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A hiker on the Howard Eaton Trail in Yellowstone
National Park, Wyoming, USA
Whenever I see anything about Yellowstone National Park on the television, or discuss the animal perils of trail-running, I think back to a run I did in the famed Park in the early 1990s.  It's a run that doesn't reflect that well on me, I'm afraid.
We were on a multi-week camping trip with another young Australian family from St Louis, where we were living at the time, and had driven our small Recreation Vehicles (RVs) across the mid-west to Yellowstone.  Andrew, the father in the other family, was an enthusiastic, if occasional, runner and was keen to join me on some of the runs I planned during the trip.  As usual, I spent a lot of time scanning maps looking for interesting places to run, and had spied the Howard Eaton Trail that ran from near our campground at the Canyon Village to a place called Fishing Bridge.  There was a picnic area at the latter and we arranged for our families to drive there and meet us for lunch.  The total running distance was going to be about 25km, which was going to be a challenge for Andrew. 

The Howard Eaton Trail route in Yellowstone
National Park
The trail followed the valley of the Yellowstone River so wasn't particularly difficult, but it did pass through known habitats of grizzly bears and bison.  While I don't go looking for trouble, I'm willing to take calculated risks if I deem the rewards worthwhile, and am fatalistic about the outcome if the worst happens.  We had seen bison roaming in our campsites, and though of intimidating size and appearance, they didn't seem to be particularly aggressive.  We had also seen a grizzly from the road, and they are of even more intimidating size and appearance.  We were caught in a "bear jam" at the time and it was amusing to watch all of the mothers suddenly hustling their children back into their cars when the grizzly we had all got out to observe and photograph turned in our direction.

A bison in Yellowstone National Park
The early kilometres of our run to the trailhead from the campground and along the trail were easy going and we ran at a good pace.  As we got further into the run, our trail crossed a pasture where we could see a herd of bison grazing.  The nearer we got, the more they began to pay attention to us, until they were all quietly watching our approach.  One, in particular, had our attention as it was standing right on the trail.  Our distance closed to less than 100 metres and still the bison did not move.  I was in the lead and telling Andrew I was sure that the bison was playing a game of bluff and would get off the trail (the only alternative seemed to be retracing our steps, and I wasn't keen to do that).  With less than 50 metres between us, the bison put his head down and started snorting and pawing the ground with his right foot, and I started to doubt the wisdom of trying to call his bluff.  I kept running and the distance closed to 25 metres.  Suddenly the bison snorted, lifted his head, and bolted away from the trail.  I think our collective exhaled breaths were nearly as loud as the bison's snort and we continued on powered by adrenalin.

A grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park
After about 15 kilometres, as we entered a dense pine forest, Andrew's pace flagged and I waited a number of times for him to catch up.  This caused him some embarrassment and he soon suggested I go on ahead.  I was selfishly frustrated at the pace and accepted his offer, taking off through the forest.  Of course, this was the area where we were most likely to meet a grizzly, and any such meeting was likely to end badly.  After a short while, feeling very alone and with all my senses on high alert, I began to wonder whether we might have been wiser to stick together in case of an ursine encounter, but I was reluctant to stop running and kept going.  About 30 minutes later I emerged from the forest and met our families in the picnic ground as planned.  Another 30 minutes passed, still no Andrew, and I started to feel guilty.  After another 15 minutes, visions of a grizzly munching on Andrew began to take shape in our minds.  The guilt finally got to me and I started jogging back along the trail, but had only gone a short distance before meeting Andrew, still happily all in one piece, but exhausted.  He had barely run at all after I left him and the last 10km had taken well over two hours.

My run today was a flat and slow 7km across the sandbar, through McMasters Beach, and return.  I tried some new shoes, but my right Achilles was still sore and my right knee needed nursing the whole way.  However, I didn't force the pace and tried to enjoy the beautiful warm and sunny morning, telling myself that I was lucky to be running at all.