Bear spray saves Resurrection Trail bikers

Posted: Sunday, July 11, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Tyler Nord doesn't remember the moment the grizzly pounced on him. He couldn't tell you what her breath smelled like or how soft her fur was. All he remembers is summoning the adrenaline that was coursing through his body to his legs to push her off.

The memories of the attack are like a strobe light of images playing through his mind, he said Thursday in talking of the encounter involving him, two mountain-biking companions and the bear on Resurrection Trail.

The bear bit or clawed into Nord's thigh, but he wouldn't notice that until later, after the grizzly and her cubs had retreated to the woods, bear spray in her face.

Nord, fiancee Kimi Elliott, and a friend on vacation from Portland, Kyle Eisenbach, all 25, were riding mountain bikes on Resurrection Pass Trail near Hope on Tuesday when they were attacked by the sow protecting her two cubs. All three bikers received superficial scratches, with Nord's puncture wound to the thigh being the worst. Their 2-year-old dog, Kobi, an Australian cattle dog, was uninjured, despite its own confrontation with the bear.

"None of it really seemed real. I wasn't scared because it seemed like a dream," Nord said.

Nord and Elliott, both engineers in Anchorage, wanted to show their out-of-town guest the Alaska outdoors, the pair recalled on Thursday. They drove down to the Kenai Peninsula in the morning for a 20-mile, daylong bike ride along the popular Resurrection Pass, a 38-mile trail that runs from near Hope to the Sterling Highway near Cooper Landing.

They had already stopped for lunch and were about six miles into the trail when Elliott took the lead. Nord had a bear bell on his bike. Elliott describes herself as a constant talker. They were trying to make noise, but at that particular spot the river that runs near the trail is loud. Real loud.

According to Nord and Elliott, Elliott rounded a corner and startled the bear lounging on the dirt path. Two cubs were nearby. Elliott slammed on her breaks and skidded to a stop. She quickly got off her bike, which she was clipped into at the pedals, and began retreating, walking the bike with one foot still attached to a pedal. She knew there was going to be an attack. She knew the bear wouldn't quietly go away. She had been way too close.

She began backtracking toward Nord and Eisenbach. Kobi took position, barking and growling at the bear.

The bear ran for Elliott. She dropped her bike and went for a clearing off to the side. She knew she was supposed to not run away from a bear but at that moment her own fear took over. She ran for her life.

Nord and Elliott both said the whole thing seemed like it was happening in slow motion but at the same time it all happened in a flash.

The bear was on Elliott but didn't take her down. It swatted her on the shoulder. But she doesn't remember the contact. It was right there, with her, running alongside her. She thought, "How am I not getting completely demolished right now?"

Later, she would notice bear slobber running down her biceps. She's not sure how it got there.

"Get the bear spray! Bear spray!" she kept yelling. The spray was in Nord's backpack.

Nord, who was farther down the trail, looked back and saw the sow going for his fiancee. He dropped his backpack and started running toward the bear. The sow turned its attention to him.

He remembers seeing a very big head that came up to his chest, the flash of her teeth, and the odd, misplaced thought that she was a very pretty bear. "It wasn't scary because it didn't seem real," he said.

Nord, who had fallen and was on his back, crunched his legs to his chest just as the bear landed on him. He pushed her off and she retreated. Nord doesn't remember her biting or clawing him. He didn't feel it. His adrenaline was skyrocketing.

Eisenbach was the bear's next target.

"Fetal position! Fetal position," Elliott yelled at her fiance's best friend, whom she had only recently met.

Eisenbach put himself into a ball next to a fallen tree. The bear was on him when Nord found the bear spray in the backpack and ran up to within 5 feet of her.

He had never used bear spray before and didn't know how close he needed to be, he said. "I hope this works," he thought to himself.

The bear was on top of his friend, pawing at his friend's backpack.

Nord got real close and pulled the trigger, aiming at the sow's face.

"She had a stunned look," he said of after the chemicals hit her.

He sprayed again.

In a flash she was gone into the woods.

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