Bearanoia is a puzzling affliction. One never knows when it’s going to flare up.
During a solo ride outside Whitehorse a couple of weeks ago, I found myself in sort of a narrow ravine with steep sides and fairly thick vegetation. Suddenly, for no obvious reason, I felt somewhat in danger. Like maybe I was being watched. I yelled “Hey bear!” for a few dozen yards until the terrain beside the trail opened up a bit, then I pedaled along wondering why I had suddenly felt nervous.
A few days later, I was zooming down another trail outside Dawson City when I startled an animal a few feet to my right and heard a loud rustling in the brush as some critter suddenly began moving. I barely reacted. A quick glance toward the source of the sound, a quick listen for paws hitting the ground behind me, and I blissfully continued barreling toward camp.
These were different situations, obviously. In the ravine, I was moving slow and surrounded by high ground. Maybe some prehistoric survival instinct was kicking in. On the Dawson ride, I had the advantage of speed and downhill momentum. On the other hand, I knew I was a few feet from something—ursine or not—that was startled and on the move, but I took it in stride.
Riding among bears is a fact of life in this part of the world. I’ve talked about it with friends during trail rides, and most of us figure that—even though we rarely see the animals—several nearby bears are likely aware of our presence every time we ride on the Anchorage Hillside. Biologists have confirmed that the area’s full o’ the furry buggers, which is why we routinely see warning signs posted, such as the one in today's photo.
Conventional wisdom says the best way to avoid a dangerous bear encounter is to let bears know you’re coming so that you won’t surprise them at close range. I’ve ridden with people who wear bear bells, people who blow whistles, and people who ride in silence, making no attempt to let bears know they’re approaching. Bear bells are annoying, and whistles sound like tasty marmots, so my approach is to keep a canister of bear spray close at hand in a bottle cage, and to make noise by yelling … when I remember to do it.
Overall, I probably don’t think about bears nearly as much as I should. I often catch myself hypnotized by the flow of a trail and then realize I’m moving trough the forest quickly and silently—which is pretty much asking for a few hundred pounds of trouble.
Bouts of Bearanoia can be unnerving. But they aren’t necessarily a bad thing. A lot of us might benefit from more of them.