David is a Californian who studied Astrophysics but ever since he graduated he hated having to “sit behind a desk”. He loves being outdoors and in the forest. One day, a series of events brought him to Coldfoot to work in the restaurant kitchen. The plan was to stay 6 months, enjoy the place and all that nature had to offer there. That was 4 years and 2 months ago.
His dream is to become part of an elite unit of forest fighters here in the United States, the Fire Jumpers. Our conversations, therefore, were about forest fires and bears.
We see each other again on one of those “coincidences” in the Fairbanks hostel.
Besides studying, working in the kitchen in Coldfoot and fighting forest fires, he hunts (here in Alaska hunting is a very common practice, children learn “hunting ethics” in school), climbing, parachute jumping and he knows a lot about the animals of the area. Talking with him was very important in understanding a little more about the behavior of the bears in the region. He said: “bears are like people, each animal has its own personality and are therefore unpredictable.”
In the picture it seems easy to identify adult bears by how they look, but in some regions individuals of both species have very similar coats. Even their tracks out in the wild, and I’ve seen a few, aren’t so simple to identify. (Image from Alberta – Environment and Parks – http://aep.alberta.ca)
I mentioned, at the beginning of our conversation, my intense desire to see a wild bear but also of my huge fear of seeing one.
I commented a bit about the studies I’d read about the species in the region and that on the heavy bike or even on foot I’d never be able to outrun a bear.
A black bear in pursuit can run up to 45km/hr (28mph). They’re animals with an incredibly sensitive sense of smell. Just a few molecules of scent are enough to rouse their interest. That’s why it’s necessary to keep all and any kind of foodstuffs far away from you when you’re camping.
On the reverse side of the permit I got at Denali Park, the biologist drew the “Golden Triangle” of coexistence with the bears of the region. At each of the points of the triangle: the tent, the kitchen and eating area, and at the last, the bathroom. Each location needs to be 92 meters (302ft) apart and with the wind blowing all scents away from where the tent is located.
Here in North America I will almost always be where there are bears. At the northern part of the Dalton Highway it’s possible to encounter Polar Bears, later, to the south, gray and black bears. That’s why I carry my spray bear repellent with me at all times and I never camp where I’ve made a meal.
Starting on the Dalton Highway all my food stays in a waterproof and air-tight sealed bag that I keep at least 800 meters (2,624ft) from my tent.
This demands constant attention!
Foot print of a Polar Bear (identified by a specialist at the University of Fairbanks) right at the beginning of the Dalton Highway. It was an excellent reminder that I need to pay attention at all times. Because of this print I didn’t sleep well for 2 nights…
Bears are opportunistic animals and therefore very curious, intelligent and with an incredible learning capacity. Any misstep on my part in regards to these animals can cause an accident with another person. When they figure out how to work human equipment and are successful once, they’ll try again and again.
That’s why, when a bear attacks a person, they are hunted and killed. All bears brought down go through an autopsy with a DNA test of stomach contents to verify that it was this same bear who provoked the attack.
Likely the print of a gray bear near Moose Lake, between Fairbanks and Delta Junction/Alaska.
The only things I have with me are, a little knowledge, respect, fear and anti-bear spray. That’s not a whole lot. I have to make good use of this.
After hearing David’s incredible stories about the forests and mountains of the region, I became fascinated with bears! I wanted to see one more than ever!
Saying goodbye, David and I hugged and he wished for me: “I really hope you get to see a bear. I’m sure you will see one!”
A trucker was passing by at this time and he looked at us in surprise. That must have been something really strange to hear.
Young moose that I saw in Denali Park. Young individuals are skittish and less territorial but adults, (females as well as males) can be really aggressive. In Alaska there are more incidents with moose than there are with bears.
An immense beaver lodge. I saw a lot around here. In Canada I saw families of swans building nests on these mountains of wood.
Observation: Days later I saw my first family of bears, but that’s a story for another time.