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Spin_Drift
09-25-2007, 11:18 AM
Todd Fitzgerald has heard bears "woof" and clack their jaws before, but he had never heard one roar until Sunday night. It's not something he ever wants to hear again, especially given what happened immediately afterward.
Fitzgerald was riding his new mountain bike on a trail near his house in the Herning Hills subdivision, about a mile off Chena Hot Springs Road at 5.5 Mile, at about 11 p.m. Sunday night when he heard a loud cracking noise, like a stick breaking, in the woods to his right.
"I didn't even look," said Fitzgerald, who thought it was probably a moose running through the woods. "I was focused on the trail and I was already almost by it."
He did notice his golden retriever, Kiska, who running ahead of him, glance into the woods, however. But she didn't express much interest and kept going.
What happened next was something that Fitzgerald will never forget.
"About 70 feet down the trail in front of me, a sow (grizzly bear) stood up five feet off the trail and gave a really loud roar," he said. "I've never heard anything like it. I've heard them woof and click their jaws but I've never heard them roar like that.
"It was like something you see a trained bear on TV do," he said .
The bear was what Fitzgerald, an experienced hunter, described as "an average Interior grizzly." He estimated it between 6 and 7 feet tall.
The sight and sound stopped Fitzgerald in his tracks.
"I hit the brakes and dumped my bike and took off running the other way," he said, pointing out his skid marks in the dirt on Wednesday night as he revisited the scene with a reporter and photographer, this time with a loaded shotgun slung over his shoulder.
Almost immediately, Fitzgerald figured that he had ridden between a sow and its cub. The sow was standing on the left side of the trail and the cub was probably the source of the noise that he had heard on the right side of the trail.
"As soon as I saw the bear stand up, I immediately tied that together as a sow and a cub," he said. "The only thing in my mind was, 'I gotta leave and get out of here.' "
While Fitzgerald knows better than to run from a grizzly bear -- experts say you should back away slowly and give the bear space -- the 46-year-old electrician for Golden Valley Electrical Association ran for all he was worth.
"I didn't do a lot of thinking in that split second," he confided. "I know I did all the wrong things but I was not going to back away slowly."
While Fitzgerald turned and ran the other way, Kiska did the opposite by confronting the bear.
"I could hear my dog going crazy, barking at the bear," said Fitzgerald.
At first, it didn't seem like his legs were working, Fitzgerald said. When he finally was able to get moving, Fitzgerald tripped and did a faceplant after 10 feet.
But he could still hear Kiska barking.
"I thought, 'This is good; the dog's doing his job' and I kept running as fast as I could," Fitzgerald said.
As he ran, Fitzgerald formulated a plan. He knew there was an old rope swing hanging from a tree about 100 feet up the hill he was sprinting. If he could reach that, he knew he could climb up it.
"That was my first exit plan," Fitzgerald said.
But then Kiska stopped barking and the woods grew silent.
"I thought, 'Something's changed; this is bad," said Fitzgerald.
He was still about 25 feet from the rope swing when Fitzgerald glanced over his shoulder to see what was happening.
"The bear was bounding up the trail after me," he said, eyes wide as he acted out the scene three days later. "It was a whole different wave of emotion that washed over me.
"I thought, 'This is going to happen and this is going to hurt.'"
Fitzgerald was just about to the rope swing when he glanced over his shoulder again. The bear had stopped and was standing on all fours in the trail about 100 feet away, looking at Fitzgerald.
"My neighbor's house was only 100 yards up the hill and I said, 'I'm going to get to his house,'" said Fitzgerald.
Once there, he tried to catch his breath.
"I've never been that out of breath," said Fitzgerald, a lean, fit guy who likes to bike and ski. "It felt like my lungs were going to bleed."
He listened for any noise that might indicate the bear was following him but heard nothing so he walked back to his house. He could hear Kiska barking in the driveway before he got there.
The dog acted uncharacteristically timid but was otherwise fine, said Fitzgerald. Even 45 minutes after the incident, when Fitzgerald and his neighbor, Craig Schumacher, went to retrieve Fitzgerald's new bike armed with shotguns, Kiska stuck close by.
"You had to sort of push her along," Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald's close encounter with a grizzly came on the heels of a grizzly sighting farther out Chena Hot Springs Road earlier the same evening. A lone grizzly was spotted at a house on the south side of the road around 8.1 Mile on Sunday at around 8 p.m. Grizzly tracks were also reported in a yard about a mile off road at 10.5 Mile the night before.
Wildlife biologist Don Young with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game isn't sure what to make of the different sightings but he suspects they represent different bears. There was a sow grizzly and cub reported at the end of Peede Road in late April and that's less than five miles from where Fitzgerald lives, he noted.
There was also a report of a lone grizzly bear in the same vicinity -- near the Chena River on Nordale Road -- on Tuesday night, said Young.
Whatever the case may be, residents need to be bear aware, said Young. Anything that might attract a bear -- garbage, dog food, charcoal grills, bird feeders, etc. -- should be thrown away or secured where bears can't get at it, he said.
Though he never actually saw another bear, Fitzgerald is convinced he came between a sow and her cub.
"Why wouldn't that bear take one step and disappear (if it didn't have a cub)?" said Fitzgerald.
As for Kiska, it marks the second time the friendly, tail-wagging, curly-haired retriever has played the part of hero. A few years ago Fitzgerald's son and some friends were snowboarding in the yard when a moose walked into the driveway and charged the three boys, all of whom still had their feet strapped into their snowboards. Just as the moose was about to stomp one of the boys who was on the ground, a barking Kiska appeared and held the moose at bay, even as the moose was pawing at him, before it wandered off without doing any harm. A neighbor witnessed the whole thing, Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald credits Kiska with saving his life this time.
"If my dog had not tied up that bear for the few seconds, I don't know what would have happened," said Fitzgerald. "I think the dog saved my life."
Read this article online. (http://newsminer.com/2007/05/24/7155)
Read the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner online. (http://newsminer.com/)




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Domesticated_Mr. Know It All
09-25-2007, 12:48 PM
"dumped my bike and took off running the other way," he said, pointing out his skid marks"




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Tristan
09-25-2007, 01:42 PM
Yeah, I'd have skid marks too . . . in my underwear!