Note: the feature image is of bears we saw near Williams Lake three years ago, not the bear I saw yesterday.
After having blogged so much about my fear of startling a bear when running, I finally had an encounter on my run yesterday. Luckily, the bear was about a block away, and if it did sense I was there, it showed no sign of being interested. I did not take a photo, though I stood frozen for a few seconds–partially in fear and partially in fascination. It was quite a big bear, as mama and papa bears are this time of year after foraging all summer. The bear was rummaging around something on the curb in front of a house (I assumed trash). In the few seconds I stood there, I feared it would see me, but I was intrigued by it, fearful mostly because of its size. Of all the times I’ve wondered if I’d see a bear on the trail, my first sighting turned out to be in a regular neighborhood very close to campus.
I took the chance to back up while I wasn’t catching its attention, and got out of sight quickly by turning into a side street and heading into a completely different direction, my adrenaline strong in case it had seen me and was following. The worst part of this whole ordeal was that, in avoiding the bear, I ended up on a road with no bike lane or sidewalk and was running atop a little hill between the street and campus when I yet again tripped, fell, and rolled down the hill, landing on my face. The trail was very dry, dusty, and narrow, with rocks–and one of those rocks reached out and tripped me!
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I sat there for a moment, trying to come out of the initial shock. Blood was all over my face. Fortunately, an employee of a nearby building had just arrived to work and was very concerned, letting me use the ladies washroom so I could at least wash my face. My mouth was full of gravel and weeds, and he was pulling twigs out of my hair.
I walked back over to the rec center (sadly, the summer hours for our med center meant it was closed that day), took a warm shower, washed up, and walked over to the First Aid center–across campus, which is separate from the med center. I did have to go to the hospital, per FA, and had a mild concussion.
Moral of the story: stay focused when running, even if you are shaken up about seeing a big bear! I also realized that if I am going to continue trail running, I am going to have to stick to trails that don’t have a lot of things sticking up on them. I’m not even sure it’s just that my balance is off; I need to do those knee-pick-up type of exercises so I am more nimble. But, really, trail runners do often fall, as I have been–but I have been very lucky to have not broken bones or teeth. I will stick to safer trails from now on.
Back to being wildlife-aware. It’s simply part of living in the area. I am often surprised that in the runner’s group I occasionally post to that people don’t really talk much about wildlife. For me, it’s my number one concern (not like in an alarmist way, but in a care-about-animals way) when running and hiking. Between Morgan and me, we’ve run into geese, bears, herons, skunks, and raccoons, not to mention seeing all kinds of critters like deer or bunnies when out on the trail and/or even in urban areas. And, not related to running, we realized recently that we have a skunk living under our deck. It is very cute, actually.
Some tips for being wildlife-aware:
- Respect animals’ space and habitats. I never run off-trail, for instance.
- Understand their characteristics. For the most part, black bears are afraid of people. But once they start getting acclimated to people and lose the fear, they will more likely attack instead of fleeing. Whether or not they have that fear, if they are startled or very hungry they might attack anyway, especially if they are protecting cubs. Skunks don’t spray at first sight unless they are immediately threatened (like a dog running at them). They do a cute little warning dance!
- Do not attract wildlife with our food. This is a big problem that doesn’t seem to get through to people. We learned in grade school that our human food is not good for wildlife, in that if we went to the zoo, we should not give wildlife candy and junk food–they already are fed the right food by zookeepers. Same deal with attracting wildlife to our garbage or compost. One of the downsides is they get potentially unhealthy food; the other downside is that they get acclimated to humans and less fearful. Our city bylaws prohibit us from leaving any food waste out unless it’s between the hours of 5:30 – 7:30 on the day of pickup. People do not obey this. A 10-year-old girl was recently critically injured in our town because bears were coming daily down to compost bins where food was always there, which broke bylaws. A coworker was telling me his neighbor had a bear break into a freezer in a carport. They will even get into houses if wily enough.
- If you see wildlife, know how to react. There are guides everywhere online for black bears, grizzly bears, and other animals. It’s probably not the best idea to get too close. Respect distance and don’t be a dickhead (i.e. taunting wildlife or hurting them).
- When on the trail, be aware completely–sight, sound, smells, and so on. I’m pretty guilty of listening to music when running, but I do sometimes take a headphone out.
- Prevent and protect: carry a bear bell and mace if you are worried about being in the area where bears live.
- Call a conservation officer to report seeing a bear in urban areas. If the bear later attacks someone, it will be put down. If the officers can capture and relocate the animal, it can survive.