In honor of the two college wrestlers who met a Grizzly bear in Wyoming last week and lived to tell the tale . . .
An Amazon robot punctured a can of Bear Mace, sending 80 employees to the hospital before Christmas. It reminded me of this true account as told to me at a holiday party by a friend’s daughter’s boyfriend’s father figure named Bob.
In 2008 you take your wife, Liza, and your teen-aged kids to Alaska. You stay near the Princess Lodge in a fishing cabin on the Kenai Peninsula. It’s the third week of July, so it doesn’t get completely dark until around midnight. After dinner you suggest a hike in the woods along the Kenai River Gorge. Your friend Randy, your friend Steve, and his two teen-aged sons come along with you and your family.
You leave your truck in the parking lot where you meet two young guys going fishing. They have shotguns, so you feel safe with them in the woods at night. Your group spots a bear cub ahead and gives it thirty minutes to clear out while you shoot the breeze with the two HVAC (furnace and AC) guys from Anchorage.
The group hikes to Vista Point, and you and your friends decide to turn around and go back to the truck. The two fishermen will go on to set up camp for the night. They have the only guns.
“Make a lot of noise, and you’ll be fine,” they tell you.
You see bear droppings along the trail. Randy is in front, you are in the back, your wife, your buddy Steve and all the kids are in the middle.
“Hey, Bear,” Randy is calling up front as you walk through the dim summer light.
You are on a single track trail with thick overgrowth on either side. Up ahead, about sixty yards away, you see the trail turn to the right.
“Hey, Bear,” Randy is calling.
And then the roar.
You see the grizzly on all fours running at your group. It is coming fast, its fur jiggling as it runs towards you.
Randy dives into the undergrowth, and now your son, Bobby, is in the front. You push your way up to him while everyone else goes backward. Your arms are over your head. You are yelling at the charging Grizzly. Its head is shaking from side to side.
You are now yelling obscenities at the bear.
“F*%# you, Bear!” you yell over and over. You think the others have run away and you are alone with it.
The bear is up on its hind legs now, mouth open, teeth revealed. It stands eight or nine feet tall with front paws up. You can see the grained pattern in its nails. You know those claws are going to hurt.
You have no gun, no stick, and no rock. The only bears you’ve ever seen in California are black bears, and they run off if they see a human. The only guns are with the fishermen that you left behind.
The bear is about a car length in front of you, shaking its head from side to side and roaring.
“F*#& you, Bear!” you yell, and then you realize your son is next to you yelling and waving his arms, too.
“F$#@ you, Bear!” yells your son.
Your wife is yelling at you to stop antagonizing the bear, but you don’t hear her. You are too busy cursing.
The bear retreats thirty feet and then turns and comes back.
You glance behind you. Your wife, Liza, and your daughter, Christina, are still right there. Everyone is, except Randy. He is in the bushes, close to where the bear is standing.
You can’t go forward to the parking lot. Do you recede and save your family and sacrifice Randy? Or do you save your friend who is playing dead in the undergrowth?
You edge closer to Randy, who is between you and the bear. The bear is curling its lip and growling at you. Bobby is right next to you as you inch closer to the bear.
You are still yelling obscenities and punching the air with your fists. The bear turns and runs down the path and goes around the bend.
You grab Randy and get the hell out of there. You can’t go to the truck, so you get your group and head toward the two guys with shot guns.
A half mile down the trail, in the summer twilight, you find the guys fishing. As you are all telling the story at once, the young men become nervous. They agree to escort you back. You wait an hour to give the bear plenty of time to move on.
When you get back to the truck, the guys return to their campsite but won’t get any sleep.
You get to your fishing cabin by midnight. Everyone is exhausted and still spooked by the attack. No one can sleep. You discuss it for a while and even videotape everyone’s version of what happened.
Your wife, daughter, son, friends and children are all alive. You fought off the bear.
It wasn’t your time yet.
Couldda Wouldda Didda
You are a hunter but will never hunt a bear. Because that grizzly let you live, you will return the favor to the entire species.
You go back to Alaska every year or so. Each time you bring a shot gun and Bear Mace. Your kids don’t like going back, but for you, it’s like going to church. You go to the exact spot. You marked the tree, so you know where it is. Randy does not go back with you.
You survived a bear attack and saved eight people. Your wife, Liza, knows you will always have her back. You stood between her and a grizzly.
Your name is Bob Vernazza, and you have one hell of a good story to tell at parties.