Many people ask me and my coworker if they will be safe on the trail. Mostly, people are afraid of bears. For some reason, my reassurance that they’re more likely to see a rattlesnake than a bear on the trail doesn’t seem to comfort most people.
My kinder answer to worried visitors preparing to walk the trail is that 100 screaming children and 35 barking dogs have already been on the trail to scare the bears away. To visitors who arrive earlier in the day, before the multitudes of screaming children and barking dogs have scared the bears, I tell them the bears in the National Forest are hunted, which makes them timid and wary of people. While some visitors are disappointed by the slim chance of seeing a bear, most are relieved.
Some people seem to want to feel as if they are in danger. Maybe they are otherwise lacking excitement in their lives. When the mountain was nearly deserted due to the nearby fire, a group of Germans arrived at the trail. In addition to demanding the hosts at the campground across from the trail tell them when the electricity where they were staying would be back on (never mind that the campground where they were standing never has electricity), they also wanted to know if the animals were angry. Despite the camp hosts’ assurance that the visitors would more than likely be fine, one of the Germans clutched a medium size Maglite to use as a weapon in defense against a potentially angry animal.
The weirdest safety conversation all season was one I overheard my coworker have with the driver of a truck. Neither the driver nor any of his passengers walked the trail. The driver didn’t even park the truck; he just looped through the parking lot to turn around. Before he exited, he stopped to talk to my coworker.
He only had daughters, he said. These boys in the truck were his nephews, he said. He wanted to bring his daughters to see the trees, but would they be safe from mountain lions and bears?
My coworker assured the driver the girls would be safe. My coworker gave him the rap about the bears being timid and rarely spotted near the trail. (Occasionally my coworker sees a bear crossing the road in the early morning or sees the garbage from the parking lot’s trash cans strewn about bear style.) As for mountain lions, my coworker told the man, there’s never been a report of evidence of a mountain lion on or near the trail or parking lot.
After my coworker told the man the trail is safe even for females, the truck full of men drove away.
What was he talking about? I asked my coworker. Does he really think bears and mountain lions will attack women but not men?
My coworker just shook his head. He didn’t understand the man any better than I had.
Maybe the driver thought the nephews could defend themselves against mountain lions and bears but the daughters could not. I don’t know. I was very confused, and I suspect this mystery will never be solved for me.