Duane Sherrill

“It’s a bear!” I heard one of my friends exclaim from the back seat of my car as I slowly cruised along a winding mountain road above Pigeon Forge this past year.

I slammed on my brakes and looked to where he was pointing. Moments later I spotted it out in front of a cabin above fifty yards away - a HUGE black bear that had to be 500 pounds. I mean, this thing was sasquatch-size (not to be confused with the real-life Sasquatch I once saw crossing the road years ago in, oddly enough, Sequatchie County).

Let me pause here for a minute and point out that seeing a live bear in the wild was on my bucket list. Sure, I’ve seen them in zoos and other controlled areas but until that very moment, I’d never seen one on the loose. I had actually taken a trip earlier last year over to Cade’s Cove which is nestled in the Smoky Mountains, hoping I would catch a glimpse of a bear.

“Keep a lookout,” I told my friends as I navigated through the scenic highway that leads you into the cove. “I know we’re going to see a bear.”

Everyone who has gone to Cade’s Cove over the years has reported seeing a bear during their trip, so I figured it was just part of the tour. I mean, come on, bears are big. They’d be hard to miss. However, as we meandered deep into the holler, bears weren’t exactly throwing themselves into the road. Sure, we saw wild turkeys, squirrels and even an eagle, but the bears must have been hibernating.

“Still no bears,” I noted as we stood looking at a beautiful waterfall at a rest area along the highway, coming back from the Cove.

I drove extra slow on the return trip, almost inviting a bear to come out and show itself. I noted the numerous “beware of bears” signs, warning people not to feed the bears. Surely I would see a bear that day. It didn’t happen. Instead, I was the only person in the history of persons to come and go from Cade’s Cove and not see an actual bear.

Once we got back to the condo and I was sitting around the pool, I was griping about my strike out when it came to seeing a bear. It was at that point a security guard overheard me.

“I had to run a bear out of that very pool this past week,” he revealed, noting bears had become quite the problem there since the fires of a few years ago. “The big fire has forced them closer in to people so we’re seeing a lot more of them lately. We have to make sure the garbage dumps are closed up tight or they’ll be all in them.”

Later that night we were sitting around the campfire with me still going on about not seeing a bear when a guy sitting on the other side of the fire stood up and walked around to me.

“Take a look at this,” he said, handing me his phone with a video already going. “That was this morning right behind where we’re sitting.”

The video showed a moderate size black bear standing in the breezeway of our condo. It wasn’t menacing or anything. It was just hanging out.

“I was putting my daughter in the car when a guy told me to look behind me,” the man with the video recalled. “That’s when I turned and saw the bear right there, within a few feet.”

I handed the guy back his phone, realizing I was staying in bear central and had just take a trip to the land of bears over at the Cove, yet I had been denied seeing a bear. It was almost, wait for it, unbearable.

I left from that trip bear-less only to return a few months later with the same friends. However, on this trip I had no expectations. I was resigned to the fact I’d never see a bear in the wild. But, they say you find things when you’re not looking for them. That’s what happened when my friend called out “there’s a bear!”

After all this time, I was seeing a bear. I was so excited. However, my excitement turned to terror when I heard three doors slam.

“What the …?” I called out. My friends all jumped out of the car and began walking toward the bear which had walked over into the woods. “Are you crazy?”

I looked back at my son, Henry, who had been sitting in the middle of the backseat, sandwiched in between two of my friends. The 13-year-old gripped his seatbelt and shook his head as if to say he wasn’t going anywhere.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “We’re staying right here.”

I rolled down my window and called out to the guys. “Get back in here,” I hissed. “Do you want to get eaten?”

The trio continued tracking the bear from the edge of the woods where it had loped. “You can’t outrun a bear,” I continued as I slowly cruised to where my friends were standing, hoping to give them a fighting chance should the bear emerge from the woods looking for a quite snack.

The boys eventually got back into the car, looking almost as dejected as I had been the last time because of not seeing a bear.

“You’re nuts,” I declared.

“You’re the one who wanted to see a bear so bad,” when of my friends shot back. “Why didn’t you get out for a closer look? Were you scared?”

I gave him an incredulous look. “Yes I was scared, but not of the bear,” I replied. “Listen up, Slappy, I don’t have to outrun the bear, all I have to do is outrun you which I can do in a jog.”

Long story short, I got to see a bear and none of my friends were eaten. Mark another thing off the bucket list.

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