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Man Versus Bear, Cycling Edition

A Tale of Three Men

Was it my fault? I was riding alone on a local trail with my new gravel bike, a saddle bag of tools, and plenty of snacks. I was enjoying the easy gravel trail, the sights and sounds of the woods, and the occasional friendly passersby.

A section of the trail turned to road, and as I crested a small hill, I passed a gentleman, also on a bike. I greeted him politely and went on my way, lost in my own thoughts and the rhythm of the pedals. Was it something I said? Was it something in my tone? Did I look at him wrong? Because at that moment it went from a pleasant ride to an all-out sprint as the gentleman became angry and began to chase me. All I did was pass him on my bicycle, and he became a threat to my safety.

What started as a fun, easy ride turned to terror as this man chased me for several miles until I reached the next trailhead. Not knowing what else to do, I dove into the parking lot and made a beeline for the closest person I saw – a man loading a bike onto his truck.

I tried to act normal and make conversation, and the man in the parking lot stared at me blankly as the chaser realized I found help and went on his way. The parking lot man and I just stood there, looking awkwardly at each other, until the other man was out of sight. His only words to me were, “Well, have a nice day.” And he got in his truck and left without another word.

I headed back the way I came, confused by the situation and uncomfortable thinking about the miles back home.

I was happy to see the trail was a lot busier now, so I paused to eat something and take pictures of a few flowers when another man stopped and looked at me. He could tell I was unnerved and was careful to keep his distance and speak gently. He said he didn’t want to scare me, he knew his wife would be uncomfortable if a strange man approached her on a trail. He just wanted to see if I and my bike were ok. Did I need help with a flat or anything? I told him I was fine and thank you, and he politely went on his way, being very careful to stay as far from me as the trail would allow. He offered help in the least threatening way possible and it was a relief after what had already happened.

There’ve been other times too, when I felt I was in danger. Once I was knocked off my bike by a man on a motorcycle while I was stopped at a traffic light. Another man in a pickup truck cursed at me for riding on the road. These instances shouldn’t happen to me or to anyone, male or female. We are supposed to be safe in America.

I love to ride my bike. I love to ride my bike alone, but I almost never do now. It’s just too hard to feel safe.

And I think that’s what the whole man versus bear dialogue is about. It isn’t that all men are bad; it’s more that there are enough men who aren’t good that women don’t feel safe. Sure, ‘most’ of the men I encountered on my trail ride were okay and even helpful, but it only takes one to ruin a good thing.

Man or Bear?

I’ve seen this discussion over and over again, from TikTok, to Instagram, to Facebook. Content Creators love to jump on the bandwagon with any type of storyline that creates engagement (can you blame them?). Some people are already getting tired of the question: Would you rather be in the woods alone with a man or a bear? I find it fascinating that overwhelmingly, women choose the bear. While some women in the minority, would much rather choose a man, most would rather take their chances with a bear.

Please understand that I am NOT into manhating. I feel honored to know some really awesome men (their names have been withheld for privacy, of course!) who I would feel quite safe with in the woods. But I absolutely value the conversations we are having across the interwebs about how many women feel unsafe just going about their daily lives.

I have to admit, I’ve never been chased by a bear on a bike (knock on wood and throw salt over my left shoulder I don’t). But I have been chased by a man on a bike. I’ve been bullied by men who can’t stand that a woman might be a faster cyclist. Oh, I’ve encountered women cyclists who were less than friendly and a few have been positively unkind, but never has a female cyclist made me feel unsafe. Only men have done that.

And that’s why we still need to have the conversation about men and bears in the woods. Women, we need to speak up when we feel unsafe. Not just look for a safer person, like I did, but make our fears known. We won’t get safer if we just let it go. I know its hard to speak up when we’re told we shouldn’t be going places alone or we shouldn’t ride or run alone at certain times of day.

But I also think we can carry this conversation forward without hating on all men, but celebrating the good ones as we go. By being a safe person for others, whether it is physically or emotionally safe.

And yes, we need to keep asking if you would rather encounter a man or a bear when you are alone in the woods. And I think we need to keep asking until we can all answer ‘man’ without hesitation or coercion. But I think we should ask some other questions, too…

Whether we are male or female, in the woods or on a bike, which person will we be to others? In any situation, not just in the woods:

Will we be the one that is the aggressor, getting angry and creating fear just because we can?

Will we be the man that stands by and watches, maybe provides a little safety, but doesn’t do anything?

Or will we be the one who offers assistance in the safest way possible?

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