They tell you to make noise while moving through the woods in Alaska. This increases the likelihood that a bear will hear you and therefore not be surprised or threatened by you. This makes sense, except that making noise can quickly become a chore.
How to get around that and still make your presence known?
There are lots of different ways to make noise, but one of my favorites is singing. Usually, the tunes are busted out at a point in the hike or backpack when exhaustion has fully taken over and exchanging coherent sentences (sometimes called "conversation") is no longer an option. That's typically later in the evening, when there are few other hikers on the trail to suffer from the noise, and when the bears are likely to be active.
I imagine that the combined effect of exhaustion and exertion doesn't help me to sing well. Luckily, to my knowledge there is no proof of this because none of my friends have been cruel enough to record the moment. What I will say is, whatever it sounds like, bears tend to steer clear of several tired hikers yowling Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" into the woods.
Leading up to this point of breaking into song, which I do actually think of as a breakdown of sorts, are other equally terrible/wonderful noisemaking tactics.
The first, as you well know, is shouting "HEY BEAR." This is my least favorite way to make noise in the woods. Almost as bad are bear bells, but that's only because I find their incessant jangling insanity-making. I don't like the classic "hey bear" shout for several reasons. It's unoriginal, and also it's impossible not to feel silly saying the same thing over and over in a way that makes me hate my own voice. Most importantly though, I don't like "hey bear" because shouting it makes it sound like there is actually a bear on the trail.
Depending on where I am and what time of day it is, there are likely other hikers out on the other side of the brush I'm traveling through. I have been on the other side and heard what sounded like a thin, terrified "...BEAR!" This is kind of scary. My takeaway is, if you are going to say the same thing over and over, try "HEEEYYY-OOOOOO." You can clap if you want, but for me clapping feels... well... silly. I love Alaska scenery as much as the next person, but not to the point of applause (unless a mountain peak or sunset did a really, particularly nice job of being there).
Another great way to make noise in the woods is getting my hiking companions to talk, a lot. The best part about this is, especially on the up hills, they will create noise while I am busy trying to disguise being winded. The other best part is that the woods create a wide, expansive universe in which to have an endless conversation. For someone who is extroverted like me, it's a wonderful thing. For someone more introverted, it might completely defeat the point of going into the calm quiet of the outdoors. To that I would counter: bears are introverted, too, and if you talk they will leave.
Eventually, though, especially on a backpacking trip, conversation topics run out or start to feel strained. That's when a funny thing happens.
Games, the type I played as a child during endless, stuffy road trips with my sister and parents, start to sound okay.
I say "okay" because fun is a relative term. From where I sit right now, okay is what the games sound like. But on the trail, when compared to focusing on my blisters, rain-soggy gear, and profound need for a hamburger, games sound marvelously entertaining.
A high caliber, creative game to start with is classic: "Would You Rather." One hiker will ask a question like, "Would you rather have hiccups for the rest of your life, or feel like you need to sneeze but not be able to?" Then the other hikers answer and discuss until it's the next hiker's turn. "Would You Rather" can be G-rated or not. How you play depends on the company you keep, and can tell you lots about the inner workings of your hiking companions, for better or worse.
Another creative game that will generate conversation sure to drive away bears, and possibly hiking companions, is "Kiss, Kill, or Marry." First, a player offers three choices. Then other players choose whom they would kiss, kill, or marry. For example: Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre, Laurie from Little Women, or Westley from Princess Bride. Kiss, kill, or marry?
When the creativity is waning, which it will, riddles start to sound palatable. I offer you a riddle to start with: It's the beginning of the end, and the end of time and space. It's essential to creation, and it surrounds every place.
Maybe you already know the answer. Maybe you will think about it for a while, or ask around the office. Or maybe you will Google it immediately. Either way, learn it and try to remember it next time you're hiking.
Finally, when the slog is almost over and hamburgers are nearing, it's time to play the tantalizing game of "I went to a picnic and I brought..."
This is the game where each hiker goes through the alphabet, repeating what has already been said and adding an example.
For instance: "I went to a picnic and I brought an Apple pie. OW, these mosquitoes are awful."
"I went to a picnic and I brought an Apple pie and a Bear Tooth seared salmon burrito. I brought five Bear Tooth seared salmon burritos. I want to eat all of them..." etc., all the way through Z.
Noise-making to keep the bears away can be so much more than a holler. So brush up on your Beatles and riddles for the next time you're planning a trip into the woods. I'll hear you there.
Alli Harvey lives, works and plays in Anchorage.