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Sam Cook, Forum Communications, Published August 23 2012

Man wakes up from outdoor nap to find bear hovering over him

DULUTH, Minn. – John Steitz remembers having a dream while he was napping along the Superior Hiking Trail on Tuesday afternoon.

A very vivid dream.

Steitz, 26, and his hiking partner, Samuel Roberts, 25, both of Minneapolis, had started hiking about 5:30 a.m. near Beaver Bay. They stopped to rest at a campsite along the trail just after noon.

“I was just on top of my sleeping bag, in the shade by Penn Creek,” Steitz said. “In my dream, I was playing with a dog. The dog was jumping on me, scratching me, licking my face – the playful puppy thing.”

At some point, Steitz woke up from his dream.

“I opened my eyes, and there was a bear on top of me with its face in my face,” Steitz said. “I kind of opened my eyes and gave a, ‘What-the-expletive?’ ”

When he leaned forward, the bear backed away to about 5 feet. Steitz has seen bears before, both black bears and grizzlies. He described this black bear as “hefty.”

“It wasn’t the biggest black bear I’ve seen, but a bear seems much bigger when it’s that close,” he said.

The bear stared at Steitz from 5 feet away. Steitz yelled at it, after which it scampered across the creek about 10 feet away. He awoke Roberts, and the two began banging pans and hitting them with a hatchet. The bear slowly moved away.

“He didn’t turn around and bolt,” Steitz said. “He walked slowly and stopped every few feet to look back.”

Steitz, who makes his living as a sound engineer, suspects the bear happened upon the resting hikers and moved in to inspect them, possibly thinking Steitz was a carcass of some sort.

“Maybe he sensed the sweat on my face and decided to give it a lick,” he said.

Bob Kirsch, area wildlife manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources at Two Harbors, said Steitz called him to tell him about the incident. Kirsch can’t be sure what the bear was thinking.

“Probably it was curious,” Kirsch said. “It saw something it didn’t quite understand and took a couple pokes at him. Sometimes they’re sort of curious.”

It’s hard to know for sure what the bear was doing to Steitz while he dreamed. But the bear left no marks on him, Steitz said.

“Not a scratch,” he said.

Steitz and Roberts stayed awake at Penn Creek for a couple of hours, resting, then hiked on toward Silver Bay.

That night they camped just north of Silver Bay – on Bear Lake.


Sam Cook writes for the Duluth News Tribune.


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