Encounter of the 9th kind

I was on the last stretch of a 7 to 8 hour training run, coming out of El Dorado Canyon into Michigan Bluff. It was dusk and I had not seen another soul for the past 10 miles or so. Pushing hard on the steep, single-track trail, carved from the side of the mountain, my run was interrupted by a ruckus coming from the woods along the slope of the mountain about 30 feet below me. I proceeded with caution, wondering what could be causing such turmoil. It was definitely too loud to be a snake and there were no human voices coming from it. My heart started pounding – could it be a mountain lion? Proceeding as quietly as possible up the trail, I had not even gone 20 feet when I spotted a brown bear not far from where the scuffle was taking place. This bear had not noticed me; he was busy eating and scratching himself, but he was clearly not the one causing the ruckus. “Oh my God, I am in the middle of a sloth of bears, at dusk, and with not a soul in sight,” I thought, (very) frightened. “If they come after me, I'll have to look big,” I thought. “I’ll remove my hydration pack, and raise it over my head; I’ll look like 8 feet tall!” I searched for primitive arms, just in case – grabbing sticks, stones, whatever. “Darn, I don’t even have food to throw at them if they come after me, but maybe they'll like my salt tablets.” I remembered that I had a small canister of pepper spray, which I grabbed from a pouch and held on to as if it were Clint’s 44-magnum. But before I had finished my thoughts and amassing my arsenal, my legs, smarter than my brain and flushed with adrenaline, had already hiked out of there in no time and without making a sound.

Arriving to Michigan Bluff about 20 minutes later, I recounted my tale to a local (now my friend from so many visits to his town). “Don’t worry about them bears,” he said, “they only bother you one out of ten times; just don’t get between mother bear and her cubs.” “Nice of you to say that,” I thought, “but how in the world would I know if this is one of the 9 times when it is safe to see them?” Perhaps looking for sympathy, I related the story to another runner, who responded, “you are so lucky, those brown bears are friendly… I just spotted a black bear during one of my training runs (in Washington)!”

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