B. and I used to go hiking a lot when we lived in Colorado. We liked to go for long drives, too, in the desert-like area around Pueblo. We’d drive around and eventually, we would make it to some sort of forested, mountainous place and go hiking. Or, sometimes, we would just feel lazy and drive back home.
This was a day when we were feeling energetic, and actually went hiking. It was a funny kind of trail, because, although the trail itself was public land, there was a fence to our left. Not just a fence, actually, but a steep incline, steep enough that you couldn’t really climb up it comfortably. On the other side, to our right, was another steep incline, this time going down, and then at the bottom, a *creek.
The trail itself was really rocky and required some concentration. I was going first, as usual (because I am the slower of the two of us, and B. doesn’t like leaving me in the dust). As we were walking, my eyes scanned the ground directly in front of us for roots and rocks to avoid. I rarely looked up to see what was in front of me, which is how it happened that I nearly bumped into a bear.
I was just walking along, staring at the ground, and noticed quite suddenly that there were some big, black, furry feet on the trail. Tilting my head upwards, I soon saw that the furry feet were connected to a gigantic (like, three feet wide) furry butt, and a cute little furry tail. The tail was about the same height as my nose. A bear! A big, big bear. Completely blocking the trail. Something in my body released the most amazing amount of adrenaline.
I came to a sudden hault.
B., who had been walking much as I had, looking at the ground, ran into me and said, “hey!”
“Abearabearthere’sabeartherethere’sabear!” I whispered in a most intense voice.
As I whispered, the bear, who was busily (and quite cutely, in retrospect) eating some berries on the side of the trail, lifted its head up and sniffed the air. His furry black ears tilted back. He was so big, so very much alive, so very much in his element, and so, well, bear-like. He was wild. As wild can be. He knew we were there. He smelled us. He heard us. His head tilted, slightly. He looked ponderous.
I think B. and I both turned around at the same moment. You don’t wait for a bear to decide whether or not it wants to attack. There was only one way out. B. first, me second. Everyone knows you aren’t supposed to run from a bear. So, we walked. We walked 45 miles per hour, all the way back to the car. I dared look back once. The bear was still standing on the trail, hanging out, eating berries.
Back at the car, we both finally breathed. And laughed, a little.
“I’m glad we met it on the way in, and not the way out! We’d be stuck there.”
This was true. There would have been no way out of the wilderness until the bear left, if we had met it coming home.
Here’s the thing: there were cars in the parking lot. Other people had gone in before us. I’ll never know how they made it out- although I never read any stories of people being eaten or stranded on that trail, either, so I think it all turned out all right. I mean, I think so... right?
* I lived in Western Pennsylvania for one year, when I was ten. They have a really weird dialect there, but the only thing that stuck to me is that I can never say the word “creek” correctly. I say, “crick”.
** Near-death experiences are an exception to my usual policy of no cursing.