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Welcome to Alaska

Cumulus Peak, Chugach Mountains, AKI traveled to Alaska following the biggest winter on record and arrived at the start of an uncommonly long period of settled weather. This allowed me to sample some of the close to town skiing in an attempt to ease some of my regret about leaving Jackson. It's been a hard transition. 

The energy is different here. The city is bigger than I'm used to and it seems you have to drive everywhere. There's little to no recycling going on here and good food stores are hard to find. Leaving your car running while you shop or do other things is simply the norm. I sort of get that kind of mentality when it's 20 below out but today I saw it at 70 degrees above. Weird and kind of depressing. People simply worry about other stuff. Obesity is epidemic.

So, I've been trying to block those things out and focus on the good stuff Alaska has to offer. Mountains and lots of them, for sure. You've seen some of that in previous posts. The snow line is rising and I've been running some. I'm planning on trail running racing this summer. One of the more popular trails close to town is the Turnagain Arm trail. It contours above the Seward Highway through the woods. Well traveled, it's a bit rooty with some mud here and there but it's a super fun cruise without the beat down climbing sections of some of the ridge hikes I've done. 

I'd heard about bears along here but figured with the popularity of the trail they would be out of sight. I haven't picked up my bear spray yet but on a recent run I was thinking about the need to do so. Literally as those thoughts passed through my mind I came upon a brown bear as I rounded a corner. I almost shit myself and, apparently, so did he because he took off running in the opposite direction. 

It was bound to happen. This is Alaska, after all, and bears and moose are just part of the deal. Truth be told, in spite of living in Jackson all those years, I'd never seen a grizzly bear up close until this run. Crazy. I got on the phone immediately to a friend to tell her where I was and what had just gone down. She'd warned me earlier. After himming and hawing for several minutes and wanting to get on with my workout, I walked slowly in the direction that the dude ran making lots of noise as I went.

Sure enough, there was no sign of him so I eventually got running again and headed to the 4 mile turn around. As I ran back I met a guy who was investigating recent bear sightings in the area and I told him about my encounter. He took some information down and said, "Welcome to Alaska". We both laughed and I continued back to my car. 

As I approached the spot where I saw the big bruin I thought about getting some photos of his tracks. Suddenly, I spotted his big, lumbering ass moving down the trail in front of me. Shit. Not again. This time he didn't see me. I was determined to get photos. I got my IPhone out and snuck forward. What the hell was I doing sneaking up on a brown bear? And there he was 50-75 yards down the trail sniffing around. I made some noise figuring he would bolt off the trail again but he simply looked up at me and went back to eating. Great.

R.I.P. big buddy! Thanks for not mauling me.I started taking pictures. Suddenly, he stood up on his hind legs and I started backing up slowly. He chilled and ignored me some more. A couple with two dogs whom I'd passed earlier came up and I warned them of the bear. They had no leashes. They were scared enough, though, and grabbed the dogs by the collars. We spoke a bit about what to do and I hoped the bear would walk off the trail. He did.

He took his sweet time about it and as he moved uphill we moved closer. I was making assessments every few seconds about when I would make a break for it, hoping to get past him and around the next bend safely. I was watching where he was going and what lay between him and the trail. The bushes were only budding still and the trees were light in that section. Still, he was getting high enough where I thought I could go.

Literally, the moment I made the decision to run past him, the guy behind me suddenly yelled and his golden retriever bolted by me, barking at the bear and generally causing a ruckus. Holy shit. Decision time. I hesitated for a second in the midst of the chaos and then decided the distraction was enough and off I went. I glanced upward only to see a tense stand off between the dog and the bear and the owner screaming his ass off and moving toward the dog. 

I wanted to ask why he lost control of his pet and risked my life as well as his but I was running too fast to bother. I glanced behind me just to make sure the bear wasn't hot on my tail. I made the paper the next day with a few quotes along with some pictures of other people's encounters. No story about a couple and their dogs getting mauled. I was thankful. Frankly, I felt a little guilty running away like that but what exactly was I going to do about that shit show? No good answer there without some sort of weapon with which to intervene. Gotta get that bear spray.

Welcome to Alaska, indeed. I feel initiated.  

As a sad post script to this little tale, a week later I heard that Fish and Game killed the poor guy. Damn humans.

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