© Daily Herald staff
It’s time to share one of my all-time favourite stories.
It’s a tale of snowshoes, bearspray, coffee, tears and laughter. And it comes with a PG rating.
No Bergson story ever comes without several detours.
So rather than starting into the story and taking detours later, we’ll get right to the detours first.
One of my friends was coming home to Manitoba while I still lived in Brandon. We had met through triathlon and were accustomed to sharing time together doing physical activities like cycling or swimming.
Since it was just before Christmas, he emailed me and asked if I would have time to go snowshoeing. The second question was if I owned an extra pair of snowshoes.
I actually did. When our dog was young, we would take out him in the bush, us on our snowshoes and him leaping through the snow with his non-stop gas tank. He loved it and we loved it.
So my friend and I set aside a time to go snowshoeing. This is the vitally important setup for the story that’s to follow.
His foot size was bigger than my wife’s so he had to change all of the settings on her showshoes. We had a nice visit, walked through nice bush outside of Brandon and parted ways. (I actually haven’t seen him since although we have exchanged some emails.)
Now, just for fun, we’ll take a second detour before we begin the actual story.
I’m a devoted fan of the world junior hockey championship, which is really the only TV sports that I can be bothered to watch anymore.
The tournament was over in Europe that year so I got up super early on Dec. 31 to watch the game. Canada won but I never caught up on sleep that day, which also becomes important later.
One more detour and the story begins.
My wife and I generally go out on New Year’s Eve and do something special. We weren’t thrilled with any of the events on that year so we chose to instead go for supper at one of the nicest restaurants in Brandon and then go snowshoeing with our dog at midnight.
I was exhausted from the early morning so I was pounding back the coffee as we ate a nice meal.
Everything you’ve learned in the last 400 words in some strange way plays into the odd tale that you’ll read in the next 600 words.
After we returned home from supper, we changed into our snowshoeing gear and walked two blocks to the bottom of the North Hill, a steep incline that stretches from the Assiniboine River valley up to the height you’d be on when you drive by Brandon on the Trans-Canada Highway.
If you’ve played hockey or attended a competitive swimming meet in the Wheat City, we were starting from right beside the Sportsplex.
Now a toboggan hill, we were walking up a 100-metre wide mix of bush and open prairie that leads to the road above. It might be a 400-metre walk from the Sportsplex up this hill to the east-west road above, Braecrest Drive.
Needless to say, after being left in the house for a while on his own, Luke was ready to go.
We strapped on our snowshoes beside the Sportsplex and started trudging up the hill, Luke was off leash and ahead of us, his white tail wagging back and forth as always.
We quickly ran into problem.
My wife’s snowshoes weren’t fitting right because my buddy had changed all of the settings.
She often walked Luke very late at night so she always carried one of those canisters of bear spray, both to keep coyotes away from Luke -- they lived within a kilometre of that spot -- and also to keep two-legged predators at bay.
Back then, these canisters weren’t the potential legal hazard they are now.
So as she knelt down to fix her snowshoes, she handed me the canister. I kept walking but since I never like to have anything in my hands, I decided to put the canister in my pocket.
I pulled my parka pocket with my left hand and stuffed it in with my right. It was about that moment when I discovered that she took the safety off the bearspray when she walked.
I was suddenly standing in a cloud of bear spray, eyes on fire, coughing and spitting. Since a redhead’s first instinct is generally anger, I responded by hurling the canister into a distant snowbank.
My face was on fire so I knew that I needed to wipe some of the chemical off. Apparently I chose a poor method to do it.
I wiped my face with the back of my left hand and mitt, exactly on the side that I had opened my pocket with moments before. It had received a direct blast of pepper spray. Instead of wiping the chemical off, I had managed to slather even more onto my face and eyes.
If you’ve never been exposed to the chemical, it has a way of getting into your face holes and making them feel like they were on fire. You’re covered in tears and (pardon me) snot.
My wife had by this time caught up to me and was taking my ordeal much better than I was. She was peeved that I had tossed the canister, which we quickly found, but amused by the rest.
After a few minutes I decided that we should keep going. So up the hill we went, crossing over Braecrest Drive to a little golf course.
That’s when the coffee kicked in. I desperately needed to find a tree to hide behind.
(Sensitive readers may want to stop here.)
After I found a spot, I very gingerly eased my drawers down a bit and recycled the coffee to the earth. I pulled up my drawers and we kept walking.
Twenty yards later my world was on fire. I apparently hadn’t been quite as careful as I thought.
My wife had to stop walking. She was gasping for breath she was laughing so hard.
I went a ways further, with her suggesting that I should apply snow to the injured area, and then serenaded by my wife’s hysterical laughter.
With her blessing, I finally turned and ran home
When she arrived at the house a while later, she found me still in the shower.
I had spent 10 minutes washing my hands before I dared journey south of the equator to put out that fire. Finally it, too, was extinguished.
So I have some solid advice for any young gentleman going out tonight. This is the sort of advice born of despair and hard living.
It’s advice not just anyone will give you on New Year’s Eve.
If you’re out having a good time, always be careful not to get bear spray on your old fella.
Perry Bergson is the Daily Herald’s managing editor. You can reach him at 765-1302 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org