Chased by a bear

“Go, Davy, go!” I screamed in terror.  “He’s chasing you!  Pedal fast!”

Only moments ago, the 400 pound black bear had been standing a mere four feet from my side. Now I stood, rooted in place, and watched it chase my ten-year-old son down the road.

“Go, baby!” I shouted.  “Pedal!”

Davy pumped with all he had, knowing full well his very life depended on it.

It had been a long day on the road in northern British Columbia that July day in 2008.  After cycling sixty miles, we were tired and looking for a suitable spot for our tent.  John and Daryl, on the tandem bike, were a kilometer or two ahead of Davy and me as we pedaled wearily on our heavily-laden bikes.

“Look!” I cried.  “A bear!  Up ahead!  See him grazing in the ditch?”

“Wow!” Davy murmured in wonder.  “He’s huge.”

Bears, in general, are afraid of humans and do their best to stay away.  As we traveled through the Yukon and British Columbia we had grown accustomed to seeing bears grazing quietly in the ditch on the side of the road.

Motorists frequently left the safety of their vehicles to get better photos of the bears.  I often marveled at how close people got to the animals, and yet the bears seemed uninterested in them.  Motorists, however, had the safety of their vehicles to retreat to.  As bicyclists, we had no cover at all.  I vowed to stay well away from any wild animal I encountered.

Davy and I pulled to the opposite side of the road and stopped a respectable distance away – I had a good telephoto lens and had no need to get close.  I had just pulled the camera out of my handlebar bag when the bear came up to the road and lumbered toward us.  We froze.

“Holy Mother of God!” I exclaimed quietly.  “He’s coming this way.  Bears aren’t supposed to come toward people!”

Davy and I stood quietly, not quite sure what our reaction should be to the fact that a massive bear was drawing near.

A few minutes later, the bear turned and headed back down into the ditch thirty feet away, apparently unconcerned with our presence. Whew! Our hearts resumed beating and we began breathing once again. I stashed my camera and we readied ourselves to take off.

Suddenly, out of the blue, the bear leaped up onto the road right beside us. My heart skipped a beat or two as I struggled to maintain my composure.

“It’s OK, Mr. Bear,” I said calmly and quietly as the massive beast plodded to within four feet of my side. “We’re just leaving. It’s OK.”

I gazed into his cold, black glassy eyes.  Blades of grass stuck out on either side of his grizzled face. My mind raced through everything I had read about what to do in the event of a close encounter with a bear.

The first thing the books said to do was remain calm which, trust me, is easier said than done when you’re standing face to face with bear. The second thing they said to do was talk to the bear.

That I could do!

“It’s OK,” my mouth muttered, seemingly on its own. “We’re just leaving, Mr. Bear. You can have your territory back. We mean you no harm. We’re on our way out.”

As my mouth chattered on autopilot, my mind replayed what the books said. I stayed calm (sort of) and talked with the bear. The third thing they said was to back away slowly.

You never want to turn your back to a bear, they said, because that will provoke an attack. And never run as that will provoke a chase.

The problem was that I was straddled on my bike and couldn’t back away. If I tried to go backwards I would jackknife the trailer I hauled behind my bike. If I tried to go forward I would put my back to the bear. I couldn’t go sideways because… well, bikes don’t go sideways.

Mr. Bear and I stood staring at each other for nearly a full minute. As I gazed into Mr. Bear’s glassy black eyes, I became more and more certain with each passing second that I was about to meet my maker. It wouldn’t be long before the bits of grass hanging out of the bear’s mouth would be replaced with bits of Nancy.

Davy, on the other hand, had a chance. He was standing twenty feet away – straddling his bike and looking back at me.

“Davy,” I said quietly.  “Ride away slowly, honey.  Just start pedaling very slowly and ride away.  Please, sweetie.”

Davy stood his ground, unwilling to leave me.

“Honey, go!” I pleaded. “Please!” It was bad enough that I would soon be mauled by a bear. Even worse would be for my son to watch it.

Davy hesitantly turned around, put his feet on his pedals and began pedaling slowly.  The bear followed.

“Go, Davy, go!” I shouted.  “Fast!”

Davy quickly gained speed as he pedaled furiously.

I will admit that, for a split second I was relieved – I no longer had a massive bear by my side. On the other hand, that very same bear was now chasing my ten-year-old son down the road.

With every motherly instinct within me – not to mention massive amounts of adrenaline – I jumped on to my pedals, shifted into my highest gear and quickly brought my bike up to heretofore unknown speeds.  I blasted past the bear and caught up to Davy.

“Keep going!” I urged as the bear chased us. I have no idea how fast we went, but I can tell you a bear can run 35 miles per hour. Fortunately, two adrenaline-fueled cyclists can pedal faster.

The two of us sped frantically down the road. Our legs pumped furiously, our hearts pounded, our breath came in raw, jagged gasps.  We watched in our rear-view mirrors as the bear fell farther and farther behind.

“Mom, I think we’re safe now,” Davy said when it had become obvious the bear would not be able to catch us.

“Not yet, sweetie,” I panted.  “Not yet.”

The bear was merely a black speck in the distance before I could bring myself to hit my brake levers. Davy and I pulled to a stop in the middle of the Alaska Highway and reached out to cling to one another.

As we trembled and shook, and our heart rates slowly returned to normal, the only thing I could think of to say was, “We did it, baby. We did it”

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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23 Responses to Chased by a bear

  1. jamie September 26, 2011 at 8:20 am #

    Holy crap.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @jamie,
    Indeed.

    [Reply]

  2. Aisleen September 26, 2011 at 8:36 am #

    Holy crap indeed. I think i stopped breathing for at least 40 seconds reading this!

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Aisleen,
    I think I stop breathing each and every time I read this – and I’ve read it a lot!! Scary, indeed!

    [Reply]

  3. Rebeca September 26, 2011 at 9:56 am #

    Wow… I can’t imagine. It makes a great story now, but that must have been terrifying.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Rebeca,
    Terrifying is an understatement.

    [Reply]

  4. Clark Vandeventer September 26, 2011 at 3:42 pm #

    Wow. I mean WOW! What an amazing story. When we moved to Tahoe earlier this year, we’d been in town about a week and I have to go on a business trip. First night I was away a bear broke into our attached garage. My wife was freaking out! Of course I was not there, but when I got a call from her at 6:00 AM DC time (3:00 AM California time) I knew something was up!

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Clark Vandeventer,
    I bet! Fortunately, this bear didn’t break into anything – just chased us.

    [Reply]

  5. Linda ~ Journey Jottings September 26, 2011 at 6:47 pm #

    Yikes! Its what travel stories are made of… from the safe distance of home!

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Linda ~ Journey Jottings,
    Yeah – this one is one heckuva travel story!

    [Reply]

  6. Jazz September 27, 2011 at 7:18 am #

    Wow! That’s cool, now that’s real freaky experience. Couldn’t have got more adventurous .

    [Reply]

  7. Justin September 27, 2011 at 11:03 am #

    I almost pissed my pants when a baby moose chased me once up in Nova Scotia. A bear would have given me a heart attack. But strangely enough, I wish I was there.

    Stories like this are always amazing when you get away clean! Great one!

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Justin,
    A baby moose may be cute, but they’re scary too! Being chased by a bear was not high on my bucket list, trust me on that one :)

    [Reply]

  8. Tom October 14, 2011 at 5:34 am #

    Great story, but it must have been terrifying!

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Tom,
    I was too scared to be terrified!

    [Reply]

  9. Cinda November 13, 2012 at 11:00 pm #

    When I came out of the Ocala National Forest, the couple I met asked if I had seen any bear. Their reply was “Gee, we see them every day”. I was glad that I hadn’t even though they said the bears just walk away…. if you ever need a laxative just read this story again (lol).

    [Reply]

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Cinda, Most bears don’t bother with people at all, so I think people get lazy about taking precautions. I learned to never, ever get lazy about that!

    [Reply]

  10. john friedrichs December 11, 2012 at 5:27 pm #

    My closest bear encounter was on the Green Briar trail in West Va,where a 2AM bear decided to turn my hung in a tree food stash into his presonal pinyata.Yep….Bit the bottom rite out and it all fell to the ground,where he feasted for an hour[it included 2 cups of ground coffe….one buzzed bear!]……it brought me into the absolute present moment of existence as I layed there listening to the slurping bear finishing off all my food…and then snuffle through my bikes panniers 6 feet from my tent…….quite an experience to learn from in that the present moment is all we have………Im presently building a recumbent delta trike to ride to the westcoast in the next year……Im 61 and have just today come on your families website…….Wonderful!!!!!!……….John Friedrichs………….Lexington,Va.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @john friedrichs, WOWZERS! That would be terrifying!

    [Reply]

  11. Donna June 26, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

    Wow!! like so many others have already said! We ride in NJ where there are lots of bears, believe it or not… and we have ridden right past them without problem… BUT now I will ride with a bit different perspective.

    Thanks for sharing your great stories….

    [Reply]

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. How I changed motherhood | Family on Bikes - October 1, 2011

    […] I drank mate in Argentina, scuba dived in Honduras, partied during Carnival in Ecuador, and were chased by a bear in Canada. We stayed with an indigenous family in Bolivia and at a migrant workers’ camp in […]

  2. Meet the travel bloggers: Family on Bikes | Santa Fe Travelers - September 3, 2012

    […] was the biggest challenge you encountered on the road from Alaska to Argentina? Ummm… being chased by a bear? I’m not sure that qualifies as a challenge, per se, but it was probably the most terrifying […]

  3. I Thought I Invented Long Term Family Travel - Epic Fail! | Life Changing Year - September 21, 2012

    […] Family On Bikes – Lovely people who let us sleep on their floor at very short notice (that will teach Nancy to be on facebook at midnight!)  They biked for 3 years with their twin boys on one particular trip.  I am in awe of this – you all know how our cycling went in Vietnam.  And that was just a 10 minute ride!  These guys love to cycle – the boys ride their bikes to school and John rode his bike to the shop while we were there.  They are the real deal!!  And yes, their link goes to a bike story – they were chased by a bear! […]

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