Stumbles with bears

Recent flashback in the woods:

It was our second day of hiking in Glacier National Park. In the morning we’d tooled around the west side, what I like to call the “smooth stone side” of the tectonic plate collision. Much of this was on a raised, wooden platform that curled through enormous cedar trees. We had a wonderful time taking pictures of tree roots, the top of the canopy, the still waters and rushing slivers of waterfalls. My knee held up pretty well, and I thought if this was hiking, I could go for miles.

St. Mary Lake, Montana

St. Mary Lake, Montana

The east side of the park, which I named “jagged slice-y stone side,” was much less forgiving, but held jaw-dropping vistas for one’s trouble. After clambering up a rocky hillside, we could look over the top of the cliff and see crystalline water—St. Mary Lake. There we spent several minutes taking in the view and examining how different the eastern plate was from the geology just a few miles west. We scrambled back down the hill and started walking down a thin trail along the water.

My knee started complaining from the uneven terrain. Where were the nice wooden platforms? Couldn’t we outfit every national park in the country with raised wooden hiking platforms for the cost of half of one missile? Perhaps hikers actually liked hiking, I guessed. But still, my leg wasn’t holding up after a couple miles of walking. That was frustrating.

Susanne took a look at the park map to see the easiest way back to the car, other than going back to where we’d started.

“Hey, if you just continue on this way,” she said, pointing at the print out, “it’s really short to the road. Then Kurt and I can go back over here, get the car, and pick you up.”

That sounded like a plan. She reminded me to make some noise so I would keep any nearby bears away. Fortunately, the three of us walking together made quite a bit of ruckus, so we hadn’t been too concerned. But with me by myself, I needed to remember to talk, or sing. I gave her a peck of a kiss, noted the direction I was to travel, and heading off, sang that I was King Henry the VIII.

No sooner were they out of earshot of me than I turned a corner and stopped. The trail traced up the side of a very steep, very long hill. I considered my options, now on fourth verse, same as the first. Going all the way back was too long, and the car would be gone by the time I got there. I probably wasn’t fast enough to catch up to Kurt and Susanne, so following  where they went probably wouldn’t work, either. I didn’t have the map. So I had to traverse this . . . this mini-mountain. I took a deep breath, and plunged forward.

Up, up, up I climbed. King Henry fell by the way side, as simple breathing became priority. I sucked in liters of air, holding on to a tree for support, no longer worrying about making enough noise.

HEAVE, exhale, HEAVE, exhale, HEAVE!!!! Who the hell climbs mountains for fun? Masochists who want to suffer outside, that’s who. I put one foot in front of the other, thankful I’d been working out my quads in the gym as part of rehab. Every ligament south of my waist made its voice known. I grabbed at small tree trunks on the side of the pebbles in front of me, hoping my feet would stay put.

HEAVE, HEAVE, exhale. . . Susanne’s map sucks! The trail rounded a corner, and it was another mountain. I was climbing Machu Pichu. Sweat rolled in sheets down my temples, making my shirt wet. I cursed the sweatshirt I was wearing.

All around me, wildlife fled. Including the bears. I think they thought, “whoa, that is some big bear coming this way! Quck, get up a tree!”

I saw an archway. A bridge. It signalled that I had reached the road. I felt like I had been alone for hours. I clambered up one last incline, then sat down, still panting heavily, on the side of the bridge. A few cars had parked in the pullout, and looked at me with fear. Who was this single very large man who came out of the woods? I’d probably left a few bodies behind me.

Susanne and Kurt pulled up in the car ten minutes later, by which time I’d resolved most of my sweatballness.

“There’s another trail up to a waterfall over there, honey,” Susanne said innocently. “Wanna go?”

“No,” I said, and rather quickly, so that she took notice. “I’ll just wait in the car,” I added, trying to sound laissez faire about it. It was too late to cover, however.

“Are you okay?” She looked concerned.

“I’m fine,” I said. I gave a tight smile. “That path went up a big hill.”

“Oh honey, I’m sorry,” Susanne said, touching my knee, which was on its way to inflating like the hot air balloons I saw in May. Maybe I would start floating in another 15 minutes.

I reassured her, and they went up what turned out to be a 50-foot incline to a trickling waterfall. I knew the hiking was worth it, but I was done for the day. I’ll go back to Glacier in a few years when I have a more solid set of legs and a screaming toddler. Surely that will be easier!

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