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Bear Safety for Runners in Alaska

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Photo by Rasmus Svinding on Pexels.com

I went running in Juneau on a particularly stressful day, got to the end of the trail and headed back to the car. As I ran around the corner, I saw a black bear’s butt. The wind was blowing at me, and the black bear didn’t see me. I backed up slowly and quietly until I couldn’t see the bear anymore. Then I realized I had to go through the bear to get to my car, and my lunch break was ending.

Look, in Alaska, if you’re faced with an animal, bear or moose, you can be late to work, and no one bats an eyelid. “There was a moose in your yard? Huh. Well, glad you waited and are here now.” Even so, I don’t like to be late, but I was stuck as to what I should do. Then, I decided to sing. That way the bear knew I was there. “Look for the Bear Necessities” was the first song I came up with. There was another bear song, and then I decided to check the path. Whether it was the quality of my singing or just the fact that I was making noise, there was no bear, but I kept singing as I ran to the car.

When I got to the main trail, I saw another runner and warned him of the bear in the area. He said “Thanks” and started shouting “Hey Bear” as he ran past. I always thought that was a joke played on chechakos (newbies; greenhorns) when they came to Alaska.

Every year in Alaska, inevitably, there is a report about a runner who was attacked by a bear. Usually the attack takes place in or near Anchorage, and the runner is an experienced Alaska. The actions that a person should take depend on the type of bear. A black bear that attacks is probably going to eat you, so you need to fight back. A grizzly bear that attacks is usually just trying to eliminate you as a threat; these attacks generally take place when a cub is nearby. Cover up your neck and head while lying with your face to the ground.

It sounds easy enough. Yet, one experienced runner, who ran between a Grizzly mother and her cub and was knocked down by the bear, got up to run away. The bear knocked him down again. He got up a third time, and he got knocked down again. He told the news reporter he knew what he was supposed to do, lie down and play dead, but it was just too hard to do it with all those teeth in his face.

The problem with running in the Last Frontier is that three-fold: runners tend not to be aware of their surroundings intentionally, running is a silent activity, and running triggers the predatory instinct in bears – if it’s running it must be food, and when the bears are out, they are looking for calories.

As a runner (or a person in general), you should always be aware of your surroundings, no matter where you are. Bears may not exist in every state, but there are threats that are worse. Using earbuds to listen to music while running (I’ve been guilty of this) is a great motivator, and a great way to miss something you should have seen. It’s nice to have a beat to step to, but it isn’t safe, especially if it cuts out the other sounds you should be listening for, like the movement of underbrush or a footfall behind you.

Most runners like to run in silence, especially if they are working out and they are breathing heavily. However, your workout shouldn’t cause you to breathe so heavily that you can’t hold a conversation. In Alaska, shouting “Hey Bear!” as you run is a great way to deter an attack. Bears usually avoid people. By letting them know where you are, the bears will go around you, and you’ll never even know they’re there.

Running is a good stress reliever and can take off the weight quickly. Just be sure to be safe when you’re on the trail and always consult a doctor before starting any exercise regime.

While you may need to know how to protect yourself against bears in Alaska, you don’t need to worry about penguins because there are no penguins in Alaska. I should know. I wrote the book on it and you can preorder a hard copy coloring book from penguinate.com or an eBook from Amazon.

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