I'm about to tell you a story that you may have heard before. In fact, you may have heard me tell a similar story just bear-ly a year ago. No, that's not a typo. Yes, I saw another bear. But I didn't just see it – it saw me too!
Way more personal than I wanted to be, anyway.
I know lots of people have seen bears. I just happen to have a particular fear of them and yet I keep running into them, so I have to ask myself the question: Why? Is the bear my spirit animal?
This and many other questions remain to be answered 🙂
Anyway, I was up at Mt. Rainier, less than a mile from the visitor center. There were hundreds of people visiting the mountain that day, and a lot of the trails were packed with people. I was walking alone on a wide, paved path in a wooded area of the park that led to a view of one of the glaciers, when I came down a steep section of the path and could see a group of people in a clearing a couple hundred yards away, pointing with their cameras out. I thought “there must be a view of the mountain from where they're standing.”
Then I realized they were pointing and looking at me, which I found odd, naturally, but only for about ten more seconds, because at that point a large black bear came walking out of the woods to my right, about 15-20 feet from where I was standing on the path. When I say large, I mean 500-600 pounds. It looked straight at me and I stopped and froze, then started to slowly back up, which as it turns out, was the wrong decision. As soon as I moved, it leaned toward me and started to move as well, so I stopped again. I jiggled my keys and the bear growled at me, then turned his head away and finished crossing my path and started climbing the rather steep hill to my left, breaking through the brush, climbing trees, and generally ignoring me.
What I didn't know was if this bear was alone, or if there were cubs around, or if another was right behind him, heading for my path. I stood there for a moment, weighing my options. The group in the clearing was still looking and pointing at me. I decided there was safety in numbers so I made a run for it. Turns out they had watched the bear move across the clearing and then saw me in the distance, knowing that our paths were going to intersect.
This was my THIRD “close encounter” with a bear. The last one happened a year ago when I was solo motorcycle camping in a state park at the Oregon Coast. I seem destined to have these terrifying experiences, but I think I'm getting better at handling them. Quite honestly, this time I was so close to the bear that I never ever got scared. I realized fairly quickly that I was too close to outrun him, and if he wanted to kill me he could easily accomplish it, so I just stood there thinking “Ok. Well? Here I am.” For whatever reason, this bear decided not to eat me, and I'm pretty happy about that.
No longer will I assume that because I'm on a well-traveled, paved path with hundreds of people nearby that I am somehow safe from an encounter with wild animals. But from now on? I'm going to travel with my bear bell!