When bears mistake tires for doughnuts
I left my home on Madeline Island, Wis., where I spend the summer months to take a long serpentine route to my residence in Florida. There were stops in Prairie du Chien, Wis., to visit friends and relatives and compete in an annual euchre tournament. Then off to the Twin Cities to hang with family and friends. From there an overnighter in Indiana before hitting the Smoky Mountains around Gatlinburg, Tenn., for a few days of hiking, then it was off to the Blue Ridge Mountain range before getting a history lesson in Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga.
When I camp in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, I always carry a can of bear spray. When I’m hiking in the woods on one of the Apostle Islands, I always carry bear spray. It seems I’m always near a can of bear spray these days so it was advantageous to have some in the door of my truck when I discovered there are lots of bears in the Tennessee and Carolina mountains where we doing a lot of hiking.
On every path, we saw signage to beware of the bears. Every garbage container in every picnic area was bear-proof. Anytime you mentioned to a local person you were planning on hiking the Smokies or Blue Ridge Mountains, they would comment to watch for bears. Word was that the bruin population was substantial, and it was common to see them on the trails.
As luck would have it, we never saw a bear while hiking. But instead of visiting us on the trails they came to our rental house one night and tried to make a meal out of my Ford pickup.
We were staying at the end of a long drive in a beautiful rental home overlooking the highest point of the Blue Ridge Mountains. My truck was parked right in the middle of the driveway.
Motion lights came on about 5 a.m., but that didn’t sound any mental alarms. Lots of critters can trigger a motion light. A few hours later when it was time to go hiking again, the rear driver’s-side tire was flat. The sidewall had puncture wounds amid the other bite marks. At first I thought, could this be an act of vandalism, then I spotted the guilty culprits. Four black bears hanging nearby and looking guilty. I snapped a quick picture of the felonious bruins, but I immediately knew there would be no prosecution for this offense. They ran into the woods, scot-free, leaving me with the repercussions of their crime.
I’ve researched this phenomenon since replacing the mangled tire and discovered this is not an uncommon occurrence. Bears like chewing tires. They chew the tires off planes in the Alaska wilderness. They bite tires wherever bear numbers are high. Park a vehicle in bear country, and it might end up with some mauled and mutilated rubber.
What’s my lesson? There isn’t one. Sometimes bear problems happen. As Outdoor News has documented, black bear numbers are increasing across much of the country, so don’t be surprised if you hear a similar anecdote in the not-too-distant future.