By Candy Clarke
We will remember this trip back to Alaska as the year of the bear. We have seen more bear this time than in all the previous trips combined!
Having left the ferry at Haines, Alaska; we collect our dog and vehicle to begin the final phase of our journey home to North Pole. We clear Canadian customs for the third time and look forward to enjoying a pleasant drive on a sunny day through Canada’s Kluane National Park and Preserve. Frank, is driving, Gunner Puppy is happy; we had a wonderful visit with our daughter in Juneau, and all is right in our little corner of the world.
Soon we spot a black bear strolling along the side of the road. Frank slows the vehicle and we watch quietly from a distance before the bear wonders off into the woods. For the next several hours we continue to see bears every few miles. Sometimes it’s a single bear, other times it’s a mama and her cubs. Some are just lying in the sun soaking up the warm rays. Others strut about enjoying the warm summer day much like humans at the park. On several occasions we see both black bear and grizzly bear within a few yards of each other.
We are chatting away, when I spot a big grizzly walking along the highway on the left side. I ask Frank to slow down so I can perhaps get a picture; he does. Then the grizzly bear starts to walk faster and Frank increases his speed. The bear slows; Frank slows too. The bear increases his speed and so does Frank. This happens several more times as I am snapping pictures.
Finally, through the camera lens, I see the bear is looking agitated. I put the camera down and do a quick look around. No other bears in sight. Again, the bear slows down, only to, once again, increase his pace. Frank, too, slows and was starting to increase speed when I realize what is happening. The bear is trying to cross the road! Frank, unknowingly has been cutting the bear off. Now we have an angry bear!
Frank stops the vehicle and waits for the bear to cross the road. Only, by this time, the bear is really mad. Mr. Grizzly does not like us at all! He starts across the road, stops, gives us a really nasty look and slowly saunters to the middle of the highway where he stops. He makes all of the posturing signs for attack and starts coming toward our Suburban. He is about five steps from us when Frank begins to back up. The bear stops, turns sideways and gives us a very strange look and begins to scratch!
The bear has us blocked; there isn’t any way we can drive around him. For the next five minutes we must watch nervously as he proceeds to slowly scratch his body with each of his paws, while looking at us with utter contempt. His looks seem to say “who do you think you are,” “this is my territory,” “I’ll just show you who is boss around here.” While waiting and watching the bear’s every move; I remember the lady whose face was torn to shreds by a bear. I remember Rangers and highway workers telling of bears ripping trucks and Volkswagen vans apart. Suddenly, my Suburban didn’t seem secure. We wait and watch.
Very abruptly, the bear stops scratching and starts coming towards us again. This time he is walking quickly. A few feet from the front bumper, he stops, gives us another nasty look showing his teeth; then turns and walks ever so slowly to the edge of the highway. At the edge of the asphalt, he turns once more and gives us a “don‘t mess with me ” look and slowly disappears down the embankment and into the woods.
Yeah, I think we will remember “the year of the bear.”