JIM MANN The Daily Inter Lake KALISPELL (AP)
It happened in a flash, and Thomas Nerison did not have the bear spray he almost always carries on his runs in Glacier National Park. The 60-year-old Kalispell man was on the Lake McDonald Valley Trail Sunday morning, attempting to rendezvous with a group of fellow runners, when he heard a dog bark. "Within a minute of hearing that dog bark, I heard a commotion behind me," Nerison said. "I saw two grizzly bears running down the trail in the same direction I was going but moving much faster." There was no time to climb a tree, no time to even get out of the way. "I don't think the bear knew I was there until he was almost upon me. He stopped just short, about three feet from me," Nerison related on Tuesday, a day spent mostly on the telephone recounting the story to friends and the media. "He started advancing on me, and I knew he was going to try to bite me, so I kicked at him and he backed off. He came at me a second time, and I kicked again, but fell," Nerison said. "So he came at me again ... He got ahold of my shoes and pulled them both off without actually biting my feet." The bear lunged at Nerison again, this time biting his right calf. "I located a small stick, and I hit it in the face with the stick, and he backed off again," he said. "He immediately came in and got ahold of my thigh and that was the more severe bite." Nerison found a larger stick, several feet long, and prepared for the attack to resume, but it didn't. "I think he sensed that I was neutralized," Nerison said. The bear retreated the direction he had come from and disappeared into the trees. "I have absolutely no idea" where the other bear went, Nerison said, noting that it did not run past him so it probably veered off the trail before reaching him. Nerison said he gradually got to his feet, testing his right leg and deciding that he could walk. Because he was about a mile-and-a-half up the trail from his car at Avalanche Campground, Nerison decided to bushwhack his way a much shorter distance to Going-to-the-Sun Road, which roughly parallels the trail. "It was probably 300 yards to the road ... I was in my stocking feet but I was pretty adrenaline-pumped," he said. "I was pretty motivated to keep moving." He flagged down a car on Sun Road and got a ride back to his vehicle at Avalanche. He initially intended to stop for help in the park but found that he was able to keep driving. "I just felt it was just going to delay my inevitable trip to the ER if I stopped," said Nerison, who estimates he was on Sun Road at 10 a.m. and reached Kalispell Regional Medical Center by 11 a.m. He said he was not bleeding badly, partly because he was wearing "really tight" running pants. "I think they helped constrict the blood flow," he said. The initial sight of the bears, he said, triggered a "heart-in-my-throat" feeling, but an instinct other than fear took over when the bear attacked. "I think anyone would go into a survival mode, where you're past being afraid and you're living in the moment," Nerison said. "I was just defending myself, trying to anticipate his aggression and trying to counter it. I wasn't really thinking about how afraid I was. I was thinking how I could keep from getting hurt." Nerison said he is certain that he heard a barking dog that possibly was at a Sun Road pullout, and he is "entirely convinced that these bears were retreating from something that alarmed them." Forgetting his bear spray, he said, was a fluke. "This was extremely unusual that I didn't have my bear spray," said Nerison, who typically runs with a group of friends in the park. Nerison said he will have several procedures at the hospital over the next few days to clean and dress his bite wounds. "Bears have a lot of bacteria in the mouths and the puncture wounds are quite deep so (hospital medical staffers) are concerned about infection," Nerison said. The wounds are painful, he said, and it is difficult for him to walk. "I think the confrontation and the results were very minimal compared to what they could have been," he said. Amy Vanderbilt, Glacier's public affairs officer, said management action against the bear is not likely because of the surprise nature of the encounter and because the bears have not been located in subsequent patrols on the trail, which has been temporarily closed.