I remember the first spin class I ever went to. To make us work harder, the instructor suggested we pretend a bear was chasing us. I was with my daughter. We looked at each other and rolled our eyes. As if THAT would ever happen.
Since then, I’ve had several encounters with wildlife while on my bike. I have never actually been chased on land (different story in the water). But I have passed several bears by the side of the road while riding and have had to make a number of quick about-faces to avoid the spin class instructor’s scenario.
Not so bad to pretend a bear is chasing you when you’re going downhill. But oddly, every time I’ve met up with a bear, I’ve been climbing. If the bear in question was hungry, she wouldn’t even have to break a sweat. It would be more like the Callaghan Buffet. Stroll up, grab an appetizer off the bike, bring it home for the cubs.
Late this spring I decided to climb Cypress. I’d never ridden past the second lookout, and with cars banned from the route early in the pandemic, I figured it was the ideal time to go.
However, no cars meant no noise, and no noise meant the bears roamed free, especially early in the morning—which is my preferred time to ride. As I made my way up an almost deserted road, two cyclists came flying down the hill toward me. They slowed as they drew closer.
“Bears,” they said. Plural.
“Did you have to turn around?” I asked.
“Yes. They’re right beside the road.”
I hesitated. When I make up my mind to do something, it takes a lot to make me turn around. The cyclists said the bears were near the second lookout, and I still had a ways to go before I got there. Maybe by the time I arrived, they’d be gone.
I kept riding.
They weren’t gone.
Reluctantly I turned around, but I wasn’t happy with the arrangement.
I rode about a kilometer down when, to my surprise, the two cyclists had returned, and this time they’d brought friends. A posse. Huh. I turned around and followed them back up. The bears were still there, but the other cyclists managed to scare them away and we made it to the top without being chased. Mischief managed.
However, I was not so lucky in the water.
I’ve always been a brave open-water swimmer because, as some of you might know, I like to live in denial. Denial works for me. Nothing will get me, or bother me, or chase me, because stuff like that only happens to other people.
The thing with denial is, it doesn’t stand up well to reality.
One rainy morning, my son and I went for an early morning open-water swim at Jericho. The water was calm. The beach was empty.
“There might be seals,” he said with a note of fear in his voice. “Two of them. They seem to live here, like it’s their territory.”
I started laughing. “So what? Seals are cute.”
He lifted an eyebrow.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll protect you.”
We swam out to the far buoy, stopped to check on each other, and he said, “Look. Over there.”
A little black head popped out of the water. It was a seal.
“Are you scared?” I said. And then I started talking to the seal. Hi sweetie, how are you, in the voice people use with babies and pets. It was my first mistake.
My son didn’t want to swim long, so he decided to get out and get changed. I kept swimming. I was now the only one in the water.
Or so I thought.
I swam all the way to the far side and turned around, intending to do another lap, when I felt something bump up against my feet.
Anyone who swims open water knows how the imagination can play tricks on you. You can feel seaweed and creatures and a whole host of creepies if you let yourself think about it. It’s even worse when you’re alone. So I got it under control and thought, nope, just my imagination, and pushed it out of my head.
Except then it happened again.
I swim with an orange floating Swim Buddy that hangs from a strap at my waist, so my next thought was, my feet must have touched the floaty. Except the floaty didn’t reach my feet, and the thing, whatever it was, didn’t feel like a floaty. It was hard, and cold, and it pushed against me as if it had a mind of its own.
Because it did. It was the seal.
As soon as I realized that, I had a moment of pure panic completely out of proportion to the situation. To watch me swim to shore, you would have thought I was being chased by a Great White. But there’s no accounting for terror, and when that seal kept coming back and banging itself against my feet, I swam for my life.
I was only thankful no one was on the beach to watch, because as I walked onto shore and looked behind me, that little black head popped up out of the water and I swear the damn thing was laughing at me.
In retrospect, swimming alone is probably not the best idea. If anything serious was to happen, a floating Swim Buddy wouldn’t be much of a substitute for an actual person.
And…note to Coach Stewart: “Pretend a seal is chasing you” would work for time trials. Just saying.