After a lovely day off in Grande Cache, Alberta it was time to get back on the road. On a sunny Friday morning we started our ride towards the town of Hinton — 146 kilometers south.
We continued over the foothills of the Rocky Mountains with the occasional glimpse of the cordillera’s majesty. A lot of snow still covered the jagged tops even though we were now in June.
On our third day on the road we camped on a small road that ran to a large natural gas plant. While we tried to sleep, we could hear trucks honking on the near-by highway 40.
“There must be a herd of Caribou on the road,” I told Clara while we wondered why every trucker that went by was slamming on the horn repeatedly.
All night, Smokey and Mac who were tied to two trees, seemed more agitated than usual. Pawing at the ground and starring off into the distance with their heads held high, as if looking at some kind of danger.
The next morning, while we drank coffee and watched the boys eat their grain, a car stopped at the beginning of the small gravel road.
“Good morning, I just saw your horses tied up and wanted to let you know there’s a big sow grizzly with her cub just a few feet from here on the side of the highway,” she said with worry in her eyes.
I thanked her and quickly began taking up Mac to get out of there. The most dangerous situation you can be in with a grizzly, is finding yourself near her cubs. The honking the previous night and the horses nervousness all night now made sense. The momma bear must have been grazing near our camp all night. Thanks to the bell tied to Mac’s neck, ringing all night, the bear stayed away.
Well, this was an ominous sign of what was to come. Fearing the momma bear, I rode Mac south while Smokey followed in tow. Luckily, we did not see the bear and she didn’t see us. Everything was going well until about 6 kilometers later, when out of the forest, a huge male grizzly stepped out onto the ditch. Mac immediately saw him and turned around ready to run the other way. Smokey didn’t see the bear but Mac’s reaction was enough to turn him around as well and try to take off with his adoptive brother.
“Easy boys, easy,” I cried out using all my might to hold both horses from taking off at a gallop the way we had just come.
With Mac standing on his hind legs, fighting me, the bear turned around and wandered back into the bush. I took a sigh of relief managing to turn the boys around. They stood with their heads held high, pushing it a tad higher every few seconds, ears pointed forward and nostrils open wide. Smokey snorting repeatedly.
After about 5 minutes, man and beasts finally calmed down and with no sign of the grizzly, we continued south. After that, anything, and I mean anything, set the boys off. A large rock, a fallen tree, a weird looking hill… To them everything was that bear and it was out to eat them.
Luckily this was the only bear we actually saw, although we did ride by many piles of scat and fresh holes dug by grizzlies looking for roots.
On this stretch we managed to raise $170 for the Barretos Children’s Cancer Hospital! A trucker who worked with Gregg – the man who pulled us out when we got the motorhome stuck near Grande Prairie – and a fellow who worked for the Caribou watch program all made donations on the side of the road.
“What you are doing is awesome, happy to help in some small way,” Mr. Ferrera said after parking his truck on the side of the road and passing me a $100 dollar bill.
People often ask me if I have ever thought of quitting. Of course I have. Almost everyday! But what keeps me trekking when I am riding in 16 degree weather, snow, winds 120 kilometers per hour wind and grizzly infested forests are these moments. When I see that I am helping this tremendous hospital save lives. This is what keeps me going no matter what.
We all need purpose in life and I am happy I have found mine.