After years of stomping around the grizzly haunts of the wildest coast of North America without a serious bear encounter, forester Rick Rogers never imagined the first and only close call of his life would come in an Anchorage park visited by thousands of people.
On Saturday, the 50-year-old competitive skier and triathlete was run over by a grizzly as he and a running buddy were finishing a three-hour workout that took them from Hillside Park up to the base of Flattop Mountain and back.
Rogers happened to be wearing a heart-rate monitor for training at the time. He thought his maximum heart rate was 180. He later looked at the monitor and realized he'd hit 193.
"You hear about people dying of fright," he said. "Well, this was scary, and I've the data to prove it. I think it aged me about five years."
Rogers suffered no injuries, though a friend who witnessed the attack before chasing the bear away found that hard to believe.
"He thought I'd been hurt and didn't know it,'' Rogers said. "He kept asking me, 'Are you sure you're not bleeding?' "
The friend talked to the Daily News about the encounter on a Hillside Park trail known as "Double Bubble" but asked not to be identified. He has not told his children what happened, and he is afraid that if they find out, they will be afraid to run and mountain-bike on local trails.
The kids, he said, have already been traumatized by a bad moose encounter. That left them nervous about trail use, he said. He fears the prospect of running into a bear could be enough to convince them to totally abandon recreation on area trails.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologists warn that people can meet bears on trails anywhere in the Anchorage area, but the odds increase in the area of the Campbell Tract, Bicentennial Park and Hillside Park.
Those parks abut Chugach State Park and the Fort Richardson Military Reservation, and together they cover a large area of wild land that extends nearly into the city's Midtown district.
Recent studies have found this area home to a large and healthy grizzly population. It was one of those bears that Rogers and his friend met. The friend said he is happy now that the two of them were running together.
"I generally don't run alone,'' he added.
Bear attacks -- already uncommon -- are even less common on groups of people. The bigger the group, the lower the odds a bear will attack.
The attack on Rogers and his friend does, however, fit one common pattern. The two men stumbled into a sow with two cubs that she felt she had to protect.
"She was scared. We were scared. Looking back, it was pandemonium," Rogers said. "It was chaos. It seemed like it lasted a lifetime, but it was probably only 15 seconds."
When they first encountered the bear, Rogers' friend thought it was just another Hillside moose, a brown object moving in the brush.
In a terrifying split second, though, his impression changed.
"I thought, 'This can't be a bear,' " he said. "She was coming out of the brush hauling ass."
He fended her off with ski poles he was carrying, and she stopped. Two cubs the size of puppies came out of the woods. Rogers decided to make for a nearby tree, thinking he could climb it or at least put something between the bear and himself.
As soon as Rogers moved, the bear abandoned the standoff with his friend and charged.
"I instantly trip," Rogers said. "I'm thinking, 'Boy, this is dumb.' But in hindsight, that was probably the best thing I could do.''
Once on the ground, Rogers was no threat. Still, she kept coming. He took his last look when she was a few yards away.
"It was time to go fetal,'' he said.
Rogers covered up. The bear ran over him or just beside him. He thinks it was next to him.
His friend, who thought Rogers was being attacked and gave chase to the bear, thinks the animal ran over the prone man. Whatever the case, it was followed by the cubs.
"They were so close, I could have just picked them up,'' Rogers said.
He didn't. He got up and regrouped with his friend.
They tried to leave immediately, but the bear came back. They made themselves big, waved their ski poles in the air and yelled at the bear to go away.
It left in the direction of the Black Bear and Brown Bear trails in a city that promotes itself with the slogan "Big Wild Life."
Outdoors editor Craig Medred can be reached at email@example.com or 257-4588.