Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Grizzly Encounter

Seems like every time I try to pop a squat for a quick break somebody is trying to have a conversation with me.  I can’t sit down in a McDonalds to use their wifi and enjoy a bottle of stolen Powerade without having a forty minute conversation with some retired farmer eating an ice cream cone or a sixty-year-old janitor wiping down the tables.

People like giving me advice about my journey.  They ask me a few questions about who I am and where I’m going, then they spend the rest of the conversation telling me what highways to take and cautioning me about the dangers in the area.  These concerned citizens are nice, sometimes.  It’s nice that they are concerned.  But, sometimes, they’re a pain in the ass.  I’ve heard as much about mountain lions in the last few days as I would have if I watched an Animal Planet special about them.  The mountain lions don’t scare me as much as the rattlesnakes, though.  Every gas station attendant between here (Platte, SD) and Hulett, Wyoming has given me advice on how to kill the little guys.  I just wish I would have packed a shovel, a lasso, or a magnum.

Also, people love telling me about all the hills I’m going to have to climb.  They don’t say, “Aw, what a scenic ride it will be.”  They say something like what the table wiper at the McD’s in Rapid said:  “Dear Lord, boy, do you know how many hills you’re gonna have to climb between here and Wall?”  It’s usually said with some mixture of amusement, excitement, and earnestness, like the information will make me change my plans.  And I think, “I’ve climbed the Black Hills, the Rockies, and the Big Horns.  Make me a McFlurry and wipe that table over there”

Well, now that I’m over the hills and I’m about out of rattlesnake country, mountain lion country, and grizzly country.  Let me tell you about that grizzly that I saw in Yellowstone.  I’ve been saving the story until I was well out of Wyoming, as I didn’t want to concern anyone about my well-being.  

I was riding The Mango Sentinel towards Sylvan Pass, on my way out of Yellowstone, and I saw a group of vehicles parked alongside the road.  It was about time that I thought that I’d reach the pass.  I thought that these cars were waiting to go through it when it opened.  I wanted to hitch a ride at that point, so I decided to stop and see if I could find a ride.

I bicycled to the first car that I saw occupied.  Most people were out of their cars, looking over a ledge at the side of the road. 

 “Hi, there.  You guys waiting to go through the pass?” I asked.  

“No.” the guy said. “There’s a bear over there.”  

“Oh.  Do you know how far to the pass?”

“It’s about four miles up the road.  There’s a bear right over the ledge there.”

“That’s why all these people are stopped, eh?”

“Yeah, there’s a bear right over there.”

So I decided to look at the bear.  Apparently, one was in the vicinity.  I walked to the ledge.  The ledge was one of those cement deals that the road people need to build when the elevation drops on the side of the road.  It was concrete, provided support against gravity, and support against cars driving off the cliff.

I stood there, peering over the side of this ledge with probably twenty to thirty other gawkers.  We looked at a grizzly bear.  I want to say that it was a forty foot grizzly bear that shot lasers out of its eyes and wore a top hat, but it wasn’t big or crazy-looking.  Brown.  Knew it was a grizzly bear from the hump on its back.  Brown bears don’t have humps.

It was a small bear, but it was damn close, probably twelve feet down and fifteen feet away.  If that thing was the Spud Webb of grizzlies, maybe even a Tony Parker, it could close in on me pretty fast.  I smelled ripe, too.  So I took a quick peep and bounced.  I didn’t want to test its athleticism.

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