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 A Grizzly Encounter _ My trip to Alaska

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," says the man with the guy. "Always let the man with the gun go first."

The man with the gun is actually carrying two guns, a .44 magnum, and a Remington 12-gauge shotgun. We don't argue with the man with the gun. We quickly fall into line behind him.

Denny Mathews steps off the beach and into the brush slowly, looking both ways before each step. "If you see a bear, wait until he puts his head down and starts munching on grass before starting to walk away," he warns.

About forty yards later, we emerge into a huge salt grass meadow, bordered by snow-capped mountains. Off in the distance, perhaps four hundred yards away, we spot a grizzly bear with her cub. This was to be expected. We are, after all, at the Great Alaska Lake Clark Bear Camp.

I have flown in on a 3 passenger Cessna from the Kenai Peninsula, and for the next 24 hours my only company will be the three other guests, Denny, a crew of three, and an indeterminate number of bears. The only thing that's certain is that the bears will outnumber the people.

Once we're in the meadow, Denny turns to us and says, "I feel safer here among the bears than I do when I'm home in Ohio, jogging." This is all well and good to say, but I suspect that when Denny goes jogging, he doesn't pack a .44 magnum.

After lunch, I take a walk on the beach. Turning around, I spot something that causes my heart to jump into my mouth: Tracks! Big tracks. I start to panic, and my pulse is racing, until I realize that they're sneaker tracks, and I made them myself about 30 seconds earlier.

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