As part of my summer survival plan I’m attempting to run at the crack of dawn. Or my version of the crack of dawn, which happens about two hours after sunrise. I’m enjoying the solitude of runs relatively free of hazards such as traffic, giant strollers, and teetering kids on bikes. More unexpected was the active wildlife. I know it’s not surprising that the woodland (or in this case, the urbanite) critters hustle and bustle before the car-revving, trail stomping humans take over; but the first time a bunny hopped in my path and stared me down I very nearly went into cardiac arrest. I’m a bit jumpy before I’m fully awake. Fully awake doesn’t happen until about three hours after I’m finished a morning run. This tidbit is important, so file it away.
On a typical evening run I’m greeted by raggedy looking squirrels and a flock of pigeons and that’s about it for the animal kingdom. Early rising has not only gotten me the worm, but the fox, rabbit, raccoon, rat, and several mice. It’s nice to encounter “wild” life beyond a few overly exuberant dogs. Much as I love dogs and all their fluffy cuteness, my most memorable (read: heart stopping) animal encounters always seem to involve untrustworthy canines. Like the one last January in Banff National Park. To fully appreciate that moment I need to take you back to the day before the run.
In an effort to keep luggage to a minimum, I decided to run indoors (so I could leave my bulky winter running gear at home), on a treadmill, during the trip. We all know how that went. Lucky for us, our trip coincided with the Chinook winds and the weather was gloriously warm. I decided to test my resolve in the great outdoors, subbing in my winter play gear (i.e. the clothes I wear under my ski suit) for running gear. The thing about my winter play gear – it is functional castoffs from the Lululemon warehouse sale. The clothes were meant for wearing beneath a layer of outer clothing. The exceptionally ugly pants are best described as sinus infection green, with an eerie glow. This tidbit is important, so file it away.
The night before my outdoor run I went out for dinner at a tourist trap fondue restaurant called the Grizzly House. The poorly ventilated room was filled with tables of people cooking all varieties of meat, the most popular of which seemed to be local flavours of venison, elk, bison, beef, and wild boar. The smell of flesh wafted into every nook and granny. Knowing I had a run in the morning I decided not to shower that night, saving the environment from wasteful water use (fine, being lazy) by waiting until post-run the next day. I went to bed, and woke up the next morning, smelling like meat. This tidbit is important, so file it away.
The next morning, as planned, I go on my run. Dressed in my neon green pants, hair reeking of animal, I head out on the trails of Banff National Park. The ranger, or whatever those parks people are called, plotted a route with me and in keeping with the plan I headed northbound on the scenic trail. Upon entering the wooded area another runner came dashing out, jingling all the way. Head to toe she was covered in wee little bells. How odd, I sleepily thought. The night before I noticed that my route, masterfully developed with the aid of the ranger, took me near a dead end road. This road, I was informed earlier that same day by my dogsled guide, had been the scene of recent elk herd sightings. Eager to see postcard-worthy Canadian wildlife I modified my course, the route advised by the knowledgeable ranger, to take me out to the elk feeding grounds. As I’m running down the desolate road (the jingle lady at the start of my run was my sole human sighting) I see a dog out on the frozen pond.
I run toward the puppy, and the puppy crosses the pond headed in my direction, and I start to wonder about the owners. Poor thing, I thought, he’s been abandoned or run away. As I continue to approach the dog and vice versa, closing in at about 100 metres, my brain finally awakens. I am, and have been for some time, running directly toward a wolf. A wolf likely at that very spot in search of the elk that drew me there.
At this moment I should remind you that I smell like a delicious wolf smorgasboard. Elk, venison, bison, beef, boar – I am a kabob running directly into the mouth of the beast. So I do exactly what one should never ever do when approaching a wolf in the wild. I turned tail and ran as fast as my little legs would go, head bobbing back to see if I was being chased.
My second thought, the one that followed Oh. My. God. I Smell Like Meat, was – and I’m a little ashamed to admit this – I Can’t Die in These Pants. The wolf just watched me curiously as I sprinted (relative term, one leap and I’d be down) away. I firmly believe that my horrifying phlegm coloured pants, combined with the confusing array of smells, gave the appearance of rancid meat. Also once, at Canada’s Wonderland during a live-action show, a pirate grabbed me from the audience (seriously picked me up off my seat) but decided I was too skinny to cannabolize. I’m not, it seems, worth the kill. The wolf agreed, deciding not to risk food poisoning for a taste of my weirdly green, oddly smelling, relatively meatless stick legs.
It is easy to think that I was spooked and over-reacted out there in the lonely woods. Husband, for one, was skeptical. It didn’t help that the preceding days I left him notes like “gone to the waterfalls, if not back by 4 fell in” or “gone for a hike, if not back by 2 eaten by bear”. He was working and I was left to explore Banff on my own. Seeing the doubt in his eyes, the next morning I drove him out to Wolf Pond (not the official name).
Against all odds, the wolf was back …with a friend/lover/friend with benefits (who can tell anymore). That’s right, two wolves. Which is practically a pack. So it’s fair to say a pack of wolves. Husband’s eyes saucered a little as I jumped up and down shouting “that’s him, that’s him”. Finally, he believed. For all I know the other wolf, perhaps the entire pack, was there during my run, stalking me from afar. It took me 15 minutes to realize the wolf was a wolf, so it’s not a leap to think an entire family might have been – without me noticing – watching me with their hungry, but puzzled, eyes. I suspect I’m ridiculously easy prey. It is fortunate that I’m not terribly appetizing.
We snapped some photographic evidence, which I later presented to the ranger who confirmed that I am not an urban scaredy cat terrorized by a lost puppy, but indeed I had the fortune of not one, not two, but three wolf viewings. There are few wolves remaining in Banff, in twelve years the ranger had yet to see one in the wild, and I stumbled across one -which is almost two, which is almost a pack- on my little 8K jaunt. Lucky me?
Title Reference: Duran Duran – Hungry like the Wolf. From the album Rio. 1982.