I Fled a Bear and Won

by Rhianna Wrubleski

I have spent every weekend but one in the mountains this summer (and that one weekend was horrible). I’m an hour away from a gorgeous national park — to not go would be foolish, especially with an annual pass, which is truly a wise investment. I have seen many animals in my travels — deer, bighorn sheep, deer, mountain goats, deer and, of course, bears. These usually from three cars behind that family of tourists with more cameras than children. Never have I ever seen a bear like this.

Sunday. Plus 28. Not a cloud in the sky. Bags packed for a day of sun, we head up into the mountains, eager, our faces shining with delight at nature. Up, up, up into the mountains, past the tourist destinations, past the happy families carrying backpacks laden with apple juice and Ritz Bitz crackers. Past the dog-walkers and the photo opportunists, to a secret path that leads to a secret pool, hidden from the hustle and bustle of flatlanders marveling at towering rock ranges. (Well, almost hidden — sincerest apologies to the surprised, topless sunbather. My bad!)

The perfect place to sunbathe (topful, I promise) and drink the clearest mountain water, discounted to nothing from Evian’s usual shameless $3. Sun, water, earth, air, Captain Planet — only the purest that nature has to offer, shaded by a thousand dragonflies presumably racing to the death.

Alas, all good things must come to an end; between my red-headed friend and I (with skin a shade of white usually reserved for the English or Victorian-era consumption victims) the sun finally took its toll and we decided to make the gruelingly warm trip back to camp and car.

Down and down we walked (for at least 80 seconds) before, with a shocking abruptness, I am stopped in my tracks by a soccer-mom save, arm across the chest, other hand flung out in silent alarm! For what? What? WHAT? Oh. I see. I see you bear. I see you there. STOP. What did they tell you to do? Don’t run. Stay calm. Don’t look in its eyes. Back away. Back … to the edge of the mountain.

Regroup. Breathe. Seriously? A Bear? Areyoukiddingme? Wait.

Okay, we’ll just peek onto the path, he’s probably gone now. Probably like three miles away. Probably not coming directly toward us on the path, lumbering, furry, brown nose, cousin to your cousin who’s tucked safe behind glass at a zoo somewhere (who, incidentally, I saw yesterday — he sends his regards). Only that last one actually happened. Back away again. We are well acquainted with this mountain edge.

Well, the hell with the path. For all I know that bear is watching, waiting for us to step foot into his berry-laden paradise, eager with clawed anticipation. Are bears bloodthirsty creatures? Would Winnie the Pooh wait in the treetops, camouflaged as a cloud, for the perfect moment to strike? Maybe … maybe.

Well what are we if not intrepid? We are women! Hear us roar! (Please tell me that was us and not the bear.) It’s just down a ways and a ways and ways, and then across, and then up and then over and down and around and please don’t slip into those rapids. Adrenaline fed, we will climb what is not meant to be climbed and hope that the bear isn’t thirsty. Suddenly, I am glad for the lack of nearby salmon and promise never to curse sushi prices again. Up ahead … what’s that? More rocks? Then some more rocks? And then … civilization! The tourist platforms we so recently scoffed at call to us like a beacon of hope — flimsy chain fences and wooden stairs a safe haven, a concrete bunker compared to the openness of the bear trail. Up the rocks, down more rocks, sideways jump and up over a fence, down off the fence, and we’re back. With open arms we welcome the idea of tourists. The dog-walkers, the amateur photographers, the children with sticky hands, we embrace them one and all!

On the way back down we gasp, hearts still racing, adrenaline still rushing. Nobly, we warn all — “Bears!” we puff, “Watch out for the bear — be careful!”

And the tourists reply … “Bears?! … cool!”

Rhianna Wrubleski is a graphic designer living in Lethbridge, Alberta. She’s an avid reader and loves long walks in the mountains with her new BFF, Bear Spray.