In 2013, I visited the Outer Banks in North Carolina for the first time. My camera was constantly strapped to my body, as is the case when I go on vacation. On my last day, I ventured inland to the Alligator River National Wildlife Preserve, eager for a peek at some large, wild creatures. I spent the entire day looking for bears and crocodiles.

I drove around the preserve all morning, in the rain, hoping to spot the reptiles it was named for, and maybe, if I was lucky, black bears. Sadly, no luck. Disappointed and discouraged, I took a break around noon and visited the nearby aquarium and got some lunch.

After the break, I got right back to work. Eventually, I found the trails visitors can walk along the river. It was peaceful, green and alive. Still though, no bears. By 5pm I was ready to call it a day and go back to the hotel. As I was getting ready to leave, a group of tourists called out to me, “Hey, did you see the bears down the road?”

I thanked them, jumped into my car and drove off to track down “the bears down the road.” Once I found them, I joyfully followed a mama bear and her cubs for over an hour. They seemed completely unfazed by my presence as they moseyed along, munching on vegetation. Eventually, they moseyed close enough to smell the container in my car that had held my lunch — a fish sandwich. Their noses prodded the air, pin-pointing a tempting scent that promised to be tastier than their usual roughage. With only 100 or 200 feet between us, I realized it was time to drive back to my hotel. I left with a grin, and have never forgotten the magic of that afternoon.