January 29, 2006

You're in Bear Country

Before we were married, M. liked to run in competitive races. Since we've been married, he seems to prefer my sort of marathons -- the TV watching, salsa and chip eating kind. Plus, the kids and I don't let him out on weekends.

My guess is that when I run this 5K in June, he'll run it with me. More likely, he'll start with me, and I'll see his back for a moment, then find him waiting at the finish line. What is proper husband ettiquette, anyway? Should he run with me and offer his support? Or should he run for himself and leave me in his dust?

Thinking of this has brought up memories of the last time we attempted a physical challenge together -- one where he was physically up to the task, and I was decidedly not.

A few summers before we were married, we took a vacation to Grand Marais, MI. My family had camped there over several summers when I was young, and I had fond memories I wanted to share with him. We booked a campsite on the edge of the rock cliff that goes down to the beach, and our view each morning and night was of Lake Superior. One night while we were there, a huge thunderstorm came across the lake, and it was breathtakingly spectacular.

We spent a few days hiking the Pictured Rocks trails and cruising around town on our bikes, then we headed over to Munising to check out Grand Island. Grand Island is a National Recreation Area, which is governmental code for no restrooms. The island is beautifully left alone, in it's natural splendor. There are 6 or 7 seasonal cottages on one shore, a light house, and a DNR station at the boat launch, and that's it. A few years after we visited, my Mom came across a book about the small Ojibwe tribe who used to live there, called A Face in the Rock. The story is heartbreaking and powerful, and I really wish I had read it before I'd gone. We are members of one of our state's Ojibwa tribes, and the history really touched me.

Anyway, I digress. We took a shipwreck boat tour that also took us around Grand Island, kind of a sizing it up before we went to visit. Our plan was to bike the interior gravel road, which was about a 13 mile trip. The boat took us up close to the island, and even as I was stunned by the beauty in the rocky cliffs, trepidition was setting in. Just me and M., basically alone on that island. What if something bad happened? It was about that time the boat captain started talking about the bears. Bears? On Grand Island? Bears on an island? Oh dear.

That night, over our campfire, I took a chance. "You know, there are a lot of other things to do, if you don't want to bike Grand Island." It had been my idea, after all, and maybe M. didn't want to go. "No, it sounds awesome. I'm really looking forward to it." My heart raced a little more. I laid in my sleeping bag much of the night, wondering if by this time tomorrow, I'd be some bear's dinner.

Over breakfast, as we swatted away blackflies, M. said, "You're worried about the bears, aren't you?"

"Bears? What bears?"

"Bears are more afraid of us than we are of them. You just have to make noise, and they'll stay away."

"I'm not afraid of bears."

"It's going to be fine, B. You'll see."

We got on the ferry (pontoon boat with lawn chairs) with our bikes and headed to the island.
Walking our bikes up to the start of the trail, I heard M. chuckle a little. Then I saw the sign.

WARNING! YOU ARE IN BEAR COUNTRY.

Oh dear Lord.

Underneath were a list of precautions to take. I'm sure one of them was "Don't even think of biking here." But the ferry guy wouldn't be back for a while, so we were committed.

We headed out on the interior road, and in less than a mile we realized our mistake. The "gravel" road was really sand. Pure, white, beach sand. Our bikes were no match for it, and it was really hard to even push them through. We sat down with the map we'd gotten off the internet and tried to decide what to do, my vote being "Let's go home!"

The only other real option for bikers was the trail that went around the perimeter of the island. In a National Recreation Area, when they say trail, they really mean that once upon a time, someone else walked through here and pushed the grass down a little. The trail was extremely basic. It started as a slight cut through tall grass and forest, and then led to the edge of the island where it became extremely rocky and rose and fell steeply with the rock cliffs. It was not for the faint of heart, and it was 26 miles long."We'll just go a few miles," we said, and we headed off.

My heart was literally pounding in my throat. I couldn't keep my eye on the trail, as I was frantically looking for bears in every corner. My mind raced, what would I do if I saw one? When the elevation was low, I figured I could throw my bike at them and dive into the water. But when the elevation rose, so did my anxiety. Did I want M. to ride in front of me, throwing him to the bears we came upon? Or did I want him behind me, in case they were stealthy?

It soon became clear he intended to do the whole island. We were already 10 miles in, so it didn't seem smart to return. That's when I got bitchy. I was hot, I was tired. The trail was really too hard for me, though I was in a lot better shape then. And I was damn scared of those bears.

M. handled it really well. He ignored my crabbing, walked with me when I couldn't make it up a punishing, rocky slope, stopped when I needed some air, and pointed out all the wonderful things we were seeing. The scenary was amazing, like nothing I've seen before. At the north point of the island, we came across the most beautiful beach I've ever seen. It was pure white, the water was a deep, dark blue, and there was a lagoon, right in the middle of it. We sat on that beach forever. Each time we'd stop, I'd forgive him a little, but once we started again, he became the enemy.

We'd consulted the map, and found a slight shortcut. It would cut a few miles off our trek, but it went right through the deepest part of the forested island. M. gave me the choice: a longer ride, or the increased risk of disturbing the much feared bears in the heart of their homeland. My legs were quivering with exertion, so I chose the short-cut.

The shortcut was all downhill, a welcome relief, but having to watch for rocks really cut into my diligent bear-watch. I was in front, and we were cruising at a pretty good clip. It was dark and damp and shadowy, real forest. Suddenly, I saw something small and dark on the trail ahead.

A BEAR CUB.

Knowing we had finally crossed a mama bear and were soon to meet our untimely demise, I slammed on my brakes. I promptly flew over the handle bars of my bike, and was slammed into from behind from an unaware M. Together, with our bikes, we caused quite a commotion in that quiet wood, all wheels and spokes and elbows and knees. When the dust settled, and we assured each other we were okay, he said,

"What the hell?"

"Up there, there's a bear cub, I saw it."

"WHERE?"

"It was right there."

"Right there?" Pointing at a fallen log.

Oh dear.

"Umm..we were going pretty fast."

We got back on our bikes and headed on our way. Shame kept me quiet most of the rest of the ride, and on the quiet trail, I could hear the quiet chuckling from M. and the soon to be relentless jokes going through his head.

We made it back safely, took our boat ride home, and got into the car.

"That was awesome," I said.

"What??"

"That was great. I mean, I know I got a little bitchy there for a while, but what an incredible experience."

"Umm, B? You hated every minute of it."

"No, well yeah, but what an accomplishment. I will never forget today."

(sighing and rolling his eyes a little) "Ok then. Cublog."

And Cublog I remained, the rest of the summer.

4 Comments:

Blogger Margaret said...

I forgot about that story. You have me laughing out loud!

January 29, 2006 10:09 PM  
Blogger Holly said...

very cute story!

my husband is a runner. he wouldn't hang back with me for nothing. a friend of mine asked him for some running help and so he started next to her but she said she didn't make it 1/4 mile before he was shimmering in the distance.

i wouldn't want him back watching me struggle anyway. rather let him catch me as i fell across the finish line LOL

January 29, 2006 10:41 PM  
Blogger Her Grace said...

Margaret-

I'm glad!

Holly-

That's my thought. If he's with me, I'll worry the whole time he's holding back too much and listening to me huff and puff. Better to do it on my own!

January 29, 2006 10:47 PM  
Anonymous marguerite said...

Definitely, do the run on your own. By that time, you'll know when you feel like picking up the pace and when you feel like dropping it a little. If you haven't been training together, don't race together.

January 31, 2006 2:44 PM  

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