Close Encounters in Alaska | When a Bear Crashes Your Party

After spending three days in Denali National Park, and really only getting the tiniest peek at its famous wild residents from a grimy bus window, my opinion that Alaska was America’s Kenya had taken a hit. It wasn’t that we didn’t see any creatures, because we certainly saw a few and they were gorgeous and enormous and nifty.

It’s just that I was really hoping for a solid encounter, a story to take home about a wily moose trying to steal my trail mix or a bear taking a nap on the roof of our rental car. Something exciting! Something to remember! Isn’t that what everyone wants?

It’s challenging to tell a harrowing tale of the time I rode in a bus for eight hours and saw some sheep 17 miles away on top of a hill.

Not really bestseller list material, right?

Bear Denali National Park Alaska
A grizzly in Denali

One afternoon once we were out of Denali and on our way south, we drove up a windy, hilly street to our friend Elizabeth’s house, a modern home near Chugach State Park. Elizabeth and her gorgeous Sheltie pup Petey welcomed us onto their Better Homes & Gardens-worthy deck where we took in the view of the Anchorage basin and a distant Mt. McKinley, and recounted our uneventful animal sightings to date.

In the years since Elizabeth and her husband moved to Alaska from Florida, they’ve had a handful of bear sightings at their house, and my grandma was hoping with everything in her being that one might stumble across the backyard while we were there.

The patio where it all went down
The patio where it all went down

As we were catching up, we heard a loud crack around the side of the house – like that of a branch breaking. Concern clouded Elizabeth’s face and she tentatively stepped to the edge of the house to peek around the corner. My grandparents’ followed her gaze and suddenly, the party of 4-plus-dog erupted into chaos.

“Oh {expletive} – it’s a bear!”

In mid-sentence, my grandparents went from casually lounged on a cushy deck chair to leaping like gazelles in the savannah. This was my first glimpse at that Kenyan Alaska I was expecting, and from such a bizarre source – my grandparents!

While they’re both rather spry for their ages, they’re septuagenarians nonetheless, so I was stunned immobile for a few shocked seconds when they whizzed past me, Elizabeth and Petey, who’d both recently had surgery and weren’t quite up to sprinting out of harm’s way.

A bear at the Alaska Wildlife Refuge, just so you know what we were up against!
A bear at the Alaska Wildlife Refuge, just so you know what we were up against!

By the time I connected the dots, my grandparents, the Kenyan sprinters, were long gone, possibly locked in some bear-proof room inside, as Petey, Elizabeth and I remained paralyzed on the deck.

From my spot on the porch, I never saw the bear, so I had no idea if it was 15 feet tall and foaming at the mouth, if it was hungry for puppy or blogger or what. I decided we’d better get inside, regardless.

I gingerly reached down and scooped up Petey, taking care not to disturb the stitches on his belly. Apparently Petey didn’t notice the bear, and I suspect it’s because he was distracted by the peculiar and rapid movements of his old friends Ernie & Darla. You know that head-tilt thing dogs do when they’re confused by something? That was Petey, looking quizzically at the puff of dust left in the wake of the world record holders for hauling butt.

My superhero-fast grandparents on the Alaska Railroad
My superhero-fast grandparents on the Alaska Railroad

Those of us who were left for dead finally made it into the house safely, and we never saw the bear again. Actually, I never saw the bear at all, but my grandparents were very satisfied with their close encounter. And I was pretty satisfied knowing I’d have a funny story to recount once I got home, and with a bit of embellishment at all future family gatherings.

I was still a little disappointed I didn’t get to come face to face with a big Alaskan critter though.

Little did I know, I had one bear left to meet…

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5 thoughts on “Close Encounters in Alaska | When a Bear Crashes Your Party”

  1. Your grandparents sound awesome! I probably would have been sprinting with them! I’ve lived in Colorado for the past year and a half, and STILL haven’t seen a bear (or moose, or mountain lion…) But I’m told that my dog has while hiking- and he always wants to play with them. I don’t think our nearby bears are quite as big as those giant grizzlies, though 😉

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