Monday 27th-Wednesday 29th July-First Bear Encounter by Helen

helen salisbury

We always planned to head to Woodstock, New York state, after Boston, on our way to Washington DC. Due to predicted temperatures of 36 degrees though, we decided to save Washington for the return leg next year. Trying to see a city in searing temperatures and humidity is no fun, as we know from living in Asia. This means we have the chance to camp for 12 straight nights across Massachusetts, New York state, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Georgia on our way to Nashville, where we are seeing Alice in Chains on 8th August.

We left Cambridge on Monday with a hangover, thanks to our night out with Simon. As a result, we decided not to go far and camped overnight at Wells State Park in western Massachusetts. This was a really pretty campground with a large lake and campers only beach. The individual sites were huge and shady so neighbours were far away, almost out of site. We spent the afternoon chilling, reading and I managed my fist yoga session of the trip on the grassy playing field.

On Tuesday morning we left quite early to head for The Catskills, a group of hills about the height of Snowdonia in Wales (3500 feet), where Woodstock is found. The actual festival took place in Phoenicia, another small town much nearer Woodland Valley Campsite where we planned to spend one or two nights. According to the internet, this is proper black bear country and bears visit the campground at least twice a week.


On the way from Massachusetts to New York state we passed through Connecticut for a couple of hours. I liked it a lot. Very rural compared to where we had been, with more crops growing and a few very pretty towns, all named after places in England, like Salisbury and Winchester. The architecture here is more varied than the coastal areas of New England. The New England map is full of familiar places, presumably named by the first settlers after the towns/countries they came from. Most place names are English such as Manchester, Norfolk, Dover (to name a few) but you also come across others like China, Lebanon, Wales and Holland.

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At the campsite, the warden asked me if I knew about the bears and how to take precautions. I solemnly confirmed I did, having read obsessively about it on the web. There are signs everywhere on the site advising about how to ensure food, cooking equipment and toiletries can be bear-proofed to avoid attracting them to the site. This is to protect people and their property of course but also bears. “A fed bear is a dead bear”. Only black bears live in this part of the USA, not grizzlies. Black bears are timid and only come near human settlements looking for food. All food and toiletries have to be stored in the your car overnight. You are also advised not to sleep in clothes you have cooked in. Of course, we don`t have a car but we do have aluminium boxes on the bike in which we can store food etc. in. We have been religiously following these rules for the last 10 days in order to get into a routine ready for proper bear country but last night we were extra careful. We also moved the bike to another pitch about 20 metres across the way so food etc. was nowhere near the tent.

We both fell into a deep sleep about 9.30pm. About 10pm there was a noise like something falling to the ground and Dave shot bolt upright and mumbled something about the bike. Not wanting him to go out and investigate, in case there was a bear around, I reassured him it was people putting stuff away and we both went back to sleep. This morning around 7am a neighbour woke us to tell us the bike was over. Sure enough, Dave found it, wheels in the air, back box open and helmets on the ground. Nothing was taken. One of the boxes was slightly bashed in. Bears push bins over to get at what is in them and clearly a bear used this technique on the bike, to no avail. A good way to look at it is that our precautions worked. A bad way is that there was a bear about 20 metres from our tent, investigating our food, only an hour after dark. Tonight Dave will park between two trees so that the bike cannot be pushed over. Another option is to take the boxes off so the bears can roll them around, without damaging the bike. We might also put the alarm on as it bleeps when you first touch the bike and this might scare them off. An interesting night to come.

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2 thoughts on “Monday 27th-Wednesday 29th July-First Bear Encounter by Helen

  1. Helen, leaving the bike between two trees is genius. Clearly proving that Dave is smarter than the average bear! You two take care on the rest of your journey.

    With love


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