Here’s What You Should Do If You See a Bear—Whether You’re on the Trail or in Your Backyard

The following advice is excerpted from LOOK BIG: And Other Tips for Surviving Animal Encounters of All Kinds ($15,

It’s awe inspiring, if terrifying, to see bears in the wild. It’s also rather jarring to watch them crawl up the carpeted stairs of a ski condo while a guy hiding in the closet films it on his phone, then posts it on YouTube.

There are countless home videos like these online of bears where they shouldn’t be: climbing over a car windshield while a baby screams in the backseat; throwing a pool party in Connecticut, which was cute, in a NIMBY kind of way. There was also a recent incident at Lake Tahoe, not online, unfortunately: a tray of pot brownies, just out of the oven, left cooling on the windowsill while everyone went out for a walk. When the people returned, they found that the bear, like Goldilocks, had eaten them all up.

Encounters with black bears are on the rise, says Ann Bryant, director of the Lake Tahoe–based BEAR League. “Twenty years ago, we’d get five calls a day; now we get two hundred,” she says: there are more tourists, more locals living among the bears—­then leaving windows open, food out, trashcans filled—­and never learning how to properly live with them.

“Fifty percent of the time, we coach idiots,” says Bryant. Like the dad who smeared peanut butter on his toddler’s nose, then waited for a bear to lick it off (photo op, he’d explained) or the dude who left a cookie trail leading from his backyard to his couch because he thought it’d be fun to, you know, film a bear eating cookies while watching TV.

Please don’t feed the bears! When they get too used to humans, they become a danger to themselves and us.

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What to do if you see a bear

In a heavily human place like Tahoe or Whistler, if a black bear is on your turf (deck, driveway, campground), it’s simple, says Bryant. Be inhospitable. Clap, stomp, pound the window, yell. It’ll flee. Squirt guns, beach balls, small stones (thrown at its butt) help scare it off, too. “Black bears are big chickens,” she promises.

However, if you see a black bear or grizzly in the wild, on its own turf, it’s more complicated. Be respectful, a good guest. The number-one rule, according to Dan LeGrandeur of Alberta-­based Bear Scare: Stay calm (uh, okay). Don’t scream or turn your back. DO NOT RUN; it will chase you (bears can motor up to 35 mph). Give it space. Say hello, out loud, in your most soothing yoga teacher voice—­“Hi, bear. I’m human. Get the hell out of here, please,” while slooowly backing away in the direction from which you came.

It’s not about whether a bear is black or brown (and black bears can be brown, by the way), but how a bear is behaving, says LeGrandeur. “Read its signals.”

It’s either scared and asking you to go away (defensive) or wants to kill you and eat you (predatory). No pressure, but you need to figure that out fast.

Defensive bear behavior: Ears back, paws swatting, jaw clacking, huffing. Black bear cubs may climb a tree.

Your behavior: Retreat gradually while turned sideways and avoiding eye contact. Appear as unthreatening as you know you are.

Predatory bear behavior: Ears forward, head up, staring at you, quietly stalking.

Your behavior: Look big. Lock eyes. Shout. Throw stuff. Be intimidating; let it know who’s, supposedly, boss.

There’s a good chance the bear will leave. If it doesn’t and charges? “%#@&.” If it’s defensive—­most are—it’s bluffing. Probably. “At that point, it’s a hope and a prayer,” admits LeGrandeur.

“Every muscle in your body is telling you otherwise, but DO NOT RUN.” Instead, stand your ground and bust out the bear spray—­98% of people who use it (properly) are unscathed. Comforting.

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If a bear lays its paws on you . . .

Mama black bear or mama grizzly defending her cubs: Play dead.

Male black bear: Fight back, usually.

Male grizzly: It depends. Is the bear defensive? Play dead. Predatory? Fight for your life.

Reprinted from LOOK BIG: And Other Tips for Surviving Animal Encounters of All Kinds Copyright © 2018 by Rachel Levin. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

I Suffered a Debilitating Head Injury in the Boston Marathon Bombing. One Year Later, I Completed the Race


Like many Bostonians, Lynn Julian Crisci looked forward to the Boston Marathon every year. She wasn’t a runner. Far from it. Ever since 2006, when she slipped on an electrical cord during a performance with her band and was knocked unconscious from the blow to her head, she’d been suffering from symptoms of a severe concussion. She’d been bedridden for a time, due to the fatigue and dizziness, then eventually pushed herself, through hours of therapy, to get around by wheelchair, then walk with a cane.

By April 15, the day of the 2013 marathon, she was finally walking without a cane, taking acting classes and feeling healthy. “Things were looking up,” she recalls. “I thought the worst of it was behind me.”

The morning of the race, she and her partner staked out prime real estate at a sidewalk café table near the finish line, where they sat for hours, enjoying the celebratory fray. Then, at 2:50 in the afternoon, there was a percussive noise, then another. Two backpacks filled with explosives had detonated, leaving three spectators dead and 260 injured. The café where Lynn was sitting was less than a half-block from the first explosion.

Lynn remembers feeling frozen, until her service dog got her attention by scratching her face. As Lynn tried to navigate through the crowd holding the panicked dog against her chest, both of her shoulders became partially dislocated. The sounds of chaos around her were muffled, as if her head was being held underwater. By the time she and her partner made it home, she was nauseated and dizzy. “I hadn’t hit my head, but I had all the symptoms of a head injury,” she says.

The injury landed her back in bed. “It was depressing and dispiriting. I’d made so much progress. The last thing I needed was another setback.”

Several months later, Lynn received word that the Boston Marathon was offering free marathon bibs to those who were injured at the event. She broke down in tears. “Having watched so many of my fellow survivors progress forward in their healing, I was extremely frustrated," she says.

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But it also made her think. Over the past seven years, she had put in hours of grueling work at physical therapy. “I’d gone from being bedridden to walking again. Why couldn’t I run a marathon?”

So instead of rejecting the race bib, she took it as a challenge and began her training in December 2013. “At first, I could barely walk a mile on the treadmill’s slowest speed and had to hang onto the rails for support,” she says. But every day she did what she could, and by late February, she was able to jog 10 miles.

“It was painful and exhausting, but by then I was determined to do it,” she says. “After the bombing, I was struggling with extreme anxiety and running calmed me down. It made me feel functional instead of disabled. It changed my mind as much as my body.”

On April 21, 2014, Lynn completed the Boston Marathon. It was six and a half hours of agony, but the payoff was worth it.

“No therapy in the world could have bolstered my self-esteem and self-confidence like finishing the marathon did,” she says. “I still struggle with health problems. But I exercise almost every day, and I don’t see it as a chore. After what I’ve been through, keeping my body strong and fit feels like a privilege. I have learned the hard way that everything in our lives is a privilege." | Need motivation? Joel Stransky stood on the podium at the Cape Epic, a year after being in ICU

A year after emergency facial surgery, Joel Stransky was challenging for the podium in the Grand Masters category at the 2018 Absa Cape Epic.

One year ago, Joel Stransky, relieved that his sunglasses had probably saved his right eye and eye socket from any real damage other than bad lacerations, was beginning his recovery from facial surgery and was struggling to breathe normally as a result of broken ribs and a punctured lung.

On Sunday 25 March 2018, he smiled broadly and breathed deeply as he savoured the view from the podium of the 2018 Absa Cape Epic.

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Stransky and his teammate, Andrew McLean, racing as Team Cycle Lab KTM, had finished third in the Grand Masters category for riders 50 years and older. The Grand Masters is not a small category (75 teams started), nor is it a slow one. McLean and Stransky finished in 61st place overall from a total of 678 teams that started the demanding eight-day mountain bike race.

“It’s an incredible feeling to stand on the podium at the Absa Cape Epic!” said a clearly elated Stransky, shortly after finishing the 658km race through some of the most rugged and toughest conditions in the Western Cape.

“Yes, I was in a bad way a year ago, but I’m not one to reflect much on the past. I like to focus on the present and future and one of the main reasons I made such a great recovery from my injuries is that I was focused on being 100% prepared to race the 2018 Cape Epic,” he added.

It was the eighth Cape Epic that Stransky has completed. He crashed out on day one of the 2017 edition and was “quadbiked” out of the remote location, barely able to hold on, and rushed to hospital with serious injuries, where he spent some time in the ICU after surgery.

For Stransky, a man who helped South Africa win the 1995 Rugby World Cup, this year’s Cape Epic is his most treasured.

“I’m a naturally competitive person. Whether it’s in rugby or business or in my charity work, I’m always striving to be better and progressing. For me, the added pressure of racing for a podium finish at this Cape Epic suited my character. I also got to compete alongside my friend, Andrew, who helped coach me to get to my best cycling condition ever,” added Stransky.

“When I did my first Cape Epic back in 2010, I would never have dreamed of a podium finish at this race. And what a dream journey it’s been.”

When spectating at the Cape Epic, you can spot the former rugby players quite easily. In a sport that favours the slim, they stand out as they grind away at their pedals, unable to pedal smoothly as they face the fact that they were born into a power-to-weight ratio disadvantage on a bicycle. 

Sure, Stransky wasn’t a huge rugby player, but at 88kg and 179cm he wasn’t the smallest, especially when you consider he played most of his career in the 1990s before the advent of specific sports supplementation and scientific training that’s now the professional rugby norm.

He finished the Cape Epic weighing 79kg, his face gaunt and his legs sinewy and lean. He certainly doesn’t show up on the naked eye’s “former rugby player radar”.

“Some people I haven’t seen for a while don’t recognise me,” chuckled Stransky. “They ask if I’m okay. But I’m perfectly fine. I’ve never felt better in fact and it’s a great feeling to be super fit. But more exciting for me is that it’s great to be fast on a mountain bike…”


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Image credit: iStock, Zoon Cronje