It happened while I was camping at Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Alberta. Tucked away in Kananaskis Country, the park’s wilderness area only has cellphone reception at the secluded Park’s Visitor Centre. To log into their WiFi when the office is closed, you need to stand at the entrance door, stick your tongue out the side of your mouth and hold your phone in the air. Chances of a strong signal are better when few people are around.
I know, I’m in the wilderness - why do I need reception? Well, with an elderly dad, I check in every evening to make sure he’s okay.
Before supper, I drive down to the visitor centre. The parking lot is empty. Great. I’ll be able to send and receive the text and get back to the campsite in record time.
Leaning against the locked door, I see three bars on my phone. Perfect. I send my text, wait a few minutes, receive the message … all is well. I tuck my phone in my pocket and walk back to my car. Just as I reach the edge of the sidewalk a noisy, rusty car screeches to a stop in front of me. I glance around. Where the heck did they come from? And why so fast?
The front passenger window rolls down and a gal with piercings in her lip and nostril shouts, “Get in the car.”
I check around. No one. Anywhere. I bend down to talk to her but keep my distance from the open window. The driver (maybe the mom) waves a cigarette in one hand while the other hand wrestles to grab the collar of a barking, giant mutt who’s trying to jump into the front seats.
“Seriously, get in the car,” the gal with the piercings shouts again.
I shake my head slowly. I’m not rude but I’m also not the kind of person to jump into a stranger's car just because they tell me to. The driver yells at the dog to sit. The dog sits but continues to bark.
“There’s a bear.” The gal points towards my car. “He’s big.”
My eyes follow her pointing finger. Sure enough, a bear walks by my car and towards us. To hell with caution, I grab the back passenger door handle and ask, “Will he bite?”
“Of course not.” Her arm pushes the dog over.
I get into the backseat, close the door and press against it. The dog stops barking and stares at me. Would being chased by a bear be less intimidating? The dog leans over. And licks my cheek. Okay, that is better than dealing with a bear.
The driver points out the window and says, “Is that your car?”
“Yup.” It sure didn’t seem that far away when I parked it.
Their car moves towards mine while we watch the bear watch us. As we get closer it saunters towards the edge of the pavement. The driver parks so my exit door is beside my driver door. I pull out my fob, unlock the door and glance at the bear.
“Thank you so much.” I pat their shoulders and give the dog a good scratch. “You saved my ass.”
“Okay. He’s moving away,” the driver says. “Go.”
I open the door, careful not to scratch my car, and take a big breath. One. Two. Three. I shut their door (a bit too hard), take the two steps to mine, jump in and slam my door (equally hard). The bear looks up and tips his head side to side.
The gal with the piercings rolls down her window, smiles and waves. I wave back and they drive away.
I look up through my car’s sunroof and whisper, “Thank you.”
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