The western coast of Canada has been a rare destination that I’ve been coming back to on semi-regular basis in the last decade, ever since Ornella, one of the most extraordinary women I know and am honoured to call a friend, decided to leave her life in Italy behind and try her luck overseas. I first visited her shortly after she settled in 2015, long before this blog was created, and Vancouver was also the last stop of my world trip before flying back to Europe. Ornella is now proudly Canadian, and decided to tie the knot with Eric and asked me to be her maid of honour. Or as we say in Europe, the witness to her wedding. My friends know that I am a conscientious objector to marriage, but still have the habit to ask me to sign it off for them anyway, by which I feel honoured. So of course I accepted the invitation. I was also in the middle of an emotional shitstorm (that is still raging, by the way), and what I needed most at the time was a reminder that my happiness does not depend on anyone else but me. I do not need a man in my life to feel happy. I need to be in the open, with fresh air filling my lungs and wind messing up my hair. I need a bike. And roads to discover. I transform my emotional pain into kinetic energy. Needless to say, it did not work. There are not enough hills in the world to make my quadriceps ache more than my abused heart. Oh well. At least the views were fantastic.
I was super excited to get on a long haul flight again. Starved by the two years of travel restrictions, I had an important itch to scratch. Actually, that is not entirely true. I am extremely lucky to live in a country that has nothing to envy to any other place on Earth in terms of diversity of nature and landscape, endless hiking and cycling possibilities, and (needless to stress) history and architecture. So even though travelling abroad was somewhat difficult, my wanderlust has been kept at bay by discovering most remote corners of Spain. Plenty of that on this blog, you’ll just have to fight your way through heaps of rants and emotional bullshit. Be my guest and browse. The above-mentioned itch dates back to 2015, when Ornella and I drove across the Vancouver Island to Tofino and I promised myself that one day I would come back here and cycle. Et voilà, fast forward to May ’22, the day has finally come. It would have been too expensive to fly Lilith (for those new to this blog, my bike and the protagonist of my Instagram account) over the Atlantic, but after harassing a local bike rental shop to the point they stopped replying to my emails, I managed to get a worthy replacement: I rented a few years old Giant Defy, which I christened Waawaate, the Ojibwe First Nation’s word for northern lights. I’m weird that way, don’t dwell on it. Follows the recount of my journey through the mid and southern part of Vancouver Island.
Few words about the organisation. I’m a road cyclist, so my options were pretty straightforward: there are not many paved roads. If you are on gravel or MTB, your possibilities are endless. You can cycle on any road on Vancouver Island, including those marked as highways, which at times are your only option. They may not be pretty, but with the 3m wide hard shoulder, they feel safe. I felt safe overall cycling in BC, and my bar is set high, given the respect cyclists generally enjoy in Spain. To get an idea, nothing to see with cycling in the UK, to state one example. No one will feel the need to inform you that you are a cunt just because you happen to be out on the bike on a country lane, while surpassing you at 5 cm distance and way over the speed limit. I cannot speak for the whole country, but cycling on the roads of Vancouver Island felt perfectly fine. You can tell that they are not used to seeing cyclists on the roads, so they would look at me with a mixture of suspicion and admiration. Sometimes they would greet me. Sometimes even cheer me up, on the climbs. Once they offered me a ride (the weather was really horrible). But they never did anything remotely dangerous. Even the logging trucks were giving me enough space while overtaking. And anyway, it was not the cars I was most afraid of, it was the bears that made me nervous. About that later.
Some general tips:
- Navigation: I never carry a Garmin, or any other type of computer. To me it’s just one more gadget that can run out of battery. I prepare the rides aforehand, and either read road signs, or remember the numbers of the roads I intend to take. Europe is easy to navigate, and this particular part of Canada doesn’t exactly give you many options to take a wrong turn.
- Network coverage: I bought a prepaid SIM with data from Telus, which seems to provide the best service on the island, but there still won’t be any network between towns. Sometimes even in the towns. Most pubs and cafes will have wifi. Anyway, don’t stress about it too much. The islanders are very nice people with a community feel about them. Their attitude (and it doesn’t matter if you are clearly not from there) is “we are far from everything, but we are in this together”. They will always help. And they all drive massive trucks, so worst case scenario, someone will give you and the bike a lift.
- Water and pit stops: it wasn’t hot in May, but still, there were sometimes stretches of the road of 80 km with nothing around, not even a gas station. I was carrying two bottles, and on some days when I knew there would not be any possibility to buy food, I had prepared a sandwich. You could get away with fuelling with energy bars and gels, but I prefer to save those as emergency solutions. If I eat too much of that shit, I cannot trust my farts, and I am sure you cannot either.
- Bikepacking gear: I travel light. I was sleeping in hotels, so I wasn’t carrying any camping or cooking equipment. I packed a change of base-layer and jersey (I didn’t want to be too disgusting at the end of the week), some lightweight clothes for the evening, a rain jacket, a pair of sneakers, flip flops, towel, toiletries, and the usual: inner tubes, basic tools, power bank, some nutrition. It all fit into this 14 l saddle bag and this 14 l handlebar bag (thanks for letting me borrow it, Kiron), both made by Apidura. They are expensive, but worth every cent. My passport that remained intact after a day of riding in the incessant rain is the proof of it.
- Photography: I was debating whether to bring my proper camera, but it would have meant further 2 kg of weight, and I know from prior experience that I cannot be bothered to dismount and prop everything up, therefore all photos are from my mobile. The best lens is always the one you happen to have on you.
Day 1: Transfer from Vancouver to Tofino.
No cycling, just transferring to the starting point. I decided against the option to cycle from Nanaimo, because there is no alternative way back, and I would have to cycle on the same busy road twice in three days. I took the 8.25 ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo, Ornella and Eric kindly dropped me off at the terminal. My original plan was to cycle there from the city centre, but given the hill between the town and the harbour looked disgusting even from the car, I was happy I didn’t. Check ferry sailing times here. You will not need to book in advance if you are on foot (bikes travel for free), but you should make a booking if you are driving. I took the 12.30 bus from Departure Bay to Tofino (schedule here, but I think it is the only bus that goes). Their website states that bikes are allowed into the cargo area packed, so I called the company and inquired about what they mean by it, and the nice lady on the phone told me that two big bin liners and some duct tape would be fine, which is exactly what I did: I covered my bike with plastic. When the bus pulled into the terminal, the driver seemed to think that the bike needed to be in a box, but when I gave him a sad stare, he said that we would make it work. There are very few things that a foreign accent and a pair of green eyes cannot accomplish. (Note: this only goes for long distance buses, all local buses in BC have two bike racks on the front.) The bus service is outstanding: as most people buy their ticket online, the driver will check that everyone who is supposed to be is on board is present by calling passengers by their names, the bus will wait for the ferry to arrive and everyone to disembark (even if it moors late), so do not stress about it too much.
The bus ride itself is an experience. I was some sort of a mirage. A woman solo-cycling in a country that doesn’t have a huge cycling culture. Crazy, obviously, not that I can really argue with that point. Bottom line: everyone wanted to chat with me, recommend places to eat (much appreciated), or suggest little detours on the bike to see cool places. Bonus: I spotted two bears a little too close to the road and little too relaxed for my liking. I of course knew there were black bears on the island (which was the main reason I didn’t go completely wild and decided against camping). But I didn’t imagine they would be comfortable enough to hang around roads with heavy traffic. I thought the bears were wary around humans (and can you blame them?) and would not get too close. All the locals were like: oh, you saw a bear? How cool! It’s a huge privilege! And I was thinking: if I spot another one this close to the road while on the bike, will it chase me?
Tofino: I only stayed for one afternoon and night, but that’s because I had properly visited before. This time around, I bought fish and chips and took it to Tonquin beach to watch the spectacular sunset. Fun fact and a nod to the country that currently hosts me: Tofino takes the name from the nearby Tofino Inlet, which in turn was named and charted by the 1792 Spanish expedition led by Alcalá Galiano and Valdés (which itself was a spin-off of the Malaspina scientific expedition). They dedicated the inlet to admiral Vicente Tofiño, under whom Galiano studied cartography at Cádiz marine academy. Depending on how you like to spend your holiday and your funds (because BC is anything but cheap), there are probably enough things to do for a week: Tofino is a hipster village that developed disproportionately over the last 20 years when former heli-ski instructors retrained as surfers, because due to the climate change the heli-skiing became less and less reliable. Today it’s one of the surfing capitals of the world and hikers’ paradise. It’s the starting point of the Pacific Rim multi-day hiking trail (north to south), if you are into hardcore trekking, or there are countless shorter and family-friendlier options that will take you through the beaches and rain forests. You can also kayak or paddle board on the calm inlet (usually without any prior experience required), or engage in many wildlife watching activities. Depending on the season, there are grey whales, orcas, black bears, bald eagles, sea lions and sea otters. One activity you must not miss is the half day visit to Hot Springs Cove. In 2015 we booked the tour with Ocean Outfitters, which combines the trip to the hot springs with wildlife spotting (if you are lucky). They take you north around the rugged coast around all the little islands and inlets, then you’ll have to hike for around 2 miles through the rain forest. There is a comfortable wooden path that will take you back to the coast where the hot springs are. They create little natural pools on the cliffs, so you can chill in the hot water surrounded by wilderness and listen to the ocean roaring just 10 m away. Just be sure you leave before the tide comes in. Eat: basically anywhere. The fish and seafood is super fresh. For high-end dining, try Wolf in the Fog (booking necessary). We had dined there 7 years ago and they are still around, so they must be doing something right.
Day 2: Tofino to Ucluelet
Distance: 53 km / 440 m climb
The major improvement compared to 7 years ago is the newly built cycling path parallel to Highway 4 that connects the towns of Tofino and Ucluelet. 40 km of traffic-free pristine tarmac will take you around Long Beach and through a thick rain forest where the trees are older than most buildings in British Columbia. This was supposed to be a chilled warm up ride, but after recommendations from the locals, I threw in a short (but vile) climb to Radar Hill (to test climbing with a loaded bike) and a detour to Grice Bay, because someone said it was nice (which it is). I arrived to Ukee just in time for lunch, checked into the hotel and utterly confused the owner, because he could not believe I cycled in and I really didn’t have a car to park. In the afternoon I walked the Amphitrite Lighthouse Loop trail: less than 3 km long, but with the most rewarding views. Eat: as I anticipated that my food options were going to be restricted to either a burger or fish and chips for the next few days, when I saw there was a top rated Korean restaurant, it was a done deal. The plan was to have a healthy dinner and rest plenty before the long day in the saddle ahead of me, but this went swiftly awry when I had the bright idea to thank the owner in Korean (which is all I know in Korean) and he was so impressed that he started pouring me wine and the dinner turned into an impromptu party with some other patrons, that went on even after the restaurant closed.
Strava log here.
Day 3: Ucluelet to Port Alberni
Distance: 102 km / 1280 m climb
In all honesty I expected the road to be much busier, but I was luckier than I am smart (if only this was the case when it comes to my love affairs, too), because I cycled the Highway 4 in the central day of a long weekend, so everyone who needed to drive to Tofino was already there and would be coming back only on the next day, which I would too avoid, as I was spending the day in Port Alberni. The ride was stunning. There is no civilisation between Ucluelet and Sproat Lake, which is just 12 km before Port Alberni (hence, I suggest you carry proper food). The road goes around Kennedy Lake, through Kennedy pass and Sutton pass to Sproat lake. Kennedy pass was scaring me a little bit, because there are road works and alternate traffic, and also an 18% climb, so I was afraid I would be slowing down the traffic, but it all worked out. I was the last to arrive to the traffic light at the bottom of the climb and the supervisor waived me through and I could hear him talking over the radio to the guardian on the other side, warning him that a cyclist is the last person on the road, so that they waited for me to go through before they changed the light.
Highlight (after the adrenaline wore off) of the ride: As I was descending towards Kennedy lake, I was coming into a curve, and there was a car parked in a lay by in the opposite direction, its passengers out, and signalling at me to slow down. I entered the curve at minimum speed and thank God for that, because there was a bear sitting behind it on the hard shoulder, just chilling. I stopped behind the car and dismounted to have a closer look at the animal (with a mixture of respect and awe). After a couple of minutes it decided it was bored and disappeared in the bushes. I thanked the driver for the warning and carried on. I saw the second bear short while at the top of the Kennedy pass, this time about 50 m away, but as I knew they were waiting for me with the traffic light, I did not stop to take pictures.
Overall impression of the ride: an absolute stunner of a scenery. Obviously, once pass the road works, it helped that the little traffic behind be was being retained by the traffic lights and was coming in 20 minutes intervals, so I was pretty much alone for most of the ride. Normally, the Highway 4 is super busy. I stopped at a recreation site somewhere before Sutton pass to eat my sandwich, and then again at a cafe by Sproat Lake, which wasn’t really necessary, as I had pretty much arrived to my destination. But I was in no hurry, and a coffee, muffin (and some horrible grapefruit scented lemonade with 0 calories) and half an hour break to give my butt some rest and admire the scenery, seemed like a good idea.
Strava log here.
Day 4: Port Alberni
Port Alberni is one of the bigger towns on Vancouver Island, an important centre of fishing and forest industry, and a gateway to some fantastic hikes in the central part part of the island. It is named in honour of Pedro de Alberní y Treixidor, a Spanish captain of Fort San Miguel in Nootka Sound in 1790s, who, apart from being very able military commander, cultivated amicable relationships with the local native tribes and compiled the first dictionary of translations of native expressions into Spanish.
I stayed in Outdoor Lovers with Milly and Bill and I most definitely will again next time I am on the island and so should you, because the place is beautiful, Milly and Bill are unbelievably nice people, and the price includes Bill’s awesome cooking (with perks as home made peanut butter, or about a ton of pancakes on my second morning, which made me fly up the Alberni pass). If I had time, I would have done some serious hiking, such as ascend Mt. Arrowsmith, and I would have included some industrial sightseeing, such as former McLean steam-operated sawmill, now a museum. But for obvious reasons I wasn’t carrying any decent hiking boots, so anything more technically difficult than a stroll was out of question. I wanted to get a day off the bike in Port Alberni, to wait out the heavy traffic on the day when everyone would be going back to mainland Canada from the seaside after the long weekend. Bill suggested I could walk the Alberni Inlet Trail, which runs along the inlet to China Creek (14 km) and Franklin River (further 9 km) and I suppose you can hike all the way to Bamfield. I just started walking on the trail and when I felt like I had enough, I turned around and walked back (turned out I got almost to China Creek). The trail is well marked, fairly easy (it raises and falls back to the sea level various times, but nothing strenuous), and it is the closest thing to a walk through an enchanted forest: everything is green, lush, covered in moss, peaceful. I didn’t meet a single soul for the entire time on the trail. I am not sure if there were any bears around – I guess there were, but they did not find me interesting enough to come and say hi. Which I suppose is fairly obvious, otherwise you would not be reading this blog.
Day 5: Port Alberni to Ladysmith
Distance: 109 km / 1150 m climb
The whole day felt longer than it was. The first third of the ride is beautiful. The climb to Alberni pass felt fine (mainly thanks to the huge breakfast Bill basically force-fed me), there is an additional lane for slow vehicles and a wide hard shoulder, therefore I didn’t feel unsafe even with the logging trucks going past. Besides, you get rewarded with beautiful views over the peaks of Mt. Arrowsmith. From the pass it’s a long descend through thick rainforest with centuries old cedar trees, then around Cameron Lake, and the nice part of the ride ends not long after. Once you get out of the woods, it’s what I’d define “necessary evil”: you need to navigate through Parksville and Nanaimo on boring, fairly busy roads and most likely into a headwind. I stopped for a coffee in Parksville, and chatted to some local cyclists, who consulted my route and suggested quiet alternatives to the highway I was planning to take, which made my day a bit longer than planned, but so much more enjoyable. No one was answering the phone in the hotel I was staying at (I was mainly interested in the possibility to have dinner without having to get back on the bike), so I decided to play it safe and stopped for food in the last available pub, which was an interesting experience, because I must have been the first woman and probably the only cyclist the patrons had seen in a long time. The food – even though the options were limited between fish and chips and burgers – was awesome. The fact that I was starving probably helped. A good call, too, because just as I feared, the hotel did not have a restaurant.
This is something you should bear in mind around here: plan your meals carefully. Most restaurants close early for European standards, like 8 pm. In Spain, the majority of respectable establishments are not even open yet at that hour. I was staying in the Kiwi Cove Lodge, a beautiful rural hotel set on the waterfront in the middle of a kiwi plantation. Even though it’s just by Nanaimo airport, it could not feel more quiet. Then again, we are talking about an airstrip on an island of British Columbia, so it’s not like you’ll be staying under the approach route of Gatwick airport. Watch out for hummingbirds, there are plenty of them flying around.
Strava log here.
Day 6: Ladysmith to Port Renfrew
Distance: 128 km / 1231 m climb
This ride ranks among the top 5 of my cycling life. I had one puncture early on, which was to be expected at some point, but honestly, who leaves staples in the middle of the road and why? I headed south along the east coast of the island through postcard-pretty little seaside towns. Everything was very clean and well taken care of, all the gardens lush, flowers in full bloom, people were saying hello to me as I rode past. It was like cycling through the Desperate Housewives neighbourhood. I turned west on Highway 18 in Somenos and rode towards Lake Cowichan, first through vineyards, then pine forest. I stopped in the town for a quick break – I needed it after 30 km on a false flat into headwind. Lake Cowichan is the last place with any cellphone service – so I called the (only) pub in Port Renfrew and ordered take away for the closing hour pick up in case I wouldn’t arrive in time for a proper sit down dinner – they too close at 8 pm.
The road between Lake Cowichan and Port Renfrew has only recently been paved and is used mostly by logging trucks in the morning, but as I left LC only around 4 pm, I had it for myself. Again, I had more luck than intellect. It was a stunning day. The sun was shining, it was warm, the climb was much easier than what it looked like on the map and the views were out of this world – as per photos above. As a bonus, I saw some elks bathing in a river and managed to get to the pub just before 8, and although my burger was ready for pick up, they still let me sit down and eat like a human being.
I was staying in Trailhead Resort, which is basically a group of log cabins with shared bathroom (they may have an en-suite option too), but it had everything I needed: it was clean, warm, dry and my bike fit. Port Renfrew is a popular fishing and hiking destination, the southern end of the West Coast trail that leads to Bamfield at the estuary of Alberni Inlet. You can hike a short 3 km loop around Botany Bay and Botanical Beach in Juan de Fuca natural park, it looks absolutely stunning in the photos, but I unfortunately didn’t have time to visit. There is no cellphone service in the village, pubs and hotels have wifi.
Strava log here.
Day 7: Port Renfrew to Victoria and back to Vancouver
Distance: 108 km / 1450 m climb
I woke up in the morning to consistent rain. While having breakfast in a cafe across the road, two guys pointed out that it wasn’t looking like a good day for a ride. I said I had no other option as I needed to catch a ferry in Victoria on the same evening and they offered me a ride. I internally debated whether my dedication to rule number 5 (which spells out as “harden the fuck up”) would prevail over general distaste for riding in miserable weather, but they were gone before I reached any conclusion, which made my decision making process much more straightforward. I was well rested and still on a high from the previous day, and I didn’t want to feel like I didn’t finish my trip because of a few raindrops. I was obviously regretting not accepting the ride half an hour later. Few raindrops my arse. I had downpour for 90 out of 110 km, and after a certain point my raincoat and shoe covers stopped being waterproof.
Most of the ride is stunning, or would be, had I not been cold, wet and generally miserable. The road follows Juan de Fuca Strait, but the sea is mostly covered from view by thick pine woods. Until Sooke, it’s a lovely winding road, a bit bumpy (there is more climbing than it seems) and fairly quiet (but then maybe it would be busier with decent weather. After Sooke the road got busy with commuter traffic from the island capital, which gradually became heavier more I approached Victoria. Not that I really cared, I just wanted to get it over with at that point. I was completely through and the pores of my skin were clogged with all the imaginable shit the cars were spraying in my face for the whole day. The bus to the ferry terminal arrived and someone helped me fix the bike on the rack. After I boarded the ferry at Swartz Bay, I closed myself in the bathroom for 20 minutes, trying to peel off the soaked lycra and replace it with anything dry. To my amazement, everything inside my Apidura bags was still perfectly dry (most importantly my passport). I had some food and fainted from exhaustion for the remaining of the sailing to Tsawwassen ferry terminal, where Ornella and Eric picked me up once again.
Strava log here.
So that is the tour of the island successfully wrapped up:
500 km (and over 5.500 m climb) covered over 5 days of riding. Only one puncture, zero accidents, plenty of wildlife: bears, elks, bald eagle, deer, woodpeckers and bluejays. The weather was mostly perfect, except for the last day, but then anyone can ride with fine weather. Braving the elements takes discipline and determination. But the real reward is the feeling of absolute freedom while riding alone on an abandoned road, with nothing but birdsong and rustling of the branches in the forest for company. The moment – albeit fleeting – of immense inner peace is the entire reason I am risking running into a bear on a remote island halfway across the world. And I guess that travelling that far should not really be necessary to silence my thoughts, at this point of my life I should have mastered the tools to make my mind relax, or talk myself out or my headfucks with rational reasoning, but sadly, it is mostly not the case. And the distance, the isolation and different time zone certainly helps.
I addressed elsewhere on this blog several times what my approach to cycling is. I don’t see it as a physical achievement (maybe an occasional attempt at a famous categorized climb is one, but it’s always a sudden ego trip – and mostly an unnecessarily painful one, as I never properly train for such endeavours – not a standard feature). I don’t care about my time, average speed or FTP, I don’t wear a heart monitor. I have started to run a cycling club in Madrid during the pandemics, and it’s been a great way to make friends and discover beautiful spots in the region. I have a lot of grit and endurance, and when I embark on my solitary trips, it’s a spiritual exercise, to remind myself that all I really need to feel serene is already within me. Getting on a top of a climb is a mean, not a goal. It’s a proof that I can achieve happiness without relying on anyone else. And I don’t mean to say that relying on someone else is a character weakness. Not at all. In my case, and backed with a hefty track record, it’s merely a luxury that I can afford only at a great and often painful emotional expense. On my rides, I at times miscalculated distance and climbs, I took a wrong turn and got lost, I missed transport and I’ve had mechanicals that I needed to deal with by myself. And I did, sometimes encountering kindness of strangers along the way. If only it was this easy with people as it is with bikes.
Enough musing. Back in Vancouver, I got to do some cultural stuff: indulge in best Chinese food outside China, enjoy Eric’s fantastic cooking (above). I paid a visit to Chinatown Storytelling Centre to learn about the struggles of the Chinese community in Canada and Museum of Antropology to learn about First Nations’ arts and costumes. We had a little private bachelor(ette) dinner with Ornella on the night before the D-Day. Then it was time for the wedding: I had to try my best and transform into a human being (albeit with razor sharp tan lines). I had facial hair removed, eyebrows threaded, had 3 or 4 facial treatments, and then had my face painted by a professional make up artist. I make it sound like I need a lot of work done to be presentable in public, which is I hope not true (yet), but the fact is that I hardly ever wear make up, and if I do, it’s just a little mascara and sometimes lipstick. I haven’t owned a foundation in years and needless to say, I don’t know how to apply it without resembling Michael Myers. Therefore, having more than three products on my face makes me uncomfortable, which is what I said to the make up artist: whatever you do, don’t make me look like a drag queen. The girl was awesome. She even managed to talk me into allowing her to glue fake eye lashes on me, while somehow maintaining a natural look. It felt nice to be pampered for once, but let’s just keep it occasional. Regardless the excellent result, spending two hours a day in front of a mirror applying shit over shit on my face, so that at the end it looks like no shit at all has been applied, seems like a total waste of time. The wedding was a relaxed and unexpectedly hassle-free affair. Needless to say, they said yes, and I signed it. It was a beautiful spring day, the ceremony took place in Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden, followed by a reception in one of the many excellent restaurants in Vancouver’s Chinatown.
Last stop before going to the YVR – a drink at the world’s cutest airport. Ladies and Gents: The Flying Beaver – also known as YVR South. A great pub on the Fraser river waterfront that also serves as a terminal for waterplanes serving Vancouver Island and many other locations along the Straight of Georgia. As we were having a farewell drink watching tiny aircrafts taking off from the river, I was torn between wanting to stay in this beautiful piece of the world where life seems a bit less complicated, and rushing back to the source of my emotional turmoil. Then I see that the bar charges 14 dollars for a (small) glass of Freixenet (which is not even that good). I can buy a bottle in any supermarket in Spain for 5 euros. Life in Europe might be a little challenging at the moment, or any given moment, but at least the booze is good and cheap. And who am I trying to fool: I would without the slightest doubt find a way to utterly fuck up my love life probably even in the middle of Bornean jungle, with no one but orangutans for company.
Over and out. Thanks for reading! Many happy miles and beware of bears and other wild animals.