HAYDEN - Christine Richter was never happier to see a bear's butt as she was Friday morning.
Because that meant it was running away - instead of attacking after the Hayden woman surprised a sow and cub during her walk at English Point.
"I seriously thought it was going to chase me down and kill me," she said during a phone call from her home. "I thought, 'I'm going to die.'"
But as she thought about it later, some good did come out of her scare: Her husband, Matthew, can no longer laugh when she says she's worried about bears in Hayden after reading news stories of bear attacks.
"My husband's been making fun of me. He's like, 'Chris, there are no bears up there,'" she said.
But there are, turns out.
Barb Moore, Fish and Game wildlife research biologist, said it's not unusual for black bears to wander the wilderness around English Point. There's plenty of trees, brush, vegetation and room to roam.
"There's certainly the habitat out there," she said.
There isn't any firm data on the black bear population around Hayden Lake, but there are enough bears that people should be alert for them while in the wild, she said. And because the woods are on the edge of residential areas, chance encounters can happen.
Richter can attest to that.
She was halfway through her walk on the three-mile loop of the popular recreation trail about 9:30 a.m. when she heard a loud shuffling noise.
A deer, she thought, would run out.
Instead, her eyes opened wide when confronted with a sow and its cub just 20 feet or so off the trail.
The cub shot up a tree, while the sow turned and fled - away from a frightened Richter. She thought it was going to charge.
"I've never been so happy to see a bear's butt," she said.
She believes they were probably eating something when she startled them. She was close enough to hear the cub's claws as it climbed the tree.
"They were right there," she said.
And Richter did what came natural to her: Run. Fast. Don't look back.
"I know I'm not supposed to, but I ran. I was not going to wait for her to come back," she said.
While fleeing, Richter ran into a friend, warned her of the bear, and they both returned to the trailhead. Because she was worried about an elderly couple she had seen walking in the area earlier, Richter called the Kootenai County Sheriff's Department, and Fish and Game.
She also called her husband, with this frantic message: "There's a bear up here!"
If it had just been a single adult, Richter said she wouldn't have been so frightened. But she knows momma bears are fierce when it comes to threats to their young.
"I know they're very protective," she said.
This is the time of year, Moore said, when bears are fattening up for winter so they'll be searching for food.
She recommends folks make noise while hiking so bears can hear them and move on before a close encounter turns dangerous.
Moore said black bears are generally not aggressive, and she would expect them to flee when people approach.
"They want to get away from you," she said.
Richter said she had mentioned to her husband a few weeks ago she should carry bear spray, especially after reading of bear maulings. In one recent incident a black bear ripped through a tent to attack a camper in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Last Saturday, she insisted he join her. She worried a bear might come after her, too, even at English Point.
"He's like, 'You're being ridiculous. Those aren't woods, they're trails.'" she said.
Her fears, she said with a nervous laugh on Friday, were justified.
"I knew there were bears out there."
On days her husband can't go, Richter plans to continue her morning walks in the woods, but not without a new companion:
"I'm going to get bear spray," she said.