A COUNSELLOR from Deeping St James described the night he came face to face with a bear that attacked the camp site he was staying on in America as “the most terrifying experience of my life”.
Nick Meeks (21), from Spalding Road, was working with New Jersey-based Trail Blazers, which runs outdoor adventure programmes for inner-city youngsters, when he had his frightening late night encounter with a hungry black bear.
The former Deepings School pupil and a fellow counsellor had taken a group of nine boys, aged 11 to 13, on a two-week camping trip on the famous Appalachian Trail and were asleep in Stokes State Forest on August 3 when the bear tried to get into a tent and drag two children outside.
Nick and his colleague managed to scare the bear off and the children escaped serious injuries before being taken a safe distance away.
Nick said: “At about 4.30am I was woken by the screams of a camper. He came running to the leader tent in a flood of tears, at which point I attempted to calm him down. He would not speak at all.
“No more than 30 seconds passed before I heard the most horrific, spine chilling screams from one of the tents.”
Nick said cries at night are usually due to nightmares or overreaction to strange noises, but he knew straight away this was different.
He added: “In the pitch black night I woke my co-leader and leapt out of the tent. I was left speechless, my heart skipped a beat and almost immediately autopilot set in.
“Shining my torch in the direction of noise, all that could be seen was the eerie pair of green eyes reflecting back at us; a black bear was at one of the tents in which campers had been sleeping.
“To know the kids had been struck by the bear and always had the potential to get very very badly injured is not a thought or experience I want again.”
“The bear didn’t play by the rules and turned back towards us.
“It kept charging towards our group, changing direction at the last second, every time moving to a new tent, dragging out empty sleeping bags, sheets and bags.
“After 20 minutes and some close encounters, we managed to scare the bear away from our site.
“This gave us time to restore some calm with the campers, and assess injuries.
“It was by far the most terrifying experience of my life.”
The animal later escaped and the trail had to be shut for a week until it was found by rangers and killed by a wildlife officer.
Nick has now finished his work as a counsellor and is travelling in North America before returning home to complete a sport and exercise sciences degree at The University of Leeds.