Sunday, June 29, 2008

we're not alone

I ride there. So many of us ride there. Sometimes alone, sometimes with a group. So when I found out this morning that a young teenage girl participating in a 24-hour bike race was mauled by a brown bear on a local trail, I was horrified. I know some of the young racers and their parents. I've also encountered bears on or near this trail. I've stopped in my tracks to see which direction a black bear was going to step.

Just a few weeks ago some runners were charged by a brown bear less than a mile from where this morning's attack occurred. A few days later I saw the warning sign when I went riding and certainly biked with heightened awareness. But I didn't turn around. I always believe I know what I'm getting myself into. We all do, otherwise we'd never venture out.

Now the ranters on the local newspaper website are pointing fingers, placing blame for what happened. It's the parents; it's the bike club; it's the city; it's fish and game. Come on! It's wildlife. It's nature. It's habitat. It's Alaska. Are you going to sit indoors or go hike or bike? Are you going to not fish on the Russian River because of a mauling there a couple years ago?

This hits so close to home, and not just geographically. Anchorage's biking community is tightly connected. My friend was the first person to arrive at the scene to help this young girl. He has training in first response. I'm sure it was very hard for him because he's known the young cyclist since he coached her in skiing when she was only six years old. He expects nightmares (and I'm sure she will experience them as well).

But he's not going to stop biking these trails. Most of us won't stop. Maybe I'll call a friend next time I want to go on a ride, though probably not. My main fear right now isn't as much the bear; it's that a vigilante will decide to go "hiking" one day in Bicentennial Park just to check things out, bringing his powerful gun for "protection." I won't be surprised to find out the bear has been killed this way, in "defense of life or property," as our laws allow. I just hope no one else gets hurt by either man or bear.

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