Wyoming Runner Has A Nice Mid-Run Chat...To A Bear

Em Unravelling

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As someone who's only ever seen bears in zoos, I will never cease to be amazed at how downright bold they can be.

As a regular runner, too, when I read about Evan Matthews' recent showdown with a bear in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming - the video footage of which has gone unsurprisingly viral on YouTube - my blood ran cold. It's bad enough when I'm running along and someone's dog decides to get a bit close and friendly, but a wild bear? I'm not sure I'd have a clue what to do. I'd almost certainly end up as a bear's dinner.

Which is something that nearly happened, in 2016, to another runner who had the same encounter as Matthews. Karen Williams was running a trail marathon in the Valles Caldera National Preserve of New Mexico when she, too, came face to face with a bear. In Williams' case, it was a mother bear who was defending her cub, and the bear charged at her, causing her quite severe injuries.

I cried out in pain and mama bear did not like that so she hit me with a left hook and bit my neck and started to try to shake me. I rolled into a ball and played dead. She went off about 25 to 30 feet and stopped at the base of a tree and huffed at her cub that was up about 30 feet. The cub cried a bit while trying to get down the tree. Mama bear kept glancing my way to make sure that I was still ‘dead.’- Karen Williams

Sadly, in Williams' encounter, the bear ended up being euthanized by park rangers who needed to check the animal for rabies, which Williams later said she was upset to hear about because the "bear was just being a bear". She also got a lot of hate on social media for running through the bear's natural habitat and disturbing the bear family - which seems unfair, since she was running in an organized race, but such is the way of the internet.

Anyway, the recent Wyoming story had a much happier ending. Evan Matthews, who says that he regularly sees bears on his runs but that usually they are not curious about him and don't approach him, decided against using his "bear spray" in the first instance and elected to talk to the bear. In the YouTube video he can be heard saying "No, I don't care if you're hungry, I'm not your food!" and "don't get any closer". After half a mile of these shenanigans, the bear trotted off into the woods again and the encounter was over. Matthews was unharmed and described the jog with a bear as "exciting".

He says that he didn't try to play dead - as Karen Williams had done - because he knew it was a black bear and that the bear was looking for an easy target. Matthews believes that playing dead would have been playing into the bear's hands. Instead, he kept talking, reminding the bear that he was human and not an animal to be caught. It seems his hunch paid off because both he and the bear were able to run away cheerfully from the encounter.

No matter how happy the ending, though, and however beautiful Wyoming's parks may be, I'm quite happy that the largest wild animal I've seen on a run so far was a timid deer a field away. I definitely wouldn't have been able to keep my cool in the face of a bear, let alone video it for YouTube.

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A lover of horizons, hills, and words. Likes to write about uncomfortable things because too many people steer round those parts of life.

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