DENVER Triathlete Sabrina Oei was speeding downhill at nearly 40 mph, cycling through the Colorado foothills, when a black bear brought her to a sudden, painful, stop.
Oei (pronounced “OU’-eee”) slammed broadside into the bear when it wandered onto the race course Sunday. She went airborne, then slid on her back across the pavement.
She wasn’t seriously injured and even finished the triathlon. The bear didn’t seem to be hurt, either, scampering back into the woods. But the unusual high-speed encounter is a dramatic example of what experts are seeing across the West as drought forces bears to forage farther for food while urban development pushes into formerly wild areas.
Oei said she was focusing on the paved trail in the Boulder Peak Triathlon, which draws more than 1,400 athletes to a course just three miles outside of Boulder. She spotted the bear out of the corner of her eye and knew in a flash she had no way to avoid it.
“It was just unbelievable,” Oei said Monday, recovering from scrapes and bruises. “In that moment you think, ‘I’m going to hit this bear.”‘
Oei’s encounter is the latest anecdotal evidence coming in from around the West this year: In Nevada, near Lake Tahoe, a bear climbed into a vintage convertible July 2 and snacked on pizza and beer as a crowd gathered. In Alaska, a bear charged a jogger in an Anchorage city park this month. In Colorado Springs, a woman came home to find a bear rummaging through her refrigerator last week.
Colorado Division of Wildlife biologist Jerry Apker said encounters are up and will likely become even more frequent next month when bears start packing on weight for the winter.
“By mid-August, they start shifting gears when they start feeding. They might be foraging 22 hours a day,” he said.