It’s been nearly two years since Colin Dowler freed himself from the claws and teeth of a grizzly bear using a pocket knife.
And as he continues to recover physically, he has reflected on the traumatic attack with a degree of humour, dwelling on the wonder of the incident as well as refusing to let it paralyze him with fear and anxiety – at least, so far.
“I’m comfortable being the bad-ass dude that took on a grizzly bear with a pocket knife and won,” Dowler said.
He spends most of his time focusing on the perseverance part and draws strength from the knowledge he survived.
“I largely choose to, like, focus on, you know, the awesomeness of the event. How cool it is and I survived it,” Dowler said. “And how well I’m doing in recovery, as opposed to dwell on all the potentially crappy parts.”
But he does wonder whether he’s doing himself a disservice by refusing to be traumatized by the incident and whether putting it into that kind of context is “shallow and egotistical.”
It was July 29, 2019 and Dowler was returning down a logging road on his mountain bike after an overnight hike up Mount Doogie Dowler – coincidentally named after his grandfather – located on the remote Ramsay Arm northeast of Campbell River on the British Columbia mainland.
Two kilometres into his nine-kilometre ride back to the logging camp from where he set off the day before, he came upon a grizzly bear about 100 feet in front of him walking towards him. A standoff ensued with the bear trying to approach Dowler who fended him off with his bike. He tried tossing his backpack to the side to try and distract the bear and he even prodded it with a hiking pole to no avail.
The standoff escalated when the bear swatted at Dowler’s bike prompting Dowler to throw it at the big animal. The bear stepped over the bike and bit into Dowler’s left flank and carried him to the edge of the road 50 feet away. Attempts to free himself by such things as gouging at the animal’s eyes, peeling its lips back and even playing dead at one point were all unsuccessful and the animal continued biting and slashing at Dowler.
Thinking that he was a “goner,” and as thoughts about his wife and kids came to mind, he remembered he had a knife in his pocket. After a few attempts he was able to pull the knife out and jab it into the bear’s neck. The grizzly immediately let go and backed off.
During the subsequent standoff, Dowler treated his wounds, tying a tourniquet and then crawled back to his bike. Eventually, he was able to get on it and rode the final kilometres down the logging road to the logging camp where he was given first aid and a Medevac helicopter was called to take him to hospital in Vancouver.
Dowler was thankful for the logging crew that treated him at the camp and was impressed with the emergency medical help he got from the medevac crew to the emergency medical personnel at Vancouver General Hospital where he was flown to.
“Canadian healthcare at its finest,” he said. “I know from firsthand experience that we have a phenomenal healthcare system, full of people that truly care,” Dowler said.
His recovery has been a two-year process that at first was positive and encouraging but he does admit to feelings of frustration over how the recovery process is still ongoing.
“If you go back a year, I was ecstatic about how far I’ve come in such a short period of time with my recovery,” he said, “up to and including running a half marathon in September 2020.
“Now it’s like, oh man, some of the things that I thought were going to, never happened, or at least, maybe haven’t come along as far as I’d hoped.”
On the mental front, Dowler is not completely cavalier about the whole incident. He recognizes that there’s a possibility that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could catch up with him. He has pursued mental health support but has not been considered a person in high need of it. He has had a stressful period related to work but he doesn’t know if that is normal work stress or related to the bear attack.
“I’m curious sometimes, if I’m suffering post-trauma or if I ever will and if I do, how will I know that it’s connected (to the attack).”
But for now, he assesses it as a “life-changing” event but doesn’t spend a lot of time on the negative.
“I just don’t seem to draw much value from focusing on the dramatic part,” he said.
HOMETOWN HEROES LOTTERY:
Dowler is telling his story to show his appreciation for the quality care he received from Vancouver General Hospital and to support the Hometown Heroes Lottery which raises funds for specialized adult health services and research at VGH and UBC Hospital, GF Strong Rehab Centre, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute and Vancouver Community Health Services for all British Columbians.
Ticket purchases also support programs of the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund; including programs for burn survivors and resiliency programs for first responders.
Ticket sales for the 2021 Hometown Heroes Lottery run until July 16, 2021 or until tickets sell out. The 2020 Hometown Heroes Lottery tickets sold out over a month early. There are over 3,200 prizes worth over a total of $3.2 million, including luxury homes, appliances, furniture, cars and cash.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.heroeslottery.com, by phone, 604-648-4376, or 1-866-597-4376, or in-person at any London Drugs.
For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.