The mountain biker paused for a moment to wipe the sweat from her brow and take a drink from the water bottle sitting in the carrier behind her back. The morning sun felt good as it melted the night’s frost and dried out the trail. Stretching her tired muscles she noticed an odd shape etched into the moss, leading from the trail towards a large gnarled pine tree several feet away. Getting off her bike she took a closer look and could make out the footprint of a large grizzly bear. Other tracks were visible now, etched into the thick moss from years of use.
She followed the tracks towards the tree where they stopped abruptly, lost in the heavy mat of pine needles surrounding the base of the old pine. On the other side of the tree the tracks led back towards the trail, intersecting it some fifty feet away.
At the tree she noticed strands of fine hair snagged in pine gum oozing from recent scars in the rough bark. Walking around the barrel sized tree trunk she found even more hair, some of it six to eight feet off the ground. An overhanging limb, polished smooth from years of rubbing held still more of the whisper thin strands. The bear or bears that used this tree must have stood between six and seven feet tall to reach this lowest branch.
In all her years of biking this trail, the biker had never seen a grizzly and she wondered how long the hair had been there, oblivious to the fact that the tree had been visited several times that week.
Several kilometers away, at the other end of the same trail, a sow grizzly bear was feeding on fresh shoots. Ravenous from months of hibernation, she gorged on the succulent plants, lifting her head occasionally to sniff the air. She had traveled this low elevation route around the lake for years, following a trail worn deep by the previous travels of other bears, wolves, cougars, elk, moose and deer. In the past, the trail provided a safe route around the adjacent town with its busy highway and railway. But now she was increasingly wary of human scents and sounds and becoming ever more vigilant. Although in the recent past she was usually on her own, this year she had companions. Traveling with her were two small cubs, born just months before in a den high above on the wooded slopes of the mountain.
She brought them down the mountainside to the valley bottom like her mother had done with her every spring since she was born. While several feet of snow still lay on the slopes above, the valley was greening up, providing the bear with its first food in months.
Her life has been all about survival. Weaned from her own mother a few years ago, she has had to fend for herself in this same valley where she and her mother traveled together for her first four years. Now on her own, she contends with competing females and transient males looking for a mate. After one brief encounter with an old boar last summer, the young female has now become a mother herself, giving birth to her first set of cubs in the confines of the small den dug into a gravel slope above the valley. Encumbered with the role of motherhood, she has to constantly look out for the twins as they stumble and tumble along the trail behind her, feeding occasionally between their exploratory forays into the thick bushes of Buffalo berry.
Back on the trail the mountain biker continues her first ride after a long, cold winter. It is a rite of spring to tune up her bike and “poach some single track”. She enjoys getting away from the established trails around town, following this little known route, a wildlife trail “discovered” a few years before. She works hard, avoiding roots and downed trees, switching gears frequently, focused on getting around the lake before she has to start work for the day. This last thought brings a smile to her face. Her real job doesn’t seem physically challenging at all compared to this workout.
But at this moment, her mind is as far from work as it could be. She will be taking summer holidays soon and traveling, discovering new lands. The excitement of exploring other countries is always a good reason to venture out into the world. She is only half focused on the bike ride now … a turn in the trail, a nice piece of downhill, she flies around the bend and before she can react, the bear is on her.
The sow grizzly did not hear the biker until the last seconds and reacted quickly to the impending threat. Given time to assess any on-coming danger the sow would normally have been able to collect her cubs and lead them into the security afforded by the thick underbrush. But there was no time and she made contact with the biker, who screamed as she was knocked off the bike. The biker lay there and the bear stopped long enough to assess the threat. She hesitated, made one quick bluff charge as the biker tried to get up, then gathered her cubs and was gone.