Three ways to identify yourself as a paranoid moron while trail running in Alaska.
I would like to start this off with a short assessment of your intellect.
Let’s call it an Alaskan Rorschach test.
So tell me, what do you see in the above photograph? How does it make you feel? Do you have any positive or negative associations with this image? Try to relax, please.
What’s that? You can’t relax? You’re two-stepping in the other direction? Oh. Now you’re clapping loudly. And yelling something that sounds like, “Hey there!” And what is that spray you’re holding in your hand? Is that Mace? You don’t need Mace around here in broad daylight. This is Alaska. Not Atlanta.
What are you saying? You’re concerned about fares? Yes, plane ticket prices are absolutely ghastly around here, I know, but there are ways—pears? Unless you have some kind of allergy, I don’t see why you’d—
Right. As lovely as the trail running is, I’m a bit skittish over all the bears around these parts. Finding the clawed footprints and tell-tale bear scat on a trail is all the impetus I need to turn right around and finish the rest of my run on asphalt.
Alaskans in the know tell me that the most important thing with bears is to avoid surprising them. In other words, make plenty of noise so as to alert them about your presence.
I suspect the advice-doling Alaskans are instilling these noise-making habits in me for their own entertainment purposes. Let’s look at a few of the embarrassing things I’ve been caught doing out on trail runs in order to repel bears:
1. Singing. Singing is not that weird if you’re in the shower. Or cooking. Or walking around with your friends having a jolly old time. Or, say, performing on stage. But when you’re four miles into a deserted trail nervously belting out the barbershop quartet tunes your dad listens to, it’s weird. And when some no-nonsense mountain man in a flannel shirt and xtratufs comes striding around the corner and catches you mid-high note, running and crooning and being humiliatingly out of breath from that combination, you will feel profoundly uncool. All in the name of preventing your untimely death by bear mauling.
2. Clapping. In the arena of making a fool of yourself in order to ward off bears while running, clapping is a little less invasive than singing. Clapping is still an effective bear warder-offer because it’s noisy and it echoes. But sometimes, I don’t feel like reaching all the way across my body to clap my hands while I’m running, so instead I just smack my midsection, which also makes a satisfyingly loud drumlike noise that I would scurry away from if I were a foraging bear. Invariably, however, the mountain man in xtratufs will come marching around the bend just in time to catch me hitting myself in the stomach. Oh, sorry, I was just, uh, adjusting my shirt, and uh… yeah.
3. Fake sneezing. Fake sneezing is another staple in my noise-making bear alert system. Is there anything more casual than sneezing? A nice, loud, fake sneeze draws far fewer stares than singing barbershop or smacking myself in the gut. A big drawback of this method is that a fake sneeze only lasts, say, 0.3 seconds. I don’t know about you, but that’s not enough to make me feel convinced I’ve scared off any proximate bears. So I have to line up several fake sneezes in a row in order to be confident that I’ve created a sufficiently bear-clearing din. Unfortunately, this means that when the mountain man turns up again, he is overcome with concern about what appears to be a severe allergic reaction and is probably reaching into his CPR/WFR/First Aid/Eagle Scout/SuperMountainMan kit for an epipen with which to stab me and put me out of my sneezey misery.
In conclusion, my bear fears do occasionally limit me to the roads rather than the trails for my runs. It’s just mentally easier to think about splits and pacing rather than eyeing the sides of a trail nervously for potential weapons to use against charging bears.
Do you have any random irrational fears? I suppose my bear fears aren’t necessarily irrational, but I do take them a bit far…
Any other suggestions for bear protection? The more outrageous, the better.
All photos stolen again from Andrew. 🙂