What's All This Then?

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What's All This Then?

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Alaska Bear Tales
by Larry Kaniut

Field-Tested by Aaron James Draplin

in Anchorage, Alaska

As soon as the snow stopped falling in the Cascades, I'd head up to Anchorage to work on the Princess Tours train fleet. They'd ship those golden oldies up the West Coast, where we'd pick them up and cart them across the scenic Alaskan interior.

An integral part of an Alaska summer worker's experience is ‘getting out into the pristine Alaskan wilderness.’ Lots of overly-happy people wearing pants that zip down to shorts, listening to crummy jam bands, Nalgene water bottles hanging off ugly backpacks, flood the woods. I gave it a shot. I hiked some mountains, camped alongside a river in the middle of nowhere, and rode my bike down remote trails, where the Anchorage city limits straddle the vast wilderness.

I joined some crewmates for a camping mission on the rail, 100 miles from the city. That night, a friend and I walked down the rail a couple miles under the midnight sun. On our way back, we noticed a black bear on the tracks in between us and camp. We dropped to our bellies and laid down, hoping he'd move on. Soon enough, he did. We waited a spell and then hightailed it back to camp. Scary stuff.

Things change when you realize you are ‘prey.’ The outdoor experience in the ‘Lower 48’ is considerably different to the Alaskan experience. Down here we've got things figured out, for the most part, when venturing out into the woods.

But up there, you've got bears. If you spook them or inadvertently challenge them, well, things can go from bad to grim real fast. I heard a number of stories from locals and summer veterans, but that didn't sway me. Alaskan Bear Tales changed all of this. Suddenly, I feared those woods. I felt like an invader, like I was in someone else's house. The bells on the shoes and the flimsy, ‘What to do if a bear is near’ snippets seemed futile against a charging, 1,200-lb. grizzly.

Now, this book might not be the height of nature writing, but these true-life accounts will make you respect the power, beauty, and all-too-real unpredictability of bears, and make yer skin crawl. I've always let my imagination get the best of me in the woods, having feared everything from sasquatch to axe murderers. Let me tell ya: Bigfoot, the Skunk Ape and that feisty Jersey Devil don't have shit on these Ursine masters.

Bear 101:
01. ‘Keep your legs in the tent.’ Bears have been known to drag people off.
02. ‘Never-ever-never come between a mother and her cub.’ Just don't.
03. In battle: ‘Hit them in the nose.’ In some cases, it's been known to scare them off. In others, well, it just made them madder.

Aaron James Draplin is the sole proprietor of the Portland, Oregon's Draplin Design Company.

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