What should I do if I encounter a bear on a mountain bike?
— T.E., via email
For all you out there who think this is impossible, watch this:
Brad Paras was riding along with his cousin in Canada’s Jasper National Park when a grizzly sow bluff-charged him three times (fast forward to 0:25 for the action on camera). Paras yells an expletive (understandable) and books it downhill and off-trail, where he lands in the bushes. What happened is a little unclear, but Paras explains in the video description, “"After careening down the hill a bit on my bike, I was able to distance myself from the bear."
Did Brad do the right thing? First of all, it’s important to say that Brad faced me in an uncommon situation – one that is very difficult to ascertain the proper behavior. On one hand, speeding away on a bike could be perceived as running from me – something that could trigger an instinct in me to prolong the chase. And since I can reach speeds of almost 40 miles an hour, it’s unlikely even Danny MacAskill
could out-bike me in the thick of the woods. Running from a bear is almost never advisable – except in the rare case you’ve got somewhere to go (like a house or solid shelter) and you are positive you can get there first.
On the other hand, if you can slowly and calmly back away and put distance between you and the bear, it can signal that you aren’t a threat and diffuse a situation. Brad’s crash through the bushes doesn’t scream “slowly and calmly,” but it seems to have worked in that way, as the bear ceased charging. Once he’s off the bike, Brad seems to monitor the situation and hold his ground. He also shouts for his cousin to ready his bear spray (and perhaps readies his own) – which is precisely the right move. He calmly moves forward, hanging back after each step to assess the field to make sure the bear is gone. Then he groups up with his cousin, who holds bear spray at the ready – another smart move. They wait, announcing their intention to give the bear time to move on while also speaking in clear, firm voices (which helps me know where you are) and they watch carefully as I round the opposite slope to take my leave. In a final wise choice, they decide to head back the way they came and avoid running into me farther down the trail.
So what’s my final assessment? I think these mountain bikers largely made the right choices. One could argue that if they’d made more noise, it’s possible I would’ve vacated the hillside before they even showed up. Except for a few moments, they made calm, level-headed decisions in a stressful situation, and the outcome – two uninjured humans and one live bear – speaks for itself.