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Gay Renouf Wednesday, 28 December 2011 07:49 TWEET COMMENTS 0

Laurie and the Bear - Page 2

Having injured her knee in a marathon a week earlier, Simons substituted her usual running with hiking. She stayed on well-populated trails and jingled her keys as she went. But one morning at the end of August, exploring near Lake Minnewanka, she relaxed her vigilance. Eight kilometers from the trailhead, having passed numerous tent campsites and feeling annoyed by whining motorboats, she took a side trail to a remote fire lookout.

 

"I was off in my own little world," she says. An undertone of sarcasm creeps into her voice. "There was no music," she adds and hums the ominous music from the movie Jaws. "The first thing I heard were startled grunts ... and then two little cubs came crashing through the trees. I was just sick, not with fear, just extreme sadness, and thought, `This is so bad.'"

Behind the two cubs was the mother grizzly, who chased them off the path. "Then, she charged, and I ran behind a tree. I made it just in time, because she stopped on the other side." Steve Michel, Banff National Park's Human Wildlife Conflict Specialist, says Simons' quick action may have changed the bear's thought track, from a frenzied attack to returning to her cubs.

"I leaned around the tree and I told her, `I was just going, you know,'" says Simons. "She snarled, and I got a really good look at her face and thought, `Oh, she's beautiful.' There was some deadfall below me off the trail and I tried to dive into it, but she caught me in mid-air, swiped at my back and my scalp. Then she froze, and I thought, `If you scream, maybe it won't hurt as much.'"

The ensuing attack lasted a few long minutes. Foremost in her mind was, "Oh, my God, my kids will never be able to find me." With Simons now quiet and burrowed half under the deadfall, the bear snorted and pawed, moved a few feet away, paced back and forth, snorting and pawing, then faded to maybe 20 feet away, still pacing and snorting. Eventually Laurie didn't hear any more sounds. Michel says most sow grizzlies will defend their cubs with a couple of swats and, by not fighting back, Simons showed that she presented no threat.

Her eyebrow was hanging by a flap of tissue, so she clamped her hand to her head. Losing blood rapidly, Simons waited for unconsciousness, yet the forest's brilliant green and shadows stayed. "When it didn't go black, I started to have hope," she says. She slowly rose to her feet and hiked down the trail to the lake. There she encountered campers Jason Best and Ken Nielsen, who administered first aid and took her to the Lake Minnewanka public boat launch. "I was absolutely amazed at her courage and her strength," says Nielsen. "She was calmer than most of the people there."

Several ambulance rides later, Simons arrived at the Calgary Hospital, where she met her family. She had lost her right eyebrow, part of her right ear, a large portion of her scalp and hairline and skin on her back. "She was pretty drowsy at first, but calm and collected," says her son, Stephen. "She was just really tough about it." After a two-week stay in Calgary and seven plastic surgeries over the next two years, Simons had recovered physically but still had mental scars.

Although she had finished a couple of marathons before the Banff posting, Simons had never run any formal trail races. Yet she convinced herself that trail running was going to be her avenue back into living an outdoor life. Her first foray came just nine months after the bear attack. Running a local 52.5-kilometer trail ultramarathon, the Rocket Man in White Butte, Saskatchewan, on the prairie convinced her that she could handle long runs and confirmed her desire to return to the mountains. Showing a strange mix of complete logic and recklessness, Simons knew she'd be fearful in a solo hiking environment, so entered a formal trail race. She hoped the physical challenge would keep her mind preoccupied rather than anticipating predatory animals lurking in the bush.

"I was definitely not going to be the leader, so there would no chance of stumbling across anything," she says with dry humor, "and if I was last, well, there would be sweepers. Logically I knew the chances of meeting bears were slim, and I could bail out along the way."

Simons signed up for the 2006 Powderface42, a trail marathon near Calgary in the Rocky Mountain foothills, renowned for its beauty, difficulty and wilderness. And yes, there are bears there. Laurie visited the race site the day before the event. "It was 8 o'clock in the morning and there was no one around. I lasted two minutes outside of the car and got completely spooked," she says.

 



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