Mike, Duffy, and I are just back from a three-day camping trip to Stonelick State Park in nearby Clermont County. We had perfect weather, arrived early and got a nice campsite, and enjoyed hiking and relaxing. The photo above shows our campground setup. When I resumed camping a few years ago, I was uncertain about my commitment so I outfitted myself at St. Vincent DePaul. That somewhat dated but good-looking Wal-Mart tent cost $2.50, as did the green and white gazebo. Our son J bought the wooden dog playpen at a yard sale for $5. I bought the rest of the stuff (cooking, dining, sleeping, etc.) for about $20, so our total gear ran about $30.
The campground was pretty busy this trip. There was a big RV on our right side, and a friendly lady RVer came over to say hello to the dogs. She and her husband have been married for 39 years, live 10 miles away, and have been visiting Stonelick since the 1960’s. I asked her about the hiking trails, and she said they’d never done that because they’ve been coming here so long. It seemed to me they spent a lot of their time sitting quietly in their lawn chairs in front of the RV with their two dogs at their side. They seemed to have achieved a perfect camping marriage. Another family was a couple of sites over to our left, a man, woman, and two kids in a pretty small tent. One of the boys was riding his skateboard, which drives Duffy out of his mind. When the younger boy, Louie, walked over to see my dogs, his father started hollering at him. I politely suggested as he walked by that the dogs were friendly and liked kids. He asked me not to say that too loudly or he’d have nothing but trouble.
The sheepdogs still don’t care for camping that much. I can tell this because every time we walked anywhere near our SUV (actually near anybody’s SUV) they’d drag me toward the vehicle’s door, begging to be taken home. Aside from the SUV, the only two places they like are the playpen, where they get to be confined in a restricted, familiar space, and the tent, which is walled-in and even more confined. Both dogs wanted to sleep on the air mattress with me, but, when we turned in for the night, I wouldn’t let them. After I’d fallen sleep, Mike joined me on the narrow air mattress the first night; Duffy, on the second. Just like home – way too crowded.
Thursday afternoon we took a hike on the Red Fox Trail. About ten minutes in, Duffy suddenly stopped dead in his tracks, eyes fixed ahead, nose quivering. His natural instincts signaled danger. I looked, and thirty or forty yards ahead there was a jet black “object” at the edge of the trail. It was the exact shade and sheen of the American black bears that I’d recently seen at the zoo. The dogs stood motionless, and the thing was perfectly motionless too. We seemed to be staring at one another, and to me it was looking more and more like a bear. I whispered to the dogs to turn around, and we started walking hurriedly back in the direction we’d come from. As I looked over my shoulder, the bear hadn’t moved an inch. I paused to take its picture, using my zoom lens. You can see him at the center of the photo below. While the image isn’t perfect, I think it’s pretty clear that that’s a bear.
We went back to the lake after our narrow escape. By then the dogs were covered in burrs, and I knew Katja wouldn’t be pleased. Then, before I knew it, both dogs had jumped in the lake and were wading around in the water at mid-chest (guaranteeing badly matted hair). When they got out Mikey started rolling around in the weeds. That too is a bad sign, and I yelled at him to stop. In a matter of seconds he’d managed to cover his right ear, neck, and shoulder with fresh, foul-smelling poop that came from some very large animal (like a bear). I stripped off as much of the goop as I could with my bare hands. Both Mike and I were unpleasant to be around for the remainder of the trip.
I took half an Ambien that night and slept o.k. Just as we drove out of the campground on Friday noon a doe and two fawns darted right in front of our car. They were so close that I thought I’d hit one of the fawns for sure. Fortunately I saw in the rear view mirror that they’d all made it. I thought to myself, that is such terrible mothering. But it did have a happy ending – a good omen which seemingly called for us to return to Stonelick.
-JML (7-6): Always seeing the silver lining when it comes to camping. Glad you have the dogs to alert you to approaching bears.
-Jennifer M (7-3): A bear! Eek! I remember worrying about bears a great deal as a child when we camped in the mountains. I recall that you're supposed to try to intimidate them with loud noises- clapping hands, banging of pots, and such. Nonetheless, I would have done the same as you and left the scene.