Is That a Bear or a Dog Print?

I sometimes get asked if I’m not scared to go alone on the trails. Truth is I’m not. I usually go in areas used by hikers and bikers and I feel safe surrounded by them. Oh sure there could always be some crazy dude jumping on me, but I feel that the chances of that happening are about as high around my house. Heck I’ve never ran upon a shady business in the woods. Unlike last night when I ran with my running group, a buddy and I did the longer loop and I’m pretty much sure we came upon the end of a drug transaction in a darker street. It was really weird. There is two things I’m afraid of on the trails however: bears and snakes.

Last time I went on a long run, it rained the day before. So when I came upon what seemed like a large print on the ground, I froze. Bear or dog? Bear of dog? That little mantra came through my head. The print seemed fresh and I had no interest in following a bear, especially while running.

You see I’ve been in front of a bear before, during our trip to Alaska. And the things I learned were: don’t stay there but don’t run either. Running makes you look like a prey. Not a position you want to be into. And sure it’s winter and most people will say that bears hibernate. I’ll have to disagree on that one. If they’ve found that the Pyrenees brown bear come out in the snow, I’m pretty sure black bears are not sleeping everyday during and unseasonably warm winter.

It turns out the print I saw, while large is most likely a dog. The palm section is not big enough to be a bear as can be seen compared to a bear print I took a picture of last November.

January 2012-Likely a dog print

November 2011- Bear print

So what do you do if you have a bear encounter. Well the first thing would actually be to prevent it:

  • Stay aware of your surroundings. Don’t look just 3 feet in front of you. You don’t want to look up to see a bear snout in front of your face.
  • Make noise while running: clapping, chanting, etc. I have done that when I ended up running in far darker conditions that expected. It also had the benefits of cheering me up. But it’s not always doable when running uphill. I try to cough loudly when in doubt to announce myself.
  • Run with a group. [fail]

If you come upon a bear, well there are all sorts of positions on the subject. According to the Ultimate Guide to Trail Running by Adam Chase and Nancy Hobbs one should:

    • Be aggressive if it’s a black bear: stand still, pick up a rock and prepare to fight. Err I’m not fighting a 300 pound furry ball. It’s about 3 times my weight!
    • Be calm if it’s a brown or grizzly bear: don’t make eye contact, speak softly, walk backwards, put calmly a jacket on the ground to distract the bear and in last resort play dead protecting your neck with your hands curled in a fetal position

I was always told to make yourself tall (mother nature made me 5’1 that’s going to be tough) and do noises. I know the most dangerous encounters are a bear with cubs, and it’s best to stay clear of them.

When we came upon the black bear in Alaska, it checked us out. It never stood up but we could tell it was smelling us. I’m pretty sure we did one of the no-no which was looking it in the eye. But we turned around and slowly walked away while talking to each other. While the bear followed it was on its way to somewhere else and took at some point and to our great relief a different path.

The print encounter, while a dog’s made me realize that I’m pretty foolish with only a cell phone with me. I think I’m going to get a whistle to make noise and be able to direct help my way if anything was to happen, I also need to get a Road ID in case I am not responding and got forbid someone needs to call my husband.

What are your bear encounter rules? Do you carry bear spray on the trails? Did you come upon one, what did you do?