Cama’i from Anchorage. (That’s sort of like Aloha from HI.)
Well the first of three air legs of my trip is done. I am safely in my hotel. My gear all made the trip without incident. TSA in Seattle didn’t give my big 200-400 f/4 VR lens a second look. Perhaps all the big glass that came in and out for the Olympics sensitized them.
I’ll spend the day in Anchorage. Then tonight our team will assemble for an orientation and bear safety meeting. We’ll have at least one more safety meeting. We want to make sure everyone comes home safe.
Several of you emailed to ask if I was going to take bear spray or a firearm. The answer is no on both counts. First, neither would do any good against bears of this size. If they want to eat me, then I’m screwed. And while using a firearm would certainly kill the bear, he/she would take longer to die than I would. And with the possible exception of a lucky shot, right in the eyes of the bear at point-blank range, the best bear spray will only piss off bears this large. So we’re going to follow the bear safety rules, i.e., stay in as large a group as we can, don’t turn our backs on the bears, pay attention to our surroundings, don’t put ourselves between a bear and its food source or cubs or ANYTHING else it wants for that matter.
We also won’t make direct eye contact with an agitated bear. That is a sign of aggression. Instead, I like to use this approach. I keep myself aware of the bear’s location by looking at its feet.
We’re also trained to watch for warning signs. When a bear takes notice of you, if he/she wants to harm you – there’s little guesswork involved. They have an ability to look right through you – when that happens, you need to change something and usually, that’s your location.
They also point their ears back, square up their shoulders, huff, snort or bark and eventually bluff charge before taking life-threatening action. I assure you that I have no intent of letting the bear get to more than the first warning sign before I take heed.
Finally, we’ve been trained not to make sudden movements – including movements away from the bears. Trying to outrun a creature that can run 35 miles per hour makes no sense. Also running triggers something called the “chase response.” I don’t know about you, but the words “chase” and “bear” in a sentence that involves “me” is not cool. So there’s no use in trying. Instead – if we need to move to make the bear happy, we’ll move slowly, deliberately – backing up, talking in a flat, monotone calming voice, and keeping our eye on our surroundings at all times.
Oh, and the best advice I’ve gotten is again from my pal Artie Morris who told me, “Whatever you do, don’t set your tripod up too near a pile of fish guts.” Sounds like good advice to me.
I’m off to look for a satellite phone for the trip.
I’ll write more when I get through the next flight leg which will put me at Kodiak airport. From there we’ll catch the sea plane.