What does a bear do in the woods

Before I meet my gruesome and untimely end, I have a few moments to ponder my predicament and reflect on how I came to be perched on a slat of wood in the Alaskan outback, pants round my ankles and about to be eaten alive. I had come to Alaska in search of adventure- drawn to northern frontiers by visions of bears plucking leaping salmon from mid air; of wolf packs hunting in choreographed teamwork and snow-capped peaks piercing azure blue skies patrolled by majestic bald eagles.

So it is with some surprise I find myself in a tiny wooden outhouse at 2am utterly frozen in fear. I’m 40 yards from the safety of camp and having grown up in England where the most dangerous wild animal is a grumpy badger, I’d negated to pick up my shotgun when nature called. Just outside something very large is making a terrifying racket, it huffs, snuffles and has claws that rake against tree bark like nails down a blackboard. Who am I kidding, it’s clearly a bear. We are 200 miles southwest of McGrath and out here bears outnumber people by about 100 to one. The only uncertainties in this situation are if it’s black or grizzly and if I’m about to become Yogi’s breakfast or live to see another day. The sensible part of my brain is fighting the rising panic and assessing options, weighing up the chances of success versus the probability of the situation ending with Dave á la carte! I can’t help but imagine myself as just another horrible statistic, a case study they show on the ‘how not to get eaten by a bear training video’, rule number one, never go to the khazi without a shotgun!

My first two weeks in Alaska had rather ironically been an intensive course on how not to die in the bush. Years of boy scouts condensed into a fortnight’s fun. We had covered plane crashes, shelter building, boat handling and above all bear safety. For a full day I’d blown big holes in bear targets hurtling towards me at 30m.p.h. on a quad pulled sledge, learning the US Fish and Wildlife ‘rules of engagement ‘. First we shout ‘hey bear’ and generally try to be intimidating, then we fire a non-lethal ‘bean bag’ round, after that and if the bear is still coming unfortunately it’s time to introduce the Rottweilers. These are special pump action shot gun shells with extra charge and solid lead slug. They are designed to stop an adult grizzly in full charge but I’m sure they could take down a Tyrannosaur. Firing this howitzer is a handful, even tucked in tight to the shoulder it’s like a right hook by Tyson and rugby tackling Jonah Lomu rolled into one. But now this super powered cold metal security blanket is lay uselessly next to my camp bed and snoring colleagues.

Crunch! The whole outhouse shakes, wood creaks, splinters shower my head. I’m snapped back to reality, the fear feels like a physical cramp in my stomach, my throat burns as I choke back the bile and yet, my mind has oddly cleared. I feel detached, resigned to the two survival options honed by millions of years of human evolution- fight or flight. The decision is made, I’m going to feign option one and then, if I’m still alive, vigorously embrace option two. Success is dependent on what species awaits, a black and I have a chance, often they retreat from an aggressive approach, a grizzly however and I’m in serious trouble.

The door rattles again, claws rasp the outside. ‘Ahhhhhhhhhhh’ I scream like a banshee and hurl my fists at the wood. The beast backs away. No invitation needed, I kick the door open so hard it cracks off one hinge and I’m running. I don’t look back I just put every ounce of adrenaline into the sprint and at that moment Usain Bolt has nothing on me.

Back in the safety of the camp I retrieve the shotgun and return- nothing- just some claw marks and a door hanging oddly ajar. As I climb back into my camp bed my colleague sleepily asks, ‘hey bud, you ok? Strange noise woke me’. I realise I’m never going to live this one down and opt for the cowards way out, ‘yeah mate no problem, toilet door fell off and trapped my hand, sort it tomorrow’.

D Barber

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