Monday, July 28, 2008


I should have known by his calm confident demeanor, and the way he poured out knowledge of the wilds, that our Denali guide had done something special in Yukon or Alaskan sports lore, but I didn't. I just sat amazed as he educated the packed to capacity tour bus with fact after unknown fact!

Had Ron (my brother-in-law) not been the sports and outdoors nut that he is, we would have never known that he was Bruce Lee. “Bruce Lee?” I said when Ron told me.

No…not that Bruce Lee, the Bruce Lee (with cap below) that won the Yukon Quest in 1998!”

We had just discussed this year's winner of the Iditarod, Lance Mackey, over Alaskan Amber the evening before, or I may still have been in the dark.

Lance Mackey won the Iditarod on March 12, 2008; winning his second Iditarod in a row and the second time in a row he had won the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod in the same year!

I got involved in this tale quite innocently while fighting the bumps in the gravel road on the return trip to the hotel. I had just risked making us look gay by holding on to the back of the seat, with my left arm behind Ron, when something “yellowish” in the brush just 50 yards or less from the side of the road caught my eye.

BEAR,” I yelled, which is quite customary to let the guide know you have spotted wildlife. Sometimes the alert is “MOOSE” or just plain “STOP”, nonetheless, the driver will stop the vehicle and try to ascertain where the animal is.

In my case, Bruce stopped the vehicle, and looked up high on the mountain to his left. “Where,” he asked, and began backing up, “Up high?”

No, right down here next to the road, about 40 to 50 yards up,” I directed.

By this time others had spotted the two juvenile grizzlies playing in the tall bushes, and began yelling and pointing. “Good eye, good eye,” some yelled!

The attached photos will not show you a great shot of a Grizzly Bear. First, a normal digital camera has a wide angle lens that makes things look further away than does the naked eye. Second of all, the bus was rolling and rocking from side to side, which blurs any image. Third, I was shooting through the window…note the white cloudy areas in the photos.

However, the photos will point out where at least one bear’s head is and how difficult things are to see in a moving bus.

Bruce Lee stopped the bus just as the first bear came down the hill and stepped onto the road behind the bus. I was about to burst with excitement and anticipation of a great “bear” shot when some fool dropped his window, yelled at the bear to get its attention, then stuck his arm and camera out. That’s when Bruce made the bus lurch forward and about 200 yards further down the road!

Immediately, 6 or 8 people, all from New Jersey (I’m just saying) began screaming obscenities at Bruce and giving him the bird! There was even an 11-year old girl saying the f-word!

Everyone was just pissed at not getting the “bear” money shot, and I have to admit I was too. However, my anger was focused on the person/s with their heads and arms out the windows! Man…that would have been some shot to bring back to you, but it was not to happen.

In defense of Bruce, he did the right thing. After driving around to other side of the valley, and letting us watch the two grizzlies romp down the slope and out onto the alluvial plane, some quarter of a mile away, he stopped the bus. He then slowly, calmly, and eloquently laid out his position.

Grizzly Bears in Denali are treated unlike other bears in National Forest or other National Parks. They have little interaction with humans, except in the backcountry. No food is taken off any of the buses and no trash cans are placed anywhere. Guides do not allow bus loads of city-folk to wave wildly or scream at bears. The reason is this, if you meet a grizzly, the first thing you do is raise your arms and yell out at him/her. The point is to make yourself appear larger than you are. If grizzlies get used to crazy people waving their arms and yelling at them from buses, then the bears think, “Oh, I’ve seen that before!

Guides try to minimize all contact with humans…encounters should be brief. You can look all you want from a distance, or from inside a closed vehicle, but not up close using gestures and noises that should only be used during an encounter on the trail.

Thanks Bruce Lee for teaching us a valuable lesson.


catscratch said...

Valuable knowledge indeed, grasshopper.

I loved our tourguide in Germany last time. He was full of it.

~Fathairybastard~ said...

That's a cool post. Reminds me of the photo safari I took in Kenya in the early 90s. You're drivin' around and the driver willl stop and say "there's a (you name the critter) over there." You look and don't really see anything. You go for an hour or so without seeing anything and then BAM, there's a friggin' lion right next to the van and everyone is tryin' to elbow their neighbor out of the way to get a picture.

I'd LOVE to see griz. Sounds like you had much more luck with critters in the Yellowstone trip, but they're tryin', like you said, to keep the wild critters wild up in Alaska.

Oh, and I loved the New Jersey crack. Hilarious.

Les Becker said...

I think it would have been more interesting to put the waving guy out on the road. That would have been a photo worth seeing.

People visiting around here seem overly interested in getting up close and personal with moose. Apparently, an animal that has an amicable look on its face is construed as "friendly", even when it's two to three times as large as the average horse, and enjoys stomping all over any car that stops on the highway.

I wouldn't stop my car for a moose - no WAY would I stop for a bear. Brrrr!

Even far off, though, your "bear shots" were pretty good, Mushy.

BRUNO said...

LES BECKER has a pretty good angle on "the perfect shot", there above!

But at the risk of infringing on her copyright: Maybe we should tie him on a rope BEHIND the bus, and then drive to the next stop!

Like Les said, there'd be PLENTY of good "action-shots" from that angle...!

Suldog said...

That is just a truly cool thing, Mushy. Great post!

Jose said...

Lions and tigers and bears oh my! I already knew that lesson just from watching Yogi Bear.

david mcmahon said...

I'll be there in three weeks. Familiar stamping ground, too.

Wish we coulda been there at the same time.

Now THAT would have been a hoot.

Scott from Oregon said...

In Queensland, the tour guides would slap big fish against the side of their tour boats to attract crocodiles, which was fine for a big tour boat, but not so good for the old fella in his little punt reeling in a big baramundi that happens to slap against the side of his wee boat...

Les Becker said...

Ooh! Bruno! If you can improve on the plan, you just keep right on infringing. You bring the rope, I'll bring the beer. We'd both best pack us a camera or two.

Becky said...

I've never been near a bear, but yeah, I can see why it's probably not a good idea to dangle your limbs out in front of one;)

When I was a teenager, my manager at the movie theatre I worked at was named Steve Martin.

Sandi McBride said...

And yes, I would have taken this Bruce Lee over THAT Bruce Lee any day of the week! David sent me...congrats on the Post of the Day mention!