FIGHT AND FLIGHT
Jasperite uses bike to defend himself with, then flee from, aggressive momma grizzly
Beau Michaud has been around plenty of bears.
After five years of working in the bush on trail crew, six years of walking through forests lighting and fighting fires and a decade of living in Jasper and playing on the trails, Michaud had seen his fair share of bruins.
“I’ve had countless bear encounters of all kinds,” he said. “I once saw 13 grizzlies between Beaver and Jacques Lakes.”
But he’d never had an incident. He’d never been charged before.
Until August 27.
On that day, Michaud was on a long, low-intensity bike ride. He was on his cross cycle—a hybrid road/trail bike—and was cruising at a moderate pace, transitioning from the road, to the trails, and back again. He was sticking mainly to the valley bottom; no severe climbs or descents.
Michaud had been out for upwards of three hours when he figured he’d head back towards Jasper. To get there, he decided to access Trail 7 near where the former Lake Edith road meets the Maligne Road and branch onto Trail 4E—an old trail that eventually connects to the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge area.
“I was biking along, knowing full well that there were bears on Trail 7,” he said. “The earbuds were out at this point, I was just kind of putting along.”
That’s when he first saw her.
It was a grizzly, 40 metres away. She was off the trail, but just.
Suddenly, the bear stood on her hind legs. Michaud had seen this behaviour before. At this point he wasn’t too alarmed. He stood straddling his bike, watching her.
“I could see her well. As she stood up, a cub ran out onto the trail,” he said.
He was instantly on edge.
To Michaud’s initial relief, the cub ran in the opposite direction of him. The mother grizzly seemed to chase after it for a period. As soon as the cub was out of sight, however, the bear turned back towards Michaud.
Then, the huge bear started to run. Right at him.
“I thought ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” he said.
She wasn’t kidding. The grizzly ran full speed towards him, covering the 40 m in no time.
“She came after me. There was no hesitation.”
With no time to turn around or get on his bike, Michaud jumped to his left, into the bushes beside the trail. He remembers the bear’s grunting and snorting as it barrelled after him.
“It was surprisingly fast,” he said. “I can remember her hair waving in the sun, standing on her back.”
The vegetation he found himself in consisted of half-dead pines and a small spruce tree. The scrub underneath was thick and wet from recent rains.
Michaud was only a few metres off the trail, but he couldn’t get through the thick scrub behind him. He tried to back up but ran into more bush. As the bear approached, she actually ran past Michaud before turning around and trying to come through the trees that Michaud now had positioned in front of himself.
“At that point I was trying to keep the trees between her and me,” he said.
The bear continued its pursuit, Michaud circling the patch of trees, barely keeping out of her reach. He was now yelling ‘whoa bear!’ amongst other choice words. He and the bear continued their terrifying dance, both of them circling the tree and alternately coming back to the path.
At one point, the grizzly was on the trail and Michaud was back in the bushes with his bike held out in front of him. Suddenly, she tried to come right through the trees at him. Michaud did his best to use his bike as a fence, pushing it against the bear when it got close.
“I couldn’t back up,” he said.
As the bear tried to force its way under the tree’s branches which separated them, Michaud said he was pressing his bike against the top of her head and snout. She was still grunting and breathing heavy.
“I was pushing with all my weight as much as I could,” he said.
Holding his bike by its stem and seatstays, Michaud then lifted his bike over his head and gave the grizzly a decisive blow. That strike seemed to make her forget about the pursuit and she wheeled back to where her cub had been.
“It was a good knock,” he said. “Then she backed off.”
It seemed like now was his chance to get away. He began to retreat while keeping an eye on the bear. As he hopped on his bike, he could see her sniffing her cub.
“I was trying not to lose focus on her,” he said.
As he began to pedal, Michaud looked back once more. To his horror, the grizzly was running straight at him again.
“She had the same look and the same noises were coming from her,” he said. “She was going flat out, a leap-to-bound charge.”
Michaud was now also going flat out. But the bear was gaining on him. First she was 30 feet away. Then 10. As he pedalled as fast as possible while trying not to fall—the trails were wet and slippery—he kept looking back and seeing her. She pursued him for what seemed like an eternity. Later, his Strava smartphone app told him the chase lasted two kilometres and that his peak speed was 42 km/hr.
“I wasn’t slowing down,” he said.
Finally, as he approached the Maligne Road from the trail, Michaud took one last look. The grizzly was out of sight, the chase was over. He took a few minutes to catch his breath and ponder what just happened, then called Parks Canada and told them the story. Trail 7 was closed to all users later that day.
Reflecting on the incident, Michaud knows that he should have probably been carrying bear spray, although he said if he didn’t have it ready in a split second it wouldn’t have mattered in this instance. Secondly, he figures his fitness must have helped him—both during the fight, in which he used his brute strength to knock the bear with his bike frame, and during the flight, where he needed every bit of cycle stamina to outrun the grizzly.
More than anything, however, it was a wake up call that things can go haywire in an instant.
“Anything can happen out there,” he said.