Bears, Lightning and the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route

We all have our “phobias”. Prior to my GDR bike trip, I thought long and hard about Grizzly bears and lightning as being 2 of the bigger challenges (read fears) associated with this ride. Being that Grizzly bears are top of the food chain and lightning is about as predictable as earthquakes (but much more frequent), well, let’s just say that it got my attention. I watched the movie “Grizzly Man” and the demise of Timmy Treadwell, and I’ve been to several Grizzly bear websites and read the horror stories. Also, I have been trapped under a boulder during a lightning storm in the Sierra Nevada and thinking, “This is it.” So, my fears and concerns felt real and justified. But statistically speaking:

Odds of being killed by a Grizzly 1: 8,000,000
Odds of being killed by lightning 1: 2,000,000
Odds of being killed by a shark 1: 8,000,000
Odds of being killed by a shark on GDMBR while riding your bike  1: ….. ( I think that you’re safe. )

Then again as Todd Snider sings in “Statistician Blues” –
“64 percent of all the world’s statistics are made up right there on the spot
82.4 percent of people believe ’em whether they’re accurate statistics or not”

 

Here is an informational map showing the probabilty of encountering a Grizzly Bear on the GDMBR. Good chance that you won’t see a Griz but it’s important to respect the fact that you are in Grizzly bear habitat as far south as Pinedale, Wyoming.

Ultimately, it comes down to reducing your odds of a bear encounter or exposure to lightning.
I don’t claim to be an expert on bears or lightning but this is what I learned along the way.




Bears

There is a big difference between a Grizzly (Brown) bear and a Black bear. Grizzly bears are larger and more aggressive than Black bears, and therefore get a lot more respect in my book. Even though I recognize the difference between the two, when I’m in Grizzly country, I assume all bears will be Grizzly. Do bears hunt humans as a food source? – very rarely but maybe. Shoot, I do strange things when I’m very hungry.
Generally, bears avoid human contact. Some days I feel the same way.

Bears that have been “humanized”, where they fearlessly encounter humans looking for food, are the most dangerous. If you are in a camping area and you see bear tracks, scat or other signs of bears, be especially careful or even find a different place to camp.

Camp basics

Don’t cook and eat where you sleep.
Hang your food or use a bear cannister several hundred yards away from you campsite.
Toothpaste, deodrant and any other fragranced item might smell like food to a bear. Keep it with your food away from your camp.
Even the clothes that you cook in might attract a bear. So, don’t sleep in those clothes. So, it’s mainly about the food odor and bears acute sense of smell.

If you have stored your food properly and you cooked away from your campsite, and then a grizzly bear still comes into your campsite, be very concerned. Out-running (or out-pedaling) a grizzly bear is not an option.
Keep your bear spray close by in your tent.

Encountering a bear on the trail

Nobody likes surprises.
Be noisy, try to let a bear know that you are coming through especially in areas that appear to be particularly “bear-y”. If you see huckleberries and raspberries, you should assume that you are in bear country.

If attacked by a bear:
Grizzly bear – play dead
Black bear – fight
Never kick a Grizzly Bear

Always have bear spray readily available on your body– I carried it on my hip like a 6-shooter. On your chest, on your handle bars.

I met a couple from New Zealand on the GDR that had a Grizzly encounter on Day 2 of their trip in Canada. Keep in mind that in New Zealand, there are no bears, or carnivores for that matter short of the threat of a mad cow. Anyhow, they were riding along a road when a passing truck spooked a mother bear with 2 cubs. They just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. The protective mother bear charged them so incredibly fast that there was no time to react. Their bear spray was attached to their rear pannier and was basically useless. The bear stopped 30 feet away from them in letting them know who was boss. This encounter could have easily ended up for the worse. Not giving fate a second chance, they mounted their bear spray on their handlebars where it was visible and much easier to get to.

I saw 2 bears on my bike trip plus numerous large noises that I fearfully pedaled away from. Yikes! Sometimes, it was I didn’t see that worried me. Seems like everybody on GDR has a bear story.

Lightning

Lightning scares me, especially the unanticipated rogue strikes that come out of nowhere. If you are in the Rocky Mountains in the summer you will have to deal with lightning, especially in the afternoons. Everybody knows not to stand under a tree during a lightning storm but a lot of times, there are no trees to stand under. Often, You are the highest point in your surroundings, you are sitting on a bike and the human body, unfortunately, is a good conductor of electricity.
Again, I don’t claim to be an expert and I don’t have any sure fire solutions but these suggestions might help.

  • Watch the sky for building storms. Puffy white cumulus clouds, especially tall anvil shaped ones, are a potential danger sign.
  • At the first sound of thunder, or earlier if you see a storm brewing, get down off of any exposed area such as a ridge or peak to a lower elevation.
  • Avoid any clearings or open spaces. You don’t want to be the tallest thing around.
  • Look for places that provide uniform cover. A forested area is ideal. Avoid solitary trees.
  • Insulate yourself from the ground by crouching, heels together, on a sleeping pad, coil of rope, or backpack with the frame down.
  • Make your surface area as small as possible by rolling yourself into a ball and covering your head with your arms.
  • Stay away from water
  • Go to nearest beer pub – Wait for the storm to pass, if possible.

Lightning Stance (preferred) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Alternative Lightning Stance

 

I encourage you to read up on bears and lightning, and be prepared. Give these 2 “challenges” the respect that they deserve. In this case, ignorance is not bliss.