I have been a little more cautious than usual wild camping since leaving Telluride three days ago, as the bears in these parts have been less wary of humans in their final push for food before they go into hibernation. The drought conditions have reduced their normal food of berries. There have been increased reports of bears invading towns foraging in dumpsters and garbage cans for the 20,000 calories they need a day as they fatten up. And there is the odd story of a bear breaking into a home or business.
Though I didn't have any bear sitings myself during my month in Telluride working for its film festival, many of my friends did. Nothing serious, just the fright of seeing one of the big woolly creatures ambling along late at night. Last week the "New York Times" had a story on the bear invasion, mentioning Telluride and Montrose. My friend David, who I biked around Turkey with two years ago and lives in the woods outside of Telluride during the summer in his tent, had to set up an electric fence for the first time around his tent to fend off an overly curious bear after it had trashed three of his tents.
I camped ten miles beyond Montrose my first night after leaving Telluride. It was just beyond a rest area at a road leading to Black Canyon National Park. The garbage can at the rest area did not have an extra secure bear-proof top common in these parts, so I did not have a great concern of bears. The terrain was semi-desert, not the best habitat for those carnivores. Earlier in the day I met a touring cyclist who left Fort Collins, north of Boulder, and had been on the road ten days riding part of the route I would be taking. He had been wild camping, or "stealth camping." as he phrased it, and hadn't had any bear problems. The night before he had camped outside of Ridgeway. There were notices of active bears in the area. He just made sure to hang his food, but no bears were drawn by it that he was aware of.
Lat night I camped in the weeds along the road just before the climb over 11,321 foot Monarch Pass on the Continental Divide. It was along a stretch of cattle farms. I had passed two recently hit deer, bloated and rotting. If they hadn't attracted bears, I had little reason to think my packs of Ramon and Luna bars and peanut butter would be much of a lure. I had no place to hang them other than on my bike, probably not high enough to thwart a hungry bear. The only noise I heard during the night was the howling of coyotes.
The bears have to be a little wary themselves, as bear hunting season is now on. I may have more reason to be concerned about hunters than the bears. Twice in New Zealand I was shot at by hunters while wild camping. I wasn't their target, but rather game they thought they had seen in the vicinity.
I've had an increased bear consciousness this year as the Film Festival poster, designed by David Eggers, featured a bear behind a camera filming an elk in the style of a National Park poster. Eggers is better known as a writer. He's had several best selling books, the first "A Heartbreaking Tale of Staggering Genius," but he is also an accomplished graphic artist.
He was one of five authors attending the festival who all had book signings at the festival Memorabilia Shop. It made for an extra busy year in my shipping department with all the books pouring in. Errol Morris and Salmon Rushdie were among the authors, along with guest director English critic Geoff Dyer and Jack Garfein, an older Czech director whose two films from 1957 and 196l were screened. His first film, "The Strange One," featured Ben Gazzara in his first role.
That was just one of many older films. Another was "The Intruder" from 196l starring a young William Shattner. It was part of a tribute to Roger Corman. It was the lone serious, socially-conscious film Corman directed of the over 500 films he produced, and reputedly the only one that lost money. When critic Scott Foundas introduced the film he said that when he interviewed Corman five years ago for the "LA Weekly" he asked Corman if that story was true. He said it was until it was made available on DVD. Now it has finally turned a profit.
Along with the many obscure, "lost", films screened there were the North American premieres of some of the best films from Cannes: the Palm d'Or winner "Amour," "Rust and Bones" starring another of the tributees Marion Cotillard, "The Hunt" starring the third tributee Mads Mikkelson, who won the best actor award at Cannes, "Paradise:Love," "The Sapphires" and a few others.
There were also a handful of films that will be opening at the multiplexes in time for the Oscar season: "Argos" starring and directed by Ben Affleck and "Hyde Park on the Hudson" with Laura Linney and Bill Murray. All three were in attendance. Sarah Polley also was on hand with a superlative documentary on her family history unearthing her biological father in "Stories We Tell." She introduced it holding her young baby and then talked about it for nearly half an hour after a Monday morning screening in the sold-out 500 seat Galaxy theater. It was a treat that the Toronto audiences will not have this week, as the material is so sensitive she has said that she will not be talking to the press about it there.
Among the many highlights of the festival, was seeing once again on a big screen Tarkovsky's masterpiece "Stalker" from 1979 and the breathtaking travel documentary "Baraka" from 1992 and the visually stunning "Beau Travail" from 1999, three of Dyer's six selections. Also up there was the new film"Wadjda," the first film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and also the first film directed by a woman from Saudi Arabia. It was the story of a quite feisty 11-year old girl who wants a bicycle so she can race against the boys. It is unheard of for a girl to have a bicycle in Saudi Arabia. It is also unheard of for a woman to direct a film in Saudi Arabia. The director, Haifaa Al Mansour, said she had to direct the outdoor scenes from inside a van, as it wasn't appropriate for her to be out amongst the men. There were considerable references to the secondary role of women in Saudi society. Even if the movie didn't center around the girl's desire for a bicycle, this would have been an exemplary film with all its cultural detail.
As always, my thought will be much preoccupied during my bike ride back to Chicago reflecting upon and reveling over all the cinema and socializing of the past month in the utopia of Telluride, reuniting with friends, some of whom go back more than two decades, and also glorying in new friendships. One of them was one of my condo mates who went to high school in Washington state with Tyler Farrar, Garmin's Tour de France stage-winning sprinter.
This year I'm making my most direct ride back to Chicago, as I'm hoping to meet up with Janina and Dwight in Bloomington, Indiana the weekend after next for an annual music festival. It will be a challenge as I need to average nearly 100 miles a day for 14 days straight to make it. I've only managed 80 miles a day my first three days through mountainous Colorado with all the climbing over pass after pass. But once I hit the flats, if the winds prevail from the west as they should, I have a good chance of making it. It won't be easy, but it will be worth it if I can pull it off.