Beware hungry Bears!

I love cross country skiing for 3 reasons:

1:  It’s fun to explore a white wonderland
2:   I love the quiet peace and solace, and
3:  It’s incredible exercise

But there is a danger to every outdoor sport…and bears are the #1 threat to America (I heard that on the Colbert show).   And when you x-country ski, you are in the mountains where bears are known to live.  But I’ve never seen them yet, so read on!  I promise not to frighten you…TOO MUCH.

X-country skiing is awesome–even with the threat of bears!  Snow isn’t my favorite thing because I hate driving in it, but x-country skiing makes it bearable for me, and actually enJOYable.

Now I won’t put a video up of what I actually look like when I ski (I don’t want to make you jealous).   There are the ultra-fit athletic biker type skiers that wear matching outfits made of NASA tested, breathable material; they have cool sunglasses, rad hats and sleek gloves…and that actually helps them be more awesome on the trails (I’m not kidding).  They look like they’re running in a snowy marathon.  Their long graceful strides, perfect rhythm and thrust of their poles into the snow, and the quiet way their REI clad bodies go by are awe-inspiring.

I’m NOT one of those type of skiers.  Despite how frumpy I look compared to the tri-athletes, and how noisy the Swish/Swish/Swish of my pants are as I ski, I still love it.  I wear $10 glasses from Walmart because I’m too cheap to buy good ones (I lose and break them too easily and would just set myself up for major depression if I bought a $125 glasses—or worse $10,000 glasses like on Desperate Housewives of LA—and lost them…and I know I would).

Anyway, I digress.  The tri-athletes whip by me in skate skis, making it look easy.  It’s not!  I tried skate skiing and my legs kept wandering out sideways from beneath my body because that’s what the skis are made to do–keep you skating like Dorothy Hamill (which I’m not, although I liked her haircut in junior high).  Suffice it to say, I hurt when I skate-skied; I hurt real bad—but had miles to go before I was through (that sounds like a poem).

I haven’t skate skied again.  I classic ski…in tracks; no forging a trail for me!  I put a ski inside each track and then push one leg forward and thrust my pole into the snow on the side, then do the same on the other side.  My instructor told me to lean forward and I would know I was doing it right when I was actually running.  Ha!  I don’t run–EVER!  And especially not on slippery snow with huge bulky 2x4s attached to my feet.  Crazy!

So I stand up and basically walk—in skis!  I like walking.  If a hill comes along, then WHEEEEEEEE!  I go down it fast and enjoy the freezing air rushing past my face.  I pray that a stray pinecone isn’t in the tracks and that I don’t accidentally go over it and wipe out because of the sticky sap catching my ski and bringing me to an abrupt halt.  I pray that doesn’t happen…and it hasn’t so far.  I’m too careful.  My husband, however, has done the facefirst horizontal swan dive almost every time we go, although he’s a much better skier than me.  He’s just not as careful (guys aren’t).

I love going x-country skiing with my husband.  It takes less than an hour to get up the mountain, and then we are above the inversion and in pristine winter air and scenery that takes my breath away.  It’s like a fairy tale land, and I am the pretty princess (except that I’m wearing noisy baggy ski pants and $10 Walmart glasses; but besides that I think I look very much like Cinderella).

My husband rents skate skis and I rent classic skis, then we look at our watches, pick a time to meet back at the lodge, then say goodbye and go our separate ways.  Romantic, huh?

But we have the hour drive up and hour drive back to talk and be close, so once we get up on the mountain, we separate and go our own paces.  My handsome prince does twice the distance I do, and I am content to take in nature at my slow, plodding pace and imagine myself as Cinderella, with my handsome prince far, far away reaching great heights.

Handsome prince:  “Me man…Me go far…me strong and fast!”

Cinderella:  “Me slow…very slow.  Be off my strong, fast prince!  Buy me a milkshake on the way down the mountain to make up for all these calories I’m burning.”

Anyway, one day we got up on the mountain and the conditions were pristine.  Snow had fallen and the trails were freshly powdered.  Hardly anyone else was on the trails (another reason I love x-country over downhill).  My prince and I went our separate ways and I became Cinderella in my white fantasy world.  I huffed my way along (x-country skiing is hard exercise even if you don’t do it as well as the tri-athletes) and I came to the fork in the trail that led up to the ridge.  I love that trail because it’s narrow, wooded and off the beaten path.  It was the perfect place for Cinderella to lose her slipper.

I worked my way up the steep hill and into the trees.  Ah!  Peace.  I looked off and could see snowy mountain peaks—fairy castles!  Deep snow covered each tree, bowing branches and looking like good places for talking, sewing mice to hide.  It truly was a winter wonderland…and I was the only one in it, which made it even more magical.  I slowly made my way along the curvy trail and into the trees which blocked the sun.

That’s when I noticed them…PAW PRINTS!  Yikes!

At first I was in denial.  “No!  Those aren’t paw prints…or if they are, they’re just squirrel prints.”

Mini-Me piped up in her high squeaky voice:  “That’s a pretty LARGE squirrel–maybe it’s rabid!”

I kept plodding forward, but now fear, trepidation, hesitancy, and all those terrifying words were swirling inside me.  Words like that are scary!  My winter wonderland became the eerie primeval forest from Snow White!  AGH!   I knew a bear lurked around the next bend!

I was on a one-way trail.  That meant it was narrow and couldn’t take traffic both ways (awkward people like me might run into a tri-athlete and injure them and be the sole reason the U.S. would lose the 2014 Olympics).  I can’t tell you how much I wanted to turn back and scream down that trail the wrong way.  I didn’t want to go deeper into the forest to meet the bear I knew lurked there.

But I did.  How could I not?  There was a rule—ONE WAY—and I am a rule-keeping kind of girl.  So, I fearfully continued onward, but I kept seeing those fresh paw prints ahead of me and knew I was putting my life in jeopardy.  I wrestled with myself:

Mini-Me:  Just turn back.  You’re being stupid!  The bear’s up ahead!  Maybe he even has friends.  Do you really want to be a bear dinner?

Me:  No, that’s not high on my list of things to do, thank you, Mini Me.”

Mini-Me:  Stop with the sarcasm already.

Me:  No, you’re right!  I don’t want to be eaten by a bear.  But I also don’t want to turn around and go the wrong way.  I’m not a rule breaker!  Besides, what if I turn back and end up taking out the next 2014 Olympic XC champion.  The whole nation will hate me.  I’d rather be a bear’s dinner than endure such shame.

Mini-Me:  Well, think about this!  If you get eaten, so do I!  So turn around you spineless fool!  I will gladly take the nation’s wrath before I’ll look into the fanged mouth of a hungry bear.

I tuned Mini-Me out.  It was easy because the noisy swish/swish of my pants and my heavy breathing were like thunder.  Mini Me was drowned out; but that didn’t make me feel any better.  I knew the bears could hear me—who couldn’t hear me?

The one lonely bear had grown to a whole bear herd, drawn to this lonely ridge by the foreign SWISHING sounds I was making; I was like the flopping of a fish that calls to a hungry shark in the sea.  The bears (black, grizzly, and even polar bears vacationing in my Idaho mountains) were stalking me and waiting for the perfect spot up ahead to have their Big Bear Balooza and eat me up.  A tri-athlete wasn’t near as alluring—too stringy and bony—but me, with all the cinnamon rolls and bacon I’d consumed, was just right for their post-hibernation feast.

I tried to breathe less; I tried to ski with my legs apart to lessen the swishing roar, but I wasn’t successful.  The trees were thickening—and so was the tension in my heart!  AGH!  AGH!  AGH!  I screamed inside my head with every thrust of my pole.

Mini-Me:  Yeah!  Keep going forward, Einstein!  Go toward the bear’s pot of  boiling water.  Why not?  You don’t even have your camera to take one last picture so your husband will know what happened to you when you come up missing.

Me:  I thought you said no sarcasm.

Mini-Me:  That wasn’t sarcasm.  That was plain old honest truth.

Me:  Please.  You are scaring me to death.

Mini-Me:  Remember Jack the Ripper.  Well, Yogi Bear the Ripper is hiding in those trees up ahead.

Me:  There’s no bears! [I was trying denial again; it felt good]

Mini-Me:  Ha!  It’s the end of February.  The bears are just waking up.  Winter is over darling.

Me:  Don’t call me darling.

Mini-Me:  The bears are famished…ravenous!  They want some chow…and won’t mind taking you out just to get rid of your noisy swishing pants and put the forest back at peace.

I gasped.  My courage forsook me…and when courage leaves you, the following happens (I can testify to this, because they happened to me).  1)Adrenaline makes you ski like a tri-athlete, 2) Rules don’t exist anymore, and 3) your brain becomes sluggish.

I didn’t want to be eaten by a bear—I just didn’t!  And I suddenly didn’t care about the stupid one-way rule or if I took out the future Olympic hopeful and earned America’s wrath.  I just wanted off that trail.

I turned around and began to flee for my life.  I didn’t dare look back.  I knew the bear was right behind me; I could hear his angry breathing (or maybe it was still the swish/swish of my pants).  Rules were nonexistent…and I suddenly was quite proficient at skiing.  I wish someone had filmed me.  I was an Olympic hopeful (even if I was only hopeful of not becoming a bear’s dinner).  All I could sluggishly think was:  MUST…GET…AWAY!

I flew like the wind, I broke all the rules, and my brain short circuited on that one thought—MUST…GET…AWAY!  I was consumed with reaching the Nordic Hwy where others would save me…or at least give the bears more choices to pick from.  Safety in numbers!  Maybe someone else would look juicier than me!

I reached the fork in the trail in record time and stopped to grapple for air on the wide flat expanse of the safe Nordic Hwy.  As I breathed a premature sigh of relief, I looked down and saw that there were bear tracks on this trail too.  AGH!  AGH!  AGH!  Heaven help me!  Colbert was right!  Bears are the #1 threat in America.  I’d always laughed at that statistic before!

I frantically looked left; then right, then north, south, west and east.  There were bear prints everywhere!  I was DOOMED!  Seriously, I was ready to lay down and die of a heart attack; it would save me the pain of feeling my body torn to shreds by millions of bears.

But just when all seemed lost, SUPERMAN appeared.  He always does when things look bleak.  My husband.  Now I felt a glimmer of hope.  My husband would scare the mean old bears away, or at least hold me as we both were eaten.

He gave me a weird look, then asked, “What’s wrong.  I saw you coming down the trail the wrong way.”

I was just about to blurt out that there were bears—an army of bears—and that they would attack any second if we didn’t flee like the wind.  But just then, my husband picked up his pole and I noticed that the bottom of his pole left the same track in the snow as the bears.

DOH!  Could it possibly be?  Please, have mercy, no!  Let it be a bear rather than face the fact that I’m an idiot and scared myself for no reason!

I ignored his question and put my pole down and lifted it up…just to make sure.  Another perfect bear paw print in the snow.  Mini-Me took the quiet opportunity to make herself known again (I hate when she does that):

Mini-Me:  Ha!  You’re brilliant!

In my defense, I’d never seen what a pole print looked like before.  Every time I’d skied, enough people had been on the trails before me that all pole prints were blurred together into messy snow.  But since today was pristine, and one other person must have gone on the trail before me, his poles had left clear print marks, which Me, being the NON-biological/scientific animal track knowing person that I am, had mistaken for bear prints.  It’s easy to do.

My husband waited for me to tell him what was wrong, but I just blushed and felt pretty sheepish.  I’d just broken the sacred rule of the trail and come down a one-way trail backward; I worried that the ski patrol would come arrest me.  I’d also skied like an Olympic champion, and for what?  Just so I could embarrass myself?

Yeah, that’s about it.

I did end up telling my husband how I’d mistaken pole prints for bear prints and fled down the trail for my life hoping to escape a post-hibernation crazed army of bears.  He gave me that look of total incredulity, then told me to NEVER, EVER tell another soul.  HE could know I was crazy…but the whole world didn’t need to know.

And so I haven’t told a single soul…except Helen at work, and then my cousin, who laughed so hard and told me I needed to tell her friend, and then my sister, and my other sister, and my mom…and now YOU.  But don’t tell my husband.  He’d roll his eyes.

Char

4 thoughts on “Beware hungry Bears!

  1. Loved, loved, loved this story. You had me on the edge of my seat! And then rolling in laughter! I thoroughly enJOYed it!!!

  2. This was great! I remember hearing this story when it first happened, but it still kept me entertained and loving it the entire time this second time around! This is one of those stories that just doesn’t get old, haha

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