Darek and Ilona Take the World: Bear Sighting in the Adirondacks! Mary Zakheim August 2, 2016 Adventure Travel, Travel Stories Just when we thought that they couldn’t get any cooler, our favorite traveling couple does it again — this time in the Adirondacks. Not only are they mountain skiers, city trekkers, safari voyagers and all-around adventure takers, but they are also avid hikers. They’ve gone as far as the Japanese Alps, as high as the Cotopaxi in the Ecuadorian Andes and as blistering as the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa. But for now, they stay relatively close to home, hiking a trail in the Adirondacks as they pursue their dream of joining the elite 46er club (more on that later). Get ready to strap on your hiking boots and tighten your backpack straps as you read about the adventures of Ilona and Darek in the Adirondacks! How long have you both been hiking? Ilona: I have been hiking since primary school but at that time I wasn’t into hiking so much. I started enjoying it when I got a great hiking buddy … who is Darek! Darek: Ohh … Thank you! I don’t remember when I started hiking. Once my father told me that he carried me in his backpack when I was 2 years old. According to him, I accidentally slipped out of that backpack. Ilona: Is that when your brain switched to hiking mode? Darek: I guess so … because from that day forward, I have really loved mountains. Do you have a funny beginner hiker story? Darek: Several years ago my buddy and I were hiking in British Columbia. We were flying to Calgary so we couldn’t take any propane, but after landing we bought it in the local store. The first hike was a 3-day adventure and when we were preparing dinner the first night we found out that, of course, Canada is on the metric system. So, our stove didn’t connect with the propane bottle. Luckily, our neighbors lent us their stove so we could prepare our meal. Because of that, we met great friends and chatted with them well into the night by the campfire. Ilona: Most of my funny stories involve animals, scary hiking trails, etc. Nowadays, when we meet with friends, we tell the story about the hungry bear and the tuna sandwiches. It wasn’t funny when we met the bear but now we can laugh about it. What is the one non-essential piece of equipment you couldn’t do without? Darek: After long hours of hiking to the top, there is nothing better than a cold beer from the can. So many times, other hikers have offered to buy beer from me for $20 or more – nope! That’s definitely my non-essential, but a must. What is your favorite part about hiking? Ilona: When you hike, there are parts of the trail when you stand and wonder, “How can I possibly go up or down?” You know what I mean — those parts of the trail when you have to figure out where to put your foot but after you’ve accomplished it, you stood up and say, “How did I do that?” Darek: Backpacking is a complex thing. From packing your backpack to a campfire at the end of your hike. But my favorite part of the day is the beginning. The moment when you leave civilization (train station, city center, parking lot) and enter the wilderness – it’s a time when you feel free. You know that you still have a full day ahead of you, a day full of surprises, views and challenges. I love that moment! Okay, now to your backpacking story in July … where did you go? Ilona: Adirondack Mountains. I love this park. I love the surprises it has for me. It can be a badly maintained trail, a stream, a valley or a bear. There is always something. Have you been there before? Ilona: Of course. We go back there as often as we can and we’ve hiked there for years. Darek: Yes, we are doing the 46er. What is the 46er club? Darek: We are working on that. We are exactly halfway, that is 23 peaks. 46er refers to the 46 highest peaks in the Adirondacks. Some people do that within a year, some in a lifetime. We want to join this elite club! Tell us about your furry encounter! Ilona: What can I tell you … I was scared to death and hoping that he will be more interested in the backpacks than in us. Which, thankfully, was what happened. Darek: I have had contact with a bear before in Montana. That was when I was doing my morning hike in Glacier Park and I saw a grizzly bear but not as close as this one. That grizzly was 15 feet away. My new “friend” was less than 6 feet away and, worse, he jumped from the forest towards us! We jumped away to avoid contact. We knew that we cannot run because this will trigger the bear’s hunting instinct, so we backed off and let him enjoy our sandwiches. What was your first thought when you saw the bear? Ilona: Seriously I thought nothing – it was just an instinct and then I was thinking, “Let him have food but leave us alone.” Darek: Where’s my wife? Is she safe? Ilona: Ohhh … I love you honey! (Okay, guys, get it together) Darek: But, of course she wasn’t safe. The big black bear was there. We were standing 50 feet away, screaming, making noises and trying to appear as big as possible to scare him. But he didn’t care. He had our food and he was happy. What is your takeaway from this weekend? Ilona: Never take a sandwich on a hike. It’s better to have a Clif Bar that the bear cannot smell and probably doesn’t like anyway. Darek: Have bear spray, a knife and car keys on you, not in your backpack. Have you thought about doing a long-term through hike on the Appalachian Trail? Darek: Of course, since I learned about the hike, I have wanted do it. The question is if I can do it? I know it’s not easy, I know a lot of people give up after few days but I still believe I can do it. I just have to convince my wife to tag along with me. Ilona: And I need to convince my boss to give me 5 – 6 months off. I don’t think it’s possible! Darek: Don’t worry, honey. We still have time. Once I met a guy who was doing the AT in his seventies. I was doing a day hike and he was doing the whole trail. What’s your advice to people that want to get into the outdoors but don’t quite know where to start? Ilona: Just do it … start with the small local hikes and go farther, higher and deeper. Once you start hiking you will never stop! Darek: If you love the outdoors, don’t be afraid to take a hike. Everything else will follow right after it. If you still love it, do it again and again and again. Just like we do. After several hikes you will find yourself. You will find a new person, a person who you know but is so different than the one you knew before. Take a hike!