It's A Sign September 23 2014, 0 Comments
In Australia, when you're embarking on a hike, you will probably encounter several signs before the actual walk begins. There will be the typical 'you are in this park' sign, usually accompanied with a map. Coupled with this there is usually another sign providing details about the local flora and fauna.
For example, this is a koala. The koala is a docile animal who spends most of his days becoming intoxicated on gum leaves that is his sole means of norrishment. The koala does not do much else apart from urinate on unsuspecting tourists. Underneath this description is the warning you will find in all national parks in Australia: "Please do not feed the wildlife."
Canadian parks, for the most part, do not bother with this warning. They probably believe that this is too subtle for the tourists in their parks. Instead the signs that mark the start of the hiking trails are ones of dire warnings.
'Warning!' The first sign proclaims in bold yet familiar letters. 'Bear country! Beware!'
'Warning!' The second sign echoes. 'Coyote country! Beware!'
'Warning!' The third sign proclaims. 'Angry hawk in area!'
Of course the third sign makes all three signs ridiculous, and, as I am now a seasoned Canadian camper, I feel that I can ignore them. After all, they are for a lesser breed of hiker, one not as familair with his surroundings, who has not been on many a hike, seen many similar signs. While I had still never actually come across any of the forewarned dangers, I still counted myself as a seasoned hiker.
Needless to say, at this point in the trip, I was feeling pretty confident in my abilities. I was prepared to hike in this bear coyote and angry hawk country alone with only a single visit to the tourist information centre.
"Do I need to be worried about bears in this area?" I had asked the quebecoise tourist information man.
"No" he replied with a laugh. "the bears in this area are extremely well fed."
"What about coyotes?" I continued.
He paused and looked at me darkly for a moment. "... That poor woman..." He mumbled. "No!" he said interupting himself. "You would have to be extremely unlucky... Just... Make a lot of noise and you will be okay." He finished and smiled at the two of us.
Brendan had decided to use his day off doing a lesser hike, before organising and posting his photos, so he dropped me off at the start of the hike.
Like I said, I was feeling pretty confident as I passed the signs, found a stick and begun marching up the mountain and start my 20 kilometer hike back to the campsite. However this confidence, like all things, was fleeting. It began slipping through my fingers when I saw a large fresh bear print in the mud, heading in the direction of my campsite, the way I had to go to get home.
It was at this point, several meters beyond the bear country signs that I had strode by so confidently, that I began revisiting my conversation with the Quebec Tourism man. The bear print added a darker tone to our conversation.
He had said the bears in this area were extremely well fed and laughed.
Surely a well fed bear was only hours away from being a hungry bear. And... Why were the bears in this park in particular so well fed, while no one in any other parks had mentioned their diet at all... What were they eating?
What happened to that poor woman?
Why had he looked at both of us and smiled. Did he assume we were both hiking the trail? Should I have made that clear? Would that have mattered?
Having no other choice, I moved forward, resolving on screaming Bohemian Rhapsody at the top of my lungs for the duration of the walk.
Apart from the mounting paranoia and tension, it was quite a nice walk. In fact apart from an unpleasant experience of accidently locking myself inside a longdrop toilet for about ten minutes, I had a lovely time!
I started getting really into the walk, which was pretty ardious and extremely tiring. Steep inclines made me push the fear of bear out of my mind, and the views made me begin to forget to scream Queen lyrics into the valleys of the park.
Of course this meant that the only noise I was making was the grunting of a moderately unfit hiker.
Apparenltly, according to the bear I almost barrelled into when I rounded a corner, this was not enough noise.
I turned the corner, and a black and breathing hulk was sitting in front of me pondering a berry bush. Time slows in that peculiar way it does as you wonder how it is that your life amounted to this one defining moment. Images flashed through my mind, ways in which I could have prevented this moment from happening if I could only go back in time. In slow motion the bear looked up from the berry bush, and amazingly enough, I could see the exact same thing going through it's mind. Time slowed for the bear as fear entered it's brain. Scenes flashed through it's mind, how it should have acted different. "If only I had been more cautious of that hideous off key wailing of Queen I heard this morning" It thought. "If only I had listened to my mother and stayed away from the berry bushes on the human trail." "If only I were better fed"
As we were both caught in this weird time prison of fear and regret, neither of us were expecting the angry startled bird to appear. It screamed at us returning us to the moment and allowing us both to leap back and disappear to a safer place.
After a while, I decided it was safe and ventured back towards the campsite and hopefully away from the bear. Thank god for that angry bird. I'm still not entirely sure if it was the angry hawk the sign refered to, but if it wasn't for that bird, I could have been stuck in that national park for an eternity staring at a bear.
What have I learnt you ask?
To always ask exactly what well fed means.