It began in early spring.
I was surprised as anyone when I met Kylie. It isn’t easy to meet new people in the newspaper business or rather, it isn’t easy to meet new single people. We work days, nights, and weekends, and cover family events, at which the odds of meeting unattached people are extremely poor.
I met Kylie not at a work function, but on a bike trail.
She had a flat tire, and I stopped to see if I could render assistance.
I needn’t have bothered. She had a repair kit, and knew how to use it. Her motions, as she worked on the tire, were swift and confident.
We got to talking, the way people do on beautiful spring days when the sky is blue, the sun is shining, and all is right with the world.
To my astonishment, she suggested we have lunch at a cafe along the trail.
I have put a lot of miles on my bike, and that sort of thing never happens, at least not to writers of advancing years and expanding waistlines.
After I recovered from my initial shock, I agreed, and off to lunch we went.
As we sat under an umbrella at an outdoor table, I considered my new friend. She had shortish brown hair and intense brown eyes. The arms and legs that protruded from a blue shirt and black shorts revealed the healthy sort of tan that suggests a lot of time spent outdoors.
She was clearly no stranger to physical activity, and she radiated energy.
Kylie was 26, which made me feel ancient, but the difference in our ages didn’t seem to matter to her.
It turned out we had a lot in common, and conversation flowed easily.
After lunch, we set a date to go kayaking at a local lake. We got through that without any major disasters, and we began to see more of each other.
We had been going out for a few months when we decided to take the trip.
I had not done any backpacking, but Kylie was a veteran.
My camping experience had been confined to comfortable state parks and campgrounds.
The idea of a backpacking trip to Glacier National Park was frightening, as well as exciting.
Fortunately, Kylie had kept me busy in the weeks leading up to the trip with hiking, kayaking, bicycling, and all sorts of physical activities.
This had increased my endurance to the point where I figured I might get through the trip without actually keeling over along the trail.
Kylie had worked at Glacier Park while she was in college, and she knew the area well.
We looked forward to two weeks of hiking and photography in the back country.
In mid-September, we loaded the vehicle and headed for Montana.
We spent the our first several days in the park hiking at lower elevations and taking photos.
Then, we worked our way higher in the mountains.
We had seen a lot of wildlife, but most of it was a long distance away. I was nervous camping in bear country, but we took all the recommended precautions, and Kylie seemed at ease.
On the sixth day, we made camp high up a mountain near one of the most stunning views we had seen on our trip.
We pitched the lightweight tent in a clearing set back in the trees. Nearby was a rocky ledge atop a steep cliff overlooking a beautiful valley. Off in the distance was a sapphire lake surrounded by steep mountains.
We enjoyed a pleasant evening sipping merlot out of stainless steel mugs, a sacrilege that seemed somehow acceptable in the mountains.
I awoke early the next morning, and decided to let Kylie sleep.
After quietly collecting my camera and tripod, I walked through the woods toward the rocky ledge. Kylie had told me never to go out alone in bear country, but in the quiet early morning, the fresh, clean fragrance of the high country was intoxicating, and I knew if I hurried, I would be able to get some good shots of the sun coming up over the distant peaks.
When I reached the edge of the cliff, the lake below was as smooth as a pool of liquid glass.
I set up my tripod, and had been taking photos for awhile when I heard a twig snap behind me. It sounded like a rifle shot in the still morning air.
I turned slowly, and observed the biggest grizzly I had ever seen watching me intently.
I thought about yelling to warn Kylie, but I was afraid that would bring her running straight toward the bear.
It was an adult male, and he was cutting off my avenue of escape. Behind me was the edge of the cliff, and nothing but hundreds of feet of mountain air between me and the valley floor.
The bear advanced toward me. This was not one of those fake charges bears sometimes make. He was moving incredibly slowly and deliberately.
I began to think this might not end well. I looked over my shoulder, and far away, across the lake, I could make out the rough log structure of a lodge. It occurred to me, pointlessly, that even if someone happened to be up and scanning the mountains with binoculars, and happened to notice my predicament, there was nothing anyone could do to help me.
The bear was very close then. He stood up and let out a deafening roar that turned my knees to jelly. He was so close I could smell his foul breath, which reeked of carrion.
I was just beginning to wish I had stayed at home when it happened.
The bear ate me.
Happy April 1, everyone.