I really don’t know why I do this to myself, but if you’ve been following along on this wee blog, you’ll see I have a tendency to do things that will scare the bejesus out of me. Whether I’m climbing cliffs with no strings attached or splashing about in class 5 rapids in Uganda, it would seem I’m an adrenaline junkie. Really, I’m not. I’m merely a fool. A giant fool.
And that’s how this little craving came about. “I am terrified of bears, therefore I must go see some.” And not the ones that live just a few hours north of me, I had a wicked urge fly across to the other side of this magnificent country and go find some big ones. Some really very big ones. I wanted to go sneak up on a grizzly bear. Because I’m smart like that.
I do not recommend stalking bears. They are giant, murderous creatures with far too many teeth. I have no idea why small children around the world tuck in with stuffed versions of these monsters every night. People my size would be that annoying bit of meat that gets stuck in between a grizzly bear’s teeth. But yet, I felt I must go see one.
There are a million reasons to go to British Columbia. I am pretty sure the majestic trees of the coastal rain forests are the very lungs of this planet. Flying over the Rocky Mountains, I couldn’t help but burst into applause as I pressed my face against the teeny airplane window. (I would like to formally apologize to my seat mates). Oh, and this wee thing called the Pacific Ocean. But I was on a quest to find a ferocious beast.
Now, while I won’t deny being foolish, every so often I listen to my neglected and frustrated brain. Usually around the point where it’s rattling on about certain death. Or a chocolate desire. So, my brain made me do some homework – apparently in order to survive a bear encounter, you should hang out with people who know about these things, and have a boat.
Enter Tide Rip Grizzly Tours. One thing I like best about a tour company is when they say no. This team is full of ‘no’s. But, for the very best reason – the safety of both you and the bears. Right off the top, my tour was cancelled – the weather was just not going to cooperate that day, and for the safety of the visitors and crew, the boats were not going out. They worked with my schedule to find a spot on an upcoming tour. Even that day was questionable, and they watched the weather feeds like it was their favourite team in a sudden death playoff match. They asked each boat as they returned to harbour and flat out told us that unless the weather settled, we wouldn’t be going. For these guys, it’s not about the profit, it’s about the safety. Fortunately, the bear gods and the weather gods came to an agreement, and we ventured off.
It’s a bit of a jaunt to Bearsville, so our guides filled the time sharing their stories about bears, their passion spilling forth and their excitement contagious. It’s clear that the guides care deeply about the grizzlies and the environment surrounding them. In between their gushes of bear-love, dolphins splashed alongside the boat and the scenery dazzled us to bits. Even with the rain pouring down, the boat was buzzing with anticipation and fevered excitement. Except me – I was questioning my aversion to good sense.
Soon we arrived on the outskirts of Bearsville (otherwise known as Knight Inlet) and transferred onto smaller skiffs. Because when you’re approaching a killing machine, less boat is better, apparently. I felt like we were riding along on a serving cart, the bears could choose which sweet to munch on first. Again with the ‘no’s – no getting off the boats, no interfering with the bears… no problem. For once I was more than willing to obey.
And then, it happened. There wasn’t just one bear, THERE WERE THREE! I nearly peed my pants. Something very instinctive within me, perhaps that ever-elusive good sense, was screaming out “hide, you bloody fool, hide!” But, as per usual, I failed to listen. Instead, I was captivated. No, bigger than that – I was in love. Truly, madly, deeply. (This is where a therapist would point out my knack for having crushes on those that could destroy me…)
These creatures are simply weep-inducing beautiful. It was all I could do not to hop off our serving cart and go rub one behind the ears, and offer up belly rubs to the others. The young ones were frolicking around, and the mamma bear dug about for wild rice roots. The mesmerizing adrenaline rush of Mother Nature is more than the best stuff Walter White could ever produce.
Two more bears emerged from the forest and strolled through the meadow. Bella, the big mamma bear, and her daughter. Our guides were excited to see Bella, but you could see the concern on their face. Knight Inlet had a few rock slides a couple of years ago, which ended up burying nests of salmon eggs. These unfortunate eggs were meant to be salmon snacks running up the rivers now, and feeding Bella and her family. Without a salmon feast, the bears weren’t putting on the fat used to sustain them through a long winter hibernation. The bears may manage, but the babies growing inside them might not make it. The guides will have to wait until this spring to see how everyone fared. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed.
The bears continued to do their bear thing while camera shutters fluttered as the newly smitten boatload captured every move. It was cold, the rain soaked through my gear, water snuck down the back of my neck and chilled me through. It didn’t matter one bit – time stood still, the world fell silent and the only thing that existed where these powerful, exquisite creatures. My only fear was that this magical moment would end.
Some details: Tide Rip Grizzly Tours are based out of Telegraph Cove on Vancouver Island. Looking for a place to stay? Spend a couple of days exploring Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, and stay with Sue from Stay in Alert Bay. The island is steeped in culture, and Sue is wonderfully hospitable, and the sleep was wonderful.