It was a third date to remember. Razorback football, golf and getting chased by a bear on a section of the Ozark Highlands Trail.
At one point during the chase, Anne Woker looked back at Dodson Christian and thought, darn, she really would have enjoyed going out with him. But surely he was going to be eaten.
But Christian and Woker both survived to tell the tale of their Sunday afternoon hike on the trail, at the entry near Cass. Christian said Woker told it best, so The Observer called her.
“It was a relaxing weekend,” she said. But they decided on their way back to Little Rock, where both live and work, from Fayetteville to hike a little on Section 3 of the trail.
First there were spiders. Black spiders, and their webs crisscrossed the trail. Then, Christian looked up and pointed to a black bear.
It was about 150 yards away, across a ravine and uphill from them. A good distance, they thought. Woker pulled out her camera and took the bear’s picture with a telephoto lens. As she put the camera back in the bag she said she heard Christian say, quite calmly, “Anne, he’s coming down the hill.” And indeed he was (the gender’s a guess here, but the bear was big). “They really don’t look like they can barrel down on you,” Woker said. But they really can, and before they knew it, he was down his ravine and up their hill. They kept walking, wondering if he was coming for them. And there he was behind them, about 15 yards back, following their winding trail. They’d peek after a curve and poke their heads back. Then Christian told Woker to keep walking, not running, ahead; he was going to stay behind. She heard Christian’s stern voice addressing the bear. “No!”
“The bear was big and scary but, dang, if Dodson didn’t at that moment look even meaner,” Woker later e-mailed her friends. Talking the way you would to a dog.
The two kept walking, but the bear kept coming, though he fell back a bit. For 20 minutes they hiked and looked back over their shoulders. The trail was difficult, it was hot and Woker said she began to worry, “How long can I do this?” Finally, 15 minutes passed with no sound of the bear. It seemed to have given up.
Woker, however, was in no mood to keep going to the next trailhead. When Christian told her he knew there was a forest service road straight up the hill from them, she said let’s go for it. They climbed up and out to safety, walked to a county road and stopped at a house, where Woker said they met a “grandfather” with a moose gun — a .444 Marlin — who accompanied Christian back to the trail to retrieve his backpack and car keys.
The two can be forgiven for the stop they made at the nearest purveyor of ice to make what Woker called “a real tall one,” with vodka.
“I’ve never been with a man who saved my life,” Woker mused.
Woker’s lifesaving suggestion for others: Keep your heads up when you hike the Ozark Highlands trail, don’t run, and sometimes, a stern “No!” works.
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