Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: CHILL (10/27/16)
TITLE: Solo Encounter
By Holly Westefeld
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"Yeah, but I can't stand the thought of bypassing this last one just because you twisted your ankle yesterday. Who knows when I'll have another chance to visit Yellowstone."
I continue to pack my daypack. I fill my hydration pack with the water I chilled overnight, and refresh my supply of sealed food. Checking to be sure my bear spray is secure and accessible, I swing the pack on to my back and fasten it in place. "You know the trail I am taking. I should be back between four and five. I'll bring you lots of pictures," I promise, indicating the camera hanging around my neck.
"You better be back by five, or I'll send the rangers after you, Stringbean."
I don't push back against the high school nickname more than to say, "I'll be fine Bigfoot."
Autumn leaves crunch as I start up the trail, but I am still careful to be vigilant and make plenty of noise, and shout "Hey bear" every few yards, pounding the ground with my walking stick. My first photo op takes my breath away, a bald eagle swooping low over the lake near the trailhead. As I climb, I capture images of several snakes sunning themselves on rocks.
A couple of hours up the trail, I am ready to sit and enjoy my lunch before heading back. The mountain meadow shown on the map should be just around the next bend. The morning chill has long since passed, and sweat is starting to dampen my shirt. Continuing to make a ruckus, I round the curve and stop short, a chill running down my spine. About ten yards away, a full grown grizzly blocks my path.
Immediately, I avert my eyes, slowly crouching, turning my profile to the bear, and loosening the bear spray. Just to the side of the trail I spy a crevice, not more than a foot and a half wide, toward which I creep, keeping the grizzly in my peripheral vision. Nonetheless, its head starts to sway and it moves toward me. I aim the spray and squeeze the trigger. It stalls the bear just long enough for me to hit the emergency release on my daypack, and slip out of it as I slide sideways in to the fissure. It is just deep enough for me to wedge the pack next to my torso. I swivel my walking stick to extend outward a couple of feet, glad that I had opted for heft over style. The bear crashed in to it, swiping at my pack with its massive paw.
Thoughts whirl through my head. John (Bigfoot) would never believe this. I manage to work the camera from between my chest and the rock and snap a picture one-handed. Then it hits me that John would not have fit in here. Even if he were my size, we would not both have been able to get in deep enough to avoid the bears claws, which have sliced the exposed side of my pack.
The bear stops pressing against my walking stick, but sits and glares at me. Minutes crawl by, and I keep hoping that it will lose interest and move on. Finally it does, but down the trail, not up it.
I wiggle my phone out of the pack and unlock the screen, not surprised to find that I have no signal. I lock it again, resigning myself to awaiting John sending the rangers. My stomach reminds me that lunch is overdue, but I dare not open any food. I ration sips of my water.
As the sun goes down and the air resumes its nighttime chill, I risk sliding my pack out just enough to access my hoodie and emergency blanket. I wrap myself to the armpits and slip back in to the cleft, careful not to tear it on the rough stone. My legs are stiff and tired, but there is no room to sit. I am glad of that when I feel pressure sliding across my hiking boot. My blood runs cold, and I slow and quiet my breathing as much as possible, wondering what type of snakes cluster in here for the night. I count about half a dozen, but don't hear any rattles, so hope they are harmless.
I hear a gunshot in the distance, then shouts of "Jimmy" are music to my ears. I thank God, and resolve not to take any more solo hikes.
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