When was the last time you took a ride on the wild side? Modern life has become so sanitised that the closest many of us will ever get to a truly wild animal is on a visit to the zoo. Not so for Chris Morgan, who has dedicated his life to protecting bears across the world. To find them and track them up in the mountains, he relies on a BMW motorcycle to get him to the kind of places where four wheelers just can’t reach…Believe it or not, bears roam over a third of the earth’s land surface, but you would be extremely lucky if you spotted one these days. They are disappearing fast as a result of ‘human-caused mortality’, which basically happens when we move into their habitat and destroy the things on which they depend.Most of us care about deforestation, climate change and conservation, but how many of us are actually doing anything about it? Chris Morgan is a straight-talking Brit who believes that actions speak louder than words, and is spending his life trying to make a difference for these wild animals that live among us but we rarely see.Close encounters don’t come easy though. The bears prefer to stay as far away from us as possible, often up in the mountains and deep in the forests. For the best part of a decade, Chris has found that using a motorcycle is the best way to head into the hills and track down these elusive beasts. He’s been all over the world, from the icy wilds of coastal Alaska, to the jungles of Borneo, to Peru, and hopes to go to Italy, where bears can be found just one hour from Rome. But as any adventure motorcyclist will tell you, to truly get to the back of beyond, you need a BMW GS.“I love to take the bike as far as I can into the back country, and then take my pack off and head out on foot,” says Chris. !I’ve been using a 2001 BMW F 650 GS for years. It’s got about 100,000 miles (160,000 km) on the clock and I’ll never get rid of it because it’s still going strong. But I recently got an R 1200 GS Adventure and I just love it too. It’s an amazing bike in every way – the stability of it, the range, the extra horsepower, and I’m amazed how good it is in rough conditions.”Chris lives in Washington State on the west coast of the USA and spends quite a bit of time in the North Cascades, a huge wilderness of mountains, glaciers and ancient forests straddling the US and Canadian borders. He uses the bike to get to some really far-flung places where he knows that ‘grizzlies’, black bears and even cougars are active. Chris recommends that anyone heading into bear habitats carries bear spray with them at all times (this was a requirement for participants on last year’s BMW International GS Trophy event in Canada) and it is essential that this strong repellent spray is easily accessible – not stored in the bottom of your backpack where you’d struggle to reach it quickly enough in the event of an attack.While for many of us office-based city slickers, Chris may appear to laugh in the face of danger, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. For sure, the guy’s brave, but he’s not stupid.“Our modern world and society makes us complacent about risks, so when you get into grizzly bear country, it’s important to remember that you’re not in charge anymore. I end up in some pretty remote places so I need to have enough gear for emergency use, including rations, survival blanket, fire-starting kit, flashlight, map, compass and some food. I always carry a big knife and bear spray, as well as keeping some more in a tank bag for a ‘quick draw’. Bear spray also works well on savage dogs that sometimes come after you when you’re in ‘cowboy country’!”He also believes that in order to truly feel alive in our over-sanitised world, it’s necessary to take yourself out of your comfort zone. For him, this means packing the panniers and heading out alone to sleep under the stars with just himself – and possibly a few pairs of watching eyes – for company.“I’ll use a knife to cut down some grass and create a space to put my tent up – and then surround it with an electric fence if I’m in ‘grizzly country’, especially in The Rockies and Alaska, where there’s a good number of them. The electric fence runs on D-cell batteries and zaps out about 5,000 volts, so if you get a bear with a big wet nose touch one of the wires, he won’t come back for a while! Even though it’s my preference to be alone in the back-country, I still lie there in my sleeping bag listening to every twig crack! It’s part of what I relish – being out there, having to think for yourself and getting back to nature, that’s what it’s all about. That said, I love sharing my experiences with people, which is why I enjoy doing the film work, and teaching millions of people through that.”Campfire bravado aside, there are plenty of serious environmental and scientific reasons why Chris is doing this work. Through his not-for-profit wildlife conservation organisation Wildlife Media, he raises awareness of some of the biggest ecological challenges the world currently faces. This means getting out into the wilderness on his motorcycle, tracking down these elusive animals, filming them in their natural habitat and showing the footage to a captivated audience, who will hopefully be inspired to help conserve the areas in which these extraordinary creatures live.Chris’s big dream has always been to make a feature-length documentary about the plight of the bears – and seven years after starting his ‘BEARTREK’ project, it is finally coming to fruition.“There are eight species of bear and they are struggling all over the world. What we’re doing with BEARTREK is trying to explain to people that if you protect these eight species and the landmass they use, then you end up protecting one third of the earth’s land surface. If through this film I can bring an appreciation of nature to people, that would be great. Once they appreciate it they want to know more about it, and then they want to protect it. What’s good for bears is good for people. My mission with BEARTREK is to rebrand conservation and change the face of nature to have something that everyone feels is accessible. It’s a not-for-profit project which is our passion. Everything goes back to the bears – no one’s making any money out of this.”One of the reasons why the film has taken so long to produce is because several broadcasters, including the BBC and PBS have reached out to Chris after learning about his conservation efforts, and commissioned him to create documentaries for their own channels. As such, around 200 million people have been exposed to his work and that can only be a good thing, in Chris’s opinion.“What I try to do is inspire people to love nature and love the wild: trees, green spaces, nature – it’s all good for us. Studies show that people who spend time in nature are healthier, so I’m keen to draw on the motorcycling community to back this film. As people who love adventure, meeting new friends and love the world they are riding through, motorcyclists will understand the ethos of what BEARTREK is about and I’m convinced motorcyclists will get it.”The film is currently in the final stages of editing and Chris hopes to be doing the film festival circuit in 2016, with a view to selling the movie for limited theatre distribution. Along with a well-planned, highly innovative BEARTREK campaign, Chris is hoping to make waves.Conservation doesn’t just stop at bears though, and Chris is also turning his attention towards tigers – another animal in dire need of protection – but that’s another story for another day. Chris’s love for our wild world will ensure that neither him, nor his BMW GS, will be stationary for long while there’s still essential work to be done.
June 2015 | © BMW Motorrad
Follow us on our Facebook page. Click on I LIKE and you won't miss any news.