KALISPELL, Mont. – 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 on 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 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 said Tuesday.
When the bear advanced, Nerison kicked at it, but he fell. “He got ahold of my shoes and pulled them both off without actually biting my feet,” he said.
The bear lunged at Nerison again, biting his right calf. He found a small stick and hit the bear in the face. The bear bit Nerison’s thigh. “That was the more severe bite,” he said.
Nerison found a larger stick and prepared for the attack to resume, but it didn’t.
“I think he sensed that I was neutralized,” Nerison said. The bear retreated and disappeared into the trees.
Nerison said he got to his feet, tested his right leg and decided he could walk. He bushwhacked his way about 300 yards to Going-to-the-Sun Road, which roughly parallels the trail.
“I was in my stocking feet, but I was pretty adrenaline-pumped,” he said.
He flagged down a car, got a ride back to his vehicle and drove himself to Kalispell Regional Medical Center.
“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 will have several procedures at the hospital over the next few days to clean and dress his bite wounds.
“I think the confrontation and the results were very minimal compared to what they could have been,” he said.