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Alaska cyclist survives brown bear attack

Rider plays dead after surprising bear and cub on controversial trail

A cyclist commuting to work in Anchorage, Alaska, escaped serious injury after being attacked by a brown bear when he followed expert advice and played dead.

The incident took place in the city’s Far North Bicentennial Park on Tuesday, when Sean Berkey, aged 45, apparently surprised the female bear which is thought to have been protecting its cub, according to the state’s Department of Fish and Game, reports the Anchorage Daily News.

The bear clawed and may even have bitten Berkey during the attack, but he was able to get back on his bike and cycle three miles to the Alaska Native Medical Center, where he works as a paediatric pharmacist, to receive treatment.

The area where the attack took place, Rover's Run, is a two-mile trail that has become the focal point of arguments between the city’s government and state biologists. The latter wish to see the trail closed during the summer, while the city wants it to remain open.

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan told the newspaper: "It's up to the people who use these areas to use good judgment. We don't close down our facilities because we happen to live in an area that has some potential dangers."

The incident happened just 100 yards from where a teenage girl taking part in a 4-hour bike race had been severely mauled by a bear two years ago.

Department of Fish and Game spokesman Rick Sinorr said that Berkey surprised the bear and its cub as he rode along the trail, adding: "It sounds like it was a classic brown bear defensive attack."

"She saw him coming right at her and attacked him," he added.

Berkey suffered a torn ear and claw wounds to his calf. “She slapped him several times, maybe bit him, kind of rolled him around a little bit," explained Sinnott.

The bear retreated, and after waiting a few moments, Berkey looked up to see that she was still there, at which point she is said to have become “agitated” again. The cyclist continued to play dead then, a few minutes later, got up and made good his escape on his bike.

"He did everything he was supposed to do right," said Sinnott.

Originally a game trail, over the last two decades Rover’s Run – a meeting point for bears who come down from the mountains in search of spawning salmon in nearby streams - has been adopted first by skiers and more recently by mountain bikers.
Sinott says that lies at the root of the attacks, since bears can easily be startled by the sudden appearance of a cyclist traveling at speed, forcing them to go into defensive mode, particularly if there is a cub around.

The city has resisted calls to close the trail during the summer months and instead has put up warning signs, with Mayor Sullivan saying "We live in an area with great recreational opportunities but also each of those opportunities has an inherent danger in it."

He added: "In our environment, you go prepared. If you don't go prepared, you have to look at yourself a little bit as part of the problem."

The Mayor said that if he were on Rover’s Run, he would probably ensure he was armed. When asked what type of gun he would be carrying, he replied, "A big one."

 

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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