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Spoiling A Walk In The Woods With Solitude

July 12, 2016

The greying sky let me know the unseen sun had bested the horizon. The birds were providing a multi-voiced chorus for my early morning hike through the Rocky Mountain west of Yellowstone park. 

I’m an early riser. Nowhere is that more enjoyable than when camping in the mountains. We are on a family vacation with my wife’s sisters and their families. We had kids sleeping in tents and in vehicles, so I couldn’t start getting breakfast ready without waking my son. All the food was in the  vehicles.

I decided to take the opportunity for a hike. The trail through the campground led to a dirt road that serviced a collection of summer cabins. Walking out to the main road I decided to loop back around to this campground entrance. 

My boots crunched on the fine gravel that made up the dirt road. The previous night’s rain was collected in small easily avoided puddles. My walking stick added an offbeat third step as my footsteps disturbed the tranquility of the mountain quiet. I heard geese announcing their arrival at the lake, visible through lodgepole pines. 

It was quiet. So quiet I easily heard the THUMP off in the forest to my right and slightly behind me. In an instant I realized I’d made a foolish mistake. Almost unbidden, a whistling tune sprang to my lips. I hiked on, loudly whistling one tune after another. 

Whistling passed the graveyard? Maybe. 

There’s a misconception about hiking in the Rocky Mountains. There’s a natural tendency to step softly: to attempt to disturb as little as possible the tranquility that is God’s playground. 

That’s a mistake. It was the mistake that I made and for some, it has been a fatal mistake. While you might attempt to tread lightly in the forest, the forest won’t necessarily tread lightly back.

This is bear country. And unlike the Bernstein Bears, the ones here can be deadly. 

Normally a bear, either a grizzly, black bear or brown bear, will avoid people. The polar bear is the only bear that will hunt humans as food. In fact, polar bears are the only animal of any species that will hunt humans. But, the rest of the bears will avoid humans. . .if they know you’re there. 
It’s not complicated. You just have to do the opposite of what you would think would be the right thing. Instead of slipping through the forest as quiet as a  Native American, you want to be as loud as an American traveling abroad. Whistle, sing, tell rude jokes. Anything to announce your presence.

Stores sell bells that you can attach to your pack that make a curious gingling sound as you walk. 

Don’t get these. They are referred to as “dinner” bells. They make a curious sound because baby bear cubs find the sound curious. And they are called dinner bells, because mama will make a meal out of you if you get near her cubs.

So, enjoy the great outdoors. Just don’t be quiet about it.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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