Canada Hiking

Mishaps & Misadventures – The Bull Of Cape Breton

As you all know things don’t always go according to plan when your traveling and sometimes there are little occurrences that set you back. It’s just part of the world of travel and a good reminder that you really have no control over what the universe throws at you. Flights will be delayed, mother nature throws a tantrum now and then, cultures clash and misunderstandings will inevitably occur. I’ve decided to start this little series of short stories and anecdotes of just such misadventures that I’ve experienced while traveling.


This summer I completed my cross Canada road trip by exploring Canada’s Atlantic provinces. While hiking on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island, my boyfriend K and I had a near-death experience with local resident on the northern tip of the province.

We had arrived at Meat Cove campground around 12:30 pm, just in time to claim one of the last 2 remaining camp sites for the night. With stunning views of the incredible Cape Breton coast line, this camp ground was one of the most scenic we encountered during our 2 week road trip.

View from our campsite!

View from our campsite!

Wanting to explore, we asked the camp ground owner J, to recommend a hike that we could complete in a few hours. He immediately pointed us in the direction of the St. Lawrence Lighthouse hike that would take approximately 1.5 hrs each way, and promised wonderful views of the rocky shoreline.

The hike went off without a hitch as we followed the gravel ATV trail deep into the forest, eventually switching over to a grassy lane which we followed right out to the coast. As we emerged from the thick forest and the trees gave way to an open grassy plateau with views of the rugged Cape Breton coast line, I saw a cow grazing about 20 yards ahead. A bit surprised to see a cow, I announced out loud to K “Hey there’s a cow, weird.”

Looking down at the coast line where we ran into the bull.

As soon as I began talking, a guy suddenly popped up from behind a stand of 3 small, thick pine trees (the kind you’d cut down and decorate for Christmas) and began waving his arms at us, telling us to be quiet. Thinking that he’d been watching some wildlife he didn’t want us to scare away, we stayed quiet and cautiously began walking to the left, away from him, trying to get our eyes on whatever it was he was watching.

The man continued to wave at us, now with more urgency on his face, to go back and stay quiet. Still a bit confused, K and stayed quiet and continued to wander, trying to look behind a few small stands of trees on the grassy plateau, wanting to know what animal had this man so riled up.

Watching the man behind the trees, he began putting his hands up to his head making what I took to be a signal for a moose. I repeated this signal back to him, getting excited as I had been hoping to see a moose in the wild on this trip. The guy repeated it back to me again, though this time I was a bit confused as to why there would be a moose out in the open, in the middle of the day, in the presence of a cow.

We saw this moose the next day on a hike.

We saw this moose the next day on a hike.

In the next 10 seconds, 4 things happened: 1) K got a closer look at the cow and announced, “That’s not a cow, that’s a bull!” 2) We realized the guy behind the trees had been trying to warn us about the bull (not a moose); 3) The bull heard us and stopped his grazing to look up, locking his eyes on me; 4) A feeling of dread swept over me as I realized I was now in an open field with a bull.

K was off to the left of me standing in patch of low lying bushes while I remained exposed on the grassy trail in direct line of sight of the bull. Without a moments hesitation, this horned beast stared me down and began stomping the earth with his hooved feet, snorting his displeasure at me for interrupting his lunch. Wanting to bolt for the forest that was now too far behind me, K gave a warning “Don’t run. Walk slowly backwards.”

A took a few tentative steps backwards and the bull began trotting towards me. Fear now taking over, I bolted for a stand of 3 large, white washed, dead trees in the middle of the clearing as it was the closest protection I could find. The bull charged after me, clearly intent on catching me and teaching me a lesson for trespassing on his plateau. Stopping on the opposite side of the trees I was using for cover, he eyed me while snorting his discuss, clearly trying to work out how to catch me. With a plan in place, the bull started off again, running to right, around the stand of trees. I too started running to the right, trying to keep us exactly opposite each other with the trees at the center of our circle. This continued for another few minutes as he charged after me, chasing me around the trees 3 times. All the while I was thinking that if he catches me, I’m dead.

The poor guy who had tried to warn K and I to leave, stood by helplessly watching the scene unfold in front him while staying hidden behind his pine tree fortress.

Stopping to take a break and re-evaluate his plan of attack, the bull halted where this not-so-merry-go-round had started. Wanting to put an end to this hopeless situation, K took the opportunity to make a mad dash and join me behind my dead tree defense line.

This seemed to anger the bull even more as there were now two us of just beyond his reach. The bull resumed his chase but this time he began changing his direction every few feet, with us mimicking his every movement in order to keep the trees between us.

Pausing again for a break, the bull didn’t seem to know what to do, while his anger was clearly escalating. Now I’m not sure what happened next (when you’re running for your life and acting on pure instinct, it can be hard to understand what you did and why), but I bolted away from the cover of the trees out into the open to where K had been standing and watching. K now worried that the bull would see me as an easy target, saw a brief moment of opportunity and seized it by running like the wind back to the trail and the thick forest surrounding it, drawing the bull away from me and after him (unbeknownst to K at the time, he was wearing a rust-red backpack and had his bright red Gortex jacket clipped to the outside of his pack, flapping in the wind as he ran). As soon as the bull took off after K, I bolted to the stand of trees the guy was using as protection. Arriving breathless I saw his wife crouching down behind the trees, holding the only weapon available, a large rock, in her hands.

Keeping our eyes on the bull’s rear end, the only part of him visible through the trees where we saw him chase K, I too grabbed a rock and crouched beside my new alliance. I learned that this couple had been out enjoying the scenic views of the coast line while looking for a nice spot to sit down and enjoy some lunch, when this bull had came out of now where and began chasing them. They had sought protection here behind this stand of trees, crouching on the rocky boulders that covered the ground, thinking that the bull wouldn’t be able to walk on such uneven and treacherous terrain. They had been stuck hiding there for the last 30 min, hoping and waiting for the bull to take his leave. The wild beast had just settled down into grazing again when K and I had arrived on the scene, again alerting him to the presence of humans on his territory. The guy apologized saying he had tried to warn us and the signal he’d been doing with his hands was meant to be horns to represent a bull, not antlers on a moose (oops).

The women asked about K, wondering if he was alright. I said I’m sure he’s fine since he had made it to the cover of the thick forest, a place I knew the bull would not be able to enter. Staying quiet, we discussed our limited options, thinking we have to do something or we’d be stuck there forever. With the bull now blocking our only escape route (the trail), I began slowly assessing our surroundings, trying to work out a plan.

Over the next 20 or so minutes the bull would wander back and forth between our stand of trees (he didn’t seem to know we were there) and back tot he forest where K was hiding. K later told me he had been trying to work his way through the forest to where he could see the clearing, the last place he saw me. He had no idea what had become of me.

Eventually the three of us hiding behind the trees saw the bull wander away, walking down the tree line away from us and the trail. About 5 min after we last saw the bull, we observed as K tentatively came walking out of the forest in search of me. I waved at him and tried to communicate to him that the bull was in the area he was walking. Keeping alert to his surroundings, K was able to walk out onto the grassy plateau and made a wide arch around to our hiding spot. With the bull out of sight for over 10 min, together we carefully bush-waked our way through thick thorn bushes into the tight forest, walking parallel to the trail. Eventually we felt confident enough that the bull was gone and made our way back to the trail and hiked back to our campsite.

Once back at Meat Cove we found the campground owner J to report our near-death experience and advise him that there was a rampaging bull on the loose. When we mentioned we’d been chased and nearly killed by a rouge bull his response was “Yeah, that bull is mean!”.

“What?! You know about the bull?!” we all exclaimed, flabbergasted that he knew about this dangerous animal and yet encouraged us to hike there.

“Yeah, it belongs to the guy who lives in the house at the trail head,” (we had passed this house and figured it belonged to the family who owned the camp ground).

“His name is Al. Well… he actually just legally changed his name to ‘Wild’ ” J informed us.

Huh. Well we knew we weren’t going to get any where with a guy named ‘Wild’.  J continued and said, “The RCMP were here about 2 weeks ago and took their ATV’s out to hunt down and shoot that bull because he’s such a nuisance. I thought he was dead”

Well, we told him, they didn’t find the bull, we did! J said the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada’s federal police force) are aware of the problem and he would let them know of today’s incident.

Of all the adrenaline activities I do and world travel, never have I ever feared for my life like I did that day. It just goes to show that you never know where you’ll find excitement and danger!

 

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