Canoeing + Camping with Bears.

Delaware River
Photos: Olivia Christine

Last weekend I spent two days camping and canoeing down the Delaware River with great company. The only female in the crew, I completed this 20-mile adventure with nine friends - both old and new.

First, we drove to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, where we were to sign away our lives, rent five canoes and ten life jackets, and park our vehicles. A shuttle picked us up shortly after and we loaded the canoes with our coolers, tents, and camping items.

As the shuttle carried us to Eshback, PA to begin our journey, the driver entertained (and frightened) us with stories of the abundant local Black Bears. My favorite was his recount of a newly engaged couple who, shortly after arriving at their campsite, quickly called the recreation office - urgently requesting to be picked up. When our driver arrived at the scene, he found the bride-to-be hitting her fiance with a bottle. Once she finally calmed down, she told him the reason for her anger. Apparently, once she and her fiance arrived at the campsite, they quickly got to business ... good ol' fashioned sex in the woods. As they were enjoying their nature sex, she spotted a Black Bear near them and screamed. To her surprise and dismay, her fiance tossed her aside in fear and ran to the canoe. To add insult to injury, he proceeded to paddle away in the canoe, WITHOUT HER. My friends roared with laughter while listening to this story, confident that the wedding was called off, while I side-eyed my boyfriend, letting him know he'd better not pull that kind of stunt. Inside of me, a seed of fear was planted.

Tying our canoes together with our life jackets = ultimate relaxation.

We were dropped off and given tips on good campsites, best practices, and avoiding bears. Loaded and ready, we jumped in our canoes and set off to begin the first half of our 20-mile trek. While other canoes were serious about getting to their campsites, we didn't mind turning a two hour trek into a three hour lounge session. We paddled in the muddy Delaware river for a bit, passed around some beers, took photos, and turned on our portable speakers. The life. 

Let's go! 10 minutes in.

This continued the whole afternoon, with less than half of the course completed. We searched for campsite 95, as recommended by our driver for its private area and outhouse. Along the river there were tiny signs on trees indicating the sites' numbers. Squinting under the hot sun, we finally found our destination and worked on figuring out how to park the canoes with no "shore". Pat, one of our friends in the group, was clearly outdoorsy and really good about figuring out how to keep our canoes safe. 

I needed a tanning break.

Once the canoes were settled and our items carried up fallen trees and a small wall of mud and hardened soil, the boys worked on setting up tents while I organized our "kitchen". We spent the day playing Kan Jam, laughing, and cooking hot dogs... LOTS of hot dogs.  Some of us gave in and jumped in the murky river; I was glad I brought my water shoes! The river was cold and quite refreshing once in, and I soon forgot about the mosquitoes and jumping water insects (I don't even know what those things were) and hung out discussing life, money, corporate responsibility, and the environment. Sometimes I get deep like that. 

Up on the camp ground, the boys set out to relieve themselves and explore the outhouse. I'm not sure if any of them actually made it in. The smell alone made you want to dig a hole in the dirt and become one with nature. However, being the only girl in the crew I couldn't pee in broad daylight as easily as the boys so I set out to face the outhouse. Man, did it smell awful! But I went in anyway. On my way I spotted another campsite directly across from the outhouse. I chose to leave the door open so I could breathe, so I am sure they saw me. Awkward moment? Oh well, we are best friends now, I guess. When I returned, I teased the boys for not being able to withstand the smell, secretly knowing how much I suffered. 

Dusk approached us and nightfall quickly followed. I went to my tent to change and decided to leave the boys for a bit to bond with each other. They were all old friends from high school, and though we went to the same school, I know I'm now closer with them because I am Alex's girlfriend. I didn't want them to feel like I've taken away their friend. Oddly enough, they prepared to go to bed shortly after. So much for bonding time! Alex forgot the s'mores. I'm sure that's why. 

As they prepared for bed, I heard them putting away the food. Some friends argued that it wasn't a big deal to move the food and other friends suggested we put everything far away. The problem was, there were no decent sized tree branches to store our food on. Literally, none. Everything was too tall and out of our reach. So they moved the food near the canoes (and closest to my tent!), which I thought was an awful idea but already accepted my fate of death by bear attack. 

As Alex and the boys slept, I stayed awake, alert to every sound of the woods. I remembered our driver's unconvincing reassurance that although they are everywhere, the bears "most likely" won't bother us, as long as we keep our food high up... which we didn't. The boys continued to sleep. And I listened. 

Then I heard it. Low rustling. A frog? A person? A bear?  

A low grunt followed.

A shallow growl.   

And then a loud huff. 

I jumped and shook Alex, in fear. "The bear, it's here! Shhh. Don't you hear it?"

Alex listened and heard. He looked over to me and kissed my forehead. "It's Koslo." (Our friend) "He snores really loudly, haha."

I continued to stare into the darkness through our net in disbelief, searching for more sounds. 

Brrrppp. A fart. It was Koslo.

We survived the night, bear-less.