Death, dying, and running from grizzlies

I finished my new flower garden out front one very hot summer day. It took about a week to complete. On that Saturday, we discovered that the nice old man who lived across the street died at home. Earlier that day, we had noticed that his garbage can was still outside. Thursday is trash day, he usually brings it back inside on trash day. We knocked on his door but it was locked and no answer. Not wanting to kick down the front door with my dirty, muddy boots, we alerted the police. Norman had been dead for a couple of days, they guessed. I wondered if his last connection to the outside world was watching me out his front window dig that dirt with my clunky hiking boots. I named the garden “Norman’s Garden” in his honor. I neglected those boots on that Saturday and left them outside because I didn’t want to track mud into the house. Later that evening, a thunderstorm with lots of rain passed through and those boots got soaking wet then proceeded to dry out the next day in the 100 degree heat.

For my wedding anniversary the next month, my husband said “We’re going on a road trip.” He wanted it to be a surprise so the only thing he told me was to “make sure you bring your hiking boots.” We loaded up the car and headed north. We drove along the Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers up and over Lolo Pass and onto Missoula, Montana, It was at this point that I found out we were going hiking in Glacier National Park.

Even though I’d never been to Glacier before, I got a lump in my throat and a chill ran through my entire body. For me, Glacier had always been the place where events in the book “The Night of the Grizzlies” happened. It’s a true story about 2 young women killed by two different grizzly bears in two different parts of the park on the same night. Ever since reading that book as a young child, I’d been terrified of Glacier and had mixed feelings about going there.

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Going-to-the-Sun road, Glacier

After the drive up Going-to-the-sun road and stopping for a view of the gorgeous valley below, my mixed feeling of being terrified of the park were now gone. We then headed to a section of the park called “Many Glacer”. Along the way, we encountered a bear jam. This is a National Park traffic jam where tourists stop their cars along the road or sometimes in the middle of the road when someone sees a  sighting of a bear along side of the road.

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Glacier tourists trying to get glimpse of a grizzly bear
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Glacier tourists.

Shortly after arriving to Many Glacier we set out on a 10 mile round trip hike up to Iceberg Lake. On this hike this was the first time I’d worn those boots since the day Norman died, my boots from sitting out in that hot sun had shrunk and now were rubbing my heels with every step.

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Many Glacier Hotel
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Trail up to Iceberg Lake
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Iceberg Lake

On the return trip down from the lake, I heard noises coming from the bushes right next to the trail. I stopped to investigate and discovered two huge grizzly bear eating huckleberries just a feet away. I panicked, left the scene and my old boots quickly carried me back up the trail to my husband who had stopped to take photos of the mountain valley below. I was hoping the bears didn’t see me. My husband calmed me down and told me everything would be okay despite the fact that I’d broken the cardinal rule when you see a grizzly: do not run. He told me to go get the park ranger that we’d passed just a few minutes earlier heading up to Iceberg Lake. The ranger had bear spray and we did not. While waiting for me to return with the park ranger, Bob slowly watched backwards up the trail and captured these images.

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I ran as fast as I could uphill to catch up with the park ranger. Once within hearing range, out of breath, I can’t imagine what the ranger thought when some crazed women ran up to him yelling momma bear, baby bear! We hiked back down to my still alive husband and tthe park ranger along with several other hikers coming down from the lake a few minutes later waited with us until it was safe to keep going. Once the bears were far enough off the trail we continued hiking down the trail in a group formation making lots of noise.

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Waiting for grizzly bears to move off the trail

We returned back to Many Glacier as rumors spread like wildfire through the park of the woman that ran from and almost got killed by two big grizzlies. The ranger told us that there had been no grizzly sightings in the park that day and some people told us how lucky we were to see them since they’d been in the park two weeks without seeing any. I didn’t feel so lucky that day since that was the closest I’d ever felt to fearing death and because of the hike, my heels were rubbed raw. I decided that it was time to retire my once beloved boots and buy new ones.

I researched new boots on-line and read reviews but for some reason, just couldn’t do it. My husband had some extra used hiking boots just my size and insisted I try them out since I was putting off getting new ones, again. We hiked in the foothills above Boise with our old and young dog.  The used boots rubbed my heels and made blisters. The next week our old 10 year dog who had been sick for a few weeks was dead. Little did we know that the hike in the foothills was to be her last.

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Our old dog Glenna on her last walk

A few weeks ago, I finally got new boots. After trying on several pairs at the store, I decided on the most expensive ones because they fit the best. Heading towards the check out, I got nauseated thinking about spending so much money on a pair of boots. I thought about Norman, the grizzlies and our old dog. All recent past events surrounding hiking boots had to do with death and dying. It wasn’t the price of the boots that made me sick but thinking about my own demise and old age. I realized that this may be the last pair of hiking boots that I’ll ever purchase.

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New boots!

My first hike in the new boots was up and down very steep terrain while tagging along with my husband as he went chukar hunting with the younger dog. It was an amazing hike over beautiful country and I was so relieved my new boots didn’t give me blisters. I started dreaming about all the adventures these new boots would share with me.

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