Within the last wild lands of North America dwells an animal that inspires respect and fear around the world. It is the grizzly bear, a living legend of the wilderness. Grizzlies can sprint thirty-five plus miles an hour, smell carrion at nine or more miles, and drag a thousand-pound animal up steep mountains. The grizzly bear is one of a very few animals remaining on earth that can kill a human in physical combat. It can decapitate with a single swipe, or grotesquely disfigure a person in rapid order. Within the last wilderness areas where they dwell, they are the undisputed king of all beasts. I know this all very well. My name is Timothy Treadwell, and I live with the wild grizzly.
The path that led me to the land of the grizzly was far more dangerous than the bears themselves. I was the third of five children, raised in New York State. My parents loved me and did the best they could, but I was a handful. I wasn't a criminal kid, just a bit mischievous, with the heart of a wild animal.
Since I was very young, animals have meant a great deal to me. As a child, I donned imaginary wings, claws, and fangs. To me, animals possessed the innocence and freedom that I could only wish for. My childhood was haunted by fantasies of riding away on a wild horse, or running far and fast with a pack of timber wolves.
I daydreamed throughout my school years. Sometimes I rocketed into outer space, exploring other worlds. Other times I cruised the Old West with my best friends, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In my head I became a grizzly, roaming the great north, or a Bengal tiger in the lush jungles of Asia. I always came out of my fantasy world just enough to pass all of my classes. Actually, I got above average grades. My buddy Butch Cassidy knew algebra and biology.
As a young boy, an incident occurred that would change my life forever. One day at a pond, my friend Ricky and I happened on some older kids who were throwing frogs high into the air and splattering them on the muddy water's surface. They had a bucket full of the hapless little creatures, and one by one, they were murdering them. I tried to rescue the frogs, but the two boys were not only older than I was, they were tougher. They tossed me into the reeds like a rag doll. Ricky tried to help, but was quickly pummeled and ran off crying with a face full of dirt. Thinking they were rid of us, the thugs continued their executions. But I was determined to set the frogs free. Crawling out of the weeds, I found a long wooden plank and sneaked up on the punks. I smacked one from behind, and hit the other full in the face with the board. I ran them off, swinging wildly at their backs. Then I liberated the frogs. An eco-warrior was born.
As I became a teenager, my home life disintegrated. Especially after I got stinking drunk, smashed up the family car, and was arrested. Bingeing on beer and Tom Collinses became my preferred pastime, and my studies were all but forgotten. After just barely graduating from high school, I left home. In my chaotic state, abandoning my family was the best gift I could give them.
I landed in Long Beach, California, an overactive street punk without any skills, prospects, or hopes. What little assets and attributes I possessed were quickly devoured by a voracious drinking problem. Alcohol soon gave way to drugs. If alcohol was slowly consuming my soul, drugs would quickly incinerate it.
My downward spiral continued on life's darker side. I medicated myself with lines of cocaine, buckets of booze, and sprinkled in the new thrills of crystal meth and Quaaludes. Incidents of madness and danger occurred with frightening frequency.
One evening I was invited to a private party by some low-life drug dealers. One of the scumbags, Turk, was constantly putting me down and intimidating me.
"You're one of those maggot hanger-on types, ain't ya, Treadwell?" said Turk while chopping lines of glittering snowy powder. "You'd probably blow us all for our coke!"
"Fuck you, Turk," I snapped back.
"You'd love to, wouldn't you, faggot boy?" said Turk.
I was standing over Turk in the dining room, where he sat hunched at the head of the table, when a rage came over me. I kicked my tennis shoe into Turk's smug face, knocking him backward into an expensive antique hutch. Fine china avalanched to the ground, some cracking over Turk's bloody mug. The other three dope dealers lit into me. None of them was much bigger than me, but they were tougher than nails. They punched and slapped at me, then flung me headfirst into a wall. Curiously, my head went through the wall, and I was suddenly gazing into the kitchen. Dazed, I looked around, momentarily awed by the shiny, well-appointed room. Meanwhile, the dopers were still in the dining room with the rest of my body, kicking and striking me with abandon. Growling, I extricated my torso from the kitchen, grabbed a heavy wooden chair, and began spinning around like a top. Different parts of the chair smacked the guys on the heads and shoulders, and sent them crashing into the furniture. The dining table flipped over, flinging several hundred dollars' worth of cocaine and a bevy of half-drunk cocktails to the hardwood floor. I caught a large, pricey chandelier with one leg of the chair, and a fireworks explosion of glass and sparkling, shattered lightbulbs flew through the air. The battered drug dealers lay on the ground or against stained walls. Then one grabbed a .357 magnum. The moment I spied that, I retreated out the front door, across the manicured lawn, and into the quiet streets. Randy, the one with the gun, pursued me, quickly cocking the weapon. My knee was battered, and the pain slowed me down. Randy cornered me, and with both hands pointed the gun at my head.
"Kill me, motherfucker!" I screamed. "Enjoy your life in prison!"
Neighborhood lights were blinking on. Randy placed the gun in his waistband.
"Fucking Treadwell," he said. Shaking his head, he walked away.
In the weeks that followed, I sank lower and lower, living in a paranoid, spooky, surreal nightmare. I armed myself, walking in public with a Ruger 9-millimeter pistol concealed in the waistband of my trousers. At night I slept with a locked and loaded M-16. I was fearless, dangerous, and vicious. Instinct told me to leave this life behind, but instead of running away, I stayed chained to my path of self-destruction.
One evening, when I had drunk more beer than usual, I needed some drugs to level me out. In my world there were many dealers to choose from.
I decided to go to Rick and Dennis's house to get some cocaine. In the center of the living room stood a massive wooden table surrounded by cushy sofas. Heavy-metal music vibrated through the room. On the table lay lines of cocaine and balloons full of heroin.
"Man, where have you been?" asked Rick. "You're a mess! Come on, Tim, take a load off," he said, patting the seat next to him.
Dennis sat me down on one of the plush sofas and skillfully etched two thick lines on a mirror. The first was a familiar glittering granular column of gorgeous cocaine. The second, an alien mud-colored row. The brown stuff, Dennis explained, was kick-ass Mexican heroin. I snorted each vigorously, utilizing separate nostrils as Dennis beamed like a proud parent. Next, he sprinkled a bunch of the brown heroin on a piece of aluminum foil and lit the bottom. As the powder liquefied, he showed me how to inhale the raspy fumes. I repeated these activities a few times, eager to catch a new kind of buzz. Yet I didn't feel the promised heavenly highs of the drugs. Instead, something felt very wrong. Calmly, I asked Rick to step outside. My intoxication began to mutate, and whatever instinct of survival remained, it had Timothy Treadwell's full attention.
"Rick, I'm really sorry, but I'm feeling worse than sick," I whispered, watching his form shift and sway in front of me. "I think that maybe I ought to go to a hospital."
Now I'd pissed him off. "Treadwell, don't ruin my fucking night!" he spat at me. "We don't need this. Just get the hell home and sleep it off. You are such a pain in the ass!" he snapped, slamming the door in my face.
I started to stumble home, trying to take Rick's advice. But I couldn't quite make it. Gathering the last of my strength, I headed for Terry Tabor's house.
Terry was a good friend who had served two tours of duty in Vietnam. The military spirit was still with him, for he spoke in the clipped tones of an army sergeant.
"Treadwell, you're a good guy with your whole life ahead of you," Terry often told me. "Don't screw it up because of dope. You have too much to contribute to this world, soldier." I loved that Terry Tabor and often wished I could follow his advice.
Terry Tabor knew death all too well. His two tours of duty in Vietnam had been nightmares of carnage and dissolution. Terry Tabor knew all about drug overdoses, too. They had occurred in Vietnam, and here in his postwar world. Terry took one look at me and woke his girlfriend.
"Chrissy, fire up the van on the double!" he ordered. "We gotta move out and get Timmy to the hospital or we're going to lose him!"
I was vomiting on the front lawn, my head spinning out of control as they loaded me into the van. As Chrissy sped down the street, I finally felt the serene effects of the heroin. Not the highs that Rick and Dennis were chasing, simply the numbing sensation of incoming death.
Suddenly, a weight crushed my chest. Terry Tabor had me on the floor of the van and was using CPR, struggling to keep my heart beating. I was barely conscious as they rushed me into the ER, faces and noises swimming above my head. I was wheeled into the trauma unit, where frantic interns slapped a defibrillator to my chest and blasted my heart back to a beat. Once I was out of the woods, they hooked me up to an IV just to keep me stable after the overdose. Terry Tabor had saved my miserable life.
That close call with the grim reaper forced me to evaluate my status on earth. Timothy Treadwell was a minimum-wage-earning, name-tag-toting loser crippled by multiple poisonous addictions. I had nothing to contribute to society and no real future. Part of me had died during my ordeal, and another part of me wished I was dead. Yet something kept me clinging to a faint sense of hope. I remembered my desire as a child to ride away on a wild horse, or run far and fast with a pack of wolves. Somewhere, someplace, beyond the honk of horns and burning glare of city lights, was sanctuary. My sanctuary. With little more than a worthless life to lose, I had to find it or die trying.
I sought the counsel of my hero and friend Terry Tabor, hoping that he could give me some direction.
"OK, soldier," Terry drilled, "what is the main objective of your operation?"
"Terry, I've got to get out of here," I exclaimed. "I need to be somewhere really remote, far away from people."
"Alrighty, then, you've got half a plan. What would you like to see, where do you want to travel?" Terry asked.
"Somewhere beautiful, Terry. Somewhere with mountains, rivers, and cascading waterfalls. Most of all, somewhere where there aren't many people. I want to see animals. Lots of wild animals," I replied.
"Affirmative, son! Now your plan's starting to take shape! If you had your wish, what animal would you most like to see?" Terry inquired.
"Well, this might seem crazy, but when I was young I used to pretend I was a grizzly bear. I've always wanted to see bears, Terry," I said.
"Now there's an animal that could really kick some ass! Clean yourself up, Treadwell, get some cheap transportation, and get yourself out of here. If it's open land and wild animals that you want, there's no doubt about it, Alaska is the answer. Fucking-A right, soldier, Alaska!"
Excerpted from Among Grizzlies by Timothy Treadwell and Jewel Palovak. Copyright © 1999 by Timothy Treadwell and Jewel Palovak. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.