How not to get eaten by a bear.

This summer, a friend and I will be biking through the mountainous wilderness from Jasper to Vancouver.  The plan is to rough it (like the cycling vagabonds we are) and sneaky camp along the way.  Realizing that we are completely lacking in the camping gear department, we took a trip to our friendly neighborhood MEC to price a few essentials.  After picking out a tent built for two and swooning in front of the die-hard camping gear, we thought it might be a good idea to look into bear spray -not because we actually thought we might see a bear (nevermind get within spraying distance), just because it seemed like the cool safe and responsible thing to do.

Okay, so bear spray.  We located a chatty and informative MEC employee who informed us that bear spray is a controlled substance, so he would need to see ID and have us sign a waiver before our purchase. Fine, fine.  He then gave us a breakdown of the spray itself: It comes in a small can or a large can.  Small is better to keep on your person in case of surprise bear attacks, but large has more sprays and better range. No problem.  Also, make sure to give it a test run (not near playgrounds, or you know, people) and wipe down after use to avoid getting it on things that may come into contact with your eyes (ie. hands). Alright.

(Warning: If you are the kind of person that is afraid of things that are terrifying, you may want to stop reading here.)

Before we leave our new friend cautions us that although bear spray is an irritant, it becomes a bear ATTRACTANT once it settles on the ground.  TC and I laugh nervously, but no joke.  The spray is pepper based and once it settles on the ground, it becomes a foody smell which may cause, what I can only guess would be droves of bears, to come sniffing around. Use bear spray and get the hell away. Check.  We say thank you and leave with a handy MEC Bear Spray fact sheet.

And by handy I mean terrifying.

I read the fact sheet out loud as we unlock our bikes.  It is full of helpful, yet predictable tips such as “Bears run much faster than humans” and “Keep your campsite clean.”  Then you turn the page and shit gets real.  For example, please take the following tips on what to do if you are “charged or attacked”

    • Don’t Panic
    • Stand your ground and get your pepper spray ready.  Sometimes a bear will make several bluff charges. Do not use your pepper spray unless you are sure the bear is not bluffing
    • If the bear stops after a bluff charge, slowly wave your arms, talk softly and back away slowly.
    • If the bear doesn’t stop, use your pepper spray.
 And it only gets worse.  We are helpfully cautioned to adhere to the following steps if the “spray does not stop the bear.”
    • If it is a grizzly, play dead. Most experts recommend that you lie flat on your stomach with your hands clasped behind your neck. Remain silent. Leave your pack on for additional protection.
    • If it is a black bear, do NOT play dead. Do whatever you can to fight off the bear. As an exception to this rule, if you are positive you are facing a mother bear with cubs, and contact is imminent, you should play dead.
And my own personal favorite:
    • If a bear of any type keeps biting you for a prolonged period of time, or if you are convinced it is feeding on you, fight back. Never play dead if you know that a bear is preying on you (eg. if it attacks you in your tent).
Naturally this evoked every single horrible bear scenario my mind could think of, including the image of me waking up in the middle of the night to find the head of a giant bear peeking through the door of our tent, Jurassic Park style. I tell my friend and we laugh.  But seriously, I feel this leaves me with more questions than answers. For instance, how do I know for sure that a bear is bluff charging (not to mention how to I avoid throwing up due to extreme fear)?  Another friend of mine just helpfully informed me that black bears and grizzlies are not always that easy to tell apart, which throws me into a state of anxiety in my own living room. How will I know when to play dead and when to fight back?  More importantly, where do I learn how to fight a bear? Also, how many bites qualify as prolonged biting? Can’t I just assume (if I have not died from a panic induced heart attack), that one bite qualifies as fight-back worthy bad news?
Okay, so it is evident that I have a few more things to add to my to-do list before I venture off into the great big wilderness:
19. Buy a new sleeping bag
20. Learn how to fix my breaks when they do that annoying thing I hate
22.Figure out how to how to bear-proof food while camping
22. Learn how to fight a bear


13 thoughts on “How not to get eaten by a bear.

  1. Snowy May 18, 2012 / 5:15 am

    My bike and I are unlikely to run into a bear (wrong continent!) but we have a firm understanding that if physically attacked by an angry dog, the bike will be sacrificed (thrown at said animal) to give me time to get away! Perhaps a bear would be fascinated by your bike and forget all about you?

    • walktrotcycle May 23, 2012 / 12:47 pm

      Never thought of that idea! As much as I would hate to say good-bye, it’s definitely better it (my bike) than me!

  2. beechcreekproject April 26, 2012 / 11:05 pm

    The best tactic if you are hiking or biking with others is just make sure you are faster than at least one other person. 😀

    • walktrotcycle April 27, 2012 / 8:52 am

      Great advice! My cycling companion has weak ankles -I will be sure to keep this in mind in the event of a bear attack.

  3. mindo240 April 26, 2012 / 10:46 pm

    If you lie on your stomach and play dead the bear may have its way with you. I’ve managed to avoid a bear attack my whole life by following this golden rule. Don’t go where the bears are! lol.. I saw this documentary of a grizzly bear lifting a 700 lb boulder with one arm. Incredible Hulk with fur.

    • walktrotcycle April 27, 2012 / 8:36 am

      Eeeep! That mental image doesn’t do much to calm my bear anxiety. Don’t go where the bears are, you say? Look like we’re in the wrong country!

  4. MikeandJordanAdventure April 26, 2012 / 9:57 pm

    Hahaha, This is awesome. We’re doing a USA trek this summer on bikes and will be roughing it a lot of the time too! The warnings of how to act depending on the bear were funny, but hopefully I don’t need to use them!

    • walktrotcycle April 27, 2012 / 8:24 am

      I think we will take up singing (bears tend to be weary of loud noises, right?). Sing while we set up camp; have someone on singing picket at all times throughout the night. Good luck on your cross-country adventure!

      • MikeandJordanAdventure April 27, 2012 / 7:41 pm

        Ya, I believe thats true, but I think the key to it is to sing a song that gets stuck in their head like Journey.

  5. Isabel April 26, 2012 / 9:09 pm

    Easy bear proofing of food while camping: Buy a metal cooler with a latch and attach several metal rings (like hitching post ones) onto it with screws. That way you can both tie it onto your bike and hoist it over a tree branch easily.

    • walktrotcycle April 27, 2012 / 8:08 am

      Great advice! I have heard that storing food in a tree is the best option -I was just having a hard time figuring out the best way to go about it. Thanks 🙂


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