Archive for October, 2013|Monthly archive page

Northern Adventures: Part I

It was early evening when my boyfriend and I decided to go wandering in the woods by ourselves.

In hindsight, this was probably not the smartest thing to do, however, being from a country who’s most toxic creature is a sea slug, it didn’t enter my mind that the forest at dusk is not the best idea ever.

It was Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada. Thanksgiving in North America is traditionally a time to spend with your family, eating turkey and watching football games. As our nearest family was eight thousand kilometres away, and neither of us have ever seen a game of American football, we decided to do what we do every three-day weekend – explore.

So, while the rest of Vancouver was busy pre-heating ovens and laying out snacks, we packed up the jeep and headed north. We planned to check out an ice field just north of Pemberton, before continuing up into gold-mining country to visit some old-timey mining towns.

I had, however, forgotten about one other part of Thanksgiving – turkey sales.

I don’t know why North America has retail sales at Thanksgiving. Maybe the changing season means people are shopping for winter, or maybe it’s just a convenient excuse to get out of the house after too much quality time with the family. Either way, Whistler was having one, and I felt I would be missing out on an important part of North American culture if we just drove straight past*.

Three hours, two new hats and one shiny new snowboard later, we finally made it back to the car. It was 5pm and the sun was already sinking below the mountain ranges to the west of us, so our plans to make it to the ice-field that day were scuppered. Instead, we decided to pass the night in Pemberton, a charming mountain village twenty minutes north of Whistler.

We found ourselves a room for the night, then headed out to check out One Mile Lake. We had been intending to do the short hike around the lake for some time, and now it seemed like the perfect way to fill in an hour before dinner.

Except: bears. We forgot about the bears.

I didn’t grow up in a country with bears. I grew up in New Zealand, a tiny island nation that has a couple of birds, some lizards and an overgrown cricket as our national fauna. Bears, like lions and tigers, are an exotic, almost unreal animal to me. On an intellectual level, I understand that they were dangerous, but that danger never seemed tangible. And so, I will admit, I was possibly a touch blasé about living in a country with animals that can rip your face off with one bite.

We wandered along in the deepening twilight as the world slowly faded into a palette of greys. Cresting a rise, I noticed how the low light played tricks with the shapes in the woods. Why heck, there was even a bush by the side of the path that looked like a –

“Is that a bear?” My boyfriend interrupted my thoughts.

Oh, crap, it was a bear. A big one. It was only about ten metres away.

The danger of a bear suddenly became very tangible, very fast.

“Do we have bear spray?” My boyfriend asked.

“Yes”

“Where is it?”

“In the boot of the car”

From a distance, bears are rather cute. Up close, they’re just 200kg of teeth and claws. I, on the other hand, am 50kg of very delicate and squishy flesh. Delicate and squishy flesh I happen to be very fond of, and would like to keep puncture-free.

Fortunately, for all that I didn’t really believed in the likelihood of a bear encounter, I had at least done my research on what to do when one happens. Running is Bad. Backing away slowly is Good. So, we began to back away, talking in low, calm(ish) voices.

We made our way down the hill. The bear followed us. Why? Why was the bear following us? Oh dear lord, were we being stalked by a bear??

We turned a corner and I peered anxiously into the gloom. The shadows faded together in the low light, making it hard to distinguish detail. Was that shadow the bear? It was hard to know what I was seeing and what my imagination was filling in. I had a torch in my backpack, but didn’t really feel like now was a good time to stop and rummage for it.

We kept backing away, and eventually, I could no longer see any bear-shaped shadows in the darkness. I got my torch out and shined it around the woods surrounding us. Bear free. Thank goodness.

We turned around and headed quickly back to the car where we sat for a few minutes, shaken by the close call.

We’d been lucky, very lucky. I suddenly had a newfound respect for the dangers of living in a country that is mostly forest and bears**.

*Also, Whistler was selling off their 2013 snowboards at half price. Not that I was going to buy anything. I was just going to look. For cultural reasons.

**Not that we remembered the bear spray the other times we went hiking. Nope. We kept wandering off into the woods while the bear spray stayed nice and safe in the boot of our car. Sigh.

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