Thursday, December 23, 2010

Fear...or Lack Thereof

Early this summer, I was charged by my first brown bear. Julie, Tim, and I were riding down the South Rim Trail above Anchorage near sunset. I was in the lead and although I was making a lot of noise due to the overgrown trail, it is a very windy and fast trail and as I came around one of the corners, I saw a mass of brown fur in the trail, about 50 feet in front of me. As we had just passed a couple of hiker with dogs, my brain first processed this as a bunch of dogs in the trail. That did not last. The second pass revealed that this was a mamma brown bear with her back to me as she tried to usher her 2 yearling cubs off of the trail. Crap. I grabbed a handfull of brake, too much. Front wheel locked up and I went flying over the bars towards the bears and then wound up tangled up underneath the bike about 20 feet from them. Crap x4. This is where everything slowed down but still happened so fast that I have trouble reconstructing it, despite the 4 hours I spent lying awake dwelling on it that night. I'm trying to get out from under the bike and mamma bear turns around. She starts charging and I clearly remember clearly thinking "Ok, now this is really gonna happen" and started to go fetal. Then I somehow decided that I was not going to accept a mauling and remembered that is the last resort. I jumped up from under the bike and I think I might have actually roared at the bear. She stopped about 5-10 feet from me and turned around and followed her cubs off the trail and into the brush.

So after all this, the obvious question was, "Do you need some clean underwear?" Prior to this I would have thought the answer quite obvious. "Yes, please". Not the case at all. I was totally jacked up on a total adrenaline rush. I never understood these stories of people being confronted by bears and fighting them off or not realizing they'd been wounded until 10 minutes later. I had a tough time putting what I experience into words. Ok, so why the post now?

I found someone who has described it quite well. Most people in the mountaineering circles are familiar with Joe Simpson, a mountaineer who survived a broken leg and subsequent horrendous fall/crevass experience after his climbing partner was forced to cut the rope ebtween them and let him fall. He wrote a book about and there's a documentary, both called Touching the Void (insert joke here). He also wrote a sort of autobiography that covers all the times he almost died in the mountains before that event, all his friends that died in the mountains, and his recovery process. Towards the end, there is one passage that rang particulary true for and that brief 5-10 second slice:

"The future is simply a matter of fact, an emotionless reality - you will be dead - and that is that. Only the present, what is happening to you now at this very instant, concerns you. Because of this you are unable to extrapolate what the future will be like as a result of what is happening to you now. All you can do is experience the present, nothing more. Deprived of the ability to imagine the future, you are fearless; suddenly there is nothing to be scared about. You have no time to ponder on death's significance or fear what it may feel like. In the cataclysmic violence of the accident you lose not only the future but the past as well. You lose all possible reasons for fear.... Time is frozen for you into the present events and sensations, the knocks, and bmups from whiuch you can draw no emotional conclusions. I'm crashing. I'm falling fast. I'm about to die. This is it. In truth you have far too much on your mind for such frivolous luxuries as fear."

A bit more melodramatic then my experience but still, I could never have said it better. Replace the italicized text with She's charging. I'm going to get mauled. This is going to suck. A lot. and that is exactly where I was. Never scared, just this wierd heightened reality of the moment.

So yeah, Happy Holidays and stuff. Sorry Mom.