By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily
All photos and video courtesy Maureen Gerber
It wasn’t what Maureen Gerber expected when she went out on her day-after-birthday ride along the “Going-To-The-Sun” Road in Montana’s Glacier National Park with her husband and two friends Sunday.
But it was a bike ride she wouldn’t forget.
The foursome had ridden 13 miles up to where the road was still closed due to snow and were heading back down when they were joined by a grizzly going the other way.
There was no real way to pass the bear, Gerber said. No way around it either. On one side of the road, there was a river. On the other side, all woods — thick woods. No cell service.
Gerber’s husband and his friend, who were in front of Gerber and another woman by a few hundred yards, had spotted the grizzly. They went back up the road to let their wives know.
They weren’t alone. Others had spotted the grizzly, too, and stopped.
The group, about 15, including some children, decided to pull over at an expanded shoulder and barricade themselves behind their bikes.
“So we put our bikes down and got behind them while others stood up with their bear spray and we all made noise,” Gerber said.
“It was pretty scary,” she said.
The bear, meanwhile, looked at the cyclists but didn’t appear to give them much thought as he meandered past them.
“We were just sitting there,” Gerber said. “Everyone was shaking.”
Except her husband. Although vigilant with bear spray in hand, he steadily took a video of the bear walking past the group.
Gerber thought the bear seemed sleepy — like he just awakened from hibernation.
“He was kind of dopey, you know?” she said.
Not everyone is that fortunate. There has already been a fatality from a grizzly bear encounter earlier this year in Montana. And last year, a woman was dragged out of her sleeping bag by a grizzly in the middle of the night about 140 miles south of Glacier National Park.
Noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich said the group of bicyclists did exactly the right thing. Confronting a grizzly is the last thing one should do, he said.
“That might work with a cow or a deer,” Ulrich said. “But trying to scare off a grizzly is a bad strategy.”
He said by making “consistent noise,” not making any sudden moves, and portraying calm is what one should do in that situation.
“The last thing you want to do is jump out and try to startle a grizzly in an attempt to show dominance,” Ulrich said. “You will get slaughtered — and fast. Trust me on this.”
Throwing one of your colleagues in the grizzly’s path is another strategy, he said, but not preferred.
“More than once, I’ve been in a situation where the easiest thing to do was to shoot my friend in the knee and get out of there,” he said. “But that’s not the ideal solution. That should be your last resource.”
As for the bear encounter, Gerber said it was humbling.
Originally from New Jersey, she said she was surprised to hear from her friends who have lived in Montana their entire lives that they’ve never been that close to a grizzly.
“These guys have lived out here for 60 years and they tell me they’ve never come that close,” Gerber said. “I guess because I’m originally from the East Coast, I thought this happened all the time. I guess it was a big deal.”
The Game and Fish Department was not available for comment.