Despite living in Australia with some of the deadliest creatures on the planet, I’m terrified of grizzly bears. Part of the problem comes from watching too many episodes of, I Survived; a TV series about people who’ve survived horrific animal attacks, telling their story while you sit mesmerised and terrified of their mangled faces and scalps. It was always the bear attacks that bothered me— the brutality of scalps torn off, and deep teeth marks puncturing the sides of the human skull. Here in Australia I can use bug spray to maim a deadly spider, and then whack it dead with my shoe. You’re unlikely to survive a bear attack without a cannon.
I’ve heard the Alaska bear stories and I must say, I’ve never been impressed with them. Yes, the locals go salmon fishing near the grizzlies and they just leave each other alone, but that for me, is what nightmares are made of. I just can’t do bears!
When I visited Alaska, I was on high alert for bears everywhere. I was there at the end of summer and I knew the grizzlies were looking for the last morsels of food before heading into hibernation. I didn’t want to be that extra bit of winter padding. Alaska is incredibly remote, so I was constantly anxious about running into the deadly creatures. In order to allay some of my fears, my kind Alaskan tour guides took me to the Alaska Zoo. It was a lazy afternoon and the bears lay resting at the far end of their enclosure. Right in front of the fence was a large sign giving instructions about how to navigate a run-in with a bear. There are certain signs, like body language and demeanor which help you read the mood and intent of the grizzly, and then instructions on how to deal with it in any scenario. In the ’red zone’ which is extreme danger, they simply say, ‘fight for your life.’ Um, not sure how well I’d fight between bouts of wetting myself and passing out.
A few days later we headed to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage. It was one of the many highlights of the trip, offering spectacular scenery, and an incredible array of local wildlife; bears, moose, reindeer, buffalo, wolves and so much more. We made it in time for a feeding demonstration with the grizzlies, and an informative talk about each of the resident bears. It was a fantastic insight, but being so close to the bears and marvelling at the sheer dimensions and power of these creatures, only served to deepen my fear. But it’s that strange type of fear that keeps me fascinated, going back for yet another look, another photo, another heart palpitation. I don’t ever want to run into one in the wild, but I can’t stop looking at them. Even now, as I plan my next trip to Alaska, I can feel the knot of anxiety growing in my stomach. Part of me thinks I should face my fears and do the grizzly in the wild tour, with a guide, carrying only a stick for defence, but I do recognise that I’m not really a risk-taker, and my screaming and paralysis would just make me a sitting duck for a grizzly attack. No, I think I’ll enjoy the majestic beasts up close and personal in Gwennie’s Family Restaurant; stuffed and stiff, whilst eating a chicken fried steak.