How a bikepacker survived a bear attack during her World Record ride around the globe

Growling Grizzly Bear close up
(Image credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Back in 2018, I attempted the world record to be the fastest woman to circumnavigate the globe on a bicycle. Whilst I didn't exactly get that particular record, I did become the youngest woman to ride around the world. I was 19 when I started with very little knowledge about bikepacking in general. Five and a half months later, I reached my finish line in Perth, Australia on 24th December 2018 , the same place where I had started, and realized that as late as I was in finishing that ride, I couldn't possibly have prepared for everything that went down during my journey. While there are many, many tales to tell from my travels, this is the one in which I had a very close encounter with a bear.

Vedangi putting a jacket on her waist at the side of the road.

(Image credit: Callum Howard)

Out there, one late afternoon, I was riding up a mountain in Glacier National Park, just before Golden, British Columbia. I was minding my own business, listening to an audiobook – Mind Of A Survivor, by Megan Hine, if you were curious – and munching on a cereal bar. I'd had bear sightings before, but nothing particularly dangerous at any point. It was easy to believe that bear attacks were mostly an exaggeration. It didn't help, though, that just about every person I spoke to along the way would ask, "Have you seen any bears yet? Be careful!".

In that spirit, when I did see three bears, probably brown but possibly grizzly, next to a stream, I was fascinated. I was slowly pedaling my way up that mountain whilst staring at these majestic beauties, when one of them stood on its hind legs. From what I could see from the corner of my eye, it was the biggest one. My heart dropped to my stomach when I saw that it wasn't merely standing anymore, but charging straight at me.

I pedaled the hardest that I ever have and probably ever will, and swayed towards the left side of the road. Panicked as I was, I had to try and save myself. I knew I had some bear spray inside a hat stored in the outer helmet pocket of my hydration pack. With one hand on the handlebars, I stretched my other hand to try and grab hold of the bear spray. 

I couldn't quite get the spray out of my bag and with the bear getting nearer, it seemed like my best bet was to just keep pedaling as fast as I could. I had heard about the high speeds that bears can run up to. At the pace I was going, I stood no chance.

I am not sure how many seconds or minutes had passed, but I heard loud screeching and honking from a fast-moving lorry coming straight at me. I was on the wrong side of the road and there was a chance that the vehicle wouldn't be able to stop in time, but the bear was still charging. Pumped full of adrenaline and in a crazy situation, I just couldn't stop pedaling. The rapidly approaching lorry stopped only inches away from me, but fortunately all the noise and commotion scared the bear away.

I was safe, but I wasn't convinced about that for a good while. The driver of the lorry was fuming and I could've been killed. As he left, I went back onto the correct side of the road and rode until I came across an open plan tourist information center that said "Glacier National Park", along with some information about what's around and, ironically, tips on bear safety.

Some parts of my ride around the world were shot by a film crew. One of those sections was across the Canadian Rockies. Through my SPOT tracker, which was active at the time, the media crew found out my location. I also messaged them about the incident. When they eventually came by, I was laughing and rambling on about how I was going to make the long-drop toilet bear safe. I told them that that's where I'd camp for the night. Then, once sufficiently calmed down, I tried to get back on the bike. I couldn't put much pressure through my legs – I was spent! I decided to call it a day and continue from there the day after. That night, I had a bear-related nightmare. It took quite a while before such thoughts passed.

Freelance writer

Vedangi Kulkarni is an adventure traveller, endurance athlete, public speaker, writer, expedition manager and a business owner. In 2018, she rode 29,000km around the world in 160 days, mostly solo and unsupported, at the age of 19/20, becoming the youngest woman to circumnavigate the globe by bike. She’s always keen for an adventure, be it cold water swimming, long distance hiking or cycling, climbing, mountain biking or travelling through  remote places. Her happy place is anywhere outside, in the wild, and on the move. She loves to write about bikepacking, mountain biking and just about anything adventurous and has penned articles for Singletrack World and Nat Geo Traveller UK as well as Bike Perfect.