She has been trained in bear safety and has a respect for bears, encountering several in her life growing up in a rural area.
"He was just off in the bushes on the left side. I must have spooked him from whatever he was doing. He did a quick turn around, and started growling and huffing. I thought that he was going to run off into the trees."
"Then he stood up on his hind legs. I thought 'It's okay, he's just checking it out. When he drops to all fours he is going to run away'. I slowed on my bike, but I didn't stop," Malloff recounted. Already being as close to the bear as she was going to get on the road, and rather than try to turn around where the bear was, she continued on past him, putting distance between them.
"It was then that he busted through the fence and charged me. I was descending down the hill, and his charge turned into a full on chase. I screamed really loud at him, to scare him off like they tell you to do in Bear Safety," she explained.
The screaming didn't work. "That made him more mad, and his speed picked up quite a bit, now he was after me," she continued. Biking as fast as she could, Maloff reached the bottom of the steepest hill on the road. "I realised I cannot normally make it up this hill when I'm just biking casually down this road. It's the challenging part and I usually end up walking. I've got to give it my all. I have no other options I can't bike anywhere but forward."
A quarter of the way up the hill she lost control, falling into the roadway. "Fear and panic set in," she said. She estimated the bear was less than ten feet away when she went down. It only took her a few seconds to realize that the bear wasn't attacking her. Whether it was the sound of the bike hitting the ground, the long chase, or her sudden stop and 'playing dead', something seemed to have put the bear off continuing to chase her.
The bear retreated, but not far. She quickly crawled into the ditch and hid behind the tall grass. She was now as far away from the bear as she was when she first encountered it, and watched him through the grass. "He stopped, and looked back in my direction. I didn't know if he could see me or not. I was fairly well hidden and the grass was quite long."
He finally crawled through the fence and took off through the trees. Being a strong runner, Maloff ran to shelter across the countryside in the opposite direction from where the bear had retreated, abandoning her bicycle. "My body felt like jelly. I had no motor control at all. I was mentally distraught." She estimates the chase lasted around 40 to 50 seconds, and that the time between him standing and deciding to chase her was four seconds at most.
"I believe that if I would have stopped on my bike, he would have been that much closer. He was right there, he was on my tail."
Maloff reported the incident to authorities and to people living in the area.
"If I did have pepper spray or some other type of defence, I don't believe that I had the time to use it. I should have had bear bells." **
"I underestimated the power of these animals. They are beautiful creatures. We have to respect that power because that is where we live. I shouldn't have been out there alone with no protection." She stressed that knowing all the right things to do was important and following the basic safety ideals is smart. Her ability to quickly identify what type of bear she encountered so that she would know how it would typically react is crucial, because black and grizzly bears react differently. In this case, it did not respond in a typical fashion, Maloffs' ability to reason quickly assess the rapidly changing situation and adapt to the changes at hand made for a much happier story than what could have happened.
** According to Edwin Knox of Parks Canada, Bear Bells are not considered to be very effective. See the recent Bear and Cougar awareness story in the Pincher Creek Voice for more information.
Bear and Cougar awareness