Since moving to the mountains, I have been challenged to find good workout space. I have exercised since my youth, and I am accustomed to going to the gym everyday, and running several miles a couple of times a week. I enjoy working out because it makes me feel so great, and I like the challenge of pushing my limits to see what I can achieve. Our property is not conducive to running. Our cabin sits on a hill, and there is only rocky, steep terrain all around us. There are several small grassy plateaus, and I have set my weights in one of them. The area overlooks a steep edge and has a beautiful view of the lake and mountains. It’s so breathtaking that the view is almost distracting. I also have incorporated a short running track around the house. It begins at the bottom of the lake, comes up the hill, goes around the back of the house, and across the back of our property, down and back one small straightaway, then back down the hill on the farther side of the property. It’s probably 1/4 mile. I try to do 10 of these laps, then my weight training. It’s not a bad workout, but much caution must be observed. It’s very uneven and anything that’s flat is also slippery.
I also get lots of exercise just doing daily chores, and lugging items up the hill. Every time we go to town for provisions and supplies, I like to be the one to cart the items up the hill from the boat. It can be quite challenging, like when Nate brings home lumber or bags of concrete mix, but I enjoy this challenge. I have also been bringing in large river stones from the boat landing. I load up several five gallon buckets with stones, then bring them to our property on the boat. I carry the
stones up our hill to outline our walking paths. The buckets can hold about ten stones each, so I can bring 40-50 stones per boat trip. I carry these up the hill two stones at a time, for about 20 trips up the hill. It’s a fun workout that accomplishes something creative.
These methods are all good and fine, but I have missed my long runs and long bike rides. I like the mental release of a long run or ride. So, I came up with the idea of running down Porcupine Creek Road. When we go to town, there is a 4 mile stretch
of road that goes from the boat landing to Haines Highway. It is a beautiful, winding one-lane road. It is mostly woods on each side, although there are a few mailboxes along the road, suggesting dwellings somewhere behind the woods. And, at the 2 mile mark, sits Chilkat Valley Farms, a local flower and vegetable grower. They have rows and rows of growing beds along this road, and folks always working these fields. There is also an entrance to a Christian commune called, “Covenant Life”. They have several buildings and residences on a beautifully landscaped lawn. The road seems safe enough and convenient to run, as Nate could drop me off on our way back from town. I could run to the landing, and he could go on ahead of me and tinker with the boat or truck for a bit, or take a nap until I get there. It seemed perfect.
The first time I tried this run, the weather was amazing, and it felt so exhilarating. I don’t know if it was just the way the day was so beautiful, running with such an amazing view of the mountains, or the excitement of running after being cut-off for so many weeks, or maybe it was the rush of adrenaline because I was a little scared running alone on this near-desolate road in an obscure, unfamiliar place. It felt like I was running on Mars.
Because I was a little afraid of encountering a bear, Nate agreed to drop me off, drive to the landing, then get on his bike, and bike back down the road to meet me halfway. (Our bikes are stored under a tarp and locked to our boat trailer near the landing). I felt better knowing that I would at least have company at the halfway mark. And, he had a gun. My first run down Porcupine Creek Road was perfect and non-eventful.
I wouldn’t be so lucky on the second run.
It was another perfect weather day, and on the way back from town, I decided to try this run again. The sun was high and it was a warm 78 degrees, which is practically a heat wave in Alaska. In town, everyone was complaining about the heat. The weather was perfect to me. There was a nice, cool breeze, and I welcomed the warm sun on my face and skin while I ran. The run began quite normally. The first part of
the road is a one-lane bridge that crosses the Chilkat River, so it’s a very pretty scene to take in.
After the bridge is a hill. If you turn right after the bridge, there is a famous road called The Dalton Trail that was a route that gold miners and suppliers
used during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. Gold was discovered on Porcupine Creek, nine miles down this road, and this mine produced over 40 million dollars
in “placer” gold and is still actively being mined today. The mine is owned by the Schnable Family, made famous by the Discovery television
show “Gold Rush”, and is now called, “Big Nugget Mine.”
I stayed straight on the road, focused on settling in for a peaceful, rejuvenating run. I was travelling at a slow, easy pace. On my first run down this road, I was very careful to follow what all the books say to do when traversing in bear country: I sang and made noise. I clapped my hands alot. This second run, I was a little more complacent. I didn’t sing. When Nate dropped me off, he commented that it was probably too
hot for bears to be out. He surmised that they would all be bedded down somewhere in a cool, shady spot. I agreed, ignorantly. I padded along, enjoying the sun. At
mile 2, I ran past Chilkat Valley Farms, and a young man was pruning bushes along the road across from the farm. I wondered if the bushes he was pruning were blueberries, and my mind wandered as I was considering what and why he was pruning. About a half mile up from the farm, I came around a corner, and about 35 yards in front of me, I saw a grizzly bear in the road. I froze. His whole body was on the road, but his head was facing into the woods and he was walking that way. He turned and looked straight at me. Then, he turned his body and started running towards me. I was very afraid, and I didn’t know what to do. I know that the books say not to run, but all I could think to do was to run. So, I turned and ran.
I looked back again before turning the corner and I could see the bear was still running in my direction. A million things rushed through my mind. I thought if I could run back 1/2 mile to where the young man was pruning bushes, I could find safety. I was considering this was probably my best bet, but I kept second-guessing myself because
everything I have read says that you can’t outrun a bear. My only hope was that the bear lost interest in me when he lost sight of me around the corner.I couldn’t see if he was still coming. I didn’t know if I should run faster or slower, or walk. I just kept moving, and I can’t remember how fast or slow I was going because the adrenaline rush was so overwhelming. At one point, I thought I should go into the woods and hide from him. In retrospect, this idea seems so absurd. The mind thinks funny things when it is in “fight or flight” mode. I turned around, expecting to see the grizzly bear hot on my trail, and to my happy surprise, I saw a red truck instead. I almost cried at the sight of it. It was a like a dream— an angel sent to save me, driving a red truck!
The driver came closer, rolled down his window and said, “Uh, ma’am, you don’t want to go that way”. He had just seen the bear. He said he drove right by it, and it
wasn’t afraid of him or his truck. I told him that I knew about the bear, that I had seen it, and knew that it was coming this way. I asked if he would give me a ride to the boat landing. He obliged, and I offered to ride in the back bed of the truck. His vehicle was a two-seater, and he had a friend with him. I learned that the driver’s name was Larry. He also owns a cabin on Chilkat Lake. His friend’s name was Tim. “Tim and Larry”—they sounded like “Veggietales” characters to me.
(“Larry and Bob” are from Veggie Tales-a children’s Christian cartoon)
I smiled at God’s sense of humor. I was so grateful. I thanked them for saving my life. I’m sure they had a great story to tell their friends that night about how they saved some crazy lady from Texas from a grizzly bear attack, and wondering why on earth I was running down that road by myself.
Never again, that’s for sure. I will run with a pack of people or with Nate and a big gun from now on. I am learning that “bear country” is BEAR country, and you must
respect that this is their domain. You will encounter a bear here, and you must be prepared. In retrospect, I think the grizzly I saw was more curious about me than
anything. I want to believe he was trotting towards me with the notion of wanting to check out what I was. I don’t think he was charging towards me to attack, but I could be wrong. I might have ended up dying a gruesome death, or I might have had the most wild encounter of my life. Either way, I am glad that all was averted, and I was saved by an angel in a red truck.