Six-Million Steps in a 70-Lb Bear Suit

Dave Cox, Outside’s man in the field, is driving west on New Mexico State Road 58, loaded for bear, on a bright Saturday afternoon in late August.

Actually, he’s bringing a breakfast burrito, a Snickers bar, and Gatorade to give to Bearsun, an anime-inspired creature developed by Los Angeles resident Jessy Larios, 33. Bearsun’s goal is to hike from Los Angeles to New York while wearing a full-body bear suit, earning thousands of dollars for five different charities along the way. He became a media celebrity throughout his treks through Arizona and New Mexico, and he was especially famous among the Navajo Nation, which spans both states. “Bearsun’s effect: Why are Diné obsessed with man in bear suit?” asked a columnist in the Navajo Times on August 16.

Cox had practically no idea about it until I contacted him yesterday and said something authoritative like “Help!” Please locate this teddy bear for me!” (I was unable to attend because I was stranded at home.) He got up early the next morning and drove 125 miles north from his house near Santa Fe in search of a six-foot-tall Endurance Muppet. Any analogy you draw between his mission and Stanley’s search for Livingstone is likely to be accurate.

Cox isn’t sure the quest will be successful as he travels through Hi Lo Country, a region east of the Rockies. All he has is a hazy social media update from Bearsun in Cimarron, New Mexico, stating that he was travelling east toward Springer. He’s currently investigating a 28-mile expanse of undulating grasslands, grazing antelope, and unending undulations, where he sees plenty of white-and-tan pronghorns but no indication of a man dressed in a white-and-tan bear suit practising cross-country Kabuki.

Hanging with fans in a roadside tent
Hanging with fans in a roadside tent (Photo: Dave Cox)

Cox completes the mission by heading down a draw toward Ponil Creek, a lovely small stream. He notices a lone guy off in the distance, and… yeah! Ho, bear! Bearsun isn’t always alone, as Cox will soon discover, and today he’s escorted by Theresa Galvan, the executive staff assistant to the president of the Navajo Nation, who has come out to ensure Bearsun’s safe passage through New Mexico. Theresa will gently cut in to hand Bearsun a plum later, when Cox is walking along with Bearsun, snapping photos and asking questions. A short distance down the road, the entire company will be asked to sit beneath an impromptu hospitality tent set up by a group of indigenous people who travelled up from all around New Mexico and Colorado just to say hello.

Cox walks up and introduces himself after parking and exiting his truck, and any apprehension he had about meeting our country’s most charismatic plush toy rapidly dissipates. Bearsun is a friendly person who loves to laugh, say “Let’s goooo!” free-associate (in one video, he says he’s going to walk from Florida to Alaska someday), and engage with hordes of people who want to connect, shoot a photo, or give him food, water, or a gift, as you can see from his Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts (where he has 131,000 followers and counting).

Cox presents Bearsun with a burrito filled with beans, cheese, and New Mexico red chile that he purchased from Pancho’s Gourmet To Go. Bearsun can slip it between the bottom of his huge headpiece—a spherical, bulbous item perched on top of a motorcycle helmet with two large, mesh-covered eyeholes—and his neck. The burrito disappears in the blink of an eye. It’s a good thing it wasn’t meat-based, because Bearsun is a vegetarian.

Cox quickly follows up with the obvious question: Why?

In an enthusiastic, slightly hoarse voice, Bearsun says, “Pretty much everything was based on an impulsive decision,” adding that the experiences he’s had have been fantastic and life-changing. He was treated like a returning astronaut by the Navajos. He was an honoured visitor at another remarkable spot two nights ago: Taos Pueblo. The Tiwa people there greeted him warmly, allowed him to film inside their church (something not just anybody gets to do), and informed him about significant events from their past, including the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, which began there under the direction of a famous figure known as Po’pay.

The cross-country hike, as Bearsun explained to Cox, just happened. In 2016, he made the costume for fun as part of his passion for cartoons and creative projects. (Bearsun drew the design and sent it to a costume-making firm in Los Angeles.) He’s also a runner, and he decided to run the Los Angeles Marathon in the bear outfit one year. He didn’t quite make it, but the experience inspired him to try again (which he did) and to imagine a completely other kind of marathon: philanthropic walking.

Bearsun started leggeding it from Los Angeles to San Francisco in April of this year, raising $17,000 for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. He then walked from Los Angeles to San Diego and finally to Las Vegas. Then he said to himself, “Why stop?” How much could he raise on a full-fledged transcontinental walk if he can raise thousands of dollars in a few hundred miles?

On July 5, he started the third walk, heading east from Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo district. He aims to arrive in New York by late October or early November if he keeps up his current pace of roughly 25 miles per day.

Bearsun’s suit and gear weigh 78 pounds in total, including a GoPro, a hydration pack and food, a lightweight tent, a lantern, personal hygiene items, and two space blankets, and he’s marched several miles with this burden in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees. He performs it every day, which is an extraordinary feat of endurance. Bearsun travelled 470 kilometres through New Mexico on a serpentine route. In 19 days, he completed the task.

Showing off cool new trail shoes
Showing off cool new trail shoes (Photo: Dave Cox)

How does Larios accomplish this? In some ways, Larios isn’t the one doing it: Bearsun is. Cox wouldn’t be able to manage the physical task without genuinely, profoundly immersing himself in the persona, which is all about sharing joy, goodwill, and healing, as the friendly bear described to him. He’s somehow stronger in the outfit than he would be as a regular human being. “I pretty much let my body adjust to the weather,” Bearsun said of the temperatures around Barstow, California, where he claims it was 120 degrees. Controlling my breathing is the only thing that comes to mind, the only thing that runs through my thoughts. I get into this meditative state where I’m just trying to stay relaxed and make sure my muscles are getting enough oxygen.”

Bearsun is also capable of dealing with pain. When he visited the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, he observed a pair of moccasins on display and said, “Dude, those look tight!” Locals went up the next day to give him a pair of shoes to wear on the road. He began to use them, which got tough when the bottoms developed holes. He recalls, “It stung!” “However, I summoned the guts to wear them until I arrived in Window Rock.”

These are the Bearsun fundamentals, and Cox and I expect you to have more questions. We’ll try to answer a few of them below.

Is Bearsun a Japanese anime character?

No. Bearsun is an original character who looks a lot like Rilakkuma, the sleepy teddy bear from the anime series Rilakkuma and Kaoru. Larios was inspired to create the artwork by his now-deceased Alaskan malamute, Rowpa, who was known as Bear because of his shaggy fur. Bearsun’s appearance was imbued by Larios with a spirit-driven objective. When Bearsun drove through the Grand Canyon State, the Arizona Republic wrote, “He imagines the character to be above stereotypes and one that uses action over words.” “This explains Bearsun’s lack of a mouth.”

What is the total amount of money he has raised?

There’s a lot of it: $55,212 and counting. For more information on the five charity he chose, go here.

Are we certain that the money Bearsun raises for charities genuinely reaches those organisations?

Yes. We made a test payment to Villa Esperanza Services, an L.A.-based organisation that deals with intellectually and developmentally handicapped people, using the GoFundMe link set up on iambearsun.com. The receipt is attached.

Do you have any additional information on Jessy Larios?

Larios prefers to maintain the focus on Bearsun, therefore there isn’t much. We can tell you that the man inside the suit stands five feet seven inches tall and weighs roughly 150 pounds, however his weight may be lower due to his excessive sweating. Bearsun has acknowledged his love for Kobe Bryant, computer games, haunted hotels, outdoor sports, Hey Arnold’s positive life lessons, and art in interviews and on social media. Larios told the Farmington Daily Times, a New Mexico newspaper, that what he’s doing is similar to a large-scale performance piece. He remarked about Bearsun, “I wanted to construct his persona in the real world.” “This is my paper,” she says. It’s a colossal painting.”

How did Bearsun prepare for his fight?

Mostly by going out and doing it—it turns out that walking from Los Angeles to San Francisco is an excellent warm-up for walking from Los Angeles to New York. Bearsun also spent a month training inside the suit by going up slopes in Griffith Park in Los Angeles.

Bearsun appears to be wearing rust-red boots in the pictures taken by Cox. What is the name of the brand?

The Fifth M.1 is the name of those cool trail shoes. They were designed for RockDeep, a Black-owned corporation situated in Alexandria, Virginia, by Dewayne Dale Jr., an indigenous designer from Shiprock, New Mexico. On the route at Angel Fire, New Mexico, RockDeep arranged for a pair to be transported to Bearsun.

Why is Bearsun so popular among Native Americans?

We can’t speak for them, but there appears to be a lot of interest and affection. In early August, officials in Window Rock, Arizona, the Navajo Nation’s capital, conducted what appeared to be an outdoor key-to-the-city event honouring Bearsun, which was emceed by Theresa Galvan. This passion was evident throughout Arizona and New Mexico. After Bearsun completed a long trek from Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo to Taos, the Santa Fe New Mexican wrote, “people have swarmed to the man in the lovely bear suit everywhere he’s visited.”

There are a variety of reasons for such reactions. For some, Bearsun is merely a source of entertainment, a welcome break from the monotony of everyday existence. Others are genuinely inspired by his quest. “While we can address our Nation’s challenges by simply strolling with Bearsun, even for a few minutes,” Navajo Times columnist Krista Allen wrote, “… this symbolises something much more: how Bearsun has come to represent a lever for change and a guiding voice on issues we face in Diné Bikéyah.”

She’s right on the money. Fans approached Bearsun as he travelled through Espaola, New Mexico, where many people suffer from drug and alcohol addiction, and claimed that simply seeing him gave them the strength to fight for their own recovery.

In the videos he uploads, Bearsun always appears to be in a good mood. Is he ever down and out and depressed?

We’d say yes after watching a lot of Instagram videos, but we haven’t found it yet. Bearsun gets tired, as evidenced by this yawnfest captured at a Clayton, New Mexico hotel. He, on the other hand, constantly bounces back. The footage of Bearsun at the outset of his voyage particularly amazed us. He comments that the bear suit he’s wearing is a new model and feels overly stiff and heavy as he walks down a dismal, broken-sidewalk street in downtown L.A. (That’s OK! In it, he only has to travel 3,000 kilometres.) Later, he sees a dog behind a chain link fence turning angry circles. The animal is evidently only interested in breaking through the fence and devouring Bearsun. He says, unaffected, “That dog really wants a hug!” “Look at how pleased he is!” “I don’t think he wanted to hug me,” she continued. I believe he intended to assault me, but who cares!”

Bearsun seemed to adore the state of New Mexico. Does this imply that it is America’s most populous state?

Since you’ve inquired, the answer is yes. As you can see from Bearsun’s video from when he passed into Oklahoma, the affection is genuine, which is only natural. The Land of Enchantment isn’t called that for nothing.

Is there anything else I can do to assist you?

Donating money is an excellent start, and if you manage a motel or restaurant near Bearsun’s route, please consider providing him with a free night or meal. Or, as Native Americans did repeatedly as Bearsun marched through the Southwest, get out on the road and walk with him if he comes close to your town. What better method to protect this hazy pilgrim from seeing everything?

Dave Cox provided more reporting and photography.

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