Friday, 25 November 2016

Hunting Grizzly Bears with Mrs PGD


(Artist’s impression)

‘Bearitory’ (as the park rangers called it) was just a few miles from Lake Louise, in British Columbia. After taking a gondola ride up from the valley floor, we’d passed through a heavily reinforced steel gate defended on either side by Jurassic Park-style electrified fencing. And then finally, yes, there we were, walking straight into ‘Bear country’- completely alone Where the Wild Things Are, without a guide, and unprotected. We’re talking about Grizzly bears, here, the real deal. 
Why? Well, we were on holiday, there was a signposted walk with a cursory map, we had read all the advice about Things Not To Do If You See a Bear, and generally thought we had a fair grasp of the essentials:

- If you see a bear, talk loudly.
- If you don’t see one, then still talk loudly.
In fact, advertise your presence so loudly that nothing with teeth and claws is suddenly surprised when you come round the corner. Because there’s nothing so awkward as a surprised bear.
Mrs PGD was really looking forward to seeing a grizzly. We’d already seen a mother black bear and two cubs, grazing for berries by the side of a main road, causing parking mayhem as idiots like us stopped to take pictures- or worse, get out with their kids to take a closer look. We didn’t do that, of course, being sensible Brits. This particular mother bear was rather big, and when she sauntered around the back of our car, I was extremely glad to be inside it.
But now we were out in the woods, guarded only by our keen senses…. and I was absolutely terrified. Previously, I’d asked a Park Ranger whether we needed to buy ‘bear spray’ (point it at the eyes and squirt), but he smiled and said that was the Nuclear Option. ‘The best defence against bear attacks was to travel in a large group, talk loudly, and stay alert.’
So, when we first went through the Jurassic Park gate, we waited patiently, to see if anyone else was taking our route. No. They were all going in the opposite direction. After 10 minutes, Mrs PGD was getting restless. She’s not an avid walker, so keeping her waiting wasn’t helping- and she was really hoping to see a bear. So off we set up the path, my eyes nervously scouring every bush and copse for a hint of Smokey. After half a mile of going straight up (which our laughingly-titled park ‘map’ hadn’t thought to warn us about) we met some Americans coming from the opposite direction, and it was great to stop and talk VERY LOUDLY with someone else about anything, anything at all. Safety in numbers, see? But then, with great reluctance, we had to part- and headed Up again.
Good grief, it was hot. The valley floor and the gondola seemed to be a very long way away. We’d brought water, but no food (another tip- don’t carry anything that smells nice to a bear, including, bizarrely, toothpaste), so no Jellystone Park- style picnics were going to happen. And then we hit the forest. Instead of finding our legendary Viewpoint, a makeshift diversionary arrow was suddenly steering us off the main path into a large, thickly-wooded area… and suddenly, we were surrounded by trees.
I was scared. So there was only one thing to do in that situation, just in case Smokey was hanging around.
We sang. Or at least I sang, very loudly. And what sorts of songs do you sing in that situation?
‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic’, of course. (‘If you go down to the woods today’)…. Elvis Presley’s ‘Teddybear’ (‘Oh let me be…’). We sang those songs, we sang ‘I love to go a wandering, along the mountain track.’ We sang worship songs. Good grief, we sang ANYTHING.
 After an incredibly long time (probably 10 minutes, tops) we found ourselves further down the valley and following a loop heading straight back to the gondola site. We’d had our adventure, and quite frankly, I was glad it was nearly over- well at least, that bit. Mrs PGD was quite disappointed at not seeing a bear, but I was sincerely glad we didn’t. After all the advice and research, I’d suddenly realized that I really didn’t want to see one- well, not that close. Nature sometimes has claws, and I’m quite happy for that state of affairs to continue without my getting up close and personal with it. When it comes to experiencing the wilder side of life, Mrs PGD is quite enough as it is.

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