The Forbidden Bear. Part 5: The Recovery

Because of Maria and her oils, I slept like a dead man. I know myself, know my body. If she hadn’t anointed me, I likely would have been bed ridden for a day or two – because that’s just what happens when I overdo it, and I can live with that (it might not be worth it for some, but it is worth it for me – for who can say that they climbed a mountain, killed a giant bear, and carried it back down, alone, all in the same day)? The inner satisfaction of accomplishment in adventure, testing myself, and finding out that I have what it takes… that is what I LOVE.

I slept in, and began stirring mid morning, when Maria was downstairs cooking, and the house was bustling with bed and breakfast guests, who had gotten wind of my adventure the day before, and wanted to talk to me about it. There is a tall mirror on the wall in our bedroom, and I examined my naked backside. The skin was ripped off of my backside; it was raw and bloody, with cuts, scrapes, and scabs. In all my years, I have never treated my bum like this! My legs and arms were covered in bruises, scrapes, and cuts. There was a cut on my right hand ring finger that should probably have stitches, but I had did my best to bandage it up, and called it good.

After sleeping on it, I knew in my heart I had to do the right thing. Integrity says that I had killed the bear, and I had better make use of it. For I would think of it often, and it would bother me if I didn’t. So I set my mind to preparing myself for another endurance fest, right on the heels of one of the toughest days of my life. I came down the stairs a little gimpy, but satisfactory for me – all things considered. Guests around the breakfast table wanted to know my story, and drinking cup after cup of coffee, I told it. Before I was done, I had everyone in the house, and all my friends and relatives rooting for me (via cell phone and Facebook) – that is, thinking of me, praying for me, and sending me all kinds of goodwill. When I go into something tough like this, I have learned that I must ALWAYS go into it with that kind of “prayer cover.” In my heart, I know it always helps.

I wasn’t happy with the late start, but I felt it necessary to just rest, unwind, think, and prepare myself mentally. But go today, I must. Bear meat will spoil quickly. The hair on a hide will start to slip, ruining the prospect for a good rug. And then there are coyotes and wolves, which will make short work of a kill if they come across it.

When I got down to the harbor, it was windy, blustery son-of-a-gun. My hat blew off numerous times, which is one of my pet peeves. When I came out of the harbor and rounded the corner – I was looking right into the teeth of 4-5 foot rollers, whitecaps on the tops of hundreds and thousands of waves between myself and the other side. I shook my head. Why does this entire thing have to be so difficult? Why am I getting kicked in the nuts every time I turn around? I was quickly developing a devil-may-care attitude. I felt angry and reckless inside.

There was nothing else to do but head into it. If I were in Minnesota on Gull Lake, or Mille Lacs lake, there is no way I would have gone out in waves like that. But here? 8-10 foot waves create a small craft advisory, and we tend to avoid that. We don’t really like going out into 4-6 footers, but we do. There was no way I was going to lay up for another day. So I struck out.

It was slow going. In waves like that, and in my boat, I have to keep the nose up high and plow to keep from getting soaked. Plowing also keeps the ride softer, as opposed to planing out and bouncing on the waves. I settled in for a long, long ride that would take twice as long as usual – 90 minutes instead of 45. Going out of my way was necessary also, to keep from getting soaked. I struck out for Neptune Bay, straight across from Homer, instead of angling for Eldred Passage – which would have gotten me soaked. 

Half way across, I found myself cursing under my breath. Even yelling at times. Time to check under the hood. And so a conversation began with God .

When I talk to God, it is not always the traditional prayer where we ask for things, or are thankful for things. Instead, it is often more of a conversation where I form a question or a statement in my mind, and then I am quiet in my spirit, and just listen for what comes. The answers are never audible, but I had them in my spirit and in my brain, and they are likely a combination of Him, and my own common sense, working in tandem. It typically feels good and right, and I have come to value it immensely. This one went something like this:

“Ok, God. I’m feeling really pissed right now. Once again, everything seems to be stacked against me. This bear hunt – why so over the top difficult? Why the slap in the face this morning with the waves, and all the obstacles? Can’t I catch a break here? At the same time, I realize I am angry. Inside, I feel unsettled and reckless. Unhappy, really. I don’t like it when I am like this. I don’t want it to continue. Please help me.”

“Well, Tim. The truth is, you chose to do this alone. It really is quite a feat to try to do such a thing solo. You put yourself in a dangerous situation. You abused your body, and overdid it. You lost your bear in the avalanche chute. And now, you are headed back out alone on a nasty day, trying to make it right. Nobody else is making you do this; it is all up to you. Yes, I can see you are mad. But you have two choices. You can either continue to escalate, be mad and miserable, and have a day straight from hell. Or, you can walk with me today, in joy and peace and happiness – do your best, and accept whatever happens. Will you do that? Will you trust me?”

I drove for a long time. It’s weird how a person can just want to be mad, almost as if to prove a point – when it is so very detrimental to our inner spirit. Why not just let it go immediately – the moment we recognize anger and anxiety coming on. I am trying to get better at this myself; after all, I am a therapist, and shouldn’t I practice what I preach to my clients?

Questions began to form in my mind. They may have been just me. They may have been God. Either way, they were good ones. 

“Tim – what are you afraid of, anyway”?

“I’m afraid that it will all be for nothing. I will go through all of this trouble. Climb that mountain. Search the avalanche chute, and still not find the pack and its contents. Plain and simple, I feel like the bear is forbidden from me. I fear that I will fail.”

That’s when I feel like God, the voice of reason, came to me. 

“Tim. How many times have you told your clients not to be negative? Not to live in fear? To think positively? To not borrow trouble? Tell yourself the truth! That bear is up there, waiting for you to find it. Do your very best and see what happens. That will be enough.”

And then scripture verses began to flood into my mind. Hey, I don’t quote scripture and verse very well, but I have a running account of many of the important ones that I have heard throughout my life. They come to me, in times of need, just like they did right now.

Trust The Lord with all of your heart, and lean not on thine own understanding. In all of your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will bring it to pass.

I will bless the Lord at all times. His praises shall ever be on my lips.

There are so many verses about how much He loves and cares for us. About having a good attitude, and a cheerful heart. About running the race with endurance and living with good character.

Over and over, Jesus told us not to live in fear. FEAR NOT! He said. There must be a reason why that was so important for us to hear.

By the time I reached my mountain, I had a new frame of mind. I felt much better inside. The anger was gone. Peace and contentment had returned. I was back to doing my best and trusting fully in Him – the way I usually like to roll.

Out loud, I said – “OK Lord. I can do this. I will not curse and swear my way up that mountain. I will not fear the possibility of not finding my pack. I WILL search thoroughly. I WILL do my best. I accept whatever happens. Lets do this! But just one thing. If I could find it closer to the beach, instead of near the top, I would really appreciate it.” 

In my spirit, I winked at God, and I had a vision of a spirit being, smiling at me, shaking His head back and forth, possibly slightly amused with me.

Because of the giant waves rolling down the length of the fjord, I double anchored my boat – one to the ocean floor, and another long rope tied from the bow to an alder tree on the beach. Moored boats are easily lost on windy days like this, and an anchored boat simply wasn’t enough. In order to find my way home at the end of the day, my boat MUST be there waiting for me when I returned to the beach. There wasn’t likely to be any other crazy people out on a day like this to help, either. A late start it was: almost 1pm. I had 7 hours before dark. Time to get this show on the road.

With that, I began my quest. I elected to search the right side of the drainage on the way up, and if necessary, the opposite side on the way down. Using long ski poles that I had found in Maria’s garage, I steadied myself amongst the large boulders, and pushed ahead and always, up. When the drainage widened – I used the poles to bend the cow parsnip, devils club, berry bushes, and weeds over and down – so that I could look behind and underneath for any sign of my pack. Sometimes, the foliage was so dense that the ski poles didn’t work. I had to get on my hands and knees to crawl, and look underneath.

A strange thing happened. I was actually gaining hope as I went – knowing that I was doing such a thorough search that I was not missing anything. The pack must either be above me, or on the opposite side. If I kept being this thorough, I would find the pack. It was as simple as that.

It took several hours, but I made it up to the super steep part of the hill – the area where I was forced to slide down. But it looked unfamiliar to me, looking up at it. I didn’t remember it looking this way, from above. What I saw ahead of me was three finger canyons leading to one major canyon that I had just come up. I couldn’t quite see the place that I had let go of my pack. It was further up the steep, grade, around the corner, and to the right. 

I looked at the finger canyon farthest to my left. If the pack had gone down that chute, it would explain why I had not come across it on the way down. On the way down, I had slid down the chute farthest to the right, and I had come up empty-handed. The middle chute was way too steep to ascend. If the pack was in there, I would have to come at it from above.

I decided to try the left-side chute. I climbed my way up for a good hour. Mentally, I busied myself, singing songs in my head as I usually am. Or just being stupid. Like, if Snickers is so satisfying, why am I feeling so famished after having eaten three? Eventually, the crevice became so steep and alder-choked that I thought it impassable, and unlikely to find the pack. I returned back down the hill – to the place where the 3 avalanche chutes become one.

Heading up the right bank, I dug in with both legs and both ski poles, pushing myself up, using alder trees and grass when I could to pull myself up. It took a good 20 minutes, but I finally crested the hill, having climbed out of the gorge, and up onto the steep alder flats. I made my way up, around, and through the alders – until I came to a place, just below where, the day before, I had been hanging onto the alders for dear life, and let my pack go. I sat down on the steep bank, and studied what lay before me. It appeared that downhill, and just out of sight – the single canyon must split into three fingers, and then become one chute again. I had searched both side fingers, but not the middle. It had been too steep to come up from below.

I found myself believing that when the pack last disappeared from my view, it had gone down the middle finger – and must be somewhere in that canyon, or down below, on the opposite side. This was creepy, but I slowly began inching my way down the steep bank, dragging my already raw derrière, and using the ski poles to steady myself and halt any downhill progress – should I start to slide. It was slow, painstaking work, but finally, I avoided the jagged rocks that were below me, and came into a steep slide filled with fist sized shale rock. I paused to pack an extra shirt into my pants – to give me some more padding where it was so much needed. Then I was off, sliding fast on my butt, watching the country fly by.

When I rounded the corner and came to the three fingers, I made sure to steer myself into the middle finger. Once into that finger, I slowed myself as much as necessary to be able to make certain that I wasn’t passing any of the contents of my pack in the rocks, or foliage that lined the chute. 

The first item I found was a crushed pill bottle. There was a few white pills laying amongst the rocks. I stopped and examined them, and my heart leapt. This was the generic Vicodin that I kept in my pack for emergency purposes. The bottle must have gotten out of the pack, and been broke apart on the rocks! This meant that I was finally on the right track! The rest of the pack must be in the chute, below me. 

Slowly, I began sliding again – trying not to go too fast and miss something. It was a welcome sight when I cleared some vegetation, some two hundred yards below, and spotted the bear hide tangled in some vegetation below me. Then, a black garbage bag – which used to have a skull in it, but the skull was gone. Sliding down the hill, I began to find lots of items. A shirt. A sweatshirt. A knife. And then, the pack. It was lying in the rocks – completely blown apart, and containing almost nothing inside any of it’s many pockets. 

Using some string that was remaining in the pack, and the straps and buckles that were still attached, and working – I strapped the pack back together into something that would suffice -with one compartment to hold my gear, until I reached the bottom.

It was still steep, and it occurred to me to let the pack go again. But it was getting late, and I knew there wasn’t time to keep searching the primary chute all the way to the bottom every time I let the pack go – which was sure to blow out and spread out again and again. No, I would carry it, as carefully as possible, and if I fell, I would deal with it.

There were things in the pack that I lost that I didn’t care so much about. A spare phone battery. A knife sharpener. Some food. But the primary thing I really needed to find on the way down was the bears skull, for to be legal, a hunter must present the hide and skull to the wildlife manager in order for them to take samples, record the kill, and seal with locking metal tags. 

But I knew that finding the skull was going to be a huge feat. I was heavy, and dense, and like a boulder. It would roll, and bounce, and likely had gone farther than anything else in my pack. It would be filthy dirty, and could easily be hidden amongst the rocks or vegetation anywhere between me and the beach – which was over a half-mile of steep, rugged turf. 

No matter. I was grateful for what I had found, and would continue to search as best as I could, while being careful not to fall and injure myself. With the pack on my back, I stepped down little by little, using the ski poles for balance. It was painstaking and slow, searching the thick vegetation. At times, it was too steep to walk, and I resumed sliding on my butt, or on one hip or the other, until I could walk again.

It started to feel like a needle in a haystack. I was getting exhausted again. The pack weighed heavily on my back, and my raw and bleeding tush was bothering me badly. Ahead, I saw a spot where the canyon narrowed, where the rock slide was maybe two feet wide, and spotted with some vegetation. This would be a perfect spot for the skull to have stopped its descent. And sure enough, there was, some 500 yards below the other items that I had found! It was laying amongst some vegetation that grew between two rocks. It was filthy dirty, and I was fortunate to have found it as it blended into the rocks so well. The two top canine teeth were also broken off – likely from bashing on the rocks for some 700-900 yards total. Nevertheless, I was super ecstatic to have found everything that really mattered. The mystery was solved. The bear was NOT forbidden. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

I wrapped the skull in a plastic bag, and packed it in the last remaining area in the pack that had room. Feeling like my job was done, I began descending more rapidly because I no longer had to search, but just like the day before, I paid for it. Numerous times, I fell amongst the rocks, twisting ankles and knees, bloodying hands and elbows – but it seemed not to matter. I focused on Jesus. Not that what I was enduring was anything remotely close to what he endured, but I wanted to follow his example of carrying his cross with grace and dignity. I was just so grateful to Him for helping me through this hardship. In my suffering, it was a time of closeness.

When I broke out of the alders and emerged onto the beach, my boat was to the right, up against the shoreline rocks, bouncing in the waves. Not good at all. The wind had stayed blowing hard all day, but had shifted more to the southwest, tearing my anchor loose, and swinging my boat around to the north. I dropped my pack on the ground, and hurried to the boat to survey the damage. There was some broken plumbing that had capped off a live-well that was no longer in use. There was obviously some water in the boat. And the joint where the hull meets the transom was a little beat-up, but otherwise, things seemed fine. I turned on the bilge pump, gathered my gear, and began plowing for home, thankful that I had tied my boat to the shore – or it would have been completely gone to who knows where. And without cell service, and nearing dark-with no one to help, it would have been a long, long night.

Little by little, the boat emptied of it’s water burden, and I was able to get the boat going faster and faster – but I stayed very close to shore, just in case. When I rounded the corner into the main part of Kachemak Bay, where I have cell service, I texted Maria, to let her know I was coming across, having found almost everything. It was still brutally windy, nonetheless, I entered the harbor at nightfall. My bear hunting ordeal was finally over!

In the following days, Maria continued to use her healing oils, and her gift of touch on my beat-up body, and I recovered nicely. The bear was salvaged and registered with the state of Alaska. We will have our beautiful black bear rug.

Another bear hunter arrived at the B and B, and I was back into shape soon enough to help him enjoy success too. I even climbed the mountain three times during his stay, gaining in knowledge of the area, and increasing my strength and endurance. But that’s another story. Another endurance fest – which I enjoyed, by the way.

Would I do anything differently, in hindsight? Probably not. Yes, it sure is nice to have two or three men, for safety, and to help carry the load. But as I sit here right now, I am feeling a little bored, and probably strong enough to try again. Desire for adventure, and the passage of time seems to have that effect on me. The hard lessons I learned seem to mellow, and I forget. Then, I am prone to take chances. So hang on, until my next adventure, for it is sure to come!

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