Behind the Curve: Bear Avoidance Strategies

In May 2010 we attended a family reunion in Vancouver.

My family are a loveable bunch of lefty peacenik socialist Americans but when twelve of them get together it’s a stress.  Nobody will make a fucking decision, or when they do it’s in direct opposition to a simultaneous decision made by a sub-group across the room necessitating decision-making starting afresh.  It’s enough to make you desire dictatorship.

K-man coped admirably despite still smarting from the last family reunion, when the other men who have married into the family forgot to tell him that it’s customary for those who don’t wish to partake of a kind of German kum-by-yah singalong conducted by my half-deaf uncle to hide in the car park behind the biggest SUV until it’s over.

When I was little, I was told that hell would freeze over before my father would wear a baseball cap. I asked them to pretend to be hip: make of the results what you will.

We agreed to disappear to a cabin in the mountains after three days.  I keep explaining to him that if my family teases you it’s because they love you, but I’m not sure he believes it yet.

During a lull of familial activity we persuaded my parents to hire bikes and cycle the perimeter of Stanley Park.  As regular riders, it occurred to neither of us that it’s been decades since my parents pedaled anywhere.  I spent the whole time worrying that one of them would either mow someone down or wobble into the sea.

Everyone made it back alive, and to add to the pleasure of it all there were some totem poles half way around.

Vancouver is wonderful, but cripplingly expensive.  The exchange rate may have partially screwed us over, but meals out were bank-busting and the food mostly dreadful.  The hotel gave a special rate since we booked lots of rooms but it was still stratospheric, and then they charged $3 a day for the privilege of ‘preparing our bill’. We felt fleeced coming and going.  It was going to cost us something like $100 to walk over a bridge.  I was about the Cultural Centre in Whistler until I learned it would set us back $36+tax.

I tried panning for gold to offset the exchange rate issues. It didn't work.

Something good was free though: the Grouse Grind.  As long as you walk up a near-vertical hillside rather than get the cable-car, that is.

We’re not the kind of people to be discouraged from a free activity by a few signs.  Oh, sure, it says closed, but my cousin (who lives in Vancouver) did something to the gate, and it swung open.

Yes, that is a baby on his back.  Why do you ask?

Here began my nervousness about bears.  My cousin didn’t help matters, once she learned we were heading into the mountains, by lecturing me at length about food in airtight containers and insisting we borrow her bear spray.  Really? Yes.  They see bears all the time while out hiking.  Yay!

Not yay.  I prefer to view bears from behind a fence or a television screen.  K-man, because he is a fool, looked excited.

Poutine, and beer. The only thing for it after a two-hour climb.

We kissed the family goodbye, and drove into the mountains to a campsite 40 minutes from Nelson.  That’s 40 minutes from cell-phone reception and while usually I advocate unplugging, it’s inconvenient when British Airways staff strike and the airline tries to make you fly home two days early.  We spent hours driving back and forth trying to get into position to shout at people down a crackly line.

We stayed here, where we learnt that with decent enough insulation, one's own body-heat is enough to make a room too warm.

We unwound almost completely, and were almost unbearably reminded of New Zealand.  I mean, look:

British Columbia?  New Zealand called and it wants its landscape back.

Another near-vertical climb: Pulpit Rock, above Nelson.

My criteria for a holiday is not being around other people.  Trips where there’s an overload of other beings count as travel.  We truly relaxed here: walked, read, talked, slept, and rejuvenated our souls.  We even (unheard of for me) enjoyed the road-trip parts of the journey.  K-man was happy anywhere there was a Tim Hortons, and I was happy watching the hills slide by.

Despite a couple of long walks through perfect bear-country, we didn’t see any.  This may have had something to do with my repeated yelling about how much I didn’t want to see one.  We kept finding poo on the path, and each time I would begin fresh paroxysms.  I reached my zenith at a clearing that looked like the aftermath of the Blair Witch Project.  There were some abandoned pots and pans in a half-open plastic bag, and a ripped-to-shreds sleeping bag in the fork of a tree.

After I’d breathed into a paper bag for a while, and practised the quick-release on the bear spray, I felt better.

Less than six hours before we were due to fly out of Canada I was lamenting the fact that we might very well be the only tourists in Canada not to see a bear.  Don’t we smell tasty?

On the way back into Vancouver we saw one!  Where I wanted to: by the side of the road, me within the safety of a vehicle.

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8 Responses to “Behind the Curve: Bear Avoidance Strategies”


  1. 1 Jenn @ Juggling Life January 13, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    I love BC–we spent two weeks about 13 years ago in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island; you are right about the expense though–the price of fruit shocked me completely.

  2. 2 Mrs. G. January 14, 2011 at 4:07 am

    I am glad you succeed in combining family time with vegging time. We are due for a Skype now that I’ve plugged back into the world. Happy New Year Nic!

  3. 3 Stacie January 14, 2011 at 6:08 am

    What beautiful photos! The last two, I mean. :)

    Your writing always makes me smile. I hope I don’t run into any bears here either. They are supposed to be hibernating until April. I have until then to get my bear spray.

  4. 4 Jen on the Edge January 14, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    There’s a reason why I don’t go on vacations with my extended family and you just reminded of it.

    That photo of B.C. does look exactly like Milford Sound in New Zealand. My question is, where there millions of nasty biting black flies in B.C. or is that pleasure reserved exclusively for N.Z.? I was pregnant with my first when we were there and we used so much bug spray to deal with the flies that I was afraid my baby was going to be born with flippers and four eyes.

    • 5 nic January 14, 2011 at 3:38 pm

      @Jen on the edge: sandflies! Ugh. The bane of the south island. Those little buggers! We come across anything that dreadful in BC. Come to think of it, not even a mosquito, which was a blessing. Maybe it was the the time of year though, because I’ve heard they can be bad.

  5. 6 kellyg January 15, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    We spent our honeymoon in Vancouver with a side trip to Vancouver Island. Now this was 16 years ago and the exchange rate with the US was in our favor, but one of my best memories was the market on Grandville Island. I found quarts of raspberries for 1.98 Canadian which meant it was about $1 US. For a quart of raspberries. I almost made myself sick on them.

    So for me, Vancouver will always be a city of raspberries and buskers. Oh and when we went to a Canucks hockey game (it was Canadian Thanksgiving), my husband made the observation that arena may smell like beer but at least it’s good beer.

    We toured Stanley Park, too. I remember that totem pole.

    • 7 nic January 17, 2011 at 4:36 pm

      @kellyg: we went to Granville Island to the market, too. I really enjoyed it, but it seems to have been ‘gentrified’ out of all recognition. Dad had been there several years ago and loved it, but he said it’s definitely changed. Plus, sadly for me, living in a city famous for its markets (Borough Market, Covent Garden Market) means I’m sort of spoiled for these things. Stanley Park was an absolute winner, though!

  6. 8 Bella Rum January 19, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    I’ve seen a black bear in the wild. We were in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, but we were in a car at the time. We’re such sissies compared to you and K-man.


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