I took Cruise Ship guests, Joe & Fred, out to Chilkoot River on Forth of July evening.
We stopped at all my favorite spots. When we drove up to the Deer Rock pullout it was already taken by a little SUV, so I pulled over and parked on the hillside of the road. The three of us walked across the road and down the path to the rivers edge where a young couple was hanging out, taking photos of the scenery and each other. I set up the telescope next to them and we all watched a Bald Eagle feeding her new eaglets in their huge nest.
I told my cruise guests and the young couple that Deer Rock is a special spot for me because it is where I got married to Pizza Joe in 2010.
I told them how Speedy the Bear brought her cubs to Deer Rock, causing a 30-minute delay to my wedding. Joe, my guest, jokingly offered to marry the young couple but they declined.
The girl spoke with a thick accent,
“No, I just met him yesterday on the ferry”
We could tell they wanted their privacy so Joe, Fred, & I left them at the rivers edge, collected the scope, and walked back up the path to the road. The sides of the path are lined with berry bushes that are taller than me at 5ft 6in. I cautioned the men not to step in the bear scat on the path, noting that bears like the area.
Right on cue, as I got up to the roadside a brown bear stepped out from the bushes of the hill near my bus across the street. He walked onto the road and toward the front of my bus, sniffing at the doors as he headed away from me (approximately 150 ft away).
I was standing by the passenger door of the young couple’s SUV. Keeping their SUV as a shield between the bear and myself I hollered in a deep, low voice,
I was loud enough for my guests and the young couple at the rivers edge to hear me. I also got the attention of the brown bear (Grizzly) that jerked his head around to look straight at me. Normally it is a good idea to let a bear know you are there, then they will walk away from you. This bear did the opposite; he forgot about my bus and turned around, heading straight toward me!
I backed up a few steps, keeping my eyes on him over the hood of the SUV. I opened the back seat door of the young couple’s vehicle. I told my guests we would need to get in their vehicle for protection. They ignored my suggestion and walked behind me to the back of the vehicle for protection. Joe told me later he could see by the look on my face I was terrified.
He tried helping me by yelling at the man and woman more severely,
“Get your asses up here a bear is coming!”
Hearing the urgency in Joe’s voice the young couple hurried up to us. They did not understand what he was yelling since English is not their first language. The bear made it to the middle of the road, continuing to head our way. When the man and woman got to the SUV the young man slammed the door I had opened shut, looking at me angrily…like I was trying to steal something of theirs. He hadn’t seen the bear yet because of the high bushes. But when he saw the fear on my face he turned to see what I was looking at. He took a huge breath and stepped back beside me, his girlfriend stood behind us with my guests. The bear kept walking straight toward us.
Then he got distracted, looking at the other side of the vehicle he stopped about 10 feet from the front of the SUV’s hood….like he didn’t know which side of the vehicle he wanted to walk around. I glanced behind me and couldn’t believe it when I saw one of my guests had walked to the other side of the vehicle and was peeking at the bear.
I yelled, “Get back over here, there is safety in numbers!”
He obeyed and the five of us huddled tight against the SUV; with me and the young man standing in front of the group. That is when the bear started walking again, to our side of the vehicle! He watched us carefully as he walked to the hood and toward us. I had no idea my heart could pound so distinctly. I worried the bear could sense my fear and I would become his next victim. I pointed both my pepper spray and my air horn directly at him. I said out loud, but to myself,
“ I don’t know which one I should use”. My thumb fumbled over the safety release tab of the pepper spray.
I was told the air horn was not deterring a certain bear at the river lately, so I wondered if this was that bear. I also know how bad it feels to be pepper sprayed and was not looking forward to feeling that pain again. Plus, what if the pepper spray makes the bear angry and he goes into a rage.
The bear was now rounding the front of the SUV, face to face with our little group, I had to make a decision and fast….
I let ‘er rip!
“BBBLLAAASSSTTTT” Piercing the air…. the horn made us all jump simultaneously, including the bear who bolted forward and diagonal all in one streak lighting movement. Barely missing us, he shot down the path to the river. He ran right to the rivers edge where we had been moments ago. Then he started drinking deeply from the cold glacier water.
I slowly lowered my bear fighting tools and we all started breathing again. In a shocked voice Joe exclaimed,
“Wow….he is fast!”
Fred asked, “Where can we change our pants?”