They lived such a quiet, withdrawn life that, although they had been on Flores Island for more than 30 years, nobody seemed to know their last names.
But Rick and Sandy, a couple who carved out a homestead in the British Columbia wilderness north of Tofino, on Vancouver Island, became international news this week when a cougar attacked her – and he ran to help, killing the animal with a 1.8-metre boar spear that he'd acquired to defend them.
The couple had been fearing just such an attack for weeks after a dangerous encounter in July when Sandy defended herself from the same cougar with a machete, chasing it away.
She is recovering at a Victoria hospital from serious head wounds inflicted Sunday when the cougar came back and attacked again.
"The cougar had been haunting them for weeks … and he got the spear because of that," said Dave Leblanc, a retired diver and long-time resident of Tofino.
"He was working at his saw and for some reason he stopped and that's when he heard her screaming for help," said Mr. Leblanc. "He grabbed the spear as he was running towards her."
He described Rick as "quite dashing in his appearance" and others who know the couple have said Sandy is "a beautiful woman" who is 60 years old.
Mr. Leblanc said the couple built a cabin in the forest at Cow Creek, on the West Coast of Flores Island, far from any roads or settlements, seeking a life of solitude in nature.
"They were just really nice, quiet, reserved people," Mr. Leblanc said. "They were just doing their thing out there and were happy."
He said Rick is pleasant to talk to when encountered in town, but Sandy "was really quiet" and not as easy to get to know.
Tom Campbell, who owns and operates a water-taxi company in Ahousaht, has taken the couple out on his boat about a half dozen times over the past five years. The two are very reclusive, he said, but were always kind and sociable when he did see them. "I'm not kidding when I say they're hermits."
Vicky Husband, who has a summer home on a nearby island, said she met the couple more than 20 years ago and saw them as genuine back-to-the-landers who relished living alone in the wilderness.
"Where they live is just paradise," she said, adding that the couple had gardens and a smoke house and lived entirely off the grid. Rick sometimes worked as a tree planter.
Over the years, staff working at Wild Side Trail, which facilitates tours around the coast of rugged Flores Island, received several complaints from tourists who said the couple told them to stay away from their home, which is set back in the woods at Cow Bay.
Sergeant Ben York, a B.C. Conservation officer, said the couple first reported in July that a cougar had tried to attack her. "It was growling and hissing … swatting at the air … she used a machete to drive it off," he said.
But she wasn't able to defend herself on the second attack. "She was jumped from behind and knocked down … her common-law partner picked up the spear … he jabbed it a couple of times and that drove the animal off," he said. "I think the real story here is the bravery that he showed … he's definitely why she's doing as well as she is."
Sgt. York said the couple was evacuated by a Coast Guard team and then a four-man team with cougar hounds went to the cabin. They found signs of a desperate struggle.
"The ground was really disturbed as you'd expect from a person fighting for their life. There was obviously blood both from the human and the cougar," he said.
Sgt. York said the spear was found covered in blood – and nearby in the forest was the dead cougar.