July 12, 2014

A Bear, a Motorcycle, and a Big Slice of Humble Pie

I was given my first hunting magazine subscription as a present for my 9th birthday, the culmination of months spent begging for it.  I was eager to immerse myself in the hunting world, and I can still recall the countless hours spent as a youth reading about the hunting adventures of Jack O’Connor, Jim Zumbo, and Fred Bear.  Growing up, it was all I wanted to do & all I ever wanted to talk about.  In my late teens the fever only intensified - so when I was offered a job as a guide from an outfitter in Western Montana I was fully willing to pay them for the opportunity and took it.  One of the regular guides had to withdraw from the bow season on short notice, and I was in the right place at the right time - so several weeks later I found myself sitting atop a horse on the trail into base camp.  At 19 years old, I was eager to prove I was twice my actual age and had more experience than the calendar would allow.  I always admired how tough Jack O’Connor looked with his hat, so when I arrived on the back of my steed wearing a brand new Bailey cowboy hat, I was confident I looked the part.  Johnny, the outfitter, saw clean through the facade.  “Well…look at you!” he chided as I dismounted, with just enough edge to make me wonder how he meant it.  I took it in stride and paid no notice, after all - how would John Wayne have reacted?

Now a for a little inside information: I have a wonderful “condition” called Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Behavior Disorder that has lent itself to many a good story and dramatically undermines the prior mentioned masculinity.  Essentially, it’s chronic sleep walking & talking.  It leaves me completely unable to discern reality from dreams while in the act of illustrating my dream.  Hilarious, no?  The one thing that tends to aggravate it is nervousness and sleep deprivation.  Hunting guides rarely get a full nights’ rest, and anxiety is the name of the game when trying to get your client an elk.  The stage was perfectly set for a manifestation, I was essentially a ticking time bomb.  That bomb detonated in glorious fashion just 3 days later - barely half way through my first week.  

We had a full camp of hunters from New York, including a Ford executive I was extremely intimated by.  He was understandably suspect of the abilities a 19 year old guide could bring to the table, so guiding him was…difficult.  Myself and another guide named Ryan (a beast of a man) were relegated to sleeping in the horse feed tent atop sweetened oats, so when a grizzly bear arrived in camp on the 2nd night in camp and tore apart our archery target, it really added to the tension.  Laying there on 100 pounds of bear bait listening to the commotion right outside my tent flap was less than enjoyable.  While the night passed without further incident, it also passed without a wink of rest.

The next day was exhausting, and I was dead on my feet.  Somehow I made it through the day, and when nightfall came I was downright excited to climb up on top of those bags of oats and catch up on some much needed sleep.  The last thing that went through my foggy mind as I closed my eyes was wondering if that bear would eat me that night.  And into my dreams I drifted.

Somewhere in my subconscious, I found myself awakening suddenly.  Something had brushed against the tent…something…huge.  I sat up, breathing hard.  “Hello?  Hello?” I whimpered into the dense, dark air.  I fumbled in the dark for my flashlight, but predictably couldn’t find it.  In the midst of my futile efforts, I heard the unmistakable huff of a bear outside my tent.  Full blown panic crept into my soul as the gravity of the situation sunk in.  The bear suddenly unleashed a blood curling roar and charged into the tent.  I leapt to my feet and stumbled backward, desperately trying to escape the confines of my shared wall tent.  “Get out of here, bear!” I screamed in desperation over and over again.  I somehow managed to fall backward out of the tent and scramble into the absolute darkness of the forest outside.  Standing amid the pines, all fell silent.  I wracked my brain, trying to think of a way to either fight the bear or scare it off.  Suddenly, a saving grace appeared before…a motorcycle!  I jumped on the seat, pulled out the kickstarter and I kicked that motorcycle like my very life depended on it.  It wouldn’t start!  Desperate, I kicked harder.  Between kicks, the sound of movement rustling in the bushes approached.  Then my moment of brilliance arrived.  The bear would surely run from the sound of the motor!  I didn’t have to escape, I just had to make the bear THINK I had started the motorcycle!

Confident in the last ditch effort to save my own life, I summoned up every ounce of lung volume I could muster and bellowed out the best 2 stroke motor imitation I had ever heard.  “Vaaaah dah DING DING DING DING DING!!!”  I even revved the sucker up, sure it would strike terror into the heart of the bear. “Dah DING DING DING!  MUAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!”  My perfectly tuned exhaust imitation echoed in the silence, exuding horsepower at every note.

Then I felt myself being shaken violently.  Had the bear caught me???  But I’m on a motorcycle!!  Then the shouting began, distant at first, but getting louder.  Then came the unmistakable force of a solid slap to the face that practically wiped the dream right off my brain.  There I stood, in my wall tent…with my tent mate and fellow guide Ryan staring at me, bewildered.  “What the **** is the matter with you?!” he shouted.  

Then the grim reality set it.  “Ugggghhhh….I can’t believe I….wow…I’m so sorry…”  I muttered.  From the tent beside us where the outfitter Johnny and his wife slept, Johnny hollered “Jared, if you’re scared you can come sleep between us in our bed!”  The entire camp erupted in laughter.   The ENTIRE camp.  I had awoken everyone.  Words cannot even begin to describe the shame I felt as I laid back down…or the jeering I was rightfully subjected to the next morning when I arrived in the cook tent.  My humble pie made a terrible breakfast.  If you’re ever running from a bear and you find yourself a motorcycle, don’t try to start it.  Just let that bear eat you, it’ll be far less humiliating in the morning.

The morning following my "incident", one of the hunters I was guiding suggested I give him my toughest looking face I could muster for his own photo log of the hunt.
Apparently, he wanted to remember what a "tough guy" looked like that still had nightmares.  I did my best to play along.  And yeah, that's my brand new Bailey hat.