Friday, June 10, 2011

Bear stories

Last week it was beautiful and sunny and I decided to sneak in a quick afternoon run. I took the highway out towards the junction to the east of us. Typically this highway has only very light traffic, and it's beautifully scenic. I did my 20-minute jogging warmup and then started up my heart-rate monitor and my Garmin GPS watch for what was supposed to be an easy endurance run.

A red minivan with out-of-province plates passed me, going fairly slowly, then immediately slowed to a crawl. It was travelling in front of me at about 10 km/h, matching my speed. It was creepy. I was by myself on foot, 20 minutes from home on a remote, little-travelled secondary highway and now this van was behaving very strangely. I tried to look confident and nonchalant, and I avoided looking at the van, not wanting to make eye contact.

On the Garmin tracing above you can see the red arrow which is the point where the van pulled in front of me. My pace (bars at the bottom) slowed down a little, so that I could stay well back from the van. But my heart rate (red line) blipped up a bit despite the slower pace, because I was, well, a little freaked out about the creepy tourists I guess.

The van continued in front of me at a crawl for a good minute or more. Focused on avoiding eye contact with the psychopathic out-of-towners, it took me a long time to look anywhere but at the road three metres in front of me. Finally I glanced to the left.

There was a bear. Right there. I had almost run past it by that point. It was just on the shoulder of the road about 10 metres from me. At most. It was looking at me curiously, without any fear. Kind of a weird-looking bear, like it was having a bad hair day or something. Small to medium sized, maybe 2 or 3 years old. But yikes, it was so close. I veered to the other side of the road and though I tried to avoid doing anything to startle it, it seems from my Garmin tracing (blue arrow) that I picked up my pace a lot, and my heart rate took another big jump. Bear stayed put, I carried on around the next curve. The driver of the minivan, seeing that I was now safely past the bear he had clearly spotted, sped away.

Now, I see bears with some regularity when running. I usually wave and shout and they run off and I don't think again about it. This incident became story-worthy because of my tourist-paranoia and my obliviousness that let me get that close without noticing, not because it seemed a particularly dangerous situation. But for some reason, for a few days after that, I kept mentioning to friends and family members how I was feeling kind of spooked about risks from wildlife while running. I'd never felt that way before. It was weird.

It took about five days, and a wildlife report from a neighbour, for the penny to drop. That was a grizzly. That was not one of the shiny cute black bears (that actually come in various shades of cinnamony brown as well) that I've become so nonchalant about over my 20 years in the Kootenays. In my memory I realized I had a clear picture of the scooped face, the jowly tufts of grizzled fur backlit by the sunshine. And yes, our neighbours had had a grizzly in their garden, and seen it up close through their window a few times, and had it bluff-charged a friend's truck when he stopped and rolled down his window to take some photos. And my description of the roadside bear was a perfect match.

I'd never seen a grizzly before in the wild. We know they live around here, usually up in the subalpine zone though. So it's very unusual to see one close to town. This guy is probably a 2-year-old, off trying to fend for itself for its first spring without mama. I hope it makes a U-turn and heads back up the pass soon.

I'm still running the road and trails out that direction, but with more awareness, and more often with other people. Thinking of carrying bear spray.

So then a couple of evenings ago I did a quick barefoot run along the same highway. Our driveway is rough and gravelly, so I wore my Minimus shoes while walking the 400 metres up to the road. When I got to the top of the driveway I shucked my shoes and left them, as usual, near our highway-number-sign. I had a nice, uneventful 30-minute run. Got back on the dark side of dusk and peered in the weeds for my shoes.

Only one shoe was there. Had I kicked the other off and let it fly? No, I was pretty sure I'd set both down together side by side. I wondered if maybe my family was playing a joke on me, but that didn't make sense: the driveway is a long way to walk from the house, and anyway they wouldn't have known I was leaving my shoes. I looked all through the weeds and grass. No shoe. Finally, about 20 metres down the driveway in the dim light beneath the overhanging trees I spotted a dark lump that looked like it might be shoe-sized. I walked over and picked the item up. It was a slobbery wet Minimus with two neat puncture marks in the sole.

I hadn't heard anything, but then I was busily looking for my shoe in the brush, thinking some human (me or my kids) had done something silly. Likely a bear (a black bear, I assume, optimistically!) was curiously mouthing my shoe as I arrived back from my run, dropping it and running off when I startled it.

I rinsed my beloved Minimus with a hose, let it dry, and it's perfectly wearable.

2 comments:

  1. Oh wow! Now I'm spooked! DS has been begging me to go to Canada lately - he (at 4 1/2) plans to stake a claim on some remote land for the farm he intends to build. I wonder if your story would slow him down a bit? More than likely, he'll just hound me more until we make a trip across the border ;-).

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  2. Yikes, if I'd been that close to a grizzly, I think I'd just hole up at home for a while. I know we have black bears in the Okanagan, but I've never seen one.

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