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Kids live to tell the tale of another family vacation
We went to another national park this summer for family vacation, and, just like last year, we had another meltdown. But this time, my son's crying, screaming tantrum was actually helpful. - photo by Amy Choate-Nielsen
If you were hiking to Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park around noon Sunday, or to Redrock Lake around 5 p.m. Saturday, I apologize on behalf of my 3-year-old.

And, youre welcome.

You might remember us from last year when we had a meltdown the size of Manhattan in the back of the Zion National Park shuttle. I recall standing on the side of the road in the late-August heat as I contemplated the value of bringing my children to a national park as they took turns whining, crying and complaining at the opportunity to be in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Sometime over the winter, I forgot all about that experience. Then I woke up and booked a three-day camping trip in Montana. This time, we would show our children one of the most beautiful places in the world, but we would do it in tents with burned foil dinners, mosquitoes and bears. What could go wrong? reports that only 10 people have been killed by bears in Glacier since 1967, but they dont say much about the nonlethal encounters which happen once or twice a year. I dont know about you, but I dont love the idea of having a bears jaws around my head while I play dead and wait for my nonlethal encounter to end.

I thought about bumping into a grizzly with her cub on the trail the scenario most likely to trigger an attack and wondered whose protective instincts would win. I imaged saying, OK, grizzly, youve got your cub there, but Im a mama too, so what are you going to do with that? And then I ordered two canisters of bear spray for safety.

What could go wrong?

My husband and I researched what you should do if you encounter a bear because bears frequented the campsites where we stayed. We learned to make a lot of noise to alert bears of our presence so we wouldnt surprise them on the trail.

The parks wildlife biologist told us to clap loudly and yell hey, bear! intermittently as we were hiking, as often as every 10 seconds. If we did come across a bear, we were to remain calm, raise our hands overhead like a stick-up and say, Hey, bear, its just me. Its OK, and back up.

I felt pretty confident that I could do those things and then curl myself in the fetal position if the situation escalated. I even started to feel a little safe entering bear country with my cubs, and then I had the thought: If we meet a bear on a trail and it decides to put my head in its mouth, there isnt much Im going to be able to do.

We decided our best bet was to make a lot of noise an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, you know. So from the first moment we arrived at our campsite, we carried our bear mace, clapped our hands, shouted hey, bear! and cleaned up every little crumb.

The next morning, my daughter said, I think were going to stay alive today. We made it through the night.

Nothing like a little life appreciation to give our kids some character, I always say.

We started our hike along a stream in a rainstorm just the kind of conditions that tend to make humans incognito to bears, but we werent worried. There were a lot of people on the trail.

About a mile in, we decided to load the 3-year-old in the backpack so we could walk faster. This was the ultimate indignity, even if we did promise him crackers and candy and marshmallows if he would just sit in the backpack and let me carry him.

He screamed and cried for at least 20 minutes as we continued on, passing other unwitting hikers. They had measly bells on their belts but we had a full-blown siren that alerted bears for miles, Im sure.

My boy fell asleep on the hike back, and I resumed clapping and shouting, just as I ran into a couple of hikers who told me theyd seen a bear scrambling around on the rocks above our heads.

Thankfully, we didnt cross paths, and I attribute my sons lungs for that blessing.

So, look out, national parks of America. For posterity, were coming for you next.

What could go wrong?
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