NEWFIE OR BUST by Bernie Howgate
( Chapter 2 )
It's not easy to describe the effect that the first sight of a wild animal has on a none too brave author. It's like taking your four year old on a surprise visit to the 'Temple of Doom'. I felt a vaulting thrill combined with a strong desire to start cycling and crawl into the nearest gopher hole.
I'd just left Coquihalla's summit. I had spent a glorious night of cabin hospitality and felt on top of the world. The early morning air pinched my face, but I didn't care, all trails led down. I was taking a roadside leak, too preoccupied to notice anything and at first the bear didn't even register. It was too small, too distant and too unlike what I imagined a bear to be, but it kept on coming.
To this day I can't put any sequence to the events. I know it stopped, stuck its nose in the air, then bolted, but what happened next is a blur. Was there one or two? Did I run into it or away from it? Did the bear try to escape or attack? Somewhere along the line we crossed. He had shoulders like the Rock of Gibraltar, paws as big as your head and an ass so big it blocked out the sun. I was frozen and fried at the same time. I remember falling and tasting the grass. I remember arms flailing like windmills and screams with no sound. I got up covered in dirt. My knees and elbows were grazed, but no teeth marks. I was more embarrassed than frightened. I brushed myself down. Checked that no one was looking, then peddled away like 'Cool Man Luke'. Twenty minutes later the shakes set in.
British Columbia's National Parks have something for everyone. It doesn't matter wether you're a drive-through sightseer, day trekker or month long wilderness junkie. They have a mood to suit every personality. It's a 24-hour, 365 day a year forecaster's nightmare. The weather, like its scenery, is totally unpredictable. There's a story round every corner and cloud formations you wouldn't believe. Deep valleys drop into boiling water, empty into slow moving rivers, then come to rest in lakes of opal green. Mountains rise like buttresses of rock, plateau and open onto fields of alpine color. It's a continuous visual experience. An 'Alice through the looking glass', but through it all there's the ever-present
feeling of being watched. Big horn sheep graze roadside and stop on queue to be photographed. Mountain goats clatter across rocks like groups of threadbare refugees and the majestic, many-pointed elks hardly acknowledge passing cars. Who can forget the sight of an eagle soaring skyward or wouldn't give their back teeth to see a three hundred and fifty pound grizzly bear or moose rising above the early morning fog. I had conquered three passes; the Coquihalla, Rogers and now Kicking Horse. They all gave more than they took. The air was crisp, clean and invigorating. The waters pristine and ice cold. You may not be closer to God in the Rockies, but you sure increase your chances of escaping the evil of pollution. It's a kind of 'Stomping Tom's' playground where Mounties still wear red and the young "have a nice day" boys and girls at the tourist information booths really do mean what they say. Where else can you find McDonalds competing on a level playing field for custom with abundant wild life? Where else can you buy a hot dog, get your Nikon repaired and see bear, beaver and porcupine all in the same day. I had turned, in just a few short weeks, into the bicycling version of a mountain climber. I was on a high. Bragging rights were in my pocket and I had letters to write. I passed through the 'Great Divide' archway near Lake Louise; took the now standard 'That's me next to the..................' picture for the boys back home and for just a moment thought about spending one more night in the mountains. Then a sign warning of garbage and bears and what to do if attacked changed my mind.