One of the cool things about my job is I get to interview people I find interesting.
I recently had an in-depth phone conversation with North Island local Megan Hanacek regarding her life story.
She told me a few tales about her experiences growing up on the North Island, which in turn reminded me of my own youth spent exploring Port Hardy’s immense surrounding wilderness.
Growing up here before the internet, Xbox, iPhone’s and satellite TV all of a sudden became popular, is something I will always look back on with fondness.
My parents always pushed us kids to spend the majority of our time outdoors.
We would run through the lush trails beside Eagle View Elementary School’s soccer field and jump off the nearby waterfall (my brother Derek actually road my bike off that waterfall once. He flipped head over heels in mid-air and the bike landed on top of him).
We also explored the logging roads, played tackle football with no pads, and tried to catch small creatures like tadpoles, frogs and garter snakes at Mayor’s Way pond.
It was really an idyllic way to spend one’s childhood, and every so often something will cause me to have a flashback.
When Megan told me she saw her first cougar at 13, it triggered one of those rare moments I hadn’t thought of in a long time.
It was the summer of 1997, and my friend Steve (not his real name) and I wanted to bike the trail at the end of Mayor’s Way road. We’d always been curious about where it would eventually lead to, and thought the trip would be a fun way to kill the afternoon.
Down the rocky, dirt covered trail we rode our bikes at a leisurely pace, before coming to a stop at a fork in the road. While we were trying to decide which path to take, we heard a rustling of bushes behind us.
We turned around and saw the flash of a cougar darting across the trail into the other side of the woods. Having been warned how dangerous cougars are our entire lives, we did the only thing we could think of in the heat of the moment. Steve and I stopped dead in our tracks and refused to budge.
We didn’t move an inch for what felt like hours, but it was really only about a minute or two. I looked at him and whispered “move”.
He nodded and we slowly started pedalling back the way we came. Before we made the final turn that takes you back into civilization, Steve abruptly jammed on the breaks and jumped off his bike. He sat down on the trail and started to cry. I stood there quietly on my bike and watched, not really sure what to say or do.
He kept on crying, loud sobs escaping from deep inside of his chest, until he caught hold of his breath and had no more tears left to shed.
He wiped his eyes, climbed back on to his bike and peddled home without saying a single word to me. To this day, I’m still not sure why he cried.
Whether it was due to him being traumatized by how close we’d come to getting mauled, or out of pure happiness because we’d managed to leave the situation unscathed, I don’t know.
We never talked about it afterwards. He ended up moving away a year or two later and we lost contact as the years passed by.
Looking back now, 20 years later, it was one of those rare moments in time where the reality of life, and how fragile it can be if you’re not careful, crushes you.
I’ll never forget catching a glimpse of that cougar darting across the trail. I wonder if Steve still remembers it.