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They Didn't Eat Me...This Time

I am a highly rational person. I let my thoughts be guided by statistics and logic. I'm not swayed by emotional arguments. I can talk myself through uncomfortable situations by calmly considering the facts. At least, in most situations. 

I do have one irrational, oversized, highly improbably fear that I can't shake - that I will be eaten by a wild animal. Believe me, I know the odds are extremely, extremely low. Only 27 people in North America have died from a mountain lion attack in the last 100 years. Only a handful of people, as low as zero, get attacked by a bear each year, although 2023 is proving to be a good year for the bears. Yet I'm convinced that I will make one of these lists someday. 

I chose to stay in Pincher Creek, Alberta for ten days after my summer break because of its proximity to Waterton Lakes National Park and a plethora of other amazing outdoor places: Castle Provincial Park, Castle Wildland Provincial Park, Beauvais Lake Provincial Park, Crowsnest Pass, and Oldman Dam Recreation Area. It seemed like an idea place for trail running and hiking. 

And it is. Except there are active grizzlies everywhere. The southwest Alberta brown bear population is healthy and growing and active. The parks have warning signs up. Not their normal "you are in bear country" permanent signs, but extra signs warning about currently active bears. Every trail I looked up on AllTrails had a review from the previous week that mentions bear sightings. 

It made me too afraid to enjoy all these beautiful trails. I did my runs, but mostly on dirt roads around parks and campsites. Roads that were wide and more likely to have other people on them, instead of the trails into the deep forest that I wanted to be doing. Even so, I ran with bear spray in hand, safety off and my music blaring. But the music was problematic because, besides ruining my vibe, it prevented me from hearing the forest activity around me.

My insane paranoia came to a head on the North Drywood Falls trail, which did not have any current bear warnings. The trail was stunning - heading directly into a canyon with epic summits on one side and straight ahead and a beautiful, lush diverse forest all around with a stream running through. Truly a place of fairy tales. But when I arrived at the trailhead and there was not another soul around, I was immediately uncomfortable. At least in the other locations I ran there were campers and fishers and some other mountain bikers or hikers. 

And I hated every minute of my run. It was extremely windy, so between the wind in my ear and my music and the trees rustling, I couldn't hear anything around me and my most likely irrational terror grew quickly. I kept looking in all directions and singing (poorly) along with my music. Every shadow and dark spot in the dense woods made me afraid. I freaked myself out so badly, that about a mile and half in, I began to get an ocular migraine from the stress I was causing myself. The auras started to take away the vision in both of my eyes.

That was the proverbial kick in the pants I needed to get myself together. The last thing I needed was to be incapacitated out there. I stopped, got my breathing under control, and drank a bunch of water, and the auras went away immediately. 

I finished that trail, which was only 5 miles while I had an 8 to 9 miles run in the plans, so then I ran up the park road for the rest of it. The roads are really hilly, so it was still great training. But little did I know I would run into my true Alberta nemesis - the plain old cow!

Pincher Creek is ranch land. There are cows everywhere. I crested a steep hill and started the downhill toward a small lake where about twenty cows were hanging out, chewing grass and relaxing. But then a massive black cow stepped out into the middle of the road and stared me down. As I got closer, he began to stomp his feet. It became clear that I was going to be charged by a cow rather than a grizzly bear, and while I didn't think the cow would eat me, I also didn't want to be run over by 2,000 pounds of future steak. And so I turned around. I looked back over my shoulder when I got to the top of the hill again, and that big boy was still giving me the evil eye. And back to my car I went. 

All that fear did put a little gas in my tank - I ended up doing an 8 mile run with 950 elevation gain at a 10:19 pace at mile high elevation. But I'm glad to be out of grizzly country and I'll plan my training locations a little more carefully next time.