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I’ll admit it. I screamed.
I screamed loudly.
Not like a little girl though. I’m proud of that at least.
It was the deep, guttural scream of instinct that can only escape one’s lips when they believe they are about to be eaten by a wild bear.
A few months ago I emitted just that kind of scream…because I believed I was about to be eaten by a wild bear.
I was on mile three of a four mile run on the gravel road that runs into Cooper Gap when I plodded around the corner and nearly ran into the fuzzy embrace of a large black bear a few yards in front of me.
At the time I was training for a half marathon, puffing and panting and acting like bear bait on a nice run near the Appalachian Trail that would soon become a run of terror.
Before that moment, I had seen just one real live bear in the wild. It was on the other end of the large field next to our house. And it was so far away my cousin Anna and I had a hard time telling what it was.
“Is that a cow?” she said.
This bear was not a cow. And it was much much closer.
I’d say I about 30 feet away or so.
For those of you unfamiliar with such distances, think of your local Walmart.
If the bear and I had been in the cereal aisle, I would have been standing next to the Rice Krispies and he would have been picking out Golden Grahams.
If we were in the chip aisle I would have been shopping for Doritos and he would have been picking out a nice bag of pretzels
And so when I chugged around the corner and found myself so very close to the King of the Forest, I screamed.
I didn’t think: “Hey maybe I should scream,” before screaming. No. It was a reflexive bellow.
I have heard somewhere that this is exactly what you’re supposed to do when you come across a bear in the woods. This is convenient, because I would have done it anyway.
Bears don’t scream, but judging from the look on his face it was just as freaked out as I was.
At the very sight of me it turned and ran back into the woods. I stood there for a moment as I listened to it crashing through the forest.
Then I screamed again.
This one was a strategic scream. A warning scream that said ‘”Stay away bear! Stay away or I’ll scream again!”
Then I turned and ran.
My friend Nick is a bear alarmist.
He’s watched many bear attack specials, so when we go camping or hiking he’s always on high alert for a possible man eater.
I always try to quell his concerns by saying our local black bears aren’t the dangerous type. 
“Aw black bears are just like big squirrels,” I say.
And mostly this is true. They’re skittish. They live on a diet of mostly nuts and berries. And most importantly they scamper away at the first sign of humans. Just like a giant squirrel.
But it wasn’t until I was alone in the woods with a giant squirrel that I realized something: the very idea of a giant squirrel is terrifying.
The reason no one’s afraid of squirrels is because they’re not giant.
Bears are. 
And as I sprinted the last mile I let out intermittent shouts and screams just in case it was following me.
That was the good news. Prior to my bear run-in I was considering walking the last mile or so. After that I ran as though I was a galloping stallion. A terrified, whinnying stallion.
In fact, I haven’t been able to match that level of speed and endurance since then.
So, I suppose if that bear could just pop up periodically during my runs, I would soon be sprinting at near-cheetah like speeds.
Maybe I don’t need a personal trainer. I just need that bear.
Or possibly a large squirrel.

by Matt Aiken

The black bear photo for his story was provided by the folks at www.weforanimals.com.
Also a slightly different version of this column has been published by Matt’s daytime employers at The Nugget.

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