In my last two major vacations, I’ve experienced the extremes in adventure travel. I had a dream for many years of going to Canada to see white Kermode bears, aka Spirit bears, after which my dog – and this blog – are named. But I started off with an adventure to Yellowstone National Park. I like bears and I like wilderness, and both travel itineraries seemed to offer them.
Before my first trip to Yellowstone, I’d gone backpacking in Glacier National Park. In doing my research, I found lots of NPS tips indicating that backpacking groups in Yellowstone need to be 3-4 people strong – at a minimum. That didn’t bode well for my husband and I, so we looked at alternatives. I learned about equitrekking, which is a long, multi-day trail ride and camping experience with a guide in a group. Mules carry much of the cargo. When we found an itinerary to take us into what’s advertised as the most remote place in the Continental United States (meaning the furthest from roads in all directions), we were sold. Safety in numbers and deep backcountry access could be attained simultaneously.
We looked at other itineraries, and some seemed boring by comparison. The day of the trip, we had to await our guide who was hours late due to a sudden meeting that he had to attend with NPS rangers. A winter storm was coming in. Once he arrived, he spent a long period of time assessing the range of guests and our gear to make sure we were prepared. We later learned he was deciding whether or not to cancel the trip.
Well, in most ways, I wish he had. We rode about 8 miles the first day, then 18 the next. That was in the original plan. But that’s when we bailed on the planned itinerary and instead did the one I thought was most boring during my research.
Reality was worse. We endured a rain-snow mix right at freezing temps, for which we were prepared. However, the horses couldn’t be ridden in slick conditions. I understand that the itinerary had to change from the canyon ride we’d planned to do, because if a horse or mule slipped, they – and we – could die. But standing around a campfire in rain for two days, unable to even go off on a hike because we weren’t allowed to take our own bear spray, was dreary to say the least. Somehow, the weather didn’t make the return 18 miles and then the final 8 problematic.
We didn’t see any wildlife and we didn’t have a great time. What we learned from that experience, though, is that the right attitude to take when scheduling this sort of trip is to merely decide you’re going on an adventure. Don’t get tied to the animals that might be seen or even the itinerary to be followed. Our fellow travelers who thought camping and horseback riding was enough were OK, but our memories were tainted. That said, our entire trip wasn’t ruined – just the expensive portion of it. We spent the week before that on our own exploring Yellowstone, and that week was magnificent!
But the top of our bucket list still managed to be seeing a Kermode bear in the wild. These are a sub-species of black bear, where 10% of the population is all white (but not albino). They’ve fascinated me since I learned about them around 15 years ago. So we tried as hard as we could to moderate our expectations when we booked this trip.
The experience was so much the opposite of our Yellowstone adventure. It was an enormous success! Despite my best efforts, I allowed my hopes to creep up kind of high in expectations of seeing bears, and hoping desperately that one would be white. My dreams and expectations were shattered – in amazingly wonderful ways! I hope you’ll join me in my upcoming series of posts about this absolutely phenomenal trip to the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, Canada!