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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.

I swear. It works. According to one bearded source, Billy Joel tunes are particularly effective in warding off bears.

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.

Congratulations, you just earned the title of "Biggest Doofus on the Trail."

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. 🙂

27 Comments leave one →
  1. 09/21/2010 09:31

    no advice for the bears. you could bring pots and pans with you 😉 but you are braver than me as i would be terrified of a chance bear encounter hah! please take a video?

  2. Lacey permalink
    09/21/2010 09:35

    sadly i have no bear suggestions, that is beyond my area of expertise and i’ve just learned it’s unethical to counsel someone outside of your competence level. 😉 heh.

    ummm… let’s see. i’m terrified of spiders and all creepy crawly bugs. it’s pretty irrational considering i can squash them but i just can’t go close enough to actually do that. and elliot is non-violent. i have actually FOUGHT him over trying to get him to kill a spider. he has actually transported them outside before and I SWEAR the same exact ones keep coming back inside. ahhhh.

    • 09/24/2010 10:27

      But spiders help kill off other creepy crawly bugs… = good…right?

  3. 09/21/2010 09:38

    You would think I’d be afraid of gators here, but since I live near the ocean and not the Everglades I’m not too worried. (Mind you that’s only about a 10 mile difference. They do show up here in the canals, but I haven’t heard of too many.)

    My problem is that I think EVERYTHING is a snake. I’m not sure why since I have never seen a snake while running and have only seen a couple out and about. (One was in our family pool. Swimming!) I jump at every little stick or twig that I see. It’s kind of ridiculous because I’m not sure what I think the snake is going to do to me either.

    Bears? I’ve got nothing for that. I’d DIE if I saw bear tracks.

    • 09/24/2010 10:28

      You are just like Indiana Jones. “Why did it have to be snakes?”

      Fun “fact” slash frequently-made-claim: there are no snakes in Alaska.

  4. 09/21/2010 09:39

    Don’t carry bacon in your pocket 😉

  5. 09/21/2010 09:53

    Well. I probably would have shat my pants right then and there if I saw that in the mud, so I’ve got no advice for ya. I’ve come upon small black bears while running but they’re nothing compared to what you have up there.

    I am randomly and irrationally afraid of pickles. And toilets. (The latter, I manage to conquer at least 3-4 times a day, though.)

    • 09/24/2010 10:31

      It’s mosssstly black bears around this immediate area too. I’m just — as stated — a paranoid moron.

      Some toilets actually creep me out too — composting/outdoor toilets in particular. Shivers!

  6. 09/21/2010 10:49

    Bears frighten me far less than the idea of mountain lions. Pick your poison, I guess, but I have a passionate fear of cougar attack. And not by Demi Moore. Although were I am, I’m more likely to suffer mauling by the genus cadillacescaladus.

    • 09/24/2010 10:35

      Apparently southeast Alaska is pretty low in the big scary wild cat department, thank GOD, because you bring up a valid point.

      Lol@ that genus. I also doubt there is a single Escalade to be found in this town, unless it’s from like 1989.

  7. Lori permalink
    09/21/2010 17:45

    That was definitely a black bear print since the mud is black? I have to jump on thewagon for fear of cougar, mountain lion, puma attack! Objects in mirror are closer than they appear….

    • 09/24/2010 10:36

      Rest assured that if I ever move to mountain lion country, I will be living in constant fear. Treaadmilllll!

  8. 09/21/2010 18:23

    I once saw a couple small bears on a trail in the mountains of North Carolina and freaked the fuck out. I think they were babies and they didn’t even look in my direction as I went by.

    That said, I’m petrified of wildlife though I’ve only been chased by two animals when running: a dog and a turkey. Yes. A wild turkey. It was…special. Though a girl on my XC team in high school TOTALLY got chased by a cow.

    • 09/24/2010 10:39

      Baby bears are exactly the ones you don’t wanna run into, right? I would’ve freaked out too.

      I am laughing out loud envisioning these turkey/cow chase scenes. Cows run? Naahhhh! My brother had a run-in with some wild turkeys once and reported that they were a lot more intimidating than they seem. They are related to dinosaurs after all…

  9. 09/21/2010 23:50

    that’s not odd, i often sing or slap my belly for no apparent reason ALL the time, bears or no bears.

    my personal terror is BATS, which isn’t good since i live in Australia. i went for a run one night through the city’s gardens and i heard all this squeeling. i thought it was my headphones, but it wouldn’t stop. whadayaknow – i look up and there are ONE BILLION BATS OVER MY HEAD!!! most terrifying moment of my life, i tell ya. :S

    • 09/24/2010 10:47

      BATS omg. The charming shack I lived in during college had a bat infestation one fall. We lived existences marked by unadulterated terror for two months. And we all suffered post-“traubatic” stress syndrome for the following year, screaming and ducking our heads whenever we saw anything with wings.

  10. 09/22/2010 05:30

    Fake sneezing? How do you pull that off. Sounds hard. I might practice here at work…

    New ideas… hmm. Run with an air horn!

  11. dubay319 permalink
    09/22/2010 19:35

    I think that the best bear repelant that you have at your dispoasal is just taking me with you hiking because

    A: you can out run me
    B: I am way to loud for any bears to come near me


  12. Pat permalink
    09/22/2010 19:52

    Those disposable aluminum pie plates and turkey roasters would make a lovely sound. You could string them from zipper pulls and be like a running wind chime.

    • 09/24/2010 10:50

      This is perfect because if I get hungry during my run, I can quickly hunt some little forest animal, build a fire, and have all my equipment ready to go.

  13. 09/23/2010 05:39

    NOT A TRAIL? Sounds like a challenge to me!

    This might be before your time (heh, condescending you, I am) but in the original Parent Trap movie they mess with the evil step mom by telling her clapping two sticks together frightens the mountain lions away. So she goes around clapping two sticks together in front of everyone like an ass. So yeah, that’s what you just reminded me of. An ass. But I mean that in the most affectionate way possible.

    I’m irrationally afraid of spiders. I ran through some web on a trail run once and screamed bloody murder. But that paw print? I’d say that is a pretty effing rational thing to be afraid of!

    • 09/24/2010 10:52

      I LOVE THE ORIGINAL PARENT TRAP and on the off chance it’s on TV I get so excited. The Lindsay Lohan version is okay, too.

  14. 09/23/2010 08:00

    And now I had to come back and add this:

    Just a thought!

  15. 09/23/2010 16:34

    I was once stalked by a wolf, while wearing delicious smelling pants. Long story. I wrote about it once but am too lazy too look it up. My advice: do not wear delicious smelling pants.

    My old bear post has been quite popular of late, and by popular I mean a few google searches have led people my way, and one commenter has some hard-learned bear advice:

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