|Lots of wildflowers!|
|Seems peaceful enough...|
|Bad selfie taken shortly before incident|
It was bound to happen sooner or later. I have been hiking regularly for about 3 years now and I have been lucky. Let me tell you what happened.
On Friday I took myself off to Big Trees State Park in Arnold. I needed some Libby-time. I know that I am home with myself all day and that should be enough time but really, I just needed some space not to think about the laundry and dinner and everything else like that. So off for a hike I went.
I have been to Big Trees State Park many times over the years and have always felt very safe. The park, particularly the North Grove where the visitor's center is located, is well populated. I haven't ever really been nervous. Yesterday was no exception. I hiked around the floor of the North Grove and headed up to the overlook. I got up there, slowly, and hiked out onto a kind of plateau/rock outcropping to eat my apple. I sat down, looked around, ate my snack and sort of spaced out. It's what I do when I hike by myself. I try to empty my mind as much as possible. I try to relax.
In the midst of the peace and quiet, all of a sudden I heard a very loud air horn. That sound was followed quickly by the noise of a truck speeding off and going very fast down the road back towards the main parking lot. For the briefest of moments, I wondered if that sound was an air horn/bear horn sort of noise. (I even laughed at that expression!) People carry air horns to scare off wild life so that is why that thought entered my mind. My next thought, followed quickly on the heels of that one, was that couldn't possibly be the reason for that noise. I can't tell you how quickly my Rational Mind squashed my Speculating Mind. Kicked it to the curb in about ten seconds flat. That was that.
I finished my apple, got back onto the trail, and started down the hill for the rest of my hike. I hadn't gotten very far before I saw two rangers coming towards me. As they approached, I asked them both what that air horn noise was all about. The one ranger spoke up and said that there had been a bear sighting at the top of the trail (where I had just come from) a few moments ago. They (the rangers) were coming up the trail to see if there was anyone up there (presumably to warn them). I said, well yes, I was up there. Or had been up there. I have a knack for stating the obvious so I asked them if they were telling me that there was a bear in the vicinity. They answered that yes, that was true, and she was there with her cubs. Three of them. Wow. Just wow. The ranger went on to say that they have several bears in the park and the bears are all very safe. (Safe? Seriously? A funny choice of words I would say.) This bear, however, was kind of a problem because of the cubs. She evidently had taken to putting them in the trees, at which point I glanced nervously upwards and then back at the rangers. They assured me that everything was fine (right) and that it was safe to go back down the hill. They had just come from that direction after all (right again).
Down I went, in a hurry. The quickest way to get me off a hillside or mountain apparently is to let me know that there is a bear in the area. I made some good time and didn't trip over anything in the process of descending. I finished my hike and got back to my car, crisis averted. For now.
I say for now because as crazy at it seems, I am likely to go back. Maybe even alone. I can't always find someone to go with. People always wind these types of stories up with the fact that we live in the bears' territory and we need to get used to that fact. Duh!, is what I say. That isn't a consoling or helpful kind of comment. The fact that we have encroached on wild habitat is not new and that isn't what I was so interested in actually regarding the entire episode. What really got me going was how quickly Rational Mind squashed Speculating Mind. Rational Mind stepped right in and pushed all thoughts of bears out of the picture. I convinced myself in a heartbeat, without consciously deciding to do so, that the air horn sound had nothing to do with a bear. I wonder if that is some kind of survival technique? Sort of like if you fell over the edge of a cliff. Would you know for a very long time that you were going to die or would that part of your mind just shut off? I guess no one has lived to report on this question.
I am laughing about things now but in reality, I have been soundly shaken. Every time I hike I am in someone else's home. I am the visitor. Being negligent by not paying close attention because you have become complacent or because you think you have a "right" to be there is a very dangerous thing. I am lucky that I got off with just a slap on the wrist, so to speak. When I got back to the forest floor where all the visitors were walking around, I wanted to tell all of them to pay attention, to wake up! I can assure you that I myself am now awake and will be vigilant the next time I go hiking. Oh, and I am ordering an air horn/bear horn from Amazon.
Thanks for reading and commenting,
Libby PS-Happy Hiking!