Since starting the ride, we’ve seen many bears, both grizzly and black. Generally they’re far away and nice to see at a distance. Lately, however, I’ve had two close, serious encounters.
We’re pretty good about never heading into the wilderness without bear spray (high concentration mace with a range of ten yards), but one morning before cycling off to pump water for the team, Ricardo forgot to take a canister along. By then I was extra cautious of riding sans spray because the day before, we had four separate Grizzly sightings. So I snagged the can and took off after him.
Only a quarter of a mile down the road I find a seven foot high grizzly standing tall on his hind legs attentively watching Ricardo pass by. Unsure if Ricardo even noticed the bear, and scared the bear might make chase for him—natural predator tendency is to pursue fleeing prey—I slowly but confidently approached, waving my arms in wide arches to appear large and speaking in low, calm tones.
Facing the bear head on now from one side of the road to the other, only 15 or so feet between us, I removed the safety from the bear spray trigger and took note of the direction of the wind (in order to avoid mace blowback in our faces); all I could see was his big black eyes. Thankfully I was ready—we had studied and prepared for this moment—and stood my ground when suddenly he lunged out towards me with a snarl and a kind of menacing bark/roar, halving the distance between us. They generally bluff. He didn’t pursue further, but neither did he back down, so I was just about ready to spray away when Ricardo came to my aid, pivotal reinforcement for the human side. Very slowly, bit by bit, the bear backed away, but never turned tail to run. It was clear that he decided we weren’t worth it, not that we were intimidating necessarily. Which is fine by me.
I was surprised afterwards to realize how calm and gathered I was throughout the entire affair. Likely it was the simple fact that we were ready for this and there were no surprises, but I do truly find a soothing confidence and assurance in the knowledge that, with the proper tools, we can level the playing field. Perhaps I did get a little too confident though, as my next encounter reveals…
In the next two weeks we saw many more bears.
During a much needed dipped-cone rest stop one riding day, we were warned by a man of an especially meddlesome young grizzly with a distinguishable black-colored face up the road. Apparently the bear had already caused enough trouble to earn a few painful dissuasive rubber bullet rounds earlier that day. The man was kind enough to give us a big loud truck escort for a few miles through and past the last sighting area, and with no sign of it, we thanked our escort and continued on thinking nothing more of the creature.
While riding we naturally tend to spread out on the road a bit (more than is healthy, I suppose), and I was really feeling it that day so I got a good bit ahead of the rest of the team. Riding along, I spotted a smaller grizzly a ways up the road. I slowed to a stop and rested my bike against the guardrail to wait for the rest of the team. I know now that I was then much too comfortable in my dealing with bears. I momentarily averted my attention from it, confident it was far enough away. Next I checked, he was directly approaching, quickly, less than 20 yards away, eagerly chasing the scent of my food bag. Even then, I remained with my bike, sure that I could ward him off. Like a busy little bird dog he approached, creeping slowly, snout to the ground, and he didn’t look up until he was very close—of course it was the infamous black-fur-faced troublemaker.
I planted my feet and made myself big, but contrary to my first encounter, this bear had zero interest in me. Realizing his clear intentions, I simply, sadly, stood the side as he leaped right onto my food bag. With impressive dexterity, he swiped the whole pannier right off the bike!
The rest of the team finally arrived to find a funny scene: me, furious, screaming at the bear as he picked through and began wolfing down my most precious treats and snacks. Coffee, granola bars, sunflower seeds, he took it all. I was forced to watch, helpless, as his long tongue dissected my prized jar of personal peanut butter.
Growing up, my dad would regularly comment “Boy, you got a death-wish!” about my lifestyle in which I half-jokingly, half-seriously embraced the idea of being ‘extreme’. The same may appear to be true now, but I know after this and other moments like it lately that I truly have grown up in this matter. I regret not taking the situation more seriously. In the face of danger now, I do feel that same old rush from the ‘extreme’ pumping through me, but even more prevalent are my immediate thoughts of a certain someone back home and the future with her I would do anything to ensure.
(Edited & arranged by Dyar Bentz)