Bats, snakes, bears…oh my!

  • This was printed in August of 2014 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 65th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

Saturday’s trail run on Wellbarn Road in Auberry started out as a wilderness lesson for

Madera runner Audrey Crow.

I had prepared myself before the trail by Googling what to do if you encounter a bear,

what to do if you hear/see a rattlesnake, how to treat a rattlesnake bite, how to not

become coyote prey, etc.

What can I say? I’m an avid researcher and I’m comforted by knowledge.

As we started our run — just us women — I decided to quiz Audrey to ensure that she

would know what to do if we did, in fact, encounter any wildlife. But I stopped.

“I was going to ask you if you know what to do if you see a bear, but I guess I already

know your answer. Pray,” I told her.

“There are bears on this trail?!” she asked, followed immediately by a long, impassioned

prayer asking Jesus to protect us.

When we’d said our ‘Amens’ I still explained to her what to do if we saw a bear (yell as

loud as you can and wave your arms to scare it away) and how to treat a rattlesnake bite

(don’t try to suck the venom out, just rinse it with water and get to a hospital).

As I was explaining this, we encountered our first wild animal — and we had only been

running for about four minutes. A bat swooped out of the air right at Audrey’s head, and

then at mine.

Thankfully that was the only animal we saw up-close-and-personal during the seven-mile

jaunt.

Unfortunately, an ultramarathoner we know was not so lucky that day.

As we were running back toward my car parked at the Wellbarn Road dead-end, we

crossed paths with Madera native Kristin Rigby. We exchanged hellos without missing a

stride and Audrey and I wondered why she was running by herself. Ultrarunner or not, a

trek in the wilderness is not something anyone should do alone.

We learned the next day that Kristin had come upon a bear — and its two cubs — on the

trail.

“About one mile from the campground I saw a momma bear and two baby cubs just

downhill to the right of the trail,” she explained in a Facebook post. “As soon as momma

bear saw me she started running right toward me! I screamed JESUS SAVE ME! at the

top of my lungs and immediately she turned and ran the other way.

“I kept screaming and hightailed it out of there. I was five miles away from my car. I ran

those last five miles at warp speed. (This happened at 9:15 a.m.) My biggest fear was

running into a rattlesnake. I NEVER thought I’d see a bear!”

Audrey contends that it was prayer that saved Kristin. I say it was the fact that she yelled

loudly. Maybe it was a little of both.

Thankfully Kristin wasn’t hurt, but it was a huge wakeup call for local runners who read

her post. We shouldn’t forget that the trails frequented by runners, hikers and mountain

bikers are also shared by wild animals.

For those who do venture out alone, there’s an app for that. The Road ID app, available

for iPhones and Android devices, has an eCrumb (electronic breadcrumb) feature that

allows friends and family members to track you in real time on a map as you run (or hike,

ride, walk or otherwise move). The eCrumb feature has an optional “Stationary Alert”

that notifies select contacts via text message if you stop moving for more that five

minutes without responding to the alert. This is a genius safety precaution for anyone

who likes to go it alone.

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