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Don’t Test the Bear Mace

Pilgrim Hot Springs

If you know anything about bear mace, you may be wondering to yourself how and why someone would ever test the bear mace??! Well, I will tell you how, and why this came to be. But first……. Renee.

These last few weeks I was honored to have my best friend, Miss Renee Clapp, in town for a visit. Hailing all the way from the Buffalo, NY, I know the trip is no easy task. But she came, just the same, and it made my heart sing.

Before she got here, I was really prepping on being a good host. I planned on making a to-do list for each day, to ensure maximum activity completion. However, once I started doing that, I realized having a rigid schedule can make things difficult. So I rearranged the to-do list to be more flexible and be simply what it was: a list of things to do over the course of ten days while she was here.

It included seeing the various spots of town, by visiting different venues and getting a feeling of the overall atmosphere. It then extended outward, to hikes on the tundra and up Anvil, bonfires on the beach, walks through the cemetery and by the harbor, explorations to abandoned dredges, and of course mushing and fishing ventures.

Renee learning Native games

Renee learning Native games

I had planned two larger and longer trips that included the roommates, as most of us had been to neither Council nor Pilgrim Hot Springs. We couldn’t have asked for better weather as we ventured out to Council first on a Saturday with Jenn and Emily. We were surprised at how much warmer it was inland, and were second-guessing our choices of T-shirt and jeans attire. Some pit stops were made at the Last Train to Nowhere and Safety Roadhouse: The last stop on the Iditarod Trail. True to tradition, Renee left her $1 mark on the walls there.

The next day was our long-awaited trip to Pilgrim Hot Springs, a place we had been wanting to get to since our arrival last summer. Our three car caravan trekked 60-ish miles north, on the way stopping to refill our bottles with fresh spring water and re-up on the bug spray. (Even still- they were relentless!) With full stomachs after a packed lunch and some exploration, we found ourselves out by one of the renovated tubs. It was able to be filled, but the water was so hot we realized we’d have to wait hours just for it to cool down. Instead we opted to enjoy each other’s company and bask in the sun, amidst one of the most beautiful sights I’d ever seen.

Pilgrim Hot Springs

Pilgrim Hot Springs

We felt lazy in the summer heat as we trudged back to the car and away from utter paradise. The cold waters of Salmon River woke us right up though, as we stopped for a bit of bridge jumping. A hot meal of fresh salmon caught by a friend was a happy greeting home, and the end to a very fulfilling weekend.

Besides all the fun-having, I made sure to put Renee to work too. I recorded her voice for a handful of spots, and showed her how to mix a spot using music beds and sound effects in Adobe Audition. She was a hard-working co-deejay, especially when she helped program and go live on-air for AK Country. She also helped prepare and consume for Breakfast Wednesday (the best day of the week!)

Putting Renee to work

Putting Renee to work

What I thought was going to feel like a nice long trip went by in an instant. I was so sad to see her go, but know that I will be seeing her in just over a month!

Oh… and about the bear mace?? I thought you’d never ask.

The “Incident” actually took place the day after Renee’s departure. Emily, Jenn, and I were slated to take a guided tour of the Copper Canyon. Since we were so close to Salmon Lake, we took a drive after our hike to enjoy some time near the water. As we laid our jackets down on the bank, I began to instruct Emily and Jenn on how to use the mace if ever needed. Pretty simple really- just take off the safety, aim and pull the trigger. Like a gun, but not. Oh, and close your eyes- you definitely DO NOT want that stuff in your eyes.

Pre-mace happiness

Pre-mace happiness

As a curious and investigative newsie would, Jenn asks me if it works. Of course it does! Well, I think so, I’ve never tried it, and was told not to, but… I guess if I spray it at the ground it won’t be in the air to get into my eyes… right??

Now, without actually thinking this through at all, I pulled the trigger, and WHOA! It blasts back onto the lower portion of my face, so the area surrounding my mouth feels like it’s on fire. What…  a… moron.

I run to the lake and start splashing water in and around my mouth. Emily warns me “Don’t drink standing water! It could have disease in it.” Okay. Spit out water. Mouth still on fire. I’m laughing and talking all the while, in slight shock at what just happened, but then again, this WOULD happen to me.

Unable to keep the contaminated area cool, I modify my strategy and literally lay at the edge of the lake, motioning my head back and forth to have a constant stream of cool water against my face.

You don't want this to be you

You don’t want this to be you

While this is going on, Jenn kindly picks up the can to read the “If in contact with bear mace” section. Unknowingly she touches her eye at some point during this mess, and also ends up with me in the lake, washing her eye out.

Ever-glorious Emily sits and watches us as she suns, two fools splashing around disturbing the peaceful setting, and laughs. We all were laughing. Who DOES that? Macing yourself. Yep, check that off the bucket list.

Renee left a day too early; she would have loved seeing the comical events of The Bear Mace Incident unfold. As for us? Oh, we learned our lesson. Do not, I repeat DO NOT, test the bear mace. It works. Trust me.



  1. Barbara Johnson on July 19, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    Loved your story – good work. kept us at the edge of our seats.

  2. Carol Heyne on July 21, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    Loved the story, as I often wondered if the mace works. Thanks for testing it!!