There’s nothing quite like a night spent in the wilderness.

Okay, I’ll admit that an established campsite isn’t quite wilderness, not to an exacting standard. But it is outdoors. It is out there, at least, the one that I visited is out there. And in Idaho it’s still early enough in the season that we had the Willow Creek Transfer Camp all to ourselves… for the most part.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I took Friday off of work last week so Ambrose and I could drive out to the Pine and Featherville area and check out the trailhead that I’d be starting at for my solo this summer. Unfortunately, this plan necessitated getting up just as early as if I were going to go to work…

We were on the road by 6:30 a.m. and ended up making it to Pine well before we anticipated. The plan was to get lunch at a local cafe, but we arrived at 9;30 in the morning and didn’t have high hopes. So we figured we could get some breakfast and eat that for lunch.

We underestimated the kindness of folk who want your money.

The cook/cashier/waiter on duty offered to cook up some lunch and we ordered grilled chicken sandwiches and fries. It was a good thing that we did, because, for some reason, I got really hungry not long after we left the restaurant. (Could it have been the delicious scent coming from those styrofoam take out containers?)

I started my lunch around 10 and finished it well before 11. While I munched, Ambrose drove. We stopped at the Willow Creek Camp Ground (not the same as the Transfer Camp). It was there we had our first encounter.

Now, I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. My experience with wildlife, and wild death, is minimal. So I got pretty excited when I saw the bones.

And I was even more fascinated by the nearly whole forelimbs strewn near the fire pit. 

After I finished marveling at the carcass, we drove on. Ambrose wanted to drive into the Baumgartner hot springs area, but it was barred off. So we drove on, hoping to circle around to the Big Smoky campsite and find a spot to spend the night. The next day we would drive out through Fairfield and get a burger. 
That was the plan. 
But in the outdoors, you can’t always get what you want. We wanted to keep driving, but encountered a tree lying across the one lane road. To the right, a steep drop down to the water and to the left, a steep bank. No way around it. Not even a way to turn around. Ambrose had to back out until we found a turnaround. 
We explored the Kelly Creek camping area and the Iron Mountain trailhead, but ended up deciding to head back to Willow Creek. This time we passed the place we found the carcass, exploring because we could. We had no timeline, no schedule. 
We ended up at the Willow Creek Transfer Camp and settled in. Of course, it was pouring rain when we set the tent up, and stopped soon after we finished. After the tent was erected, we relaxed. Okay, I took a nap and I don’t know what Ambrose did. 
When I woke up, I looked around a bit. I had a thought, to get something from the tent, when Ambrose said the word that makes any camper’s hairs raise. 
But not in that urgent way. More an alert. The bear was across the Willow Creek. Way up high on a hill. I could hardly get a picture of it on my highest digital zoom. 
Where bear?

There bear.

The only problem was, the bear was heading down. And heading down fast. We tracked its movements until it disappeared behind a copse of trees. 

Now where bear?
At this point, I retrieved my bear spray from the tent. I keep it tethered to a belt, which I slung across my body for hands free carry. I made sure I could remove the safety cap and followed Ambrose as he walked on the road that circled the campsite as far from the creek as possible. We knew the creek would pose no barrier to the bear’s passage, but where would it emerge? 
I went back to the tent to fetch the monocular so we could get a closer look without actually getting closer. I wanted to run, but I didn’t. I forced my steps to be even and unhurried as I walked back to Ambrose. He faced the creek, which was flowing briskly enough to drown out quieter sounds. I heard a few crunches that I thought might be a bear stepping on branches, but I couldn’t pinpoint the location. 
Then I saw the bear, less than 20 yards past Ambrose, emerging from behind a little hill just beyond the road. 
Yep. That’s what came out when I saw that bear, so close, so unexpected. And the bear heard me. It turned its head, pausing for just a moment. And then it galloped off in the direction it had been going, ignoring us. And I mean galloped. That bear was fast. Way too fast for me to get a picture.
Imagine a bear popping up.

Why yes, I am planning on hiking by myself here later this summer…
The rest of the day was much more relaxed. We had dinner. I read a lot (Kameron Hurley’s Infidel mostly). And we slept as rain tapped on our tent. 
The next morning, as we drove towards home, I took a picture of what I actually found to be the oddest encounter of the whole trip. 
I didn’t know payphones still existed, let alone on forest service roads. 
We also found a piece of the Idaho Centennial Trail. 
In all, it was a great first trip of the season. 

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