A Guest Post By Nancy Sathre-Vogel From ‘Family On Bikes’

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

Only moments ago, the 300 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!”

My husband and I, along with our twin sons, were pedaling the Alaska Highway in British Columbia that July day in 2008. As a family, the four of us had cycled over 11,000 miles through three countries and had never had a problem. We had pedaled 1,500 miles through bear country in Alaska and Canada, and had seen a wide variety of the animals. But always, they either ignored us and continued grazing, or turned around and fled when they saw us. This bear, however, was different.

The massive black bear leaped onto the road right next to me.

It had been a long day on the road. After cycling sixty miles, we were tired and looking for a suitable spot for our tent. My husband and other son were a kilometer or two ahead of Davy and me as we pedaled wearily on our heavily-laden bikes.

“Look!” I cried.  “A bear!  Over there!  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 my camera out of my handlebar bag when the bear came up to the road and lumbered toward us. We froze.

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

A few moments later, the bear turned and headed back down into the ditch thirty feet away, apparently unconcerned with our presence.

Our hearts resumed beating and we began breathing once again. I stashed my camera and we readied ourselves to take off.

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

The bear chased us as pedaled furiously

“It’s OK, Mr. Bear,” I said calmly and quietly. “We’re just leaving. It’s OK.”

The massive beast plodded to within four feet of my side and stood still. I gazed into his cold, black eyes. Blades of grass stuck out on either side of his grizzled face.

I panicked as my mind replayed all I had read. “Stay calm and talk quietly to the bear as you slowly back away,” the books had said. The problem was that I was straddled on my bike and couldn’t back away.

The bear ambled toward the trailer I hauled behind my bicycle, where I carried all the food for the four of us, and sniffed. I had no way of knowing how hungry he might be. He came back to stand by my side.

Mr. Bear and I stood staring at each other for nearly a full minute. He wouldn’t back away and I couldn’t. I played through every scenario I could think of to get away, but there just weren’t any that would work. I became more and more certain with each passing second that it was time for me to meet my maker, but I figured I could save my son. Davy 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!”

My son hesitantly turned around and began pedaling slowly. The bear followed.

“Go, Davy, go!” I shouted. “Fast!”

Davy quickly gained speed as he pedaled furiously.

I pondered my options. On the one hand I was relieved – I was free. The bear no longer stood by my side, threatening me. I could easily retreat and wait for the bear to move on. On the other hand, my son was up ahead being chased by an angry bear.

A split second later my decision was made. I shifted into my highest gear and my adrenaline-fueled legs 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 at high speeds. “Pedal, sweetie!  Keep going!”

The two of us sped frantically down the road. Our legs pumped furiously, our hearts pounded, and 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.  Keep going.”

The bear was merely a black speck in the distance before I could bring myself to slow down.

“We did it, Davy!” I shouted triumphantly. “We did it!”

Davy and I stopped our bikes side-by-side in the middle of the road and clung to each other, trembling.

“We’re safe, sweetie,” I murmured. “We did it.”

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“Do not fear death … only the unlived life. You don’t have to live forever; You just have to live.” — Natalie Babbitt


Writer’s Bio: Nancy has just completed a three year cycling adventure from Alaska to Argentina with her husband and their 13-year-old twin boys. Carrying everything they needed on their bikes, the four adventurers cycled through deserts and rainforests, over high mountain passes and along miles of coastline. Read more about their adventures at www.familyonbikes.org and follow Nancy on Twitter.

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13 Response Comments

  • Grace  May 11, 2011 at 12:25 am

    Holy cow! I was so scared while reading this- I can’t believe it was by your side. You were right to pedal far far away. A bear can run 30mph without stopping and probably faster when in pursuit. Great presence of mind and I am glad you and your family were safe.

  • Candice  May 11, 2011 at 2:59 am

    merciful mother of god.

  • Jeremy B  May 11, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    What a scary story!!! I admit I have a fear of bears. We have a lot of black bears here in northern California. They are some of the easiest to frighten. However, a few months ago, a bear broke into a family cabin and destroyed it. Thank goodness no one was there. A few years ago, my wife had an encounter with a bear in that cabin where the bear tried to break in trying to break the door and the glass.

    As for your experience, very scary. Grizzlies scare me the most of all because of how aggressive they are – well them and polar bears. You were lucky you were on your bikes. All the experts say never run away from a bear because they will go into hunting instinct and chase you – and they are fast. Thankfully, you had bikes or else I wouldn’t want to think about what could have happened.

  • jill- Jack and Jill Travel The World  May 11, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    What a crazy story. We came across a bear backpacking in Denali while we were on foot. Fortunately he/she was more interested in sniffing the bushes than us. *phew*

  • Marilia  May 11, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    What a story! it gave me goose bumps, just to imagine what you went through… I once had to run from a rotweiller and was safe, but a big bear near your kid, ay ay ay…

  • Debbie Beardsley  May 11, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    OMG I cannot imagine the fear that must have been running through you! This was a very stressful post to read and I actually found myself breathing slower after you were safe 🙂

  • Tijmen  May 12, 2011 at 8:42 am

    I never seen bears in the wild, but not sure I want to 🙂 I’m planning on hiking the pacific crest trail next year, sure I will plenty of them over there.

  • Leif  May 14, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    Holy Bear! Thats intense!

  • Carol J. Garvin  June 6, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    What a scary experience! I’m glad it ended well.

    I live rurally so it’s not unusual to see an occasional bear wandering through our property. Only when they come up onto our back deck do I worry since the whole back of the house is mostly glass, which doesn’t provide much of a barrier. I use to believe bears weren’t a threat, but after hearing of a few attacks I’ve decided you can’t count on them behaving predictably.


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