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Into the Woods With Bears

While we lived in Cle Elum, Washington, our home and property pretty much butted up against a National Forest, so we were well aware of the wildlife that surrounded us.

I was never particularly afraid of the furry neighbors who lived in the forest. I love animals of all shapes and sizes.

That said I also respect animals of all shapes and sizes. I understand that Disney bears and real bears are very different…especially so whenever a mother bear is out and about with cubs!

When I was a teenager we got some Yamaha motorcycles, which could carry us farther and faster than the horses we’d been riding for a decade. I loved my motorcycle. I could get to my friends’ home in just a few minutes on it instead of the half hour or so it took to get there on a horse or on foot.

Beyond my friends’ home lay the power line and the official beginning of the Snoqualmie National Forest. We often rode the power line road on horseback, so it was a familiar stomping ground for me. We’d never seen bears during our travels, so I was expecting pretty much the same thing the day I decided to ride my Yamaha on it all alone.

I took off on my Yamaha from the Kraft’s back yard on the winding dirt path that led through their fields toward the forest and the power line. As I rounded a small curve in a wooded area not far away from where the power line began, I caught some movement in the pathway ahead. So I slowed down and stopped, putting my foot on the ground to steady myself.

That’s when I first recognized what the movement portended.

A big sow bear stood to her full height on the pathway ahead. She was probably eighty feet away, but she had heard the arrival of my motorbike and was apparently standing up to get a better sense of what it was, and whether it was going to become a threat.

Almost simultaneously, I spotted her two cubs, one on each side of the trail that I would have traversed had I not caught sight of the movement ahead in time to stop.

At that moment, I knew I could be in big trouble. If the mama bear decided I’d already come too close for comfort to her cubs, all she had to do was take out after me and she could have reached me before I got the bike turned around. Black bears can run 35 mph for some distance; racehorses can get up to 44 mph. On that narrow, winding trail, I would be lucky to outrun her even if I did manage to get turned around.

So I was stuck.

I had to stay put.

Luckily, I was still outside her “fight” range and within her “flight” range. She lowered herself to the ground and scurried away at a pace her cubs could follow.

Needless to say, I turned my bike around and went in the opposite direction, glad for the opportunity to do so…but equally glad I’d caught a glimpse of a family of bears…from a (relatively) “safe” distance.

 

To view wildlife in its natural habitat, get a good pair of binoculars, stay well outside the animals’ fight-or-flight distance, and don’t call attention to yourself.
 

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