When Bob MacDonald went for an evening ride on a trail near the Jasper, AB townsite, he was prepared for a bear encounter—he carries bear spray and knows what to do if he crosses paths with one. Still, he didn’t expect to get quite this close.
MacDonald grew up in Huntsville where his parents, Wayne and Marike, still live. He attended both Huntsville High and St. Dominic in Bracebridge, and left the area in 2008 for Yellowknife. He then moved to Prince George, BC in 2012 where he now lives with his fiancée Andrea and works for Yellowhead Helicopters as a pilot. He’s currently on a contract in Jasper to support wildfire crews as well as do rescue work.
He rides and hikes the trails near Jasper when he’s not on call. At around 9 p.m. on the evening of July 13, he was on the Hochimini trail on the benchland above Jasper. It’s a single-track, wildland trail, but it’s not far from town. The Hochimini connects two pristine lakes, and MacDonald says he passed quite a few people on the beach at Patricia Lake as he headed up the trail.
It was his first time on this trail and he went the “wrong” way around the loop, starting in the direction of a steep ascent. “I had to get off my bike and I was huffing and puffing,” he recalls. Shortly after he reached a flat area at the top where he remounted his bike, he caught a glimpse of fur through the trees. “I couldn’t tell if it was a bear right off the bat, but I knew it was an animal that had fur like a bear.”
He immediately stopped and dismounted, and pulled out his bear spray. During a short struggle to get the safety clip off the canister, which caused MacDonald a brief sensation of panic, the bear slowly approached another 20 to 30 feet along the trail.
“She was basically just walking down the trail, wanting to continue on her way, I think,” says MacDonald. After assessing the situation—backing up would take him in the same direction the bear wanted to go, and the bear wasn’t behaving aggressively—he chose to stand his ground and talk calmly to encourage it to move on. He pulled out his phone to film the rest of the encounter. “She was pretty close to me but started to back away at that point. It was pretty terrifying…I was hoping I wouldn’t have to spray the bear.”
The grizzly eventually gave him a wide berth and he was able to finish his ride.
Looking back, MacDonald says, “Bears are unpredictable…but it seems like the bear just wanted to get by me. I could have probably just moved off the trail and the bear would have gone right by me and just gone on its way. It’s hard to know what to do, but you don’t really want to startle the bear.” On the narrow trail, which has quite a few roots, he feared tripping if he tried to walk backwards and if it was the direction the bear wanted to go it would have “just prolonged the contact… The only thing I could think of to do was to hold my ground.”
It’s not the first time MacDonald has encountered bears while biking. Last year, also in Jasper, he came across both a black bear and a cinnamon bear, which is a rust-coloured subspecies of black bear. Both of those encounters ended peacefully, too.
His parents are thankful that Bob remained calm. “We are just happy we can watch a video and talk to our son afterward,” says his dad.
See video of MacDonald’s encounter here.
The vast majority of bear encounters end without conflict, although that doesn’t mean you should be complacent or try to approach them. While there are no grizzlies, also called brown bears, in Ontario, an encounter with a black bear is a possibility. Find advice on what to do at wiseaboutbears.org. You can also find information on coexisting with black bears at bearwithus.org.
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