bag.”

Someone else said, “I saw it by the fire ring this morning while we were getting ready to head out.”

Not too happy, I looked at my co-leader and told him, “One of us needs to hike back and get it while the other gets the group into camp.” I lost the coin toss, and prepared to head back to get the kit. Wanting to travel light, I hung my backpack up in a tree, grabbed a snack and a bottle of water and headed the four miles back to the previous night’s campsite. 

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