By Pico Triano
I live in black bear country. Spring means the big fella is waking up and he/she is hungry. We've never been troubled by our bear population even though we live so close to them. Every fall they gorge themselves before the big sleep and one of their favourite haunts is an old apple tree half a click further down our undesignated road. We live closer to the bears than other people.
The only kind of bear that hunts humans is the polar bear. They are a separate issue and this article is not giving advice on dealing with them. Most bears are shy of humans and will make every effort to avoid us. Your chances of being attacked by a bear while riding your bike even in bear country is remote.
Wilderness camping or stealth camping while touring may increase your chances of being attacked but doesn't have to. Your camping habits, dare I call them skills, can make a huge difference. Here is my list of basic rules for touring in bear country.
- Don't feed the bears. Their primary focus is on finding food. Feed them and they will see you as a food source and will seek food from you. Why anyone would want to feed bears up close and personal in the wild is beyond my comprehension. Just don't say you weren't told.
- Don't smell like food. Bears can smell food from a long way off. If you're touring, eat supper on the road before you find a campsite for the night. The wise thing is to eat your supper a good fifteen minutes to half an hour before you're done riding for the day. Store your food and anything that has a strong scent (including toothpaste, soap and deodorant) downwind from your campsite preferably hung up out of reach from bears. Here is a link showing the proper technique: http://www.algonquinpark.on.ca/visit/recreational_activites/black-bear-safety-rules.php It is a good idea to store your not so fresh laundry and garbage there as well.
- Make your wilderness toilet downwind from your camp as well. Why you would do this anywhere else is beyond me as well. The smell of human excrement will scare off small animals, but not the big guys at the top of the food chain.
- Make noise. My older children go for long wilderness walks. We're a big family and have developed strong voices just to be heard. Loud conversation is often enough to keep bears away. If a bear chances into your camp, you'll probably be left undisturbed but yelling and banging things like pots and pans together will often send the intruder packing.
- Carry bear repellent spray. It's like pepper spray on steroids. I say carry the stuff even though you will be unlikely to ever actually use it on a bear. It's wise to be prepared just in case. As a side note, bear spray will work on aggressive dogs and other unwanted visitors.