Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Guest Blogger John Heydinger: Notes from the Last Frontier, pt.1

John Heydinger is a fellow '08 Carleton grad and a native of St. Paul, MN. John was my Freshman year roommate and has been one of my best friends ever since. An avid naturalist, he has trekked the world immersed in the bush (fucking giggle). He recently spent last Summer/Fall leading trips for Round River Conservation in Namibia, helping college students track Rhinos in Africa. Since late May, John has been stationed somewhere in Alaska, tagging grizzly bears on the ground and tracking via helicopter. When not being a bad-ass, John enjoys watching basketball, reading great works of philosophy, and eating/making a mean nachos. When his Dad took a look at the name-card of his roomate pre-freshman year, his reply was, "Oh, a Jew!"

This is the first in a series of notes from his Alaska journey. Enjoy.

Very recently I've gotten into distance running.

I thought remote Alaska would be the perfect place to get some good running in. Trails abound near our base and because the sun essentially never completely sets there is ample time after work to fit in a two hour run. Now, I am up here specifically to look for Grizzly Bears, therefore I am well aware of their presence and potential danger. I also know that locals up here do not recommend hiking alone, running in the woods (as it stimulates the bears' prey response) or being quiet while you are hiking. Trail running by myself would be doing all of these things - and its a pain in the ass to carry bear spray.

So I'm out for probably my third or fourth run since I arrived and feeling pretty good having passed the two hour mark. I'm barreling down a hill of reasonable steepness and really focusing on finishing the run strong. As I come around a corner I am about twenty-five feet from a 500-600 lb. male Grizzly sniffing after me up the trail. I've thought about situations like this before and how I would handle it, and now I can give a definitive answer. The best description I can give for the noise I made is something like one of the sand people from Star Wars being strangled. Something kind of like a guttural, "HUAH!" Luckily, I saw Yogi at the same time as he saw me and was surprised to see something running towards him and making sand people noises. The big fella took one look at me and booked it down the trail the other way.

After collecting my heart from my feet and checking my shorts I tracked the bear, slowly, down the trail until I was sure that he had veered off in another direction and away from me. I was lucky in a number of ways, not least of all that we saw each other at the same time. Now, I want to keep trail running, yet every time I go out hiking I seem to come across another bear. Maybe I'll run on the road for a while.

And I'm getting a handgun.

Till next time. Its easy to keep on the sunny side when it never sets.

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