Dear Natalie: Oregon Lessons Part 1

Ask Natalie Banner Dear Natalie: Who else does this? 

By Natalie McCarthy

Dear Natalie,

Do you think we can learn from places?

Signed,

Those who wander

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Dear Wanderers,

I do.

In fact, I have Facebook evidence (we all know that if it’s on Facebook, it’s true). A little over a year ago, I had spiraled quite high into the Siskiyou Mountain Range along a rustic mountain road, and I noticed an arc above me. From either side of my car, the fir trees curved toward each other, as though their tops were kissing. The sunlight flittered downward like tinsel, and I had to brake and blink against the twinkling. Only a meter to my left, the road crumbled into tree trunks and steep, downward-careening mountainside; on the right, trees grew from rock, bowed and bent against the mountain.

 

Oregon Lessons Part 1 - 1

 

“Legit, I could open my car door and fall off this mountain,” I said to myself. I became aware of the stab of fear in my chest. I thought, To be this high off the ground is unnatural. A moment later, I gave it a second thought: Except people have been here before. Someone plowed this road. Thousands of people, probably, have pushed themselves up this mountain. Discovery – discovering new things – is arguably the most natural, most human thing one can do.

This experience, and the amazing hike I eventually took that day, made me consider some of the lessons I had learned from my relocation to Oregon. As I made my way home, I composed a mental list that later went on Facebook; a year after that, I reposted it. Here, I share it again, with a little added commentary.

So without further ado, let’s get into Oregon Lessons Part 1. I offer you…

 

Ten lessons I have learned in the 2+ 3+ years I’ve lived in Oregon:

 

  1. Driving on one-lane mountain “roads” that more closely resemble city park bike paths becomes less terrifying and strange over time.

 The road I described above was not the first, the last, or even the scariest Oregon road I’d driven. My ex-husband and I decided to take a drive to the coast. We took the GPS-recommended route there, which required driving south and west to go north, and that made no sense to my still-urban brain. “Modern engineering is a miracle!” I exclaimed on our way back home. “Certainly there’s a more direct route!” Sure enough, the GPS offered an alternate route, traversing the mountains along forest service roads. I noticed an open gate, used to block the road in winter, and an ominous sign about the road being unmaintained and unnavigable from November 1 – April 31. It was April 30. We’d be fine; I mean, the gate was open.

 

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I will spare you the details. The route we took is known as the “Bear Camp Coastal Route,” a moniker that sounds harmless, like it’s a beachy-fun path full of dancing, surfing Care Bears. That’s not what we saw. However, it’s worth noting: We survived. We later learned others did not. (Seriously – Google it! The Wikipedia page mentions two deaths and “numerous motorists…stranded” on the route. Creepy.)

Anyway, my point is that nowadays, I am a lot better prepared for wilderness travel; I play it safe; and yet, I don’t abide by that fear. Traveling those roads has allowed me to see things I otherwise never would have seen. Which brings me to…

The second point in my Oregon Lessons Part 1…

 

  1. With enough patience and enough travel along the aforementioned roads/bike paths, one might see the enormous, retreating butt of a black bear as she hightails it back into the woods.

People always get bear-a-noid. I do too. I don’t understand why. In Oregon, we do not have grizzlies, the more ferocious of the North American species. We have black bears, and unlike our friends in the eastern portion of the country, we have introverted, timid, scaredy-cat black bears. Almost all of my native Oregonian friends have remarked that while they’ve seen evidence of bears – scat, scratches, that kind of thing – they’ve never actually seen one. I, however, have.

 

Oregon Lessons Part 1 - 3

 

As I navigated a one-lane mountain road, slowly so as not to hit an oncoming car (which is hilarious, because the likelihood of another car being there was slim to none), I saw movement about fifty feet in the distance. I slowed the car to a crawl as a giant black bear sprinted along the roadside, jumped up a hill, and got swallowed up by the forest.

“Holy crap!” I exclaimed. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, that is so dang cool!” I am still bragging about this.

One of my more memorable lessons of these Oregon Lessons Part 1!

 

  1. 8 times out of 10, fear is a liar. Of the remaining two times, one is fear asking us to more closely examine something, and the other is fear acting as a legitimate warning of potential death and/or destruction. Preparation is prudent but bravery is mandatory.

According to the United States National Park Service, the likelihood of being attacked by a bear is 1 in 2.1 million (and that’s including statistics for grizzlies).

According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, you have a 0.0064% risk of death while mountain hiking – and that risk can be made even smaller by avoiding foul weather, preparing appropriately for climate and terrain, staying hydrated, and knowing your way around a map and compass.

Who doesn’t feel afraid when they’re trying something new? How many new things have I done over the past four years? I hit a point a while back where I realized: I could either be a perpetual ball of fear and anxiety, or I could step bravely into life. I choose the latter most of the time, though sometimes I also cry while I eat potato chips with salsa (I know it sounds gross, but it’s actually delicious).

 

  1. Always close the lid of the latrine before exiting, and never try to shove a pizza box down it.

 I just think this is a valuable life lesson. Always, always, always close the lid of the latrine. Do you know what happens if you don’t? Flies attack the bare bottom of the exhausted explorer who uses that toilet after you. If avoiding a plague of bum-flies isn’t enough, you might also consider the odiferous contribution an open latrine makes to its surrounding environment. By “odiferous,” I mean everyone for three square miles will gag.

 

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Also, just don’t shove pizza boxes in the latrine. Don’t put any trash in the latrine. It can’t be pumped out, it will take forever to decompose, flies will think it’s their penthouse apartment, and people like me will have to – you know – on top of it.

And to the final point I will make in Oregon Lessons Part 1:

 

  1. Untouched natural beauty of an unimaginable magnitude exists if you are willing to leave your car behind and walk in search for it.

5 and a half. Even the fanciest camera in the hands of the most talented photographer cannot capture that beauty the way a human eye can in real time.

 We live on a large and beautiful planet, and I want to see as many quiet, barely touched places as I can before I bite it.

Oregon Lessons Part 1 - 5
Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Photo © me, 2017

 

It is difficult. I have had some injuries, and sometimes my body hurts and my motivation is non-existent. Sometimes napping all day seems appealing. Sometimes I start to get fearful, especially when I’m alone, and I create intricate, imaginary scenarios that ultimately result in my early demise. In the end, I am perhaps a little addicted to those vistas, and I covet them the way some people long for fine jewelry or haute cuisine. They remind me that I am a tiny part of a much larger whole, and in this way, they remind me that I am connected to everything. I am never alone.

So there is my Oregon Lessons Part 1.

Until next time, when I will share the remaining five lessons,

Natalie

 

 

 

 

P.S. – What life lessons have you learned from being in a new place? Share via email at AskNatalieColumn @ gmail.com – Contributors are identified by their first name, but you can request anonymity if you’d prefer.

Resident Columnist and Reviewer at | Website

“Ask Natalie” host, Natalie McCarthy was born and raised in the urban American rust belts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Cleveland, Ohio, in a not-particularly-outdoorsy family. She discovered the outdoors in her early 30s and now seeks out new ways to adventure.

Natalie earned her master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh, School of Social Work. She works as a licensed supervisory clinical social worker specializing in the treatment of co-occurring substance use, general mental health, and trauma-related disorders. While her professional practice is where Natalie spends most of her time helping people with their problems, she was an online advice columnist in the past.

In the early 2000s, she was the go-to answer girl on a now-defunct website called New Girl Order. Her column there led her to research a diversity of topics, from May-December romances to why on Earth plucking our eyebrows makes us sneeze.

52 thoughts on “Dear Natalie: Oregon Lessons Part 1

  • September 9, 2018 at 6:07 pm
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    Amazing pictures! This is such an engaging and fun post! Makes me wanna go trekking soon! Encountering a bear seems really scary to me though. 😀

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    • September 12, 2018 at 3:38 am
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      Thank you! And I promise, bears seem scarier in the abstract!

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  • September 9, 2018 at 11:46 am
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    Untouched and beautiful, what a great experience to have. Loved the humour in this post.

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  • September 7, 2018 at 1:45 pm
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    Wow oregon looks and sounds like such a treat. Nature is just divine and the learnings from it! Fab pics too!

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    • September 12, 2018 at 3:41 am
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      It is amazing here!

      Reply
  • September 5, 2018 at 6:28 pm
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    Oregon truly is one of the more majestic places to live. I know my dad always wanted to move back there but it never worked out for him. I would love to move there someday and just live in that wild and beautiful place.

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    • September 12, 2018 at 3:40 am
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      It is flippin’ amazing here – I can’t lie. I feel grateful all the time for being surrounded by such natural beauty. Did your dad live here at one time?

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  • September 4, 2018 at 9:48 am
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    I bet it would be totally amazing to see a bear, but a little scary too! This was a really helpful and interesting post indeed. You definitely gave some sound advice.

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    • September 4, 2018 at 2:08 pm
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      Thank you Elizabeth! For a bit after seeing the bear, I felt a little guilty for scaring the crap out of her. She ran away so fast, there’s no way she wasn’t feeling terrified! Poor thing! ?

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  • September 4, 2018 at 7:59 am
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    The way you shared your experience really engaged me as a reader. I could actually feel the sight of a bear and the fun you have experience in Oregon. Wish I could explore and enjoy these kinds of adventures really soon.

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    • September 4, 2018 at 2:07 pm
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      Thanks so much! My hope is that other people have similar experiences, wherever they are. There’s so much out there to be excited about! ?

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  • September 4, 2018 at 5:47 am
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    You’re totally right that so much beauty out there exists if only you’re willing to go and look for it. So many people will just look at what’s in front of them on the road/ trail without exploring x

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    • September 4, 2018 at 2:06 pm
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      Yes, and what a shame! I find myself feeling enriched after I go chasing a natural wonder!

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  • September 4, 2018 at 5:22 am
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    This is such a nice post and I really enjoy reading it. If you are an adventurous person I think Oregon is one of the best places for you.

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    • September 4, 2018 at 2:05 pm
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      Thank you! This is for sure a nature lover’s paradise!

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  • September 4, 2018 at 1:27 am
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    The roads would scare me for sure. I live in Kentucky and we have country roads that scare me. I can’t imagine high up roads like the ones your described. That last one about untouched natural beauty, I agree with you on that!

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    • September 4, 2018 at 2:04 pm
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      It was definitely an adjustment, getting used to the altitude. I still get a little guarded when I go high up – but it’s worth it! We all are so lucky to have amazing natural views around us, no matter where we live.

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  • September 3, 2018 at 3:48 pm
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    I have Oregon on my list to visit and if possible no better way than a road trip in America. Surely some lessons learnt with those roads that you have to be careful with. Like the big bear and like visiting places where you can interact with wildlife. Some lessons are best learned in life rather than books and this is a great example. Thanks for sharing your experience

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    • September 4, 2018 at 2:02 pm
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      Thank you for reading, Amar. We’d love to see you around these parts!

      Reply
  • September 3, 2018 at 2:46 am
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    I love the comment about photography .. as an addition to that I would say how you need to be careful not to see the world only through a camera lens. Some things are to be captured only in your mind’s eye.

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    • September 3, 2018 at 3:38 pm
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      I love your addition!

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  • September 2, 2018 at 11:58 pm
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    We don’t have grizzlies here in Nova Scotia either. Apparently, a black bear enjoyed a few ambles through town this summer. I don’t think he did any damage except maybe pinching a few edibles out of gardens.
    Fear can paralyze us and I have found if we have the courage to move beyond it we are often pleasantly surprised.
    Your photos are gorgeous.

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    • September 3, 2018 at 3:39 pm
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      Thank you! I’m chuckling at the thought of your town bear, helping himself to someone’s garden….

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  • September 2, 2018 at 9:51 pm
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    These are all good lessons learned. I can’t believe you went down a road that hadn’t been maintained (and I’m glad it worked out). I admit that I’m not very adventurous in nature. In addition to close the latrine, I suggest not sitting, even if you toilet paper the seat! Spiders like the darkness. ?

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    • September 3, 2018 at 3:44 pm
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      Annick, good point about spiders! Eeeek! Hahahahaha. As for the roads, Oregon has the most miles of forest service roads in the US – roads cleared through wild lands for various purposes. Because they don’t get much traffic nor fall under the caretaking domain of local government, they usually are not maintained! Often this means just a dirt road, no big deal, but sometimes it’s a bit more dicey. I’d say I travel unmaintained roads several times a month. I have a great all wheel drive vehicle and stay alert, but it does get…interesting sometimes! ?

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    • September 3, 2018 at 3:44 pm
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      Thank you Valerie ?

      Reply
  • September 2, 2018 at 9:17 pm
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    I hate driving in the mountains! I like how you said the roads are like bike paths. lol. I’m sure if I drove on them all the time too, I would get used to it, but I live in a flat area! Hahaha

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    • September 3, 2018 at 3:47 pm
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      Jana, oh my gosh – yes! I grew up along the shore of Lake Erie, and it was flat as a pancake. When I drove out here to relocate, all the mountain passes and their freak weather changes absolutely creeped me out! It took some getting used to.

      Reply
  • September 2, 2018 at 6:35 pm
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    I’m from Alberta, Canada and we have grizzly bears here (well in the western part of the province in the mountains). I never realized that Oregon doesn’t have any grizzlies, just black bears. It’s kind of amazing, humbling, and just a little scary to see one in person (even from a car). Also love your point on fear, because you’re right most of the time the fear is unfounded or exaggerated.

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    • September 3, 2018 at 3:49 pm
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      You live in such a beautiful area! I think I could tolerate the possibility of grizzlies if I could get those beautiful Alberta views everyday! ? As a hiker though, I’m super thankful to share the woods with the black bears only. Even if fear is often exaggerated.

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  • September 2, 2018 at 6:19 pm
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    Oregon is one state I really wanted to see during my road trip in America but somehow I didn’t go there. Its a wonderful place and even those crazy roads wouldn’t scare me! I can definitely agree that there are places that even profesional photographers cant capture the way we see it! This is such a great post, thanks for sharing.

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    • September 3, 2018 at 3:51 pm
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      Thank you for reading, Ada. If you ever make it out this way, give me a holler! There are some beautiful places (reached via unmaintained roads ?) to explore, and I’d be happy to act as a tour guide!

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  • September 2, 2018 at 3:56 pm
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    Oh my goodness, that last point is so true!! I’ve been to some beautiful places, but sometimes put the camera down as I want to appreciate what’s in front of me, than what’s behind a lens. I always put the lid down on any toilet (!) but this was so interesting to read. And I definitely don’t stuff any pizza boxes down the toilet either! An inspiring read as always x

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    • September 3, 2018 at 3:52 pm
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      Lisa, you’re kind – thank you! (And thanks for disposing of pizza boxes properly, too! Haha!)

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  • September 2, 2018 at 2:08 pm
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    Oooh I would be excited to see a bear, so long as it wasn’t at my window… I love the fear quote by the way, never heard that before!

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    • September 3, 2018 at 3:56 pm
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      Thanks Jackie! I’d never heard the quote before either, until I made it up ? Also – I’m with you in preferring beats stay out of my yard!

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  • September 2, 2018 at 2:08 pm
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    I’d imagine spotting a bear would make you experience thrill and fear both at the same time. But, I totally agree with you on the statement – ‘preparation is prudent, but bravery is mandatory’. And its always better to enjoy the scenery than to try and capture it with a camera…

    Reply
    • September 3, 2018 at 3:56 pm
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      It was an indescribable experience for sure!

      Reply
  • September 2, 2018 at 11:52 am
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    Wow what a great post, I feel like I can take some of your advice and adapt it to hiking in the Adirondacks. I agree 100% with photography, while the pictures might look nice, it’s nothing compared to the actual view.

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    • September 3, 2018 at 3:58 pm
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      So lucky you are to hike the Adirondacks – what a beautiful region! And yeah, have you ever had that experience where you look at a photo you took and feel mild disappointment because it doesn’t look nearly as impressive as the actual view did? Womp womp! I always feel a little bummed when that happens.

      Reply
  • September 1, 2018 at 10:19 pm
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    Wow,
    The pictures look awesome. For sure you have fun living there. Too bad, that we can’t see bears as we live in Europe (only in zoo or circus). Is it easy to see them?

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    • September 3, 2018 at 4:00 pm
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      Thanks Andrew! It’s actually really difficult to see bears in the wild here. Most folks never do, even people who live here for their entire lives. Our bears are shy little guys who prefer to hide from humans. I regularly see plenty of evidence they exist, though!

      Reply
  • September 1, 2018 at 8:01 pm
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    Did you really see bears? Mahn, I don’t think I can handle it but I love hiking though.

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    • September 3, 2018 at 4:02 pm
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      Just once! Most of the time they hide. They tend to know we’re around before we catch any evidence they were around, and they can run 30 mph, so – needless to say, they typically bust out of there. I was shocked and awed to see a bear once!

      Reply
  • September 1, 2018 at 5:24 am
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    Your post has so many wonderful insights. Not just for people who are looking to travel to Oregon but for anyone and everyone looking for a new perspective on life and things around us… Please keep sharing your wonderful experiences with us 🙂

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    • September 3, 2018 at 4:02 pm
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      Thank you ? What a kind comment!

      Reply
  • August 31, 2018 at 3:28 pm
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    Bears don’t do anything unless you poke them and be unreasonably afraid and scream. They are good. I have met some while hiking, trekking. And you know your post is gonna help many. I am happy that you are doing this.

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    • September 3, 2018 at 4:03 pm
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      Thank you! You’re so right – bears just try to eat a lot and mind their own business.

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  • August 31, 2018 at 6:32 am
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    That sure seems like a lot of fun being there. Loved the pictures and I’m sure the trek and drive were wonderful. And did you really see those bears? That’s amazing!

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    • September 3, 2018 at 4:04 pm
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      I felt really lucky to catch sight of one bear! Thank you for your kind comment ?

      Reply

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