When the park rangers arrived, they found a man in the river screaming and crying with the intensity usually associated with a man who just watched his entire family slaughtered by a drug cartel. The rangers knew something unspeakable was happening as they rushed to the river to investigate.
But before we continue this true story, lets back up.
It was a day just like any other in the Backcountry Information Center in Denali National Park when a guy walked in with a can of bear spray on one hip and a gun on the other. The park rangers told the man that a gun was not allowed in the building.
This led to a small argument, with the man spouting out references to the 2nd amendment, freedom, ‘Murica, and FOX news. The man was there to take a course on bear safety before venturing into the wilderness for a camping trip. He was already not well liked by the rangers.
The next day the hiker got off the bus near the Toklat River and began his hiking excursion, bear spray on one hip, pistol on the other. He was loaded for bear, in more ways than one. There are differing stories to this day as to what happened next. Some people say the bear spray got caught on his backpack, others say that it got tangled in his mesh underwear. But this much we know is true: The man only made it a few feet off the road when the bear spray went off, unloading the entire bottle on his privates, marinating his meatballs in capsicum pepper spray.
The man plunged himself in the Toklat River and began what can only be imagined as desperate lavage.
Meanwhile, someone called the rangers and announcements went out over the radio.
“I think water actually makes it worse,” declared one of the rangers, who called for someone to bring a bottle of orange soda he had at the station. He thought the acids might make an antidote. Lavage continued with orange soda, adding a citrus marinade flavor to the pepper marinated balls.
EMS was called, and as the man suffered in the river, updates were given over the radio.
“The orange soda does not seem to be working,” one announcement declared.
“The subject is now reporting that he is going numb,” said another.
One of the rangers said he had milk in his room at the nearby housing unit and went to get it, thinking it might alleviate the pain. But before he could make it with the cooling potion, EMS arrived, loaded the victim, and took him away.
The bear spray victim’s hiking trip may have only lasted about 15 seconds, but his legend lives on in Denali. His crying and wailing is actually what makes the northern lights, in case you didn’t know.
If you are still reading, you are probably wondering what the heck this story is all about. Last year, I was in a dive bar in Anchorage talking to a park ranger and two co-workers. They told me the four funniest bear spray stories I’d ever heard, and evidently having too much time on my hands, I decided to draw them. To read parts 1-3, click on the links below.
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