I am a lover not a fighter. Even though I don’t always love what I don’t always fight. To explain myself, I am referring to fighting a bear. I do not love bears and I do not want to fight them – much to my mother’s chagrin.
There is a story behind this rambling mess and it begins this past summer in the small, idyllic lakeshore town of Frankfort, Michigan. My mother and step-father, Pete, have retired there and a summer visit is a must, though my sisters and I like to double up as it is easier to do battle with my mother when it’s two against one.
One of the highlights of Frankfort, besides the Dairy Freeze, is biking along a beautiful path that runs inland from Lake Michigan and my sisters and I are no strangers to this pleasurable ride. But choosing between my parent’s only two bikes is a lose-lose situation. For this particular ride, I won the throw-down and chose the men’s ten-speed from 1979 with a seat so high so that my feet left the peddle every time the wheel turned. First gear was the only gear in my sister Becky’s bike and to watch her peddle ferociously like a mad circus clown was definitely the gift that kept on giving. But neither handicap was a showstopper – see, in my family, we consider it a personal challenge to overcome the most inane and ridiculous obstacles. To break down and buy new bikes would be admitting defeat. Some call it stubborn; we call it winning, just like Charlie.
So, we’re halfway through the ride, enjoying the incredible scenery and, because I am a multi-tasker, I was talking on the phone. I did notice a couple approaching us riding extremely close together and it was only after my sister said, “Holy shiznet,” that I realized that the close-knit twosome looming ahead was actually a large black bear.
We cautiously slowed our bikes and Becky and I stared at the impressive beast, trying to put the surreal scene in perspective. He was on all fours, maybe 250 lbs, and stood in the middle of the bike path about 20 yards out. Now, I wasn’t sure how fast bears can run, but I had a feeling it was faster than I could peddle and certainly faster than Becky could. The gravity of the situation swept over me – I knew it could go either way and I am not ashamed to say I was scared shiznetless.
“Becky,” I whispered, never taking my eyes off the bear, “turn back.” I didn’t have to tell her twice – she whipped that clown bike around like a professional from the X Games and took off like a slow bat outta hell.
I, on the other hand, couldn’t get my feet on the peddles. I fumbled and stumbled and dropped my phone. Because of the high bar across the bike, I couldn’t easily lean over and when I tried, the large bike fell to a 45 degree slant. I knew if I didn’t get my shiznet together soon I might soon be dead. Or at least playing dead.
I took a deep breath, got up and turned the bike around, jumped on as elegantly as a middle-aged woman can and rode off, never looking back. Becky was 10 yards ahead, but as she heard me huffing and puffing to catch up turned her head around and called out, “Did you get a picture?”
I, unfortunately, did not. Oddly enough, it had occurred to me, but in my haste to make a speedy exit, the time to snap a photo escaped me. As I was later explaining this to my mother, she announced, “Well, you could have easily done it. Black bears are a dime a dozen around here. They’re very friendly, more of a pest actually. If you want them to move, you just shoo them away.” And then, like a cheerleader at a pep rally, she clapped her hands out in front of her and chanted, “Shoo, Suey. Shoo, shoo.”
Becky and I looked at each other with that familiar “okay, she’s nuts” face. “First of all, Mother,” I began, “We don’t know if was it was a ‘he.’ It could have been an angry female protecting her cubs. Secondly, why would I want to poke a bear? It’s not like I need to prove to him how tough I am. I admit it – a bear is tougher. In a fight he would definitely win.”
“And isn’t ‘Suey’ a pig?’ my sister added.
“You girls are making a mountain out of a mole hill. Make a little noise,” she clicked her teeth as one might do to call a cat, “they just run off. They’re scared of people, you know.”
“He didn’t look scared to me,” Becky offered, then added, “Have you ever seen a bear?”
“A thousand times.”
“Really, Mom? When?” I asked.
“I don’t remember, but I know I have.” She looked around for my step-father and then screamed, “PETE! PETE! When was the last time we saw a bear?”
“Never saw a bear, Claudia,” Pete answered from somewhere in the house.
“Well, he’s wrong. I know we have. Hmm . . . unless I’m thinking of a bobcat.” She adjusted her glasses. “All I’m saying is you had nothing to worry about. They’re harmless.”
Not two weeks later my mother, the fearless seventy-two-year old bear hunter, sent an article about a young girl that had been mauled by a black bear, 50 miles from where Becky and I were riding. Thank goodness the teenager was okay – apparently you can fight a bear and win.