This is the essay I wrote for a college composition class in high school, so you will probably notice a difference in writing style from then to now as it’s almost 10 years old, I feel that it does a good job of representing the events of those few days at the end of the Hommes du Nord. So, here’s the story that you’ve all been waiting for.
To Be Hunted
This was the Hommes du Nord, the longest invitational trip that camp offered a $4,000 adventure through the pristine Canadian wilderness. Chris (the trail guide), five other guys and I had spent the past 35 days canoeing the Thlewiaza River, this trip of a lifetime was finally coming to an end. Reaching the shadow of the plywood shack that was to be our home for the next two days, we had just finished paddling our final miles. About a hundred miles up the coast from Churchill, our final destination, we expected to spend our next hours lounging around this shack; the worries of the trip were over. As we started carrying our gear to the door, our worst fear came true. The next 24 hours would be the most stressful time of my life, and would change my view of the reality of human existence forever.
I was heading back with Chris and Eric (another guy on the trip) to get the rest of the gear, when Jason came running towards us in exasperation. I knew in my mind what he was going to say, but I didn’t want to believe it. When he finally caught us, he was out of breath. He said that there was a polar bear coming towards us. We had a certain respect for these monstrous creatures, known for stalking and eating human beings, so we hurried. Everyone grabbed something to carry while Chris got the gun out. We ran back to the cabin, the only refuge available to us besides the gun Chris carried in his hands. That very gun may be the only reason I still walk on the face of the Earth today.
The bear walked the shoreline and stopped when it got in view of the cabin. Another followed behind it and stopped in the same place. As they paced back and forth watching the cabin, there was nothing we could do, except wait. This is when I began to feel particularly vulnerable. As these killing machines waited for an easy meal, we could only watch and wait. Maybe they would just pass by, continue on down the shore, and find somewhere else to eat besides the canoeist buffet, but they didn’t. As the sun went down they remained. When we could no longer see the white giants eyeing us, we took shelter in the cabin, and went to sleep. I slept like a rock after such a long day of paddling, the others were a little restless knowing there was a thousand pound killing machine outside the door.
“Hey, who’s out there?” Chris yelled through the door at 3:30 a.m., and waited for an answer. There was an answer, a good shove against the door from the outside. There was no time to think, a bear was on the other side of the door. Chris pushed against the bottom of the door and Jason, the top. There was another shove. James took Chris’s spot and lay across the bottom of the door totally naked. The plywood of the door creaked and gave a good six inches. James slid along the floor, his bare body giving him little traction on the wood floor, his strength nothing compared to what was on the other side. Chris grabbed the gun and prepared to take action. He stood behind James and waited.
I wanted to help, but there was nothing I could do without getting in the way. So all I could do was sit back and watch. I was scared beyond comprehension. There was no thought process going on in my brain, just the fear of death. If that bear got through, if he came inside, there wouldn’t be anything except a bloody mess left behind for the next passing Inuit to find. I sat along the back wall with my knees against my chest. All of my senses were in overdrive, my constant breathing was deafening, the stench of 35 days of perspiration filled the air, and all of the exertion raised the temperature to well above comfortable.
Eric sat poised and ready with a can of bear spray; it’s effects on polar bears unknown, but worth a try in a life or death situation. This can could possibly save our lives, if he wasn’t ready to spray eight seconds worth of pepper spray in his own face (yes, he was holding the can backwards, nobody ever taught us how to use it). Luckily we didn’t rely on him to deter the bear, or he would have been a spicy treat to accompany the rest of the bear’s meal.
On the other side of the door, the bear continued pushing. Now was a good time to realize that the only thing keeping the door shut was a three-inch bolt held to the plywood with two small screws. Suddenly, the bear left and we could hear him walking around the cabin. Maybe he was strategizing, looking for an easier entry, or maybe just taking a break, whatever it was he was back within a few minutes, pushing as hard as ever. James couldn’t take much more, and Jason wasn’t going to last much longer; holding back 1,000 pounds of muscle was not easy. The whole time Chris was searching for what to do, a gun in his hands he didn’t want to make a decision that was to be regretted. This was the end; we weren’t going home, this small shack was going to be our grave. I was beyond fear and didn’t know what to think any more, I just sat and waited. There wasn’t anything left to do when, in a dead serious voice, James said, “Let’s cap this fucker.”
“Everyone cover your ears,” Chris called out a warning, “James, move your head to the side.” There was a moment of silence, and then Chris pulled the trigger and a smoking, half inch hole appeared in the door. At that moment the bear stopped pushing, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. The next few hours were tense. We built a brace against the door, several stray pieces of wood and a frying pan held the door in case the bear were to return. Someone was always on watch with his face pressed against the door, and an eye peering out the half inch slug hole, waiting and watching. Our radios worked, but there was nobody around at this hour that we could call to for help.
After three hours of wallowing in the stench of our bodies, we opened the door and the heat of our sauna rushed out. We all took in the fresh air like it was to be our last time to breathe. Chris pointed the gun out the door, and Eric followed with the bear spray, pointing away from him this time. The coast was clear, drops of blood and blubber spotted the ground and there wasn’t a bear in sight. As we cooked breakfast Chris radioed a passing plane for help, we didn’t want to spend another night locked in that jail. Within a few hours our ride was there to pick us up, a 30 foot boat captained by a native of Arviat, an Inuit village just up the coast. I was glad to leave the relaxing villa of that shack behind, never to return.
We spent the night in Churchill, in a hotel safe from the reality of the world. As I lay in the comfort of a real bed that night, I began to realize what I had just gone through. My view of human nature had changed drastically. We are not always in charge, there are things bigger than us. A human being tends to believe he overpowers all living things, but an encounter like this taught me to have a respect for certain things. But at the same time we do have power, the shotgun shell that Chris took home with him is proof. I will never forget that night; the picture of James lying clothes less across the bottom of the door will remain with me for the rest of my life.