On the drive towards Bondai, I noticed that the little bell in Paula's car was missing. Apparently Yuya had forgotten to put the bell back after our hike the previous week. I started to make half jokes about being mauled by a bear and decided to buy any noise-making apparatus at a road-side 7-11. The best thing I could find was a little trinket that had a bell in it. The trinket made the slightest noise but at least it was something. I tied it to my shoe for our hike and added an extra little kick to my step so that the bell would toll. This bell made more of a peep though.
(PICTURE: My original "bear bell" on the right and a real bear bell that I now own on the left.)
At the beginning of the trail was a LARGE sign warning about bears. This got my heart rate going a little bit anytime I'd hear a twig break or a bird in a bush. As we hiked and passed fellow mountain climbers, Paula would ask people if they saw a bear. The response was always the same: a shake of the head and a laugh. Nobody had seen a bear...EVER.
After meeting Tom and Tom (see yesterday's post) we stopped at a random shack/restaurant on the mountain:
(PICTURE: You can see the shack/restaurant in the middle of this picture if you look close.)
While at the restaurant, we asked the woman who worked there if she ever saw a bear in all her years of working on the mountain. The woman told us that she had seen a bear only once. Tom #1 asked her what she did and she said, "I turned around and ran as fast as I could." Tom #1 said, "That's not what you are supposed to do if you see a bear." The woman replied, "I know but I was scared and wanted to run!"
This isn't the advised approach to survive a bear encounter but the woman was in one piece to tell the story so clearly it can't be that bad to run from a bear. Anyway, the woman not-so-coincidentally sold bear bells at her shack/restaurant. I bought the largest bear bell they had which was probably the smartest purchase of my life. The noise my new bell made was a good ten times louder than the trinket tied to my shoe. The piece of mind I got from the bell was priceless. As we hiked back down the mountain Paula made some comment about being disappointed that we didn't see any wildlife. I told her to shush it because we still had 20 minutes to go and talk like that would surely get us mauled.
Well, after a long hike back, Paula and I got to the parking lot where her car was. We saw no bears. We pulled out of the parking lot and started to drive down the mountain road. We had driven for about thirty seconds when I saw a bush start rustling ahead of us. Paula slowed down the car and sure enough A BEAR WALKED ON TO THE ROAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(REENACTMENT PICTURE: The picture I was too slow to take myelf and thus had to steal from the internet.)
I quickly tried to find my camera but I was too slow. The bear, having been scared by us, darted back into the woods. Paula and I looked at each other and both started to scream like little school girls, "A bear! We saw a bear!!!!" As strange as it may sound, seeing the bear has probably been my favorite highlight in Japan. Every Japanese person that I tell the story too looks shocked, "You saw a bear? No way. I've never seen a bear."
I can't really tell you how happy I was to see a bear. But I can tell you that I was even happier that I saw the bear while in Paula's car.