Don't Tell My Mother
by Danny D'Angelo
A story submitted by a soloist that was stopped by a bear and her cub.
They say honesty is the best policy, so I’m going
to be honest with you. When I arrived at the starting line of the Canadian
Death Race I was scared. A 125-kilometer foot race through the Rocky Mountain
foothills in Grand Cache Alberta. Their website says it’s the ‘baddest’ extreme
race around. The course crosses three mountain summits and gains over 17000
ft in elevation through remote territory and very rough terrain. So yeah
I was scared, very scared.
They say any fool can run a marathon but it takes
a special kind of fool to run an ultra or even the rarest of fools to run
an extreme. Adventure racing they call it. ‘Find out why we call it
the Death Race’ they say. ‘Are you tough enough?’ they ask. I don’t know.
Everyone asks a runner why he or she does it. Except
for the fact that cardio vascular exercise is good for you we decide that
we want more. Even though I run for charitable causes and got into the sport
because someone I knew died from lung cancer I really don’t know why I do
it. No one questions kids why they run.
So here I am on a chilly morning with the RCMP leading
us runners out of Grand Cache to embark on our journey. I trained hard and
I came very well prepared. You have to with these types of conditions. The
aid stations are far apart so you have to plan your race wisely. The race
is broken up into five sections with time limits to complete each section.
All in all you have 24hours to complete the race. Yes that means running
in the dark.
The organizers have strict rules on the runners
required checklist; batteries, headlamp, rain gear, safety goggles, gloves
and hat since the summits are cold. Like cars, runners come into a pit stop
fashion refueling on food and sport drinks and change of gear at the end
of each leg. That hot soup sure feels good considering the physical and mental
stress your body is going through. And so does a fresh pair of socks since
you are running in water and mud. I went through five pairs and two shoes.
It is recommended that you have a crew to assist you with your stops.
I had two old friends with me.
After summiting Flood Mt., the thought of why I’m
doing this doesn’t even enter my mind. I can’t describe how beautiful my
surroundings were. On my way to my second summit I encountered very unforgiving
terrain, lots of mud and very steep ascents and descents. I remember
laughing and loving every step. But not getting cocky because it is still
a long race and you don’t know what is ahead.
The summit of the second mountain, Grande Mt. was
even more beautiful then the first since it was higher. I could see the town
and surrounding mountains. Wow I thought, this is incredible, I couldn’t
get over how beautiful this was. God’s country as they say. During most of
all this I am alone. The runners have thinned out. Every once and awhile
you’ll pass a runner or they will pass you. Saying hello and making sure
the other is all right, and then you’re alone again.
The approach to the third summit, Mt. Hamel, was
the easiest part of the race and one of most scenic sections offering stunning
views of the Smokey River Valley and Creek Trail. At one point I got teary
eyed at my surroundings. Maybe it was the endorphins kicking in or was it
the spirit inside me I was connecting with.
I was now at the most difficult section of the race,
the Hamel assault. Two very long steep ascents to the top. Believe it or
not I love ascents. I love the mountains. I guess I get it from my dad since
he was a sheepherder living in Italy before imigrating to Canada. I remember
as a kid all the stories I used to hear about the mountains. How powerful
they can be and what they represent.
This will be the last time I see my crew until the
wee hours of the morning. It was now 8:45pm and darkness will fall soon.
My crew so far have done a great job. Helping me with my gear, my shoes,
backpack and most important having fun. I was told that I had to hurry
because of the cut off imposed just before the summit. I felt confident and
very strong at this point. It has now been 14hours into the race. I did feel
sad though for the other runners retiring. It’s difficult for us to decide
that we shouldn’t or can’t go on. It is a hard decision to accept.
An hour into the assault I came upon a runner who
I had encountered before in the race. His name was Andre. Funny thing, he
was also a charity runner. He was in need of some food and I obliged. Y’know,
a part of me really didn’t want to help. I didn’t want to stop because I
knew of that cutoff time up ahead. But it would be wrong to do so. In order
for the entrant’s safety cutoff times are imposed. Since most of the race
is in vast wilderness your whereabouts is monitored. To conserve energy I
planned to stay just ahead of those times. My plan seemed to be working until
fate stepped in.
Just after my encounter with Andre it was he who
suggested we put our headlamps on and he also took out his bear whistle.
Bears? Oh yeah we’re in the mountains. It is important to make your presence
known during this race. No sooner than we continued on we came across a cub.
It was Andre who spotted it. At first I thought he was just fatigued and
seeing things. I also didn’t want to believe it. But there it was my first
encounter with a bear. And her mother was further down behind coming to her
cub. Two of them two of us. Now I was really scared. I didn’t want to think
about the fact that I could of came across them alone. That seemed more frightening.
This was not a good situation. We tried making loud
noises and big movements but she started to growl. We both desperately wanted
to continue but at what expense? Every time we advanced she growled. It was
a stale mate. It seemed very important to Andre that he continue and finish
for his charity, but I didn’t have a good feeling about this. We decided
to climb up along side the mountain and go around with not much room to do
so. I didn’t like the idea so I stalled for a moment and said I needed to
catch my breath. I hoped for something positive to happen and it did. I saw
a light coming up from down below. Help was on its way.
A volunteer of the race came up on his four-wheeler
and we quickly stopped him. He saw us up on the side and told us not to move.
He radioed the situation to the race headquarters. It was Grand Cache
Search and Rescue that brought us down from the mountain. Once I was with
them I felt confident about my safety. The ordeal took well over an hour.
I wasn’t allowed to continue. I wouldn’t of been able to anyways I was standing
for too long and now I was cold. My race was over but not my journey.
The conservationist drove us back into town. He
already had to shoot a bear earlier in the day and had it still in the back
of his pickup truck. That was pretty eerie to see. He offered to by
us a beer and so did everyone else in town. By now the story was all over
and everyone wanted to see ‘the two runners who fought off a grizzly’. We
had to tell them that it wasn’t that dramatic. I soon met up with my crew
who seemed to be having too much fun. The dummies decided that since they
wouldn’t see me for about six hours they eat ‘magic mushrooms’. Well after
all this and telling the story about twenty times I called it a night and
went to get some well-deserved rest.
I soon left the picturesque and friendly town of
Grand Cache and spent the night in Edmonton. I found a computer and emailed
my family and friends my results of the race. Being concerned about my mother
I made a note to everyone not to tell my mother. She doesn’t like it when
ever I go off to my adventures. Well wouldn’t you know it that while
waiting for my flight back home I ran into some people who knew my parents.
Not knowing this I had told them about my trip and the bear story. I mean
that’s what you do when your travelling, share stories. I said to them please
don’t tell my mother.
It was good to be back home in Ontario and the first
chance I got I went backcountry camping alone. Fool that I still was I hiked
an hour and a half at Bon Echo Provincial Park to my site in the dark. My
gear was heavy and the terrain was rough. I figured hey I’ve just been through
the Canadian Death Race this is nothing. Still it wasn’t a very wise and
safe thing to do. I must admit I was scared too. I wasn’t concerned at all
about the possilbility of tripping and spraining my foot in deep country
or that my flash lights seemed to be malfuctioning. I just couldn’t stop
thinking about bears. At one point I even jumped at seeing my own shadow.
I finally got to my camp site and it took me a long
time to set up. My flash lights now have stopped working. I guess everybody
has to learn how to set up camp in the dark at some point. When I finally
finished I was too tired for a fire and a meal that I went straight to bed.
Still scared I had my buck knife next to me as some sort of comfort. Well
sure enough after a few minutes I heard growling. Just like the first drop
of a rollar coaster my heart sank. Oh no! I heard growling alright but it
was not from a bear but from a hungry and tired treker, me. My stomach. I
crawled out of my tent had a laugh. I looked around listened to the loons
and noticed the moon over the lake. I smiled and thought how entertaining
nature can be.
My mother did eventually learn about my bear encounter.
It was my father who told her. He immediately upon hearing my story called
my mother over. ‘Did you know what your son did out west?’ I thought I was
having one of those private father son moments. My dad said that a story
like this a mother has to know about. Of course my mom freaked as every mother
would. She made me promise not to run any more adventure type races. Well
I told I lie. Next stop for me… The 100 Mile Himalayan Stage Race or maybe
the Marathon des Sables. But please don’t tell my mother.