Yukon cyclist chased by grizzly bear on highway

Sierra Van Der Meer says she was riding along the highway south of Whitehorse on Sunday when she stumbled upon a grizzly that then gave chase.

Sierra Van Der Meer says a grizzly chased her until a driver came and scared bear away

Sierra Van Der Meer doesn't think the bear wanted to attack her, but maybe just wanted her 'out of his space.' The animal chased her down the road until a motorist came and scared the animal away, she says. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

Sierra Van Der Meer of Whitehorse says she was just telling someone last week that she rarely sees bears.

"I always kind of joke that they're hiding from me," she said.

Turns out she spoke too soon — within days, the avid mountain biker had not only spotted several bears while out riding, but found herself in a hair-raising "once-in-a-lifetime sprint" away from a grizzly as it gave chase.

It happened Sunday afternoon on the South Klondike Highway, between Whitehorse and Carcross. Van Der Meer says she was riding along the roadside when she suddenly spotted a grizzly bear on the shoulder, just a few metres away.

She was climbing uphill at the time, and decided to turn herself around just in case she needed to make a fast getaway.

Good call.

"To my surprise, it decided to stop munching its grass and sort of walk up onto the highway," she recalled. 

Van Der Meer says it happened on the South Klondike Highway outside of Whitehorse. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

She thought the bear was maybe wary of her and would simply walk across the road and away. 

"Instead, it decided to sort of chase me down the hill."

Van Der Meer says the highway had been busy with traffic that day, but there was a lull when she stumbled onto the bear. The chase continued for about five to 10 panicked seconds, she figures, before a minivan came around the corner and spotted the action.

"[The driver] sort of sped up behind me, and the bear went then into the ditch again. And after it kind of had gone into the ditch, [the driver] pulled onto the shoulder and followed me another maybe 200 or 300 metres, at which point I finally felt safe," Van Der Meer says.

'Super-grateful' for driver's help

She doesn't know the driver's name, but said it was a woman from Alaska. 

"She obviously knew what she was doing, and did exactly what I needed in that time," Van Der Meer says.

"I'm super-grateful that she was there, because I don't know if it would have kept chasing me if she hadn't been there. But she certainly de-escalated the situation very quickly."

After the woman carried on her way, Van Der Meer kept riding as her husband was expected shortly to pick her up on his way to Whitehorse.

Looking back, she doesn't think she was in any serious danger of an attack. She suspects the bear just wanted her "out of his space."

Still, it was a scare, she says.

"So I'm going to stop bragging that I don't see bears, because I think maybe I did this to myself." 

With files from Leonard Linklater