We purchased bear spray the day we got off the cruise ship. We knew we’d be doing a lot of hiking on our own–no more excursion guides to fend off the bears for us. I thought the locals would laugh at us. They’re all so into the outdoors here. Proof of residency in Alaska must be either an active hunting or fishing license, or a doctor’s note declaring you are a certified adrenaline junkie. They ride mountain bikes down black diamond ski slopes here in summer!!!
Before I left home, a friend told me that Alaskans recommend wearing jingle bells on your backpack to scare away the bears. I laughed. Jingle bells? Really? It sounded to me more like a sure-fire way to identify tourists.
When we asked the salesperson at REI in Anchorage about the necessity of bear spray, his mouth turned up a bit at the corners. He hemmed and hawed and never did give us a definitive answer, leaving us to debate amongst ourselves whether we should spend $50 for something we’d probably never use and cannot take home with us on the plane.
Well, we went for it, and we’ve carried it with us on every hike, but we’ve always felt a little like we’re wearing those jingle bells. Until we got to Girdwood. Along with our Airbnb host’s welcome note at check-in was a can of bear spray and a flyer about being “Bear Aware.” Through the front window of our apartment we have watched her neighbors walking their dogs; everyone wears a can of bear spray on his or her belt. There have been bears in the neighborhood. Our host told us that last week she found herself inadvertently positioned between a mama bear on the ground and her three cubs up in a tree–the acknowledged worst-case bear scenario.
I let Marcus carry the bear spray, afraid I would freeze on the spot should we come across a bear in the wild. I’ve taken to calling him “Bearspray,” as in “Wait up, Bearspray, don’t get too far ahead of me!”