Three Bears on Duck Mountain.
Ministik Beach, SK - Sunday, August 10, 2014

During our many backpacking trips in the mountains, Elizabeth and I have had several unexpected bear encounters, but we were never outnumbered. Just saw one bear at a time. And except for a curious young cub who wanted to check us out, and see what we were eating for breakfast, they always ran away at high speed. Good, the farther and faster the better. Even the babies outweigh and outmatch me. They’re bigger and stronger, and they have sharper teeth and claws.

But this time, there are three bears. Right on the gravel roadway. About twelve metres ahead. Much too close. Fortunately, all I see is their backsides as they scramble away, the mother in the lead, the two cubs close behind.

It’s my lucky day. They’ve already scented me. They knew I was coming – at a snail’s pace – pushing my bike up a steep gravel slope. No surprise. No threat. They have time to scurry on their way.

Well, that decides it. I’m not traveling this section of the Trans Canada Trail anymore. I’m turning back. I’ll detour and pick it up farther north. I shouldn’t be here anyway.

All morning, I’ve had misgivings about this route. It’s completely absurd. I can’t walk or ride in a roadside drainage ditch! Even when it’s dry. And today the water is up to my shins. So I’ve been riding on the road, parallel to the “trail,” looking for hard-packed tracks in the loose gravel.

About five kilometres east of Coté, the road becomes steep and narrow and winding. It’s about three metres wide with bush on each side. For twenty minutes, I walked my bike up this mountain roadway, occasionally stopping and turning to admire the panoramic valley below.

I’d heard some snorting and grunting off to my right, somewhere beyond the bush. It puzzled me. An unfamiliar sound. Obviously from a large animal. But I hadn’t seen any livestock in the area.

“I should probably turn back,” I thought. “I can manage this road for a while, but at the top, according to my map, there’s a trail going north. And I don’t trust the Trans Canada Trail routes anymore. The pathway will probably be muddy and impassable.”

And then, there it is. A dark damp path branching off from the gravel road. “Yeah, that’s what I expected. I don’t know why I’ve even bothered coming here.” I stand silently, contemplating my stubbornness and my stupidity.

And then, suddenly, there they are. Three black bears emerging from the bush. Ambling down the road. Waving their backsides at me. Disappearing around the bend. Gone.

Mechanically, ever the documentarian, I reach into my handlebar bag, pull out my camera, and take a quick photo of the path. I turn my bike around and starting walking back down the hill.

As soon as the road levels out, I mount up, and start pedalling. Hey, not too fast! The adrenalin is pumping, but the gravel is loose, and I don’t want to tumble.

I can see three pickup trucks coming toward me, and I flag down the first one. “Hi,” I exclaim a bit breathlessly, “I saw three bears a few moments ago. A mother with cubs. They were on the road ahead – the narrow one that climbs up on the left. I decided to turn around and come back.”

“Yeah,” he replies sympathetically, “we get lots of bears around here. How big were they?”

“Not very big. But I was scared. Never know how a mother’s going to react.”

“We’re going up that way,” he tells me. “We’ll be there in about a half hour.” I notice that he has a quad in the back and a big chain saw.

“Nice to know that somebody might have found me,” I suggest, somewhat melodramatically. “It looks pretty isolated.”

I explain why I’m riding a fully-loaded bicycle on a gravel road, and I hand him a sticker marked with my website. The other two pickups are now close, so I say goodbye and pull off to the side. As soon the motorised traffic has passed, I climb on my bike and continue riding.

Relieved to be leaving three bears far behind.

Trans Canada Trail near Coté, SK. Photo by Edmund A. Aunger.