My gray and red accented Altra sneakers rhythmically pounded on the cushion of pine needles and decaying plant life that made up the trail. Although, 5:00 am, it was summer in Seward, Alaska, and it had been light for about 2 hours already. I breathed in the fresh air, and readjusted my grip on the can of bear spray I always ran with.
My love for trail running began on the beautiful, forested trails of south central PA, and then migrated to the mountainous trails of Utah and Idaho. I had never seen any wildlife while running on any of these trails, and my mind rarely thought about what I would do if such a circumstance would occur. It just seemed so unlikely. However, after seeing multiple bears on our drive up to Alaska, and seeing one that wasn't even afraid to come right up to our van, I had a heightened awareness of the possibility of seeing a lot more wildlife on these Alaskan trails! Now, unlike my trail running experiences in the lower 48, my mind was constantly aware of the potential danger I faced. Most of my first few runs weren't all that enjoyable. Yelling, 'Hey Bear!!' about every 30 seconds for a 4 mile run gets pretty exhausting! And it was hard to enjoy the beautiful scenery when every patch of brown or fluttering bird made my heart race.
Yet, I had not come to Alaska to sit inside, or live in fear of running with bears! I had come to Alaska to live! So, I did the best thing I knew to do; I educated myself. I learned about the various techniques to prevent bear encounters, and what to expect and how to respond if I did have a bear encounter. Learning those skills didn't change the fact that I would still be running with bears, but it did increase my confidence and helped me to feel less stress and anxiety while running, so I could enjoy the beautiful Alaskan landscape!
I focused my attention back to the trail as it weaved its way between tall pine trees draped with mint green moss. The sound of rushing water tumbling over rocks and fallen trees drowned out other morning sounds as the trail approached a wide, but shallow stream. The trail continued on the other side of the stream, but having previously decided to turn around once I reached this point, I paused on the trail to stretch before heading back. I reached my hands down to my toes, stretching out my hamstrings. As I brought my head back up, a large object moving in the brush by the edge of the stream not 20 ft from me caught my eye. Immediately all my senses were alert! There in front of me was a bear, and I was all alone with a can of bear spray! Everything that I had learned flashed through my head, 'talk calmly to the bear,' 'don't run or turn your back,' 'slowly back away,' but before I could even take the cap off the bear spray, the bear's head jolted up, he turned abruptly on his hind legs, and bounded away up and over a small hill. Stunned, but not wanting to wait around to see if he'd come back, I immediately started backing up, and then once around a corner I turned and started running! In between sprinting down the trail, dodging rocks and roots, I would occasionally glance over my shoulder to make sure the bear hadn't changed his mind and decided to chase after me!
Although terrifying, my brief bear encounter did not stop me from continuing to explore the captivating trails of Alaska! It reinforced to me the importance of always being aware and consistent in the precautions I took.
Alaska isn't the only place I find myself 'running with bears', though. My life is full of 'bears' that I have to deal with everyday. Some are small, but so dang persistent and just as debilitating. My fear to take action, my impatience or frustration with the current state of my life, my personal doubts and insecurities, my limiting beliefs, etc. Others only confront me once in awhile. The stress of finances, moving, car troubles, getting sick or injured, having conflicting view points with someone, etc. And then there are some that I don't even know when or if I'll ever confront them, but they are still out there, always looming. The death of a loved one, being diagnosed with a life altering disease, being permanently injured, financial crisis, etc.
All of these different kinds of 'bears' could cause me to live in stress and fear, or to limit my choice of activities and interactions in an effort to keep myself 'safe.' But this life was not meant to be lived in fear or 'locked inside.' It was meant to be lived! We can't eliminate all the 'bears' in our lives, but we don't just have to be victims to them either! There are specific strategies and tactics we can learn to help us prevent 'bear encounters,' and to be better prepared to deal with 'bear encounters' when they do happen! While there are many very effective and powerful tools that you can learn and implement into your life, I would like to recommend just two right now. 1)Be Offensive 2) Be Focused
When I would go trail running, I always had my bear spray in my hand or strapped directly on my chest (when mountain biking), so that I could have immediate access to it. I didn't just toss it in a backpack or bring it occasionally, it was always on me and available to use immediately!
How can you be on the offensive in life? Create consistent habits that 'arm' you mentally so that when life hits you with it's unexpected challenges, whether small or big, you don't have to scramble to figure out what to do or wish you had been prepared, you'll already have developed the habits that create mental strength. What are these habits? Expressing gratitude everyday. Learning to be more in-tune to yourself and how to understand and appreciate the message your feelings are telling to you. Recognizing and learning to control the meanings you give to what you experience each and every day. And taking complete ownership of your life, deciding to be the one to move it positively forward instead of always reacting to life's circumstances. Being on the offensive means you make the plays!
2) Be Focused
A powerful strategy I used for preventing unwanted bear encounters was to make sure the bears knew I was there! I would either yell, "hey bear!" as I came near turns in the trail, or I would play music, or run with a bell. When I made my purpose clear to the bears, 'I am coming through, you better move!' more often then not, they got out of the way and avoided contact!
How can being more focused help you avoid 'bears' in your life? Well, where focus goes, energy flows! Basically, whatever you are focusing on, that is what you are going to get! Our minds do not know what is real or what is imagined, but it is going to put into reality whatever you are feeding it on a consistent basis! So, we need to feed it images and beliefs that we do want out of life! We need to have a clear focus! Even if you don't know every exact detail of what you want out of life or what your exact purpose is, you can still have greater focus and clarity. You want to be happy, right? What does that look like to you? You want to feel loved and appreciated, right? What does that look like for you? You want to feel like you are positively impacting others, right? What does that look like for you? Whatever images you created for those questions, that's what you want to focus on! And once again, consistency is key!
I know that bear attacks do happen, and they are very real and scary! I don't want to trivialize the reality of this inherent risk, especially the 'bears' that we confront in our individual lives. However, I also know that there is a beautiful world out there that is meant to be explored and enjoyed! And we can't do that if we live in fear! Don't live in fear. Don't limit what you can experience in this life. Prepare yourself, strengthen yourself, and live!
Ryan & Courtney Bringhurst, we are a happily married power couple! Our purpose together is to inspire and uplift others to live the life they were meant to live, as well as to find true joy and satisfaction in their life's journey.