I have faced, accepted, and conquered many of the psychological challenges associated with living, traveling, and exploring alone. But there’s one – I guess you could call it physical or environmental – challenge that still gets in my way, and, frankly, it’s the one thing that still makes me feel resentful about being alone.
Bears. Well, more like bears and cougars and snakes and wolves.
Over the course of my adventure, I’ve felt many of my fears and insecurities subside. But the fears of running into wildlife while hiking alone have only gained in strength over my many months of solitary wandering.
I used to not be scared at all to hike alone. I remember that woman at the visitor’s center in Sun Valley, Idaho who was somewhat shocked to hear about my travels and wondered aloud about my safety. I had no idea what she was talking about and found her comments to be amusing. Over the months since that time, though, the fear has grown, and it now accompanies me on nearly every trip I take into the woods. In response, I either make up stories to convince myself of my safety or I try to ignore the fears …and keep going.
The story I’ve been telling myself lately is that bears are hibernating and that I have a good few weeks (or months?) of safety left. And I’ve tried to convince myself that if bears are hibernating, cougars must be too. The cougar story hasn’t quite worked, so instead I’ve tried to believe that cougars wouldn’t be interested in eating humans. But that just leads to vague recollections of REAL stories that I’ve heard about hikers meeting cougars and….I think about something else instead.
Because it’s raining so heavily today, I opted for a walk instead of my usual Saturday morning run. Just on the streets right around where I’m staying. During my walk, I met a nice man and his adorable and sweet chocolate lab, who both live in the neighborhood on random weekends when they come up from their main home in Vancouver. I asked him about a flier I’d just seen indicating that there is a bear in the area and recommending that people NEVER HIKE ALONE. I asked what he knew about this, and he told me that there are bears all the time in the neighborhood, especially when the weather is fairly warm as it is now.
He lives right across the street, so his neighborhood is mine. I walk to my car all the time in the mornings when it’s dark. I sit on my porch without a care. I’ve hiked alone nearly every day since I’ve been here.
No, I don’t carry bear spray. I only have a tiny one that fits on my key ring. And I figure that I would have to get right up close to a bear and carefully spritz him in one eyeball to have any effect. Not gonna happen. Yes, I can purchase an expensive (!) full size can of spray, but what am I really going to do? Carry the big thing around with my finger on the trigger at all times? No. So, then…if I do run into a bear and have the big can of spray somewhere on me other than in my hand, am I going to have the equanimity in that situation to actually calmly grab it from wherever it is and position myself to effectively use it in time? No.
I think not. So I move forward, taking the risk of hiking alone and knowing that if I were to cross that path, I’d be in a tough position. I move forward, saddened by the limits to my strength in solitude. I move forward, feeling frustrated that my freedom is not complete. I move forward, on edge and in fear.
But mostly I blissfully believe the stories and go on my merry way.