Drew Munro: What was that?
Zipping along through our lives, it’s remarkable how much we take for granted until something happens to jolt us from our everyday somnambulance.
So, there I was not exactly zipping along recently up the hill on U.S. Highway 40 on the final approach into Empire when THUD, CRUNCH, BUMP, BUMP, BUMP.
“What the @#$*+! was that?” I say.
My wife and her friend from Idaho, who we picked up earlier at the airport in Denver, respond in unison, “I don’t know.”
None of us saw it. I saw only a glimpse of black as I heard that awful sound, like a watermelon dropped on concrete, only louder, followed by the thumping of something passing under the vehicle.
Steam is pouring over the hood of the car, and the fan is slapping against metal, shrieking banshee-like as I scan the side of the road for a place to pull off.
No sooner am I out my door and wondering with a rising sense of panic whether what I hit was a person, than two vehicles have pulled over.
“Are you OK?” one driver asks.
“Did you just hit a dog back there?” she asks.
“I don’t know,” I respond. “We never saw it.”
“Something was on the side of the road,” she says. “It looked like a dog.”
The panic subsides slightly, but it is immediately replaced with the sickening dread of realizing I may have just killed someone’s dog.
Meanwhile, the driver of the other vehicle has dialed 9-1-1. She then heads up the driveway where I have pulled over to see if anyone is home or knows anything about a missing dog.
“Does anyone have a flashlight?” I ask.
Turns out the only one available is a small light my wife has clipped on her purse. Shaped like a 2-inch toad, it opens its mouth when you squeeze its bottom and a bluish LED shines from its throat.
It’ll have to do, I think, as I begin walking down the hill around the gentle curve. I follow the trail of antifreeze on the road, shining the light into the ditch and up the hill as I walk through the dry grass.
The saccharine smell of ethylene glycol fills my nostrils as I reach the end of the watery trail. I hear something to my left and see a shadowy figure moving up a driveway on the hillside.
“Hey, pup,” I say sheepishly. “Are you OK, pup? Come here, pup.”
I can barely make out whatever it is in the anemic light. Then the animal, which is about 30 feet away, turns sideways and looks back at me.
I freeze. In profile, it is quite large with a thick, long neck terminating in a head only slightly larger in diameter.
Its eyes glow a yellowish-green in the light of my tiny toad. Its look seems menacing.
If that’s a dog, I think to myself, it’s pretty darn big and it’s moving awfully well under the circumstances. I’m not getting anywhere near a wounded animal that size.
I retreat back up the hill, thinking how silly I would have looked clutching that toad light as I was mauled by the fiery-eyed hellhound.
The deputies have arrived, red and blue lights twirling through the darkness. As I explain what happened, they mention that a bear has been seen in the area.
With headlights illuminating the back of my car, I notice black hair on the bumper. I pick up a clump of it, and the deputies and I examine the coarse, black hair in the light.
“Oh, yeah, that’s a bear,” one of them says. They chuckle softly and tell me the State Patrol is on its way.
Relieved that I probably didn’t kill someone’s best friend, I think again of clutching that plastic toad as a 90-pound cub in its death throes renders me into hamburger.
In my adrenaline-addled state, it’s a blur, but the second driver is back down from the driveway, where apparently she got stuck for a while in a bog, and my wife has made arrangements with the two drivers who, as luck would have it, are both from Grand County.
One puts our friend’s luggage in the back of her truck while the other rearranges her family inside her minivan to accommodate us on the ride over Berthoud. I fill out an accident report with an exceedingly courteous, helpful state trooper and we’re on our way to Winter Park, where our other vehicle awaits.
We are forever indebted to the kind Samaritans who dropped everything to help us.
That they interrupted their lives for our sake without hesitation is a resounding testament to all that is good about Grand County.
On the drive back to Granby, my mind begins working overtime.
What if the lights had worked in that restaurant bathroom in Denver? Wouldn’t have been there.
What if that jerk hadn’t cut me off on the way down Floyd Hill? Wouldn’t have been there.
What if we had to make another loop around DIA? Wouldn’t have been there.
What if? What if? What if? Dozens of ostensibly insignificant actions and reactions climaxed in the intersection of my car and that bear at that precise point in time and space.
Guess that’s why we call them accidents.
Anyway, the next day on the way home after meeting the tow truck and scouring the scene for a wounded or dead animal ” not one drop of blood and no animal ” I’m looking at T-shirts in a shop in Winter Park. One of them lists the “Advice from a Bear.”
“Live large. … Eat well. … Look After Your Honey!”
Hmm, I have some Advice for a Bear: Stay out of the road.
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The business and tourism prognosticators from across the country are saying it loud and clear: This summer will be very busy and most businesses won’t be able staff-up or expand to handle the increased demand.