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Five Boys and a Bear (and a Bag)


Isis whines from the backseat. I thought I saw a bear! It pulls me out of my mental hysterics. Get real. That bear isn’t going to bother us. Screw it, we’re going on.

We make it to the campsite to find it already occupied by a woman and five boys between the ages of eight and 13. They’ve taken over the place, and it looks like they’re here to stay. The youngest gathers branches, the oldest chops wood with an ax and another stacks it. Two of the kids run around a crummy trailer parked on cinder blocks. Doubt is replaced by dread.

The woman wanders over. I roll down the window. I stumble through small talk as I try to picture the three of us fitting anywhere into this melee. Almost as an afterthought, I say to her, “By the way, I saw a bear down the road a ways. Just thought you’d like to know.”


“I ain’t worried. My boys got their .22s,” she drawls. Dread, meet despair.

My first thought: A .22 will do little more than sting the bear, sending him into a royally pissed-off rampage through camp, where our little one-person/two-dog tent is a much softer target than their trailer. My second revelation: An eight-year-old with a rifle is as likely to shoot me in the dark as he is to shoot the bear. My final realization: Come bear or boy wonder, there is no way in hell we’re sleeping at Devil’s Elbow tonight.

Sure enough, on our way back down the road, there’s the bear, resuming his berry meal by twilight. Seeing us, he huffs in annoyance and again ambles off. Isis has found her voice. I did, I did see a bear! Cooper barks, twice. Isn’t that—??

The sun dips into the ocean as we wind our way back down the road. Our last hope gone, we pull onto the side of the road somewhere in the middle of nowhere. That night, as the stinky, suction-cup pups and I cram into the backseat of the Toyota Prius, the comforts of our cushy bag are completely lost to us.

It isn’t long, however, before we are able to revel in its roominess. A few weeks later, back in Washington, we finally get to spread out in the sleeping bag and drift off to dreamland, ten legs intertwined, in the tent, as intended. It is every bit as spacious and glorious as I’d hoped, and the only bears around are Ursa Major and Minor, sparkling in the night sky.




Val Mallinson author of two "Dog Lover's Companion" books (Avalon Travel Publishing) lives in Seattle and travels frequently with her two Miniature Dachshunds.

Illustration by Jennifer Taylor

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