Well, I’m not afraid of seeing bears from a distance, but I am just a little afraid of running into a bear while exploring on two wheels or camping in a dense forest. It’s only natural to fear the unknown.
Pamela recently wrote about how we’ve played defense against running into a bear and what we have at our disposal should we encounter one. With the amount of gear we bring with us on each ride, we might as well be bike packing.
The other day we went on this amazing mixed terrain ride (gravel fire roads, single track, road and bike path) from Canmore’s (Alberta, CA) Goat Head Creek Trail to Banff and back to Canmore. Playing by the rules, we brought the infamous bear bell, small can of bear spray, micro airhorn and our abnormally loud voices (only used occasionally). The Goat Creek trail is pretty well populated with cyclists and being that it was Canada Day, we knew there would be a good number of folks on the trail, so we opted not to employ all of our systems (we left our speaker at home). We didn’t play music and we didn’t need to speak as loudly as we have had in the past. Reducing our bear system by two points allowed us to enjoy the ride that much more. We saw more people on a trail riding bikes (all with bear spray and bells) than we had in the previous month combined. The increased traffic allowed us to mentally take a break from wondering if a bear would be around every corner we approached. At times in Alaska and in British Columbia, my mind would wonder and think that around the next corner I’d see a bear in the middle of the trail or road waiting for us. I felt like I was a character in M. Night Shyamalan’s movie “Signs”. You know, the movie where Mel Gibson plays a farmer and there’s weird crop circles/patterns being found around the world and his daughter can’t finish a glass of water and there’s a reason (don’t want to spoil the movie for you if you haven’t seen it). Riding in bear country is like the move “Signs”. You might ride for an hour and don’t see anything and then you ride for 5K and you see signs of bear scat all over the place, some of it looks old and dry and others look minutes fresh.
Aware of your surroundings
When road riding in bear country you do ride with a certain awareness, but you don’t need to be on as high of an alert as if you’re trail riding. Cars help you forecast what’s ahead. When you encounter a single car pulled over you tend not to think much of it, they’re probably making a call (found a pocket of cell reception) or taking a scenic photo. When you see a few cars stopped together then you know there’s wildlife very close (think deer or something not so dramatic). But when you see a crap ton of cars stopped and brake lights aglow like a Christmas tree, then you know there’s a heard of caribou or a bear up ahead. It’s these moments that I think, “Keep the cars between me and whatever is to their right.” There are signs everywhere saying NOT to feed bear and NEVER get out of your car to photograph bears. I’m on a bike and don’t have the protection of a car, so I use the car as a shield and keep moving. Case and point point: We rode to Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park. This was a gorgeous 65 miles road ride with breathtaking views and lots of car traffic and a crap ton of cars stopped to see bears 20 yards from the road. No joke. Twenty yards wild bears, the most opportunistic feeds and the guys at the top of the food chain, and a few cubs were minding their business, feeding and living life, while tourist acted like paparazzi and ignored warning signs to stay in their car. Folks were getting out to get that social media worthy post.
Yes, I could be called crazy for riding my bike (but I’ve got a few defenses at my disposal), but these people are just being obnoxious. However, thanks for letting me use your car as a shield as I rode by when you were trying to F with a mama bear and her cubs.
The awesomeness of Canmore
Back to the great ride we had in Canmore to Banff and back. This ride and route were amazing. The terrain was perfect, the dirt smooth, tacky and wide. Given all of the fellow cyclist and bike packers we knew the ride would be top notch and we could ride vs worrying about a bear around every corner. We had some fun on the descents (you don’t want to bomb down a hill as this is the way to spook a bear…in the worst way), allowing our minds and tires to flow with the grooves in the trail vs. working the brakes and craning our necks like a cartoon character eating an ear of corn. I also didn’t notice any scat on the trails edge, which was another good sign.
The trail had various wooden bridge crossings over glacial rivers and streams. These acted as the perfect place to soak our heads and helmets and provided an opportunity for some safe and sensible “grammable” moments. In the spirit of Canada Day we did just that, I rode with a Canadian Flag and Pamela directed the shot. I think she nailed it :-).
After Pamela was pleased with her image we discussed the distance remaining to Banff and the plan of attack once in town. I was about to walk to the river when it happened. Pamela was talking both loudly and quickly and called for me to leave and soak my head at the next crossing. I put up a small stink, but then I saw it: fresh bear scat had just rolled down from the hill above and stopped in the middle of the trail at the opening to the bridge. Pamela and I look at each other and realize that we were being watched by a bear and he just gave himself away by letting it roll 15ft down hill. Without hesitation we mounted our Diverge bikes and hastily rode, making our presence known by talking a little louder and dinging our bells a little more frequently. The remaining 10k to Banff was still outstanding, but we were a bit more aware of our surroundings, as we usually had been.
Next up, riding in Glacier National Park (That’s right we’re headed back to the lower 48) over 4th of July weekend. In light of the recent news about the grizzly bear and the cyclist in the park it’s safe to say that we’ll be deploying all of our bear systems and by the time we roll into Missoula, MT we’re going to want a neck massage for all of the extra looking left and right we’ll be doing.