Now that I’m almost in Colorado again, I can kiss good-bye to all the grizzly bears. I really wanted to see a grizzly, so I would do everything you’re not supposed to do:
- I’d hike alone without bear spray.
- I’d hike in the early morning and late evening hours when the bears are most active.
- I would quietly walk through the mountains, instead of yelling something every two minutes.
I hoped to surprise a grizzly and get a good photo right before it brutally mauled me.
However, despite all my stealthy efforts, I encountered only one grizzly during my trek. What’s funny is that when I finally saw one I wasn’t alone, I was making a ton of noise, and it was nearly high noon.
In a moment I’ll recount that odd grizzly story and then an even wackier story, but first, a quick trail update:
- With nearly 4,000 miles under my feet, I’m about 70% done with my journey.
- I’m leaving Rawlins, Wyoming and I should be in Steamboat Springs, Colorado on the evening of Labor Day (after having labored all weekend to get there).
- I should be in Grand Lake (Rocky Mt Nat’l Park) on Thursday evening.
- I should be a wise mountain man by now, but I’m still a moron.
My grizzly bear encounter
As I was heading north through Montana, I bumped into Hawkeye, a lean 54 year old who was heading south. I tagged the Canadian border and eventually caught up to him on a cold, damp early morning in Yellowstone National Park. He was still in his tent when I walked by around 6 a.m. He was pissed that I caught up to him so quickly, but he packed up so we could hike half the day together. Little did either of us know that in just a few hours a grizzly bear would come within a couple of meters of us.
Hawkeye wanted to take a 20 minute break around 10 a.m. I suggested relaxing by some active fumaroles and bubbling mud holes. I took off my shoes and socks and enjoyed a snack and the volcanic scenery. Unknown to either of us, a grizzly bear, less than 300 meters away, was methodically lumbering right towards us.
Hawkeye has a loud voice that carries far. While we chatted loudly, my eyes would scan around to admire the steam rising from a landscape that looked like it was on the set of Dante’s Inferno.
Then suddenly, as Hawkeye was blabbing away, I froze and stopped listening to him. Looking over Hawkeye shoulder I observed a massive, dark grizzly bear walking on the trail right pass all the volcanic activity. The setting was surreal: a grizzly lumbering next to steaming pits of hellish brew.
“Hawkeye,” I said, “Look at THAT.”
Hawkeye twisted his head to get a look. It took him a second to process the image and then his mouth dropped.
We were both sitting on our butts and this beast was just 10 steps away. I was barefoot.
I immediately remembered the joke about two guys getting chased by a bear. One stops to put on sneakers, while the other tells him that sneakers won’t help him outrun the bear. After tying up his laces, the guy replied, “I don’t have to outrun the bear; I just have to outrun you.”
I looked at Hawkeye’s feet in his study boots. I looked at my bare feet. I looked at the grizzly’s clawed feet.
I felt incredibly vulnerable.
What’s most astonishing is that the grizzly didn’t even give us a token glance. Instead, he just swayed from side-to-side, moved passed the boiling pits, and disappeared into the trees within seconds.
It’s as if we didn’t even exist. The grizzly was clearly on a mission to go somewhere else and we were so insignificant that we didn’t even merit a casual glance.
I later told Hawkeye, “That was definitely a grizzly. He had small ears, a protruding hump, and…”
“…and the ‘I don’t give a f*** about anything’ attitude,” Hawkeye interjected.
Learn more about Hawkeye.
Grizzlies made their way to the American continent about 50,000 years ago, or roughly 40,000 years before humans made it across the Bering Strait. They were so successful that their domain stretched across the Great Plains and reached to Shenandoah, Virginia. Their population was about 75,000 when white Americans started hunting them. New settlers wanted the arable land in the valleys, but that was prime grizzly habitat. War between the grizzlies and humans erupted. Humans won, proved that we’re the top of the food chain, and now grizzly bears occupy about 2% of their original habitat. Today there are less than 1,000 grizzlies in America.
Grizzly bear milestones
- 1890 – Last grizzly killed in Texas
- 1897 - Last grizzly killed in North Dakota
- 1920 – US government starts campaign to eradicate grizzlies
- 1922 - Last grizzly killed in California
- 1923 - Last grizzly killed in Utah
- 1931 - Last grizzly killed in New Mexico and Oregon
- 1935 - Last grizzly killed in Arizona
- 1976 – Endangered Species Act protects the grizzly
- 1986 – Some scientists predict Yellowstone’s grizzly will be extinct by 2000
- 2007 – Yellowstone’s grizzly population triples to 600 and many want to de-list the grizzly from the endangered species list
The grizzly’s future is somewhat hopeful, but it is still extremely vulnerable. Any species that gets in the way of human habitat will ultimately find itself in our crosshairs.
I’ll finish this email with a crazy story that is 100% true. It’s so outrageous that I couldn’t make it up. The cliché that truth is stranger than fiction applies here.
Why Wyoming’s Great Divide Basin was so much more scenic the second time around
Most thru-hikers abhor Wyoming’s Great Divide Basin. Its flat, dry, and monotonous landscape is interesting for a day or two, but after a week you want a rifle to shoot the dozens of Pronghorns running around. It’s not that you’re hungry or evil; you’re just bored with the endless sagebrush and you want something to do, so why not plaster a prancing Pronghorn with a pistol?
As a vegetarian, I resisted this tempting idea. However, I couldn’t resist taking a closer look at a magazine that was lying on the side of the dusty road I was following into the Ferris Mountains. The magazine’s cover was lying face down, so I picked it up and flipped it over.
The title of magazine was simple: HUSTLER.
What’s truly shocking is that this wasn’t some 15 year old, dilapidated issue whose pages were all sticking together. No, this was an immaculate Hustler magazine from the future! The date on the issue was November 2007. It was August 2007 when I found it. Clearly, this magazine came from an extra dimension, perhaps a worm hole, and fell from the sky for my exclusive benefit. I concluded that God dropped this issue from the heavens so that I could enjoy a diversion from the tedious scenery and instead enjoy the scenery of Larry Flynt’s Hustler.
For the rest of the day I scrutinized every single page of this pristine magazine. I had no idea how many articles Hustler has! It was exhausting to read so much text while walking! Fortunately, the publisher spaces out all its pro-free-speech, anti-Bush rants with pleasant photos that relieved my tired eyes.
The true reward of finding this treasure wasn’t to make my second traverse of the Great Divide Basin far more enjoyable than the first. No, the real reward was that at night I got to sleep with a Hustler chick.
Let me explain.
Earlier that day I somehow lost my sleeping pad. I don’t know how that’s possible, but I did. Therefore, I was resigned to sleep on the cold desert land, losing valuable body heat through conduction. However, this fine magazine came to the rescue that night. I spread out the centerfold and lay my tired body on top of her. The 130 page issue provided ample insulation from the cold ground. I don’t know if I could have survived those cold nights without my Hustler magazine.
NEXT EMAIL UPDATE: My deep thoughts about mosquitoes and other bugs.
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