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Posted by:
Bigalke
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That little cluster of buildings at the bottom of the picture above? That was home as a child. Nestled in the bosomy shadow of the Grand Tetons, I was free to mess around in one of the most visited outdoor areas in the world.

I was quickly enamored, going out for hikes into the woods for hours as a younger child before graduating to backpacking excursions in my teens. And there's one thing you invariably learn about the outdoors when you spend enough time in them -- you never really have control over your situation.

You can plan as well as you want, detail every nuance of the odyssey you're about to undertake, and things will still come down upon you like never expected. Add more variables to the mix and the situation gets ever murkier.

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I remember sitting at the top of Jackson Peak one day, a 15-year-old with a head full of acid looking down through binoculars at the valley below, when a black bear cub started wandering through my camp on the east side of the butte. I traced it with my binoculars, looking down half-expecting a hallucination to disappear, but sure enough the bear kept on wandering.

And then came along mama, ready to round up her rollicking cub from his frivolity. My heartbeat quickened, and I took a few drags off a roach in my pocket just to keep the binoculars steady in my hands. Soon enough, without a single shred in my tent and my food bag still secure in the trees, the bears wandered off to the north, and I started scrambling my way back down the hill on wobbly legs.

The whole circumstance took but fifteen minutes, one of those all-too-common moments that anybody who has spent time in the wilderness knows pop up with regularity. When you submit to nature, anything is possible...

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And sometimes it is not the other animals with which you share the space but the elements themselves that strike out. The summer after my high-school graduation, in the weeks before heading onto the next phase of life at college, I went out with my younger sister to soak up the great outdoors one last time before succumbing to the urban life in Portland. We set up our tents along the Gros Ventre River, nestled up on the opposite bank from the Red Hills.

After we had settled into our spot, we decided to go for a hike up the butte on the other side of the river. What we hadn't counted on, though, was how swift the Gros Ventre would be running in August. Usually by this time of year, it had slowed to a trickle as the last of the glacial runoff made its futile efforts to speed things up. But a late start to the summer and mild weather throughout had kept things melting at a more gradual pace. The river was slower in the spring because of this... but it was subsequently faster than normal come late summer.

I was leading the way, navigating the loose rocks underfoot, when my sister shouted behind me. I turned quickly, nearly losing my footing, and saw her slip on the river bottom. She went sideways, soaking her backpack. And somehow, I reached out and grabbed the strap of that pack to keep her from getting swept downstream to an unenviable fate.

This is no boast. This is just the reality of the pinpoint decisions we all must be ready and willing to make when nature calls and issues its tests against us. I've been bested by rivers, trapped in sudden thunderstorms while in the high passes of the Tetons, I've dealt with wind and snow and scorching sun. And if you stay out long enough and allow a love of the outdoors to blossom, your alertness will be continually tested...

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So as this summer beckons, be sure to be safe out there. That doesn't mean you shouldn't plan your trip before you embark; proper preparation inevitably prevents poor performance. But also remember that you can have all the survival gear in the world -- and it will be worth little more than the weight you're forcing yourself to lug around if you allow vigilance to slip for just a moment.

July 1, 2011  03:44 PM ET

The closest encounter with a large beast was when me and three buddies rode our motorcycles to the Grand Canyon. We got there close to dusk, I was about 1/4 mile ahead of them puttering along about 35 MPH. I saw movement ahead on the right. I slowed thinking in might be a deer when across the road walks the biggest Mountain Lion I have ever seen. He stops right in the middle of the road, looks at me for a moment before continuing to the other side and into the brush. Needless to say, I slowed way down for my buddies to catch up! Beautiful animal, but definitely gave me a rush!

Comment #2 has been removed
July 1, 2011  04:34 PM ET

I have some good bear stories. The first time I camped at Lake Tahoe, I for some reason was oblivious to there being any bear problems. We grilled up some tri-tip that night and had leftovers, which I put in the ice chest. Of course I just left the chest out by the picnic table when we went to bed. Middle of the night I get woken up by this scraping sound - the bear was going through the ice chest, eating EVERYTHING, literally everything, even cracking open cans of Coke with his teeth. From the tent, I set off my car alarm, which scared him a little so I could run to the car, then started the car and honked the horn until he ran off.

We still have that ice chest to this day. And it still has the bear's teeth marks in it.

July 1, 2011  04:35 PM ET

Awesome, awesome blog Zach.

Wonderful writing.

July 1, 2011  04:36 PM ET
QUOTE(#3):

I have some good bear stories. The first time I camped at Lake Tahoe, I for some reason was oblivious to there being any bear problems. We grilled up some tri-tip that night and had leftovers, which I put in the ice chest. Of course I just left the chest out by the picnic table when we went to bed. Middle of the night I get woken up by this scraping sound - the bear was going through the ice chest, eating EVERYTHING, literally everything, even cracking open cans of Coke with his teeth. From the tent, I set off my car alarm, which scared him a little so I could run to the car, then started the car and honked the horn until he ran off. We still have that ice chest to this day. And it still has the bear's teeth marks in it.

Awesome.

July 1, 2011  04:40 PM ET
QUOTE(#1):

The closest encounter with a large beast was when me and three buddies rode our motorcycles to the Grand Canyon. We got there close to dusk, I was about 1/4 mile ahead of them puttering along about 35 MPH. I saw movement ahead on the right. I slowed thinking in might be a deer when across the road walks the biggest Mountain Lion I have ever seen. He stops right in the middle of the road, looks at me for a moment before continuing to the other side and into the brush. Needless to say, I slowed way down for my buddies to catch up! Beautiful animal, but definitely gave me a rush!

Cool story.

July 1, 2011  04:40 PM ET
QUOTE(#3):

I have some good bear stories. The first time I camped at Lake Tahoe, I for some reason was oblivious to there being any bear problems. We grilled up some tri-tip that night and had leftovers, which I put in the ice chest. Of course I just left the chest out by the picnic table when we went to bed. Middle of the night I get woken up by this scraping sound - the bear was going through the ice chest, eating EVERYTHING, literally everything, even cracking open cans of Coke with his teeth. From the tent, I set off my car alarm, which scared him a little so I could run to the car, then started the car and honked the horn until he ran off. We still have that ice chest to this day. And it still has the bear's teeth marks in it.

Wow.

July 1, 2011  04:40 PM ET
QUOTE(#4):

Awesome, awesome blog Zach.Wonderful writing.

Agreed.

July 1, 2011  04:45 PM ET
QUOTE(#3):

I have some good bear stories. The first time I camped at Lake Tahoe, I for some reason was oblivious to there being any bear problems. We grilled up some tri-tip that night and had leftovers, which I put in the ice chest. Of course I just left the chest out by the picnic table when we went to bed. Middle of the night I get woken up by this scraping sound - the bear was going through the ice chest, eating EVERYTHING, literally everything, even cracking open cans of Coke with his teeth. From the tent, I set off my car alarm, which scared him a little so I could run to the car, then started the car and honked the horn until he ran off.

We still have that ice chest to this day. And it still has the bear's teeth marks in it.

Damn, that's insane! I've definitely been close to bears on several occasions... thank goodness I was taught at a young age how to hang your food out of bears' reach. My sister has had similar experiences being awakened by bears going through things, but I've luckily managed to avoid it...

And I'd LOVE to see that cooler! ;)

July 1, 2011  04:45 PM ET
QUOTE(#1):

The closest encounter with a large beast was when me and three buddies rode our motorcycles to the Grand Canyon. We got there close to dusk, I was about 1/4 mile ahead of them puttering along about 35 MPH. I saw movement ahead on the right. I slowed thinking in might be a deer when across the road walks the biggest Mountain Lion I have ever seen. He stops right in the middle of the road, looks at me for a moment before continuing to the other side and into the brush. Needless to say, I slowed way down for my buddies to catch up! Beautiful animal, but definitely gave me a rush!

That'll definitely get the blood racing!

July 2, 2011  09:57 AM ET

Awesome Zach...

July 2, 2011  07:07 PM ET

You grew up on a beautiful piece of land.

 
July 3, 2011  09:44 AM ET

I once taunted Bigfoot while eating beef jerky.

Great stories, Zach!

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