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

Kayaking Glacier Bay and/or Inside Passage

OK – call me crazy. We just got back from three years on our bikes and now our dreams are running amok yet again…

We’re hoping to make a kayak trip in Alaska a reality for next summer – but aren’t sure where to turn for info and help planning. If you have any contacts who could maybe help us make this happen, please send their contact information my way!

At this point, we are toying with Glacier Bay and/or the Inside Passage. Our first thought was spending the whole summer in Glacier Bay, but I’m hearing it’s pretty small for eight weeks. Someone suggested maybe the Inside Passage.

We are still in the very, very beginning stages of exploring this one, but would welcome any ideas/thoughts/contact info you may have! Thanks!

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

A summary of our journey

I’ve been working on getting all my old newsletters online along with slide shows for each one – it’s been a massive task!  I am now almost completely done – only the very most recent one is left.  So – for those of you who haven’t been with us from the beginning, I hope this can give you an idea of what we’ve been up to these past 17 months!

Ready for takeoff:  June 6, 2008

Dalton Highway in Alaska: June 28, 2008

Alaska Highway: August 3, 2008

Crossing into mainland USA: September 10, 2008

In Montana, Wyoming, and Utah: October 17, 2008

Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico: November 19, 2008

Texas:  December 24, 2008

Northern Mexico: January 25, 2009

Mexico: February 21, 2009

Yucatan Peninsula: March 14, 2009

Belize, Guatemala, & Honduras: April 15, 2009

Honduras: May 13, 2009

Nicaragua & Costa Rica: June 25, 2009

Costa Rica & Panama: July 21, 2009

Made it to South America: August 16, 2009

In the Colombian Andes: September 18, 2009

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

One Year on the Road

As I think back upon this year on the road, I see fleeting glimpses of images rolling beneath my wheels:

* the sheer beauty of snow-lined Atigun Pass
* Arctic Circle sign
* Santa Claus
* entering Canada – our first crossing
* buffalo, bears, and bighorn sheep
* the end of the Alaska Highway – 1,422 miles from the beginning
* the American flag at the border
* waking up to a couple of inches of snow on the tent
* the hiss and gurgle of steam vents and geysers in Yellowstone
* trick-or-treating in small town America
* inches of dust piled up inside the tent during a sandstorm
* being escorted through each and every Mexican city by the local motorcycle clubs
* visiting Mayan ruins and climbing to the tippy top of the temples
* getting off the beaten track in Belize to explore pristine jungles and rivers
* snorkeling the second largest coral reef in the world
* reuniting with my Peace Corps family after 22 years away

It’s been a wild ride. We’ve ground up mountains and plummeted back down the other side. We’ve gotten soaked by rain, frozen in snow, and sweltered in unfathomable heat. We’ve bounced and jiggled over rough roads and raced over roads as smooth as silk. And yet, through it all, we’ve lived life to the fullest and taken advantage of every moment we have here on this planet.

Yes – there have been challenges. We’ve pushed our heavy bikes up impossible grades in extraordinary heat as thick clouds of dust swirled about our heads. We’ve reached for water bottles only to find the water within frozen solid. We’ve battled headwinds and fought for each inch of forward motion we managed to make.

But when I think back upon this past year, it’s not the challenges that come to mind. It’s the many, many days of smooth sailing that I remember. It’s those moments when I crest the top of the hill and gaze upon miles and miles of valley ahead and my breath gets all tangled up in my throat at the sheer magnificence of it all. Or when a massive bison runs alongside us with his thundering hooves kicking up little clouds of dust and we pedal faster and faster in order to keep up with the beast but in the end he outruns us anyway. Or when a family who has next to nothing graciously offers to share it with us and we feel guiltier than hell taking their food but know all along that we can’t possibly decline. Or when Davy snuggles up next to me in the tent after a tough day on the road, puts his arm around my chest, gazes into my eyes, and says, “I love you, Mom.”

It’s the many people we’ve encountered who have brought nothing but magic to our lives and I pray that God will bless them all. May God bless the man who dragged us to his house in order to give us a new tire after John’s developed a mystery bubble. And God, heap blessings upon the woman who brought us a big plate of tacos even though all we ordered was Sprite. And bless the tour guide who handed over all the leftover food from his tour – including beer and chocolate. And bless, too, the couple who invited us to their RV for our evening meal so we had a sheltered place to wait out a downpour. And God – please bless the family who adopted us as their own and wouldn’t allow us to stay in our hotel “all alone” all day so we got to spend a delightful three days watching all the comings and goings of a typical Mexican family. And bless as well all those people who sent us emails after John’s accident offering us a place to stay or the use of their car or an invitation to a play group. God bless the cattle rancher who said he had more than enough money and simply wanted to share a bit of it with us.

It’s watching my boys grow and change and mature before my very eyes that makes this journey so special. It’s seeing the triumph in their eyes when they crest the toughest pass yet or when they finally break their personal record. It’s watching Daryl joke and laugh with Daddy as he revels in riding on the back of the tandem or hearing Davy expounding on the advantages of riding solo. It’s knowing that, no matter what may come in the future, my boys have learned life lessons from the road that will carry them through all the ups and downs of their lives.

Yes – it’s been a wild ride, and we know more wild times are coming. But we’ll take it one day at a time; one mile after another. With each pedal stroke we’ll see more of this grand world of ours, meet more of her wonderful people, and learn more than we ever could have imagined. It’ll be crazy and mad and zany and wacky all rolled into one. But it’ll also be the most incredible, mind-boggling, fantastically phenomenal journey of all – just like the past year has been.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Newsletter – Back in the USA

September 10, 2008

Davy and Daryl

Davy and Daryl taking a break.

I think back to the past month we’ve spent on the road and am simply stunned at how far we’ve come – in so many ways. The last time I wrote to you, we were just about to finish the Alaska Highway. Now, that part of the journey seems like a very distant memory.

On August 12 we pedaled the last mile of the historic Alaska Highway and rolled up to Mile 0. All four of us were ecstatic at the thought that we had pedaled all 1422 miles of the road, and we celebrated our achievements with jubilation. The town of Dawson Creek, the official start of the Alaska Highway, welcomed us warmly and let the kids know they were proud of their achievement. As far as we know, Davy and Davy are the youngest people ever to cycle the entire length of the Alaska Highway, so we’re doubly proud of them!

Our next major destination was Jasper and Banff National Parks in the Canadian Rockies. For years I’ve heard about the incredible beauty in that area, so I was chomping at the bit waiting to get there. But when we awoke our first morning in the park to pouring rain, my heart sank. We had lucked out so far in our journey, but it looked like our good fortune was about to end.

Cycling along the Athabasca River.

Cycling along the Athabasca River.

For the next week we pedaled through massive peaks extending to the sky – while we gazed upon their bases only. Cloud cover varied little as we cycled the Icefield Parkway, and we rarely saw much more than a small patch of blue sky here and there. Some days we pedaled through pouring, freezing cold rain while other days we dealt with a slight drizzle. But the constant of that week was heartbreak – of wanting to see the magnificence, but not being able to.

As we rolled away from Banff after a week in the mountains, the skies cleared and we had glorious, panoramic views of the Canadian Rockies – in our rearview mirrors. Fortunately, we paralleled the Rockies as we made our way south to the USA so we got to see them, albeit from a far-away distance.

On September 8, exactly two months from the date we entered Canada, we left her. We crossed the border back “home” at Chief Mountain, Montana after one of our toughest climbs of the entire journey. Davy, in particular, was thrilled to see that flag – “I made it, Mom!!” he exclaimed. “I made it!!” We were thrilled to be cycling in the USA.

Welcome to the USA

We were so excited to cross back into the USA! What a day!

If we thought the climb to Chief Mountain was tough, we had only to wait one more day until we pedaled the Road-to-the-Sun through Glacier National Park. We climbed for seventeen kilometers until we reached the summit at 6642 feet, then plunged back down. Due to a couple of blunders, we ended up reaching the campground in darkness and exhausted, but duly satisfied with a spectacular day.

We are now in Kalispell, Montana, with plans to take an extended break in Missoula about one hundred miles away. As much as we are looking forward to taking some time off the bikes, we’re nervous about losing that time on the road.

Winter is fast approaching, and we’re feeling the pressure to get as far south as possible as quickly as possible. We are still planning to follow our initial route straight south from here. From Missoula we’ll go to Yellowstone, then head south through western Wyoming. From there, we’ll head into Utah and make our way down to Moab and Arches National Park before heading into New Mexico to visit friends.

All four of us are doing well, and are loving the adventure of life on the road. We have our days (rain, anyone??) when we’re about ready to bag it all, but other days remind us of the joy we’ve found out here. Being outside in Mother Nature’s handiwork each day truly is a magical experience, and it’s one I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Thank you all for your support – we appreciate all your words of encouragement!!

Nancy, John, Davy, Daryl

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Wham! (Waterton National Park, Canada)


My bike toppled to the ground and, out of the corner of my eye, I saw John wobble past me, struggling to maintain control of his bike.

It took a moment to figure out what had happened – it’s amazing how quickly everything can come crashing down. One moment I was straddling my bike as I reached for my camera in my handlebar bag. The next, everything was on the ground.

I was leading the pack when I saw a picture I wanted to take. I rolled to a stop and Davy came up and stopped next to me. But John was gazing at the exact same thing I had planned to take a photo of – and didn’t see me stopped ahead.


We took stock of the damage and it wasn’t good. He rammed into my ExtraWheel trailer, yanking the netting out of the casing – leaving a huge gaping hole.

But it appears as though the tandem took it worse. John spent a couple hours on the side of the road trying to true his wheel and fix his brakes. Apparently it’s still not working right and we may have to buy a new rim in Missoula – we’ll see how it goes tomorrow.

So – the upshot of the matter is that we are still in Canada. Yes, we are now camped in Waterton National Park a mere twenty kilometers from the border, but dang! I had hoped to cross today!

Kilometers today: 50
Kilometers to date: 4604

Riding Through Ranchlands

While John fixed his bike, Davy climbed the train trestle

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Daryl’s Journal September 7

“Woah, Nancy!” Daddy said as he slammed into her.


I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but I’m guessing it was something like this: Daddy was going to go out in the road so I could give Davy a nickel (he keeps the found money). Daddy checked to make sure there were no cars… and checked a little too long. When he turned around it was too late. Crash!!!


As usual with these types of events, Daddy blames Mommy, Mommy blames Daddy, Davy blames Daddy, and I don’t know which. No matter whose fault it was, Daddy’s rim got bent and his brake broken. We had to spend about half the day fixing it. At first Daddy thought it was gone for good and we h ad to call off the trip. Luckily, he fixed it and we can forgive and forget. (I still haven’t decided who should be forgiving who.)

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Davy’s Journal September 7

Today I saw a cow herder bring some cows across the road. It was neat. I got a picture of it, but they were a bit off the road because right after Mom got the camera out, Dad crashed into her and ripped her trailer open. He also bent his brake and front rim. In his mind, nothing (and I mean nothing) major can be caused by him. That’s why he says that Mom stopped too soon but I know for a fact that he had plenty of time to stop.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Lucked Out Again – John’s Journal September 6

The weather sucks, what else can I say?  September is supposed to be one of the driest months of the year yet the locals say this is one of the wettest summers they’ve ever seen.  Believe me, we’re all sick of this rain and so is everyone else we talk to.

I could complain and complain about the weather, but yesterday we were quite lucky.  We put in a full day of cycling.  In the afternoon the skies became very cloudy, the temperatures plummeted, and there were scattered rain showers.  We stayed fairly dry throughout the day and our rain jackets dried between showers.  Sometime around 5:30  we stopped to camp.

We leisurely set up camp, cooked our supper, and wrote in our journals.  We were just about ready to crawl into our tent when it started to rain.  Not long after we fell asleep the skies opened up and it rained hard all night long.  Fortunately we modified our tent so it doesn’t leak anymore.

Come sunup the skies cleared up and we had brilliantly blue skies this morning.  But as usual come about noon, the clouds rolled in.  We stopped in town and listened to the government forecast and it called for rain starting tonight lasting through tomorrow morning.  Not wanting to ride in the rain (when it rains here, it’s a cold, cold rain that’s hard for the kids to tolerate) we stopped early to camp out and rode a measly 54 kilometers.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Daryl’s Journal September 6

Today we went really fast. By noon we went 43 kilometers (26.843 miles). We started at about 9:30. That’s about 17 kilometers an hour. Davy and I split wood. Both of us split one. We tried about three logs before that though. We took about four swings per logs. That was really good practice.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Davy’s Journal September 6

We set a new record by cycling 42 km by noon! We also listened to the weather forecast and it said that it’s supposed to rain tonight and tomorrow morning. They also predicted that it was going to rain between 10 and 15 mm of rain.

We chopped wood. Someone let us use his axe. I got one very good swing. It went threw the wood chopping it in half before the bead of the axe went into the ground!


books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Left or Right? (Pincher Creek, Alberta, Canada)

“OK guys, it’s time for a Pow-Wow.” 

I gathered the boys around and explained the situation.

“We can turn right here and go up and over Crowsnest Pass, which isn’t all that bad.  That way we skirt Glacier National Park.  If we turn left, we’re commited to going through Glacier and over a 6600-foot pass.  It’ll be a long, cold, steep climb – and it might be raining.  What do you think?”

“Glacier!” Daryl shouted.  “Glacier!  Glacier!  Glacier!”

“Davy – what do you say?” I asked.

Davy chimed in with Daryl, “Glacier! Glacier! Glacier!”

We turned left.

We were well on our way to crossing the border today (or, at the very least, tomorrow morning).  But then we saw the storm forming off in the distance and decided we’d better call it a day.

The forecast is calling for heavy rain starting this afternoon and all night, so we called it quits for the day and headed to the campground here in Pincher Creek.  With any luck, we’ll cross the border tomorrow.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Long Way With Nothing (Maycroft Rec Area, Alberta, Canada)

That’s a long road with nothing!

As soon as we left Longview this morning we entered into ranchlands – and they never ended. The trees have been cleared away and the whole area is nothing more than huge grassy fields with cows and horses.

But talk about hill! Huge gradual climb after huge gradual climb with barely a down in between. After 68 km, we finally reached the top and started our descent – WHEEE!

We’re now paralleling the Rockies and had fabulous views of the mountains most of the day – until it clouded over and started to rain.

Fortunately, the rain was short-lived, but for a while there we feared we were in for a cold, wet afternoon.

Kilometers today: 89

Kilometers to date: 4500

John and Daryl


I would LOVE to meet this farmer!!  What a hoot!

miles and miles of ranchlands


books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

More Rain – John’s Journal September 5

Today was a cloudy, yucky day but at least we had a tailwind.  It started out partly cloudy then steadily grew worse and worse until there were scattered rain showers.


When the clouds in the distant south of us briefly broke up we could see the high mountains of Glacier National Park in Montana.  Yes, we’re getting close to the USA.  It seems like we’ve been in Canada for at least a year.  Eighty kilometers and a major mountain pass should put us in the States either tomorrow or the day after.


The highlight of today was watching a pair of deer effortlessly and gracefully jump a barbed wire fence then run off through the grasslands.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Daryl’s Journal September 5

This morning a nice couple gave us some gun. Dentyne Ice Spearmint to be exact. Before that, Davy and I had a choke cherry war. I tried eating some. They were horrible. The gun was good though. The nice couple also gave us cookies. There were ginger (2), oatmeal raisin (1), and another flavor we don’t know (1). While we were riding we saw two deer jump over a fence. It was cool.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel