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Rossland, BC, nestled in the Monashee range in the West Kootenays, is the smallest incorporated city in Canada with a population of around 3,500.
In the 1990s it was like taking a step back in time – to an age when kids played outside until they were called in for dinner or bed — and almost no one locked their doors.
The city had grown up during a gold rush on Red Mountain in the 1890s, but the gold was long gone and now the sleepy town’s economy was based largely on the tourists that came for the world class skiing in the winter, and of course the mountain biking.
We had moved there in 1993 – so Max and Dolly got to grow up in an environment where they could walk by themselves to soccer or gymnastic classes — or even spend the day skiing with only their friends for company.
Rossland also had a long history as a centre for mountain biking – tracing back to the earliest Rubberhead bike festivals starting in the mid 1980s. An extensive system of riding trails still extends from the outskirts of town giving easy access to the back country. Even though we had moved to Rossland for the skiing, we made good use of those biking trails.
The other thing Rossland was famous for was its bears.
When I lived there, bears regularly walked through town, especially along the banks of Trail Creek that ran right behind our house.
Anyone who biked in the bush, routinely carried bells on their handlebars – or under the back of their bike seat – anywhere that would cause the bells to jingle as you rode along the trails. Ringing bells to keep the bears away!
The theory was that the bears were no more interested in meeting up with bikers than the bikers were in meeting up with a bear. The plan was for the bears to hear the bells so they could take off before the cyclist arrived.
I always had bells on my bike. But it wasn’t always effective …. as I found out one summer evening when my son Max and I decided to take a quick ride down the hill to Warfield after dinner.
We took the rail-grade trail because we could access it right behind our house. It followed the route of the old narrow-gauge railroad that ran from Trail Landing on the Columbia River, up to the gold mine on Red Mountain. The tracks had long since been removed, and the rail bed now made a great biking and hiking trail.
Our golden retriever, Pinky, came along as well. She loved to run with the bikes and would never miss a trip to the bush. She was a great bike dog because she never chased other bikes or dogs – and she never got in the way of our bikes. She was too busy enjoying herself running through the bush.
We had just started out and were just past the edge of town, when a small black dog appeared and started to chase the wheels of my bike.
He was running right beside my pedals but surprisingly he was not barking. I was sure he was either going to get hurt himself – or make me fall – or maybe both. So I was yelling and trying to get him to “go away” – when I realized I was looking down at two little, round, black ears that were sitting up high on top of his head.
I’d never seen a dog with ears like that. The only thing I knew of with ears like that was a bear!!
He wasn’t much bigger than a ten-pin bowling ball with legs – and his head was almost the same size as his body.
And oh yes – he was definitely a bear!! Just a little cub.
Now I was seriously trying to get him away from my bike – and I had no intention of stopping or even slowing down!!
I didn’t want to look over my shoulder — I was pretty sure that if baby-bear was chasing my bike then momma-bear was not too far away. And probably not very happy with what was going on!
When I was yelling at the little bear to take off – I had also alerted Pinky to my problem and Pinky hated bears.
She hated them with a vengeance. She would tree any bear that entered our yard. I always thought it was because they would get into our garbage cans – and she thought she had first dibs on any garbage at our house.
And now she was racing straight down the hill towards the trail – and me.
She clearly planned to teach this little bear a lesson and of course she chose the shortest route to get to the bear – right in front of my bike.
I don’t know how I didn’t end up flying over the handle bars that night – but I managed to avoid the dog – and the bear – and I stayed on my bike.
The little guy took off down the field with Pinky in hot pursuit. She was barking!
I didn’t look left and I didn’t look right and I certainly didn’t attempt to look behind me. I just hollered at Max to “keep pedalling – as fast as you can!!”
I don’t know if he even knew what had happened — but he was always game to pedal full speed down hill.
I have been told that bears can run uphill faster than down. And I know for sure that I can bike downhill much faster than up — so it was downhill all the way. Non-stop to Warfield.
I never did lay eyes on momma-bear that night — but I know she was there somewhere.
In all the years we lived in Rossland – it was the closest I ever got to a baby bear – and I didn’t even take the time to enjoy it!!