Bearing with fear, bearing without spray

Posted: Sunday, May 20, 2007

I almost bought some bear spray last week. After one too many warnings about attacks on lonely hikers, I figured it was time to protect myself. I thought I'd buy a can and carry it with me next time I trespass in bear neighborhoods.

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After a little research, I changed my mind. I do this often, which is why you should discount almost everything I say. That will be made clear ...

It all started one evening along the flume near Gold Creek. I was strolling on the boardwalk, enjoying the sight of waterfalls cascading down Mount Juneau. As dusk made shrubs look like predators, I started thinking in headlines.

HIKER SHOULD HAVE LISTENED; MAULED BY BEAR

Normally I don't stop to listen for the footsteps of animals that may be chasing me. But I did a while ago when I saw a wolf at Mendenhall Glacier. I did it again at the flume after spotting a deadly, wild - well, it was a tree stump.

Feeling ridiculous yet resentful, I thought about buying a handgun. A .45-caliber revolver sounded comforting, just in case I got threatened again by a plant.

But I try not to kill, as a general rule. (Fishing doesn't count because I never catch anything.)

So I ruled out a gun on poorly reasoned moral grounds. Plus, there was my own stupidity to contend with. While I'm afraid of a bear attack, I'm even more afraid of other potential problems.

DRIVER SHOOTS SELF IN FOOT WHILE ANSWERING CELL PHONE IN TRAFFIC

And this takes us to the moment that I decided to buy some bear spray.

I went to a guns-and-ammo shop to do some research, which was enlightening. The sprays were not exactly pocket-size. They were more like the size of small fire extinguishers. You could strap one to your back and really look dangerous. Or at least you could really embarrass your family.

They were not exactly cheap.

When does the cost of avoiding a bear attack exceed the cost of the actual attack? I'm no economist, so let's just say that $42 was more than I was carrying in cash at the time. Of course, I hate to put a price on my life.

Then there's the bold warning on the can. Spray may cause irreversible eye damage, it said. I could see how the mauling would end before it even began.

HIKER SPRAYS SELF IN FACE WHILE BEAR ATTACKS

Needless to say, I didn't walk out of the store with any purchases.

I have another idea, though it's probably frowned upon by experts. Two words: frozen herring. I could throw one at the bears and distract them while I flee. I could keep one in a holster. With the proper permits, I could probably take one to work, to the grocery store, to all the places where one needs defense from bears.

In the meantime, I'll hike with large groups of people - or groups of large people. And perhaps I'll buy some bear spray after all.

• Ken Lewis can be reached at ken.lewis@juneauempire.com.



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