Most of us know the feeling of an adrenaline rush. The pituitary gland gets word of something that it thinks the rest of your body ought to know about, and tells your adrenal gland to wake up and dump some rocket fuel in your bloodstream. Next thing you know, you've jumped four feet into the air.
The point of adrenaline is to give you a chance - to fight, if need be, or maybe to run like hell away from something. Something that just might be pissed at you.
When I saw the grizzly on the side of the road, it was certainly pissed at me. But the reason for its anger is what gives this story its novelty: that enormous, furry hunk of Ursus arctos horribilis was bent out of shape because I had pissed on him.
Now, I'm not exactly what you'd call an adrenaline junky. At my age, it's enough of a thrill to get to the fridge and back without either breaking an ankle or spilling my beer. Moreover, with what would charitably be called a stout body shape, I fear that a shot of adrenaline would be enough to cause the leather-purse-full-of-cheez-wiz I call a heart to give out once and for all. God forbid.
I've encountered a grizzly bear twice. And out of those two times, I only peed on one once.
The first time, I was picking huckleberries about 20 years ago, when I was a young buck of about fifty years old. A friend and I (if you can call my wife a friend) were camping when that old familiar urge for huckleberries stuck us. Perhaps we'd had a wee nip. A slight state of inebriation always gives me a sweet tooth.
I found a patch of big ripe huckleberries in the trees and thought myself a rich man. I sat down right in the middle of it and picked a handful. Then another. For God's sake, I knew we were in bear country; it was the southern slope of a mountain in the Great Bear Wilderness area of Montana, a veritable Shangri La.
I had happily filled my mouth with the succulent goodness several times, when I became aware of a greedy slurping sound similar to, and yet not, the one that I, myself, was making. Then there was a great snort and then a low, rumbling vocalization. I thought, "I'm pretty sure that's not my wife." Then I parted the bushes and was face to face with a 600-pound grizzly. My glandular reaction was instant.
I did exactly what I shouldn't do - I raced out of there. I ran so hard that I may literally have run my ass off. I've noticed a definite flatness to my gluteal area ever since.
I could not even speak well enough to tell my wife what had happened for several minutes while I sucked wind and waited for my blood to cool.
Luckily enough, the bear was more interested in the huckleberries than he was in me. Left to his feast, he plopped down and started in on them without competition. Not that I would have been much competition.
The second time, the time in which I micturated onto a grizzly bear, was 12-15 years ago. I attended a pretty boring business conference in Whitefish that ended with a dinner party. Cocktails at 7 pm, dinner at 8, and then one or two hours of tedious conversation meant that I left Whitefish for the drive back to the ranch at around 10 pm. I knew I would need some coffee, so I stopped at a gas station in Columbia Falls and filled my thermos, drinking as much of the foul-tasting brew as fast as I could to stay awake. After all, it was past my bedtime.
But all that fluid needed somewhere to go, and I found myself needing a pit stop just a little past summit, on the Browning side of the pass. I pulled over at a steep little gravel roadside pullout. I got out, stretched, and walked to the rear of the truck. I had turned off the headlights to preserve my modesty, should anyone come down the road, though there were very few people about at that time of night. Heedless of what might be lurking down the embankment, I opened fire, so to speak, making sure only that I wasn't doing so into the wind.
If you're ever peeing on the side of the road at night, leave the damn lights on. Be sure you are alone. I was just about to zip up and resume my travels when I hear what can only be described as a perturbed, huffing woof. I opened the SUV hatch, retrieved the flashlight stored just inside, and turned it on, peering down the short ridge and aiming the beam into the underbrush.
You've already guessed what I saw there, in the thin light - a big grizzly bear, just a little wet, some ten feet down the slope. Maybe it is my imagination, but I thought he had a somewhat quizzical look on his face as if to say, "where did such a warm rain come from on such a brisk spring night?" Then he saw me, the idiot waving a flashlight with my fly down.
He had tiny little eyes set deep in a huge, broad face. He was already swaying that great, slightly wet head, ears laid back and mouth agape. It snorted and clacked its teeth together and then made a bizarre, jaw-popping noise that I hope I'll never hear again.
I can't speculate as to a bear's powers of deductive reasoning, but I'm pretty sure he had put together what had happened.
Instantly I experienced that same rush, and then I was off to the races - into the SUV, gravel spraying in all directions, overcome with sheer freak-out panic—the neuro-chemical equivalent of the paddles they use to defibrillate a stopped heart.
I was near Cut Bank before I could breathe properly.
I think of that bear sometimes, in the small hours of the morning. I think about his wounded pride and how if someone ever peed on me, I'd definitely want to make them pay. I wonder if he isn't plotting his revenge even now, like how the shark in Jaws returned, again and again, to attack Roy Scheider's family despite being blown up multiple times.
But above all, I'm glad for my good fortune that the call to nature didn't go the other way; I'm certain I wouldn't have survived pooping on a grizzly bear.
Gary Shelton was born in Lewistown in 1951 and has been a rancher, a railroader, a biker, a teacher, a hippie, and a cowboy. Now he's trying his hand at writing in the earnest hope that he'll make enough at it to make a downpayment on an RV. Hell, scratch that. Enough to buy the whole RV. He can be reached at [email protected] for complaints, criticisms, and recriminations. Compliments can be sent to the same place, but we request you don't send them - it'll make his head big.