When I arrived on my motorcycle in Lake City, CO, I immediately found a small rustic tavern to sit down and enjoy a nice meal. I came out to significantly colder temperatures than when I had arrived, it was mid-September and winter was coming in fast. When I continued my ride the following morning, I was hit with a blizzard on Engineer Pass that turned everything around me white. After riding through the slush from the previous night and this morning’s light dusting, I rolled into Ouray and set up camp a few miles out of town. That afternoon I went riding with friends, one of whom lives nearby, and we rode numerous trails and were again hit by light snow in the higher elevations. We decided that would be a good time to call it quits for the day and arranged to meet for dinner later.
I rolled back to my campground to relax for a while and the owner came over and told me a bear had been spotted a short while ago. “If you have ANY food you can leave it with me and I’ll put it inside my cabin, it’s getting to that time of year the bears are looking for anything and everything they can find to eat,” she told me. So, I rounded up all my food, threw it in a bag and walked it over to her for safekeeping before I left for dinner in town.
The last thing my friend said to me before I left to return to my campsite was, “Remember, 8 a.m., don’t be late. This is the last day you’ll ride here this year!”
It was close to midnight when I returned, I pulled up to my tent and there was another tent pitched not even ten feet away from mine. I turned off my motorcycle and all I heard was snoring. Really, really loud snoring…even the noise of my bike hadn’t woken him! It seemed that the entire rest of the campground was empty. “Why did he put his tent right there?” I mused, as I listened to the snoring getting louder and louder. It was a crisp night and the sky was clear. The Milky Way was shining perfectly overhead, so I took a photo then got into my Copper Hotel and tucked myself nice and warm into my Lost Ranger.
All I could hear was incessant snoring. With no way around it, I put in ear plugs and drifted off into a deep sleep. Not long after I’d fallen asleep, I was awoken by a really loud noise and shouting right outside my tent. Flashlights were shining everywhere, illuminating my tent from the outside. I swiftly opened the tent door to find a man standing outside as he shouted, “Look!” He pointed to the trees with his headlamp and I barely got a glimpse of the huge Black Bear’s rear-end before it quickly disappeared into the bushes.
The snoring man looked terrified at what had just happened. “It was right there, I heard a noise outside and thought someone was breaking into your soft luggage,” he explained. “I have the same luggage so the sound is familiar, but it was taking too long for it to be you. I grabbed my headlamp and opened my tent door and saw the bears face five feet away from mine!”
The way he described the experience was like this, “When I shone the light it went right into the bear’s eyes and we stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. The Black Bear, who was about 5-ft long and 300-400 lbs, had knocked the bike over and was standing on it, trying to rip the luggage apart with its teeth and claws. I froze for a second then shouted out, “A bear is trying to eat that guy’s luggage!” A second later the bear lost interest and casually walked away. I’m from the East Coast, and I have never seen a bear in real life and never thought I’d see one this close…the hell with this place, I’m moving to a log cabin or a hotel room for the rest of my time in Colorado!”
I stood the bike back up, assessed the damage, and wondered if there was any scent left in the bag that might have attracted it. To my surprise, I found a tiny section of cucumber, maybe four inches long in the bottom of the bag that I had missed…that was it, that’s all it took. Needless to say, I was so glad that wasn’t inside my tent by mistake. I grabbed the piece of cucumber and threw it in the bushes in the direction the bear had fled. I then contacted Pete, the owner of Mosko Moto, the luggage manufacturer and told him the story. He was honestly concerned for me, and once he was convinced that I was alright he asked that I return the damaged piece of gear to be exchanged for a new one and added, ”Now I can add ‘Bear proof’ to our advertising!”
I arrived at the meet-up point around 9 a.m. to a concerned group of friends. “Seriously, we’ve been waiting on you. You missed breakfast, do you at least have a real good excuse?” I replied, “Got attacked by a bear last night!” and watched their expressions of horror and surprise as I retold the story in all its glory.
Paul Stewart has been riding motorcycles since he was just eight years old. From there he went on to design and build hundreds of custom bikes, while having his photography featured in publications such as National Geographic and BBC Travel. After conquering a series of unfortunate events including a nasty motorcycle accident, Paul was advised by a friend to go on a long motorcycle ride to clear his mind…..He has been on the road ever since. You can read more of his story and view his photography here.