I broke my rule when I picked up a hitchhiker to save him from a bear.
Black bears roam the woods of Shenandoah National Forest, the place I work and reside. They are by nature skittish and solitary creatures who shy away from man unless they feel threatened or very hungry. That being said, they can make your day off go south pretty quick.
I drove down the winding road in the early afternoon. The sun was out, the air was cool, and Elton John sang "Your Song" on the radio. I may or may not have been singing along, my hand dancing in the breeze of the open car window.
I passed one of the many overlooks that dot the mountain roads. Several cars were parked and tourists stood by them snapping pictures of the valley below. A blond young man held out his hand, one thumb up in the clear signal of "I'm done with this hiking shit" while he strolled down the highway.
I drove on by. I've seen that movie where the hitchhiker kills the librarian in the woods. You know the one. I think it was called "No Way in Hell Would That Be Me."
A hundred yards and one switchback turn later another hiker stood. The bear lumbered across the road, large, in charge, and taking and giving little to no shit about cars.
I thought about the blond hiker I had passed.
I turned around at the next overlook.
When I came back, the bear was gone and the hiker's thumb was still out.
"You will not believe what just happened to me," he said. His words were accented with "oo's" and "uh's" of native French.
"You ran into a bear," I said.
"Yes. I was hiking along and I thought 'what is that, a doberman? No, it's big, a bear.' So I was calm and stayed put while it walked by and then I ran like hell to the road."
"So you didn't see it on the road?"
"It was on the road, too?"
We had a laugh about his two-time brush with death and I took him to his car at the bottom of the mountain. He was from Quebec and we both marveled at the lack of bears that waundered into our everyday lives back home.
"Out here, this is theirs," he said.
When you run across a lumbering creature of slow and possible violence, you take stock. You reach out and protect your fellow man. You pick up hitchhikers to get them out of the way of harm.
When you run across the path of that creature a second time, maybe re-think hiking for a while.