Beware: The Common Tourist

Story by Emily Roberts// Photos by Dean Foster
July 2 2024

There’s nothing quite like exploring the wilds of North America. Peaks that reach the sky, decorated with trees older than the creatures that call them home. And, as summer ascends the snow-capped peaks, it creates a force of change from valleys to mountaintops, with colour and an awakening of life. Along with the bewilderment of spring, we see the usual unpredictable animals — bears, deer, and moose — but there’s one special creature that seems to be the most unpredictable, one that gets aggressively distracted by the wilds of their surroundings: the common tourist.

The common tourist is a special creature, hard to spot with the untrained eye since it looks like a regular human. They often travel in groups of two or more, using their vehicles as the vessel to travel, sightsee and explore, and stop abruptly at a mere glimpse of natural wildlife. Yes, while the tourist is harmless when met by foot, explorers must be aware of their spontaneous behaviour when migrating with their vehicle from one glorious destination to another.

As I drove back from Whistler, B.C., to my home in the interior, I was reminded of just how dangerous this seasonal animal can be. I was driving up the iconic Sea to Sky Highway — it is always a treat, and one I would recommend every rider to roll down if given the chance. I was abruptly reminded that road users must have a heightened level of awareness while on the road — not just for the wildlife, but also for the tourists.

I was following a camper truck. It crested over the hill ahead, and when I came over the hill all I saw were the brake lights. I slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting the truck and safely veered into the opposing lane to skirt around the vehicle, which was now stopped in a live lane situated in an area with limited visibility from both directions. As I passed the truck I saw the tourist attraction that caused this vacationer to act like a deer in the headlights: an adorably large black bear grazing on the side of the road. I continued driving, flashing the oncoming traffic to let them know of the parked truck around the blind corner.

As I drove on, I revelled in the sighting of the bear, but also felt frustration at the awareness that this driver lacked when distracted by the sighting of a furry friend. A couple of kilometres up the road, I came over another hill; again, there was a parked car in the middle of the lane, with very little effort made to pull off to the side of the road. With an oncoming car approaching quickly, I again had to brake hard to avoid an accident. The side of the road had another tourist attraction— this time, a coyote.

Yes, these creatures we call tourists are friendly and excitable, but often distracted by the promise of spotting a bear or moose from afar. They can become irrational during migration season — it coincides with summer — and pose a threat to humans of the non-tourist kind. So how do you prepare for this?

There are a few things we can do to be sure we are being diligent while travelling on the same roads as the common tourist. Before cresting the hill on a road, roll-off on the gas slightly, and move over from the centre line in case the oncoming traffic on the other side of the hill is impeding on your lane. Scrubbing off some speed will also help you if you encounter a tourist as I did on the backside of a blind hill. Use your lane to your advantage while cornering: allowing yourself to begin your turn from the outside of the corner will help you to see further through the turn, watching for wildlife of all kinds.

Perhaps most importantly, communicate with other road users. If you pass a tourist stopped on the road, flash your lights at oncoming traffic, letting them know that something is ahead and to slow down. Alternatively, if you see something up ahead, flicker your brake lights for the traffic behind or put on your flashers to let them know that there may be a speed change or to drive with caution.

Although I can’t confirm whether other drivers will do the same, we could consider taking these evasive measures as a way to rack up road karma. Lastly, don’t speed. The difference that 10 km/h of speed can make when faced with a split-second decision could drastically change the outcome of your ride.

While you explore the wilds this year on your motorcycle, please take the time to enjoy the scenery and wildlife. Who knows — maybe you’ll even get to see a common tourist in migration. Just remember to keep your distance to ensure your safety around this special form of wildlife.

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