The Bear Spray Escapade

This week we welcome Jeff Havig, a geochemist currently at the University of Cincinnati to share a story about misused bear spray. For Jeff’s and his colleague Allie’s biography, check out the end of the post.

The experience in question for me happened when I was part of a larger group collecting geochemical samples of water at springs and outflow channels. A colleague (Allie) and I had broken off from the main group to sample some springs and pools (filter water, collect sediment samples, etc.).

We were in Grizzly country, so we had a can of bear spray with us. While we were sampling, I needed to use the little geochemists room (aka find a tree to pee behind), so I was going to leave the spray with Allie. The can was a few years old, and she was pondering/questioning its efficacy, so I stepped back, checked the wind direction, chose a target, and discharged a short burst at a nearby tree stump (the spray worked fine).

Jeff trying out the bear spray

The picture of the spray that would be Allie’s undoing.

Allie said that it had looked really cool, and so she wanted me to repeat the exercise so that she could get a picture of it. So I rechecked the wind (still light and at my back), took aim at the same tree stump, and discharged a short burst, which Allie did indeed get a picture of.

However, the wind then abruptly shifted, and to my utter surprise and absolute horror, the spray literally took a 90 degree turn mid-flight, and instead of hitting the hapless target stump it proceeded to travel straight at Allie, making full and complete contact with her face.

Following the initial shock, we then proceeded to apply all of our drinking water to her face to try to alleviate the intense burning. She remembers “finding the whole situation hilarious enough to giggle madly”, which made me a little worried that she was getting hysterical. To her credit, she was able to hold rational conversations about what I was doing to help alleviate her suffering as every mucous membrane in her face exploded. After we were nearly out of water, we decided to try using the local silica-rich clay soil/mud to make a slurry for her to rub on her face, which seemed to help.

"Getting sprayed in the face with bear spray had me like..."

“Getting sprayed in the face with bear spray had me like…”

Allie in her pretend trumpet pose

Ricola – a pretend victory trumpet pose after surviving the whole event.

After about an hour, her misery was down to a dull roar, and we packed up to rejoin the main group. Naturally, I felt like a complete and total goon for having shot (albeit indirectly and unintentionally) my colleague (and very good friend) in the face with bear spray! After time this has become a great story to tell, and to her credit, Allie not only still talks to me, but we are still quite good friends and collaborators…a testament to her fortitude and great sense of humor about the whole matter.


Jeff Havig is a geochemist currently at the University of Cincinnati in the Department of Geology. He studies the interaction between water, rock, and microbial communities at a wide range of sites including hot springs, redox-stratified meromictic lakes, supraglacial and subglacial environments, and acid mine drainage. He earned his B.Sc. in Environmental Chemistry and M.Sc. in Geology at Washington State University and his Ph.D. in Geochemistry at Arizona State University. He splits his time between filtering water and collecting biofilms in the field, processing samples in the lab, converting gobs of data into manuscripts with his life-collaborator Dr. Trinity Hamilton, and digging around in his garden.

Allie Rutledge is a geologist at Purdue University who is currently working remotely from Clermont-Ferrand, France. She studies glacial weathering using a combination of techniques including remote sensing, spectroscopy, and geochemistry. She is particularly interested in terrestrial analogues to Mars, such as glaciated basalt flows. Allie earned her B.Sc. in Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M University and her Ph.D. in Geosciences at Arizona State University. When she isn’t pouring over spectra from Earth and Mars, she can be found hiking the local hills, spending time with her favorite volcanologist (and husband) Jean-François Smekens, and plotting Jeff’s demise for the next time they are in the field together.

2 thoughts on “The Bear Spray Escapade

  1. Pingback: The Fire and Ice Tour – Part 1 | Dispatches from the Field

  2. Pingback: Dispatches from 2016 | Dispatches from the Field

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