A Close Encounter with my Namesake, by Bear Michelson

Me, looking fierce.

Me, looking fierce.

Kenai Peninsula, Alaska – July 1995

Yep, that’s right. My childhood nickname was Bear. Mostly because my father thought it was funny to name his little girl after a ferocious animal. So I grew up making growling noises, trying to look fierce half the time, which is a tough to do when you have with buck teeth and pigtails.

I did get pretty close to a bear once though. I was in my mid-20s and we were hiking overnight into the Alaskan wilderness. We headed high up into the mountains to a lake to go fly fishing for graylings. (I had wanted to get dropped off by a helicopter for a week in Denali, but my camping companion wasn’t convinced I could survive by myself in wild if something happened to him. He did have a point.) That summer in Alaska, it was a cold and rainy, with a lot of bear activity. In fact, multiple campers had reported sightings and false charges just a day earlier. A false charge is when a bear runs right at you and at the last second veers off to the side (but not before you poop your pants, I imagine.) 

A false charge is real enough.

A false charge is real enough.

I was fully aware of the bear problem and had taken the necessary precautions.

First, I was wearing a 12” can of bear mace around my neck the entire 3 weeks of our camping trip. Now, bear mace only works within a 10 foot radius, which is unfortunate. I’m not sure exactly how wide a reach a bear has, but I bet 10 feet is within spitting distance of getting swiped.

Second, I was wearing bear bells tied to my pack. The constant jingling is 1) irritating, and 2) supposed to let the bear know you’re coming.  You never want to surprise a bear. You also never want to come between a mama bear and her cub. These are good rules to follow. You can tell if a bear is dangerous just by looking at him. In Alaska, bears are tracked by a tag system.  One human attack gets the bear a yellow tag in his ear and relocated out of the area. Another human attack and the bear gets a second yellow tag. Basically, you see a bear with 2 yellow tags and you’re toast.

I was nervous my red rain suit might make me look like a giant berry. (Note the bear mace around my neck.)

I was nervous my red rain suit might make me look like a giant berry. (Note the bear mace around my neck.)

So the entire camping trip I was on alert for bears and taking no chances. I was determined to let the bears know we were in the area, singing constantly and telling stories about the nymphs who lived in the woods.

That is, until I had a reason to shut up.

Coming down the trail after a night in the tent, I spotted some tracks in the mud. And then I spotted something else….a big steamy pile of bear shit.

Gulp. A very large animal indeed had made that mess. More importantly, it was steaming, which meant it was fresh and the bear was close by. So while I didn’t actually see the bear, I did see proof of his existence.

And you know what? That was close enough for me. ‘Cause while I might have practiced my fair share of growling growing up, I am no more ferocious than when I was four.

This entry was posted on Sunday, October 25th, 2009 and is filed under Erin Then.

Join Our Mailing List

Thanks for checking out my global living and giving adventures!

Sign up for my Weekly Update to get a free Charitable Giving Guide and more surprises straight to your inbox. Join the fun!