I’m scared of bears… Whew! I finally admitted it and that’s the first step in my bear fear rehabilitation program. Second step, move to Alaska because there’s nothing to worry about when it comes to bears here…Right?
Really?!? You’re Afraid of Bears?
Yes…yes I am. Everyone is afraid of something be it real or imagined, that’s how human’s have survived I suppose..fight or flight. I know several people who will not set foot in the ocean for fear of sharks. I have no fear of sharks, and in fact have dove with them regularly including a tiger shark and a bull shark (those two not on purpose, but hey, it’s their world down there). I’m certainly not going to be the one to tell someone their fears are baseless and irrational. I don’t like it when people (mainly my “I’ll sleep on the ground, no tent, in the middle of Denali National Park” outdoor husband) tell me to get over myself.
I am scared of bears!
I have been for a very long time. I may have a couple of acceptable reasons.
When I was in college, I had a wilderness, backpacking class where the final was a fall 3 day hike into Yellowstone National Park. The class of both men and women, split up for bed in separate tents each night after the camp had been bear-proofed.
The first night, my friend and I could hear shuffling around our tent with some kind of rough sounding growls. I thought to myself, there’s either a bear on it’s death bed that needs to be put out of it’s misery out there, or the male morons we were with thought they were playing a clever trick. A quick peek out, confirmed my theory of the male morons. Reaaallly funny, at least that’s what they thought when we confronted them in the morning.
The second night, we bedded down, and went to sleep. I woke up and could hear something out by the fire moving around. I heard a couple of packs knocked over and the shuffling sounds moving closer to our tent. I thought to myself, “Those idiots! Really? I think I’ll teach them a lesson!” And I prepared to punch the tent when the sound was closer. With fist drawn ready to strike, the animal outside made a noise that stopped me cold and froze my blood. It was a snuffling sound right at the corner of the tent that told me it was not human. The bear proceeded to sniff around the tent, at one point about 8 inches from my head, move back over to the fire area, then off into the night. We confirmed it in the morning with tracks.
Another time, when I was guiding rivers in college, I was on a trip in Desolation Canyon on the Green River in Utah. I always slept on the back deck of my raft, usually under the stars. It was peaceful, and I liked to hear the sound of the river with just a little privacy away from my passengers who on this trip were sleeping by a fire on the beach.
I’m not sure what woke me that night, but at around 1 a.m., I opened my eyes to find myself staring straight into the eyes of a mamma black bear and two cubs about 10 feet away. They had walked down the beach, right over the top of one of my petrified passengers. Mamma bear watched me for a few minutes while they drank, then the family ambled off. It took me a minute to catch my breath before I could go check on my traumatized passenger.
I’ve had a couple of other bear encounters that ended harmlessly, but I am scared of bears!
My fear almost stopped our move to Alaska…
Facing my Fear
When we discussed moving to Alaska, I really had to dig deep to see if I could live in a place with 32,000 Brown Bears, and 100,000 Black Bears. (If I see a Polar Bear where I live, I’m just packing up the farm right there.) I honestly spent nights pondering it and had a couple of moments where I told myself I couldn’t do it.
But it wasn’t as if I hadn’t faced this fear before and conquered it. Growing up in Utah, I camped around black bears. In college, along with guiding rivers in bear country, I had also planted trees in Yellowstone for a summer. And we lived for 15 years at the foot of the Teton Mountains and Yellowstone Park. We had bears wander into town and climb telephone poles. Plus, I have seen bears in Alaska and surprisingly lived to tell the tale. Ok, they were about 500 yards away, but hey, it counts. It’s just that the Alaskan brownies are 3-4x as big!
After all my internal dialog and debate, I decided to consent to the move and meet my bear fear head on in Alaska. I now have a bear on my license plate which is awesome!
Face it, there’s Bears in Alaska
It really does no good to let an irrational fear limit what you are able to do, see, experience or accomplish. Instead, face it, own it, and deal with it. I do understand I have a better shot at having a car accident backing out of my driveway than being attacked by a bear and if I would have let my fear prevent me from coming to Alaska, I would have regretted it for the rest of my life.
Besides, if I do go out from a bear attack, it’ll be with a bang and make a really great blog post! The next step? I’m taking the Alaska version of “Come Back Alive” class…stay tuned.1