A wolf chased down Tim Bartlett's motorcycle on Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park. Photograph by: Courtesy of Tim Bartlett
Last Saturday, Banff mechanic Tim Bartlett was christening a new motorcycle through the Rocky Mountains when he had a rare wildlife encounter that was equal parts terrifying and enchanting. On a stretch of British Columbia’s Highway 93, a massive grey wolf emerged from the trees, lunged at his speeding ride and chased after him at full speed as he pulled away.
The story would have become little more than another legend clanging around the roadhouses of Western Canada if Mr. Bartlett had not whipped a camera out of his top pocket to record the event for posterity; capturing a series of rare snapshots that have since been beamed around the world. The National Post’s Tristin Hopper reached him by phone.
How did this happen?
I was about 320 [kilometers] into a 400 k trip … and was doing about 90km/h in the right hand lane going north and [the wolf] came from the left hand side of the road. It darted out, crossed the other lane and I had to swerve and accelerate to get around it. I went forward about 100 meters and when I turned around it was just standing in the middle of the lane watching me.
How close did it get to you?
It was coming at me. It probably got to within a couple meters, easy, maybe a meter. If I’d have slowed down I would have definitely hit it, so I just opened it up, got a bit of power and got around it. I’ve had dogs run out at me on bikes before and you sort of get a feel for the distance the speed you’re going, but it was pretty tight.
But after you’d gotten some distance between you, that’s when you pulled around for a closer look?
I stopped the bike, pulled my gloves off, took my camera out, did a u-turn and came back, and that’s when I managed to get the pictures. When [the wolf] heard me coming, it jumped back over a [roadside] barrier and it started running. I sped up a little bit, it got in nice and close and I was driving with my right hand and clicking pictures with my left. When I first came back around, it came in really close; probably a bit too close. It would have been a real bad time to run out of gas. Even over the motor, I could hear it. I could hear its feet on the road.
Do you think this wolf was playing with you, or were you being hunted?
To me, it was more exciting than scary, I’ll put it to you that way. In my gut, I didn’t feel threatened at all. I would have felt threatened if I was walking or on a bicycle, but I knew I could outrun it. It also didn’t have a real aggressive feel. I don’t think it was after me, it was probably after the bike. That’s just the way I felt; I could have been wrong, I’m no wolf expert.
How fast was it going?
I didn’t look at the speedo, but I’d say somewhere between 30 to 40 km/h.
And the wolf’s size?
It was bigger than the biggest dog I’ve ever seen. Long legs and a big head, a massive head; it was almost out of proportion. It was big enough.
The chase kept up for about a kilometer. How did it end?
As you can see in one of the last photos, a few cars had started coming and going so I thought, I better not be here, so I accelerated away. I didn’t want it jumping out into the path of an oncoming car. The last I saw it was running into the trees.
This is highly-unusual behaviour, of course. The vast majority of wolves would never show themselves to a human much less chase after them at full speed. Have you been approached by any wolf experts?
That was actually one of the first calls I made. One of my very good friends works for Parks Canada … and he put me on to the guy I should talk to and he was under the same impression as me: This is not really normal behaviour.
Banff, of course, swells with thousands of European and Asian tourists each summer who would kill for this type of mystical “close encounter” with Canadian wildlife. Were you hit with any kind of “nature high” after the experience?
I’ve still got it. I’m having a hard time getting down to the ground, actually, and it was almost a week ago. You just feel so privileged. I mean, this is why I live in Banff. This happens and you just think “this is something totally off the charts.” It’s way more than I’d even hope to imagine. Just seeing a wolf is one thing, to have it run beside you and chase you is another thing altogether.