The Bear Necessities

(Grabbing the) Bear Necessities

(Grabbing the) Bear Necessities - August 01, 2019

Again, it’s been too long and lots has happened but the days are long with trying to get the miles in. I write this with just over 100 miles to run from a place called Pilot Station.

If you remember, in the last blog, I mentioned Alaska had been no good on the wildlife front. Well, that has changed dramatically. At 2am, a few hours after writing to you all last, we set off to catch the good weather. Within the hour we saw our first black bear wandering the rivers edge in search of food. It was only 30ft away and once we’d been spotted the bear wasn’t too phased but eventually trudged off. An hour later and we got eyes on 3 moose, a sow and her two twin calfs.

We paddled on and about 3 hrs from the town of Ruby we had our best experience so far. We literally came across a bear swimming in the Yukon. We didn’t see it at first as the water was quite rough but then, boom, there it was, 10ft away and heading for land. We stayed with the bear for 20 mins as it seemed very unimpressed with us and was going in, roughly, the same direction. All of a sudden the bear stood up, we realised we were all in shallow waters and it looked pretty big. We made off at a rapid pace. I know I said I’d mention the gnats, mosquitoes and black fly but, other than I hate them, I won’t waste my time. There is one more bear story to date but I’ll save that for the end and if you are of a nervous disposition, sit down before reading and continue with caution.

Now the following eight days Sean and I have made great progress and met a few nice people along the way. Sam and Tamara Clark gave us a night in one of their rooms and Curtis in Galena drove us to the store and showed us around. Roman, Sabine and Tristan (who is twelve) from Germany are on a 10 week trip down the river in a three person kayak. We stopped in Russian Mission two days ago and the local people have changed from Athabaskan Indian to Yupik Eskimo, who, seem a lot more welcoming. The trip is slowly coming to a close and it’s been awesome so far. There will be one more blog after this once we have reached the Bering Sea and are then in Emmonak, the final town on the river.

friends along the way

Now for what happened yesterday.

Close Encounters of a Grizzly Kind

At about our 50 km mark we both decided to stop for lunch. Over the course of the trip we have learnt to look for a sandbar with a high point. The purpose of this is that the high point or dune will shield us from the wind and we can cook and crack admin (get chores done). We found a perfect site on this occasion and landed.

Due to the previous night and morning being really cold, our tent and sleeping bags were very damp with dew so we took this opportunity to lay everything out on the dry sand and dry it in the sun. We then made a hot drink and had lunch. Usually, after lunch and in slow time we stretch off, chat and get ready for the next part of the days paddle. It was during this bit of our lunch break that Sean said ‘I can see something moving over there, it’s either a moose or a bear’ He moved to the top of the dune. I was by the boats and decided to move over to see what he was banging on about (it’s usually a log or rock). As I drew level to where Sean was he suddenly bolted and using a phrase that sounds a lot like clucking bell followed by ‘its a grizzly!’ Adrenaline surged through my body and curiosity got the better of me.

I looked over in the direction Sean had initially been looking in and about 100m away I saw a large brown grizzly bear skulking/stalking towards our location. In the military, if the enemy are harassing or skirmishing your position it’s called being bumped. The grizzly was definitely, in our eyes, bumping us. What usually follows getting bumped is a crash move. That’s when you get the hell out of dodge as quickly as possible with as much of what you came with. That’s what we attempted. I dashed, heart pounding, down to my kit, grabbed my sleeping bag and waterproof bags and stuffed it into the kayak. Looked back and saw more kit so went back to grab a few essentials. Sean was doing the same but we’d stayed too long already. We jammed ourselves into the boats and headed off, paddling like maniacs away from the sandbar. Kit had still been left.

We hung around and waited. Nothing. We waited some more then decided to go back and retrieve the rest of our kit. Bear spray at the ready, that’s what we did. Chucked it anywhere the boat would take it and paddled off looking like Billy Smarts Circus! This all reminded me of a lot of scary situations but in my eyes there is nothing scarier than big, dangerous animals.

We went 2km down river, pulled over, packed our kit properly and calmed our nerves. Sean, in all the commotion, somehow put the GoPro on and captured our crash move. Now there are and will be a lot of “what ifs” from this incident but ultimately we are about to tell the tale so happy days. Also, depending on what our composed withdrawal actually looks like depends on whether we release the footage.

So, here we are at Pilot Station (where the locals confirmed that a large, territorial grizzly hangs out where we had our scare) with 111 miles till the end. Until then, you all have a grizzly free few days!

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Foxy with our remaining kit!