Back in Bolivia we hit a big bump in the road.  It sent us into a spin.

Two months off the bikes re-grouping and now we’re back on the road full of energy and enthusiasm for the Alaska leg of our round the world journey.

Problem is we just rammed into one more annoying obstacle. Another bump in the road.  An itsy-bitsy one this time, but a bump nevertheless.


Country 79! Canada.

One thing leads to another

Our problem began with bears.

I’ve always had something of an obsession with bears.  As a kid, there was nothing on earth I loved better than my loyal Teddy.  In fact, Teddy (a spry 41 today) still occupies a position of honor in the family home back in Montana.

Bears that scare

But as an adult traveling the world on a slow-moving getaway vehicle, my bear obsession is now focused not on the snuggly stuffed type, but those 500+ pound creatures that roam the great expanses of North America.

Don't mess with the Griz!

Real live bears–grizzlies in particular–, the ones with ferocious growls, massive jaws, the ability to charge at 30 MPH and maul humans in a matter of minutes, those bears scare me as much as the thought of spending the rest of my days trapped in a cubicle with two-weeks annual vacation.

So I’m taking precautions.  Reading up on bear facts.   Searching out advice.

Turns out about 31,000 grizzlies make their home in Alaska and 21,000 in Western Canada.  Granted, maulings are extremely rare.  Bears are generally shy and avoid contact with humans, but still, who wants to take a chance and end up as hibernation fodder?

The scout in me: always be prepared

As a line of first defense we’ve armed ourselves with Counter Assault bear deterrent.

The stuff's no good unless you know how to use it. Training from the Counter Assault staff is essential.

Alright, we’re good to go.  Got the bear spray in the handle bar bag.  Any irate bears come charging down the highway within 30 feet and they’ll be doused with pepper spray for 7.2 seconds.

And if those 7.2 seconds of eye irritation don’t do the trick, let’s just hope we’re on a major descent and can out pedal a perturbed grizzly.

Riding the Divide

Day 4 in Canada.  All is well.  Friendly families have been hosting us, our slightly-out-of-shape legs are proving to be up to the strenuous job of getting us across the Great Divide and the scenery is stunning.

David, Donna and family..our warmshowers hosts near Fairmont in British Columbia.
Not the first time we've biked over the Continental Divide, but surely the most painful.


Biking Western Canada near Kootenay National Park
The great outdoors in Western Canada.
Biking through the Canadian Rockies.

There are snow-capped mountains, and fast-flowing streams, waterfalls tumbling down into deep ravines, there are cork-screw climbs and fast descents and there are BEARS.  Plenty of them we’re told.

Hungrier than usual since summer has been so long in coming.


Ready to take on the Grizzlies!

Too tired to think straight?

By the time we arrive in the tourist mecca of Lake Louise, exhaustion has set in.  The campsite is full, and, “so sorry but no there’s absolutely no room to squeeze in a couple of itinerant cyclists.”

Next campsite is 30 kilometers yonder.  “But,” whispers the understanding guy in the tourist information center, “you might just pitch up at Herbert Lake, nobody’ll bother you there.”

Terrific.  Apart from the mosquitoes ravaging my body, the setting is idyllic.  A beautiful lake surrounded by pristine wilderness in the heart of bear country.

Who wouldn't want to camp at such a beautiful, peaceful spot?


Just around the bend from Lake Herbert.


Those pesky mosquitoes make the trying tasks of fixing a flat even more irritating. Head nets help considerably.


Trying to be wise

Only those with suicide wishes would pack their food inside the tent for the night.  Wise campers, we’ve been told, string their supplies up in a tree, well out of reach from wandering bears.

And we’re prepared with a length of sturdy rope and some carabineers we’ve been toting along for just such an occasion.

But wait, these scrawny pine boughs will never support the weight of our panniers!  This is not the way things worked out on the YouTube video.

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A second shot

Plan B.  The rest area garbage dumpster.  Yep, just slip your food supplies in the vestibule behind the big dumpster’s plastic bags and you’re all set.  Sounds strange, but several cyclists we met passing the opposite direction assured us this was a great solution to bear worries.

Unfortunately, this ingenious solution doesn’t work in Banff National Park.  Not only are Canadian dumpsters bear-proof, turns out they’re also people-proof.

The final solution

As a last resort we store the panniers with the food and cooking gear (whose residual smells can apparently attract bears) plus the toiletries (can also be mistaken for food) in the public restrooms.

I scrawl a friendly note explaining the situation (Hi, we’re two cyclists.  These are our food supplies.  We are protecting them from the bears.   Please do not disturb.  Thanks, Eric and Amaya).

Later a ranger stops by.

“You realize you’re camped illegally.”

Breaking the rules. Sometimes you just gotta do it.

“Yes, yes, but you see, sir, my wife’s really tired and…”

With a nod the ranger cuts Eric off.

“I understand.  You cyclists don’t have it easy.  Enjoy your evening.”

And we do.  I nod off as soon as my sleeping bag’s zipped up.

An ever so unpleasant surprise

In the morning I trot down to retrieve our gear and WHAT!  A bag is missing.  One of our beautiful, shiny new Ortlieb panniers.

Panic.  I assume the thief has taken the expensive MSR stove and the lightweight cook set.  But no, the evil-doer has made off with our bagels and oatmeal.  He’s swiped our precious jar of peanut butter and the big bag of dried craisins.  The low-life has pinched the packet of spaghetti and the supply of rice.  Why the nerve!

Crime Scene at Herbert Lake.

Not the Canada I know

We are in shock.  Truly in shock. Robbed in Canada of all places.  In a National Park.  I mean, who’d have thought we’d make it all around Africa without a hitch to get robbed right in my own backyard? My blood is boiling.

I’ve always tended to trust those who hang out in nature.  Good people for the most part, I’ve always believed.

Not that I normally leave gear lying around.  In spite of the hassle, we religiously unload the bicycles each evening and stow our stuff away safely in the tent.  As a matter of course, we lock our bikes to the nearest tree.

Why take risks?

But the thought of a hungry bear roaming around after dark sniffing out my peach-flavored oatmeal was enough to make us store our stuff in a public restroom at a little-used rest area.

Fatigue impaired our decision making and common sense flew out the window.  Couldn’t we have left the food in a plastic bag?  Why tempt a thief with a set of bright-red panniers?

Lesson learned

Now I’m riding a very lob-sided bike. With all the weight in one front pannier, I feel like I’m going to spin out on descents.

With our food supplies gone, we spent a few hungry days (albeit less hungry than expected thanks to help from fellow campers) riding the Icefields Parkway.

And we learned another lesson.  The hard way.

Biking the Icefields parkway. Possibly the prettiest road in Canada. A little less fun to cycle when your stomach is growling.



Bears and an itsy-bitsy bump in the road
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11 thoughts on “Bears and an itsy-bitsy bump in the road

  • July 23, 2011 at 7:30 PM

    Theft in Canada? I think it was a bear using public restroom rather than a thief.
    Good luck on your way north.

  • July 28, 2011 at 3:56 PM

    That really sucks. Hard to believe Canada is more dodgy than the Congo.

    • January 14, 2012 at 1:16 AM

      Quite possibly because they were more careful and suspicious in the Congo than in Canada. I’d bet they didn’t leave stuff lying around in public toilets there. 🙂

      • January 14, 2012 at 9:21 AM

        Absolutely right. Lesson learned.

  • July 30, 2011 at 9:56 PM

    You guys sure have had some bad luck lately. My boyfriend and I want to tour South America and now I’m not so sure about safety…I mean if you can’t even trust Canadians who can you trust?

  • August 2, 2011 at 12:13 PM

    So sorry to hear about another thievery, but at least you had that scenery to take your minds off it (yeah, right… I know).

    Be careful with that bear spray — it’s mighty strong stuff! Hopefully you’re upwind when/if you have to use it, else you could get a face-full.

  • August 3, 2011 at 1:20 PM

    Thanks for the support everybody. Another theft–minor though it may be–has slightly shaken our faith in humanity.

    Luckily, we’ve been able to replace the pannier and are riding strong towards Alaska.

  • August 3, 2011 at 5:46 PM

    That deeply saddens me in this beautiful country. Most people are amazing and when you told me this I was in disbelief. Sounds like you two are going stong, hope northern BC and Alaska treat you better.

  • August 3, 2011 at 10:40 PM

    I have also used a campground restroom to store food while touring. But it is risky as you found out. I hope karma comes around and gives that jerk a good boot to the ass.

  • August 7, 2011 at 10:50 AM

    So terrible to read that you were robbed again. Hopefully things will go better in the coming months.


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