The bear and the phone
Using technology to fend off a black bear
When Kris Rowley was confronted by a bear while hiking this summer she didn't exactly go "MacGyver" on the ursine beast, although the man handy at getting himself out of pickles with little or no tools at his disposal would have been proud nonetheless.
Instead of whipping up a stun gun from pine cones and chewing gum, or devising a live bear trap by digging a hole with her compass lens before luring the toothy critter by dipping her shoelace into a honeycomb and dangling it over the trap, she - instead - went high tech.
She threw her cell phone at the bear.
Apparently the previously unreported iPhone app worked. She survived by running away while the bear scrolled through photos of her family and vacation.
Another bear mauling averted.
It makes sense that Rowley would resort to technology to diffuse a tense standoff with an angry bear bent on mauling someone ... anyone ... it encountered.
She is the certified information security officer for the state of Vermont.
Whether confronted with hackers trying to break into Gov. James Douglas' e-mail account, a nasty virus that attempts to download everybody's social security numbers from their state tax documents, or a black bear on a hiking trail, she resorts to technology.
The incident was widely publicized, even going as far as being featured by Stephen Colbert, who called bears "godless killing machines."
In her defense, Rowley apparently didn't pull out her cell-phone weapon as a first resort.
She checked for her pepper spray. Then she went for her 12-gauge shotgun loaded with slugs and buckshot. Finding neither, she resorted to her phone.
The idea of calling the bear police must have slipped her mind during the frenzied rush to save herself. She had plenty of time as the bear was checking its pockets for salt and pepper.
So she chucked the phone at the bear.
The bear fell down laughing, then started nosing through her contacts list and checking her call log to see if they had any mutual friends.
While the bear was temporarily distracted, Rowley backed out of the area and beat feet for home, unaware that she wouldn't be able to call in the incident without her phone.
The bear, meanwhile, continued to go through her phone, apparently looking for a honey app, or maybe a way to search for hot bears in the local forest. Eventually, it gave up and went home where it used its home computer to log on to www.YogiBear.com and www.UrsusSingles.com.
(Editor's note: Careful, this is a family newspaper.)
OK, so I made all of that up. Except for the part about Rowley hiking, meeting a bear, throwing her cell phone, and Stephen Colbert, calling bears "godless killing machines."
But then again, you already knew that.
The facts remain.
A Vermont woman ended a semi-tense bear encounter by tossing her iPhone at it.
And why not? It's not like she could get a cell signal. This is Vermont, after all.
Most likely, and I'm sure Rowley knows this, the encounter would have probably ended the same way whether she tossed her technological device or not.
I say "I'm sure Rowley knows this," because I didn't get a chance to talk to her. Unfortunately, she was out of the office when I called and didn't get back to me in time for this column.
That might have something to do with the fact that bozos like me continue to make up dumb stuff about her encounter with a bear and writing even dumber columns and blog posts about it.
It's a hard job, but someone has to do it.
The real situation, while exciting for Rowley - and possibly the bear - probably played out in a much less exciting string of events.
Most likely, the event lasted but seconds and the bear was probably more confused than anything.
Confused or not, the bear reportedly sauntered to within about 10 yards of Rowley, despite the fact she was backing away.
The cell phone flinging is probably something Rowley would like to have back - especially considering the cost of a new iPhone.
(Insert your own jokes here about Apple, the Blackberry, AT&T, cell-phone addiction, the cost of cell service and whatever other shots you'd like to take. I won't stand in your way.)
After taking a baseball bat back to the scene of the phone-napping, and finding her chewed and clawed iPhone, Rowley had to go shopping.
(Editor's note: No jokes about women shopping please, this is a gender-friendly column.)
Not surprisingly, the "a bear ate my iPhone" didn't play at the store and Rowley was out the cost of a new phone, which makes my prepaid $20 phone look like a bargain. But then again, my phone doesn't have a bear protection app built in.
The story has grown legs in many circles. Techies love the fact it was an iPhone. Outdoor folks love the idea of meeting a bear on a trail and ending the encounter in a way they've never heard before.
(Editor's note: How about you write something about the outdoors here, CritterBoy.)
It is estimated that there are between 4,600 and 5,700 black bears in Vermont and the population has been growing.
Despite more bears in the woods and an increase in people seeking recreation in the outdoors, encounters between people and bears are extremely rare.
So what should you do if you meet a bear on the trail or see a bear while in the woods?
First, stay calm. With very few exceptions, meeting a bear on the trail will result in the bear turning tail and disappearing before you can even realize just how lucky you just became.
If the bear doesn't disappear, stand your ground or back away slowly while talking to the bear. Most of the time, if a bear doesn't run away, it's simply confused as to what it's seeing and hearing your voice will convince the bear you are not something it wants to tangle with.
If you are wearing a pack, take it off and drop it, giving the bear something to distract its attention. And please tell me you're not carrying food. If you are, it now belongs to the bear.
In the exceedingly rare event of an attack, fight back. Use any weapon you can get your hands on and aim for the eyes and nose.
Interestingly, according to the North American Bear Center, one of the biggest misconceptions about black bears is that a person is at great risk of an attack by a sow with cubs.
According to the center, that is actually a grizzly bear trait and most charges by a black bear sow with cubs are bluffs that end with the mother bear and cubs leaving the area or climbing a tree to safety.
That would be your cue to leave.
(Editor's note: Thanks. Finally.)
Whether or not you throw your cell phone before leaving is up to you.
Darren Marcy is a local outdoor enthusiast. His Web site is www.DarrenMarcy.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.