This past summer the band decided we hadn't had the opportunity to spend enough time together so we decided we'd take a few weeks and have an extended camping trip in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado. We left in early July and spent a few days on the road taking our time as we meandered our way south. We stopped in Denver for a day or two before heading on West, the mountains slowly fading into view through the atmosphere.


The Beautiful Rocky Mountains
We started at the Chalk Lake campground, figuring it would probably be wise to spend a few days at a lower altitude and let our bodies get used to the lack of air before moving higher. Chalk Lake is a pretty little campground with one of those stony, frigid, insanely clear mountain streams running right through the middle. It was the most basic of campgrounds with no running water or water closets. We pumped our drinking water from a rusty green pump and used the outhouses that were apparently cleaned out every year, whether they needed it or not. There were some easy hiking trails around, a little waterfall, and a stocked lake with rainbow trout so docile you could catch them with breadcrumbs and a pair of salad tongs. We hiked to the waterfall, up to Ptarmigan Lake, and decided we were ready for something higher. We packed up our tents and started climbing.

That night we settled in a little hollow in the mountain face where we were sheltered from the wind. We set up our tents, built a little fire, enjoyed some bacon roasted over the open flames and hit the sack.

It must have been around one thirty in the morning when we started hearing the noises. Scuffling, sniffing, and the occasional crash of our gear. We sat up and looked around at each other.

"Sounds like a bear." Luke said, "Probably smells the bacon."
"It sounds like it's coming closer," said Rick "Does anyone remember what we did with the rest of that bacon?"
"Oh, I have it right here." Ben said, reaching behind his backpack. The side of the tent ripped open, and our ears were filled with a deafening roar.
"IT'S THE BEAR!" Luke yelled, "RUN!"

It's a Bear!
These aren't the bears we saw. The ones we saw
were a lot bigger and angrier and hungrier.
My aunt was terrified of bears. Whenever we would go camping with her she would take extreme measures to ensure that we would be safe against all bear attacks. When we would hike, she would make all of us wear little bells on our shoes. Most people don't realize this, but bears are deathly afraid of the sound of little bells, and take off at a dead run whenever they hear one within a half mile from them. We'd wear bells on our shoes, whistles around our necks, and sing hiking songs to keep the bears away. My Aunt would bring up the rear with a shotgun resting warily on her shoulder, eyes darting from one shadow to the next. One time I made a joke about being able to tell bear droppings from elk droppings because while elk droppings were full of grass and berries, bear droppings usually contained bells and whistles. This was the time when my Aunt explained to me that "There are some things you just do not joke about." Every night while the rest of us were getting ready for bed she would gather up every scrap of food, every dirty dish, every used wrapper and put them all in garbage bags. Then she would take a length of rope, throw it over a high tree branch, and hoist the food up out of reach of any creature. Except for the raccoons, who would just crawl down the rope and pig out. We used to think this was funny. But now, as I struggled through our shredded tent and saw that there was not one but two bears in our campground, and both of them blocking our only way out of the little cul-de-sac where we had decided to stay the night, I found myself wishing I hadn't forgotten my bells and whistles.

The bears made quick work of the few remaining strips of bacon and started looking around, their appetites barely whetted. It quickly became apparent that our stash of trail mix was not going to satisfy them as they slowly started advancing towards us where we stood, huddled against the stone wall.

To my left I could hear Luke whimpering. I believe Rick was saying Hail Mary's under his breath, but I couldn't be sure. I was quietly soiling myself. Curt glanced at us, and stepped out to meet the bears.

The leg is gone.
Curt Wiebe at a band practice soon after
his right leg was amputated.
We all knew that Curt was a brave soul. With a smile peeking through his pointed beard, he would always be the first to run the gauntlet. It was his idea to go cliff diving without even testing to see how deep the water was. It was his idea to leave his apartment not through the door, but rather by jumping through the second story window. "I've heard if you roll as you hit the ground it spreads the pressure over more of your body and you won't break any bones." He said "Anybody feel like giving it a go?" And, of course, it was his idea to pick a fight with that heavy metal motorcycle gang at a bar in Montana. He was in the midst of the fray, every limb flailing. Broken bottle in his left hand, a small piece of iron pipe clenched in is right, grinning like the devil incarnate. But we never knew the measure of his spirit until he strode out to those two snarling bears, his hands steady.

The first bear took a swipe at him, but Curt easily ducked under it and jammed his thumb into the bear's eye. The bear roared and lunged, but once again Curt was inches out of reach and lashed back with a solid uppercut right beneath the bear's chin. The Bear sat back a moment, stunned, Curt seized the moment and quickly swung himself over onto the bear's back and wrapped his arms around the bear's neck, closing his windpipe.

It was then that the other bear made its move. It had been slowly circling behind Curt and as Curt tightened his grip, the second bear ran in and began tearing through the muscle on Curt's right leg. We stood and watch. Paralyzed. Curt screamed and fell to the ground, but didn't quit fighting. He kicked the bear in the nose, which caused him to release Curt's leg long enough for Curt to roll over a few times and grab a rock about the size of his head. But the bear was on him again. Tearing through pants, skin and tendon. Curt screamed again and with all his strength lifted the stone above his head on brought it down on the bear's skull. There was a loud crack and the bear went limp. Curt pulled the now bloody stone from the bear's crushed skull, looked at the other bear and roared. The bear looked at his dead brother and took off into the forest.

Curt collapsed. It was a moment before we could move, but when we could we worked fast. We bandaged his leg as best we could, lashed together a makeshift stretcher and started down the mountain. It was nearly a day later before we could get Curt to the emergency room, and by then the leg was festering and Curt was running a high fever. The doctor decided that amputation was the only option and wasted no time. When Curt finally woke up three days later he was seven pounds lighter and that didn't include the weight he'd lost from eating through a vein in his arm for seventy-two hours.

He took the news like he takes all bad news. A moment of silence, a shrug of the shoulders, and a grin. He learned to walk with his phony leg quickly enough and it wasn't long before he was walking over for our weekly jams, though he would take the leg off while we played as it wasn't very comfortable to wear for long periods of time.

A few weeks later he suggested another camping trip, but we told him we'd cut off his other leg before we let him drag us out there again.

*I don't know anything about picture copyrights. If any of these pictures belong to you and you have a problem with me using them, let me know.

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