Has anyone else taught English as a second language and had to read the children’s book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? by Bill Martin Jr. multiple times per day? For me, it got to the point of having the book memorized and zoning out while reading it, just to recollect myself, smile, and try to get rid of the monotone in my voice.
The reason I mention the children’s book is because today, I have a story about a black bear. As a disclaimer, you may find this story scary and not funny. Hopefully though, you’ll be able to see some humour in it and not decide to never visit the Canadian Rockies.
When my husband, Allan, and I had been dating for six months, we decided to spend a day hiking in the mountains. Before going for the hike, my mom had asked me if we had bear spray and suggested we bring some. I had had bears in my campsite before and had seen bears hiking, I was never afraid or concerned about them. I replied nonchalantly, “Maybe Allan has some.”
We got to the park and inquired about a good full-day hike. Since it was a cool windy day, we chose a sheltered path without much elevation and set off.
About an hour into the hike, we encountered a creek with no bridge. We spent an hour trying to build a bridge out of stones and logs, but eventually gave up, took off our socks and shoes and crossed. I had been considering turning back because of the creek, but Allan was determined. The water was freezing! I really don’t know how the creek wasn’t frozen over, it was so cold. It made my ankles hurt and my calves turn beet red, but I was brave and ready for adventure.
We continued our hike until we reached an intersection where we could choose to go up the mountain onto a ridge, or continue in the meadow like area. At this point, we stopped, ate our lunch, and then, chose the meadow path for shelter from the wind. When hiking, I usually look at my feet so that I don’t trip on roots or rocks, etc. After lunch, I was walking in this manner with my eyes on the ground when I rounded a corner. I walked a few steps and glanced up to see a black bear 15 feet away. He stood at 5 feet on all fours. Now, I have had a fair share of bear encounters in my life and I have read all about bear safety, but at that moment my mind went blank and I panicked. In a split second, I said some choice words (although I am not one to swear), turned, and ran leaving my boyfriend behind. After running several feet, I came to my senses, “Oh right, you aren’t supposed to run.” I continued walking at a fierce pace.
In the meantime, Allan was left faced with the bear and remembering his bear etiquette, he raised his hands up above his head to make himself look big, and said in a loud voice, “Wow bear.”
The bear kept walking towards him, probably with the intent of investigating the creature that had ran past him. At this point, Allan also turned and started walking away, bear spray in hand. Once we got back around the corner, we ran. When we came to the intersection where we had eaten our lunch, we stopped to evaluate whether we should continue our hike up the ridge or just go back to the car. That’s when we saw that Allan’s backpack had opened during the run and all of its contents had fallen out. The contents included our leftover lunch, a sweater, toilet paper, and a water bottle. Allan was concerned that the bear would eat the food, come to associate people with food, and therefore, become more aggressive to humans. To stop this from happening, he proposed turning back to collect his belongings.
I replied, “I don’t know if that’s such a good idea.”
“You don’t have to come with me. You can just wait for me here.”
“I don’t want you to leave me here all by myself!!! I’m coming with you.”
We turned back. We were extremely careful taking the blind corners carefully and trying to see as far ahead as possible. We hadn’t gone five minutes when we saw the bear again. At the rate we had ran away from the bear, he must have been coming pretty quickly to catch up with us and he must not have stopped for the food we dropped either.
Surprised, we turned to run away before the bear saw us. As I was turning, I tripped on the uneven ground and fell. Allan was already ahead of me and yelled, “Get up!”
Afterwards, he told me with awe, “I’ve never seen anyone get up so fast in my life. It was like a secret agent move: tuck, roll, and on your feet again.”
Again, we ran following the trail that would lead us back to the car, no longer discussing doing a longer hike in these parts. Adrenaline paired with the fear of dying by being mulled by a bear greatly improves one’s ability to run. I wasn’t a runner in those days, but somehow I had great endurance that day. When I felt like I just couldn’t run anymore, I ran some more. Allan followed close behind me with bear spray in hand.
Every once and a while we would walk a few steps, but through any open meadow, we ran. When we got to the creek crossing, we took off our socks and shoes and crossed. We didn’t try to build a bridge, we didn’t even look for a place that was shallow. The place we came to first was the place where we crossed.
Shortly after the creek crossing, Allan suggested, “I think we’re OK now, I think we can slow down.”
I didn’t listen. I wasn’t slowing down. I kept up that pace until I was safely inside the car with the doors closed and locked.
That afternoon, after reporting our bear sighting, we chose a very popular trail with lots of hikers before heading home. Driving home, I saw a grizzly bear going towards the trailhead of the hike we had done. I was relieved it was only a black bear we had met, since grizzlies are more aggressive.
As a result of this experience, I am no longer cocky when it comes to bears. When hiking, I always have bear spray with me and continually talk loudly about anything and everything to the point that my husband will say, “I think we’re OK, can we just have some quiet time now.” I quiet down for a while, but soon recommence my chatter. After all, the human voice is the best bear deterrent.
I sometimes wonder who found the contents of Allan’s backpack and what they imagined transpired in those mountains. What would you think finding leftover lunch, a sweater, toilet paper, and a water bottle scattered in the middle of the woods?