Saturday, March 2, 2013


You've know the joke about the guy wearing tennis shoes on the bear hunt, right? Well, I heard a true version involving my coworker and his ex walking the Gold Creek trail near Valdez. That trail, if you remember, is cut through thick alder brush and winds along the base of a cliff ten miles to scenic and birdy Shoup Bay. I've hiked it, and its a tangly, rocky, narrow mess. If the kittiwake rookery is something you NEED to see, take a boat. So this couple was doing almost everything right, with good boots, layers, cell phone, and armed (Alaska style) with a large bore pistol purchased for just such outings, carried conveniently in her backpack next to the wine, cheese, and crackers. You see this coming, right? Well, they didn't. The big black boar had evidently already seen the glacier and wasn't impressed because he was headed back toward town in a grumpy mood along the same wet cut the humans were walking only a mile from the trailhead. They saw the bear before he saw them, and the partners whispered "BEAR" in what they thought was a whisper but was "probably more of a whimper" (his words). The bear perked it's ears, and the lady reached into the side pocket of her backpack and pulled... her camera. It occurred to him at the time (he says), that it was funny that they whispered in stereo, and that they whispered at all, in that, by all accounts, bears prefer to KNOW you are near, and are very difficult to hide from in close quarters. The bear stopped, sniffed, and huffed once before starting toward them again. My friend, well versed in anti-bear tactics (intimidate, negotiate, play dead), held his ground, tried to look large, and spoke in a calm, clear voice to "Mr. Bear", suggesting one or both parties could vacate the trail to avoid the use of the deadly weapons they both were packing. But Yogi (looking large naturally), had evidently missed the "dealing with deadly humans" symposium, because he flattened his ears, bared his teeth, and shook his head as he continued forward. "OK. Hand me the gun." He stretched his arm back, but stayed facing the bear, who wasn't charging, but wasn't slowing either, now just a few yards away. Nothing. He glanced back. His wife was gone... Ten yards into his sprint, he jumped across their expensive camera, lying in the mud. He could hear and feel the bear in a lope, one huff for each landing of his five hundred pounds. Around a quick bend, and there was the backpack, and a decision to be made. "I swear I could feel his breath on the back of my head!", he describes as he flew past the pack and down the trail. What had been difficult, slow hiking was surprisingly easy sprinting, pumping terrified in the other direction. He passed his wife on the meadow where they had, just an hour earlier, casually taken a hundred pictures of wildflowers and bear scat. They hissed verbal labels at each other on the trail, and when safe in the car they just breathed, until they recovered enough to argue. I'd like to report that their bond was strong enough they could look back fondly and laugh, but she is now living somewhere with gangs and no bears, and he has a new Russian wife. A day after the great bear fight, my buddy returned with a shotgun-toting posse to try and recover his expensive things. Nothing remained. The whole area was so tracked up he couldn't tell if the bear had veered into the brush or stopped chasing because he smelled the brie and fancy crackers. Perhaps he'd been satisfied just to clear the trail of pesty people. And it's understandable why he'd want the pack full of goodies, but you wonder if he got into the wine, and what use he might have for the camera.

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