Marolt: The dangers of bears, Bundy, and a bag of ice

Roger Marolt
Cluster Phobic
Roger Marolt

If they have to close local campgrounds because of bears, it’s probably a good idea to close your yard to camping, too. Tick the backyard sleepover off the list of fun stuff your kids can do to pass the warm summer nights. I suggest you hook up the Slip ’N Slide to the garden hose and call it good.

Bears were mythical creatures in Aspen for us kids. Nobody actually saw bears then. We weren’t even positive our parents were telling the truth when they talked about them, which wasn’t often. They had told us about the bogeyman, too. Our baby sitter had a bearskin rug in her living room, and it scared us into our best behavior. She said her husband had killed it, but she was about 90 years old, and that event would have had to have taken place long before. Maybe in Europe, we figured.

Nope, bears were even rarer than seeing an elk, which was almost as rare as spotting a deer, coyote, fox or rabbit. I don’t know if the miners shot them all or scared them away, but we just didn’t see much wildlife here. I think I’m probably more amazed than the tourists nowadays that there are so many wild animals around. Where’d they come from?

I grew up with a kid who slept out every single night of summer break one year. It was his Everest. He had his tent stocked with all the food a kid could want after he left the dinner table. It was an assortment of candy, cookies and chips that would make a modern-day 7-Eleven purchasing agent proud. He had a couple of cases of pop in a cooler to wash it all down with, too. One of his daily duties was to pour out the water from the bottom and restock it with ice, which he transported from the Conoco station cradled under one arm on his bicycle. He had a much greater chance of losing that arm to frostbite than from a bear ripping it off while he slept.

We didn’t sleep in the backyard that often, but we weren’t rookies at it, either. We knew well enough not to sleep on the trampoline, as the cold air circulating beneath would rob all body heat during the night and expose us to hypothermia. Likewise, we were adept at checking the sprinkler schedule and retooling it by resetting the clock. Nobody reprogrammed anything back then.

One June, Ted Bundy, the notorious serial killer, jumped from a second-floor window of the Pitkin County Courthouse and scrammed. A couple of weeks later, my brother Mike swore he saw a guy fitting Bundy’s description when we were fishing in Hunter Creek, but the authorities laughed and assured us it was nothing more than young imagination, as Bundy had likely fled far from Aspen as quickly as he could. Thus assured, we decided to sleep in the yard that night, something we hadn’t been allowed to do since the killer had been on the lam.

Our neighbor had an old car parked on the street in front of our house, about 20 feet from where we pitched our tent. Late that night, we heard the clunker fire up and drive off. It was an odd time of night to go for a drive.

It turned out that Bundy had stolen the car and was apprehended speeding on his way out of town. I tell this story to prove that we had a much greater chance of being abducted as hostages by a notorious mass murderer than being attacked by a bear while sleeping out in our yard, even though neither happened.

There are other things that we will never again be able to do in Aspen. One is to ride our bikes to Basalt and back on the shoulder of Highway 82. We did this for a PE-class field trip in high school. I don’t think it even required a signed permission slip from our parents, much less helmets or Lycra shorts, so routine was the mission.

It was spring offseason, so traffic was light on the old two-lane “Killer 82.” I think we might have seen a dozen cars the entire time we were out. If it had been the summer high season, traffic would have been at least twice as heavy. I remember eating lunch, sitting on a guardrail and throwing rocks into the Roaring Fork. If you made an excursion such as this today, I think the odds of getting creamed by a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus would be greater than being eaten by a bear.

Roger Marolt thinks bears were much scarier when you couldn’t see them. Email