Bozeman, Part 2 – Bear Spray and Salmon Sandwiches

Jake (foreground) and Maggie, from Montana Grizzly Encounter

I told you there would be more. First, I cannot stress how much the idea of something eating me alive bothers me. And not just in the logical “Something is killing me, I must live” basic response to that idea; it’s one of the legit fears that I have. I’ve had nightmares of being consumed by something, though usually the antagonist in those dreams are normally harmless, like little old ladies, small school children, and Jell-O (that last one was terrifying, it was like The Blob, but lime flavored and had bits of old fruit in it). This phobia has gotten to the point where I have patently refused to go to Africa or the Australian Outback because one of the biggest fears I have, besides flying (see: Flying Death Tubes) and wobbly high places, like Ferris wheels (see: Giant Death Pinwheel), is being turned into a snack for something higher on the food chain. I know we’re supposed to be the highest on the food chain, but you put your average human out in the wild with no weapons and we’re the slowest thing on two feet, with no claws or fangs. Yet, when we went to Montana last week, I had pooh-poohed the idea that I needed to worry about bears while we were there. I mean, the closest thing to a terrifying bear encounter I’ve ever had was in a bar at Rehoboth Beach and this gay guy kept trying to grind on my leg. It wasn’t terrifying because he was gay, just because he was like a five and I was a strong gay seven and I was trying to get free drinks. My wife chided me for leading him on, but I was broke and happy hour was over. Anyway, the prospect of needing to worry about possibly being Human Tar-tar didn’t really play into my mind when we went out there, yet my wife kept bringing it up, and I kept saying, “Sure thing, dear,” in that condescending way spouses have when dismissing the other. However, being dismissed is not something my spouse is good at.

On our first night in Bozeman we went to the Montana Ale Works, (if you’re ever in Bozeman, eat at the Ale Works, they have some of the friendliest staff you’ll meet anywhere and try anything with the Waygu beef. Oh. My. God) and my wife brought up the subject of bears. Again. I decided I would talk to our waiter, Clint, who immediately assured us we really want to get bear spray. I mean really. Clint had been telling us stories all night between orders, he’d been pleasant and funny, until then. Then, he got serious, toot sweet. I immediately wanted the old Clint back, the funny guy, the bringer of beer and food, not this harbinger of doom, who’s face looked like I told him I was planning on drop kicking a rodeo steer in the tender bits when we said where we were staying a few days later. “Yeah, you’ll want that bear spray.” The ‘I-told-you-so’ look on my wife’s face was never so smug nor obvious.

Later on, the next day actually, I was purchasing some new hiking boots for our upcoming adventure when I decided to get a second opinion from my sales associate, whose name was Eric, I think. Eric is an avid hunter and gleefully told me, “I always takes some spray with me in case the guns don’t scare them off. We’re not allowed to hunt grizzlys and that’s made them even more fearless. Oh, and it’s cubbing season, so watch out for the mamma bears. I mean, you saw The Revenant, right?” And then he laughed, but not in a funny way. More like a “I’m going to defuse this bomb, let’s hope it doesn’t blow up in my face! Ha!” kind of laugh. So, since his store sold not just upper end clothing, but camping supplies, I bought some spray. It was almost forty dollars, it came with a snug little carrying case, and it felt manly. But it also felt like defeat.

I bought the spray because that last thing I wanted in my life, before I was torn into like a overstuffed burrito by a large omnivore, was that image of my wife’s smug face resurfacing like I knew it would. Oh, and the pain I’d bring my family, blah, blah, blah. I bought the spray, because I was in bear country, and it was cubbing season. I bought the spray, because I wear a helmet when I bike, don’t I? I’ve never been in a crash, but I could. And this was just like that, right?

So it was that on that very afternoon, my wife and I went on our first adventure in Montana. We visited Palisade Falls, just a half hour or so away and only a mere five miles down dirt roads. During those five miles, we saw a few signs about bear activity in the area and my wife joked about the bear spray, which sat snugly and manly in its little holster, back at the hotel. I looked at her, looked at the bag of sandwiches we brought to eat out at the lake, and a thought occurred to me about her choice of dinners. “So, you got a salmon sandwich, eh?” And oh, how she laughed at that. Ha, ha, ha. So funny. Here, after I’d capitulated to her wishes and got some bear spray, I promptly forgot it on my first trip out in the wild and she bought the one kind of sandwich that might bring a grizzly running faster than my delicious posterior, and she’s laughing like a loon.

And rightfully so. It’s a ridiculous fear, just like my fear of flying. Statistically, I’m more likely to win the lottery than to be munched on by a bear. More people are killed by dogs and cows than by bears, yet I don’t see any dog spray next to the running shoes in suburbia. No Anti-Cattle bells at your local Harbor Freight. Bears have little enough reason to want to kill me, let alone eat me. I mean, people must taste terrible. Especially Americans. Yet I bought that Bear Spray. I didn’t see one single bear, except the few at Montana Grizzly Encounters, from the trek to the falls to the drive out to Fairy Lake, which has over seven miles of dirt road, nor when we finally made it to Elk Lake Resort, over twenty miles of dirt road. We even travelled the last ten miles on a spare because we blew our tire about half way through. And the whole time on that road, cruising at 10 mph on a little donut, I’m thinking, “If we have to walk (because there are no cell towers out there to call for help) at least I have that spray with me.” But we never needed it, not once, although I saw some free range cattle looking at me with vengeance for their tasty, juicy comrades in their beady eyes. And it’s not that the risk of a bear attack isn’t there, because it is. But it’s small. It’s minuscule, especially if you take precautions. It’s not something I ever actually need to fear, only to prepare for. If you look at the facts, if you listen to people who’ve been there before, you know that the only reason you’d be attacked is because of something you have done wrong. Those rules go for so much in life. This time I didn’t get eaten, so I must be doing something right.


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