‘A shooting star’: Victim of Ovando bear attack remembered

Leah Davis Lokan was fatally attacked by a grizzly on Tuesday

By: - July 9, 2021 6:20 pm

Leah Davis Lokan at the Tuchuck campground in the northern Rockies of Montana in June 2021. Photo courtesy of Katie Boerner.

Whenever Billie Jean Gerke received a call from her friend Leah Davis Lokan, she would greet Lokan with an enthusiastic: “Hello, my adventure girlfriend.”

“She was the most adventurous woman I’ve ever known,” said Gerke, who became friends with Lokan in the late 2000s while they both lived in Sandpoint, Idaho. “She was incredibly strong, incredibly athletic, brave, fearless when it came to doing anything sports-wise or outdoors. Just fearless.”

Lokan, 64, of Chico, California, was fatally mauled Tuesday in Ovando by a grizzly bear eight days into a bike camping trip. Ovando, a small rural community in western Montana, is a popular stopping point for bike campers riding along the Great Divide and Lewis and Clark bicycle trails.

Two days before the attack, Mike Castaldo, president of the Chico Cycling Club, said Lokan texted a mutual friend saying she was the “happiest she had ever been” on the trip.

“She was always outside and an outdoorsy person,” he said. “That’s where I feel like she found most of her happiness.”

***

Born in southern California, Lokan grew up surfing the Pacific Ocean, riding horses, and learning to love the outdoors. Once, she beat John Wayne’s son in a western horse competition in Southern California, but of all the outdoor hobbies she took to, cycling grew to be her favorite.

She had looked forward to more bike camping trips during retirement. While on the 400-mile tour from Eureka to Helena along the Great Divide bicycle route, Lokan and her sister and a friend stopped in Ovando for the night.

Her sister, Kim Lokan, and friend Katie Boerner opted to stay in a motel during their one-night stop, but Lokan wanted to sleep under the stars in true outdoor-adventurer fashion. She camped near the town’s museum.

Boerner, who recalled the incident in a phone interview, said when she and Lokan’s sister got news of the attack, they left the motel and went to the camp to check on Leah.

Leah Davis Lokan near St. George, Utah, March 2015. Courtesy of Billie Jean Gerke

At the camp, Boerner said everyone was hyper-aware that the bear could still be nearby. “But all [Kim and I] wanted to do is get to Leah.”

When they reached her, they saw evidence the attack had been brutal.

“I saw Leah lying there, and she was half-covered by the collapsed tent,” said Boerner, of Eureka. “I am a nurse. I have seen a lot of trauma in my life, and I knew it wasn’t good when I saw her.”

They knelt next to Lokan to check for signs of life, she said: “I tried to find her pulse, and I couldn’t.”

Boerner also met Lokan in Sandpoint in the mid-2000s, when they both worked at Bonner General Hospital, and she said it was with Lokan that she took her first full-suspension mountain bike ride.

She, like others, praised Lokan’s adventurous spirit: “I always felt Leah was a shooting star. She burned bright, and that was it.”

Lokan always loved big journeys and was excited about riding a portion of the Great Divide Route, spanning around 2,700 miles and crisscrossing the Continental Divide. It is one of the most “recognized and important off-pavement” cycling routes in the United States, according to bikepacking.com.

“She spent the last week of her life doing something that she loved, and she was truly in her element,” Gerke said.

***

The bear believed to have fatally attacked Lokan was shot and killed Friday morning, according to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Greg Lemon, spokesman for FWP, said a bear going into a campground and attacking someone is unusual and not an instinct.

Initial reports noted campers removed food from their tents after the bear first appeared around 3 a.m., but the bear returned half an hour later and killed Lokan. Boerner, though, said she found it hard to believe Lokan would have left food in her tent at all.

“It doesn’t sound like Leah, and it doesn’t sound like something she would have done,” she said. She added, “Leah really knew and was aware of the dangers of things we do and the things we’ve done. But she was ready to accept those with a certain amount of calculation. She knew what she was doing.”

Additionally, she said, “Leah would have been an advocate for that very bear that took her life.”

In 2015, Lokan won first place in the Mammoth National Championship Enduro and won the “Women’s Enduro 60+” category. And in 2013, she won first place in the “expert women” category of the 2013 Bidwell Bump.

Professionally, Lokan was most recently a registered nurse before retiring in 2020. “She wanted to spend her retirement traveling and doing these big adventures that were on her bucket list,” Gerke said.

Outside of cycling, Lokan is remembered for exuberant kindness, generosity and a sense of adventure. Gerke called her a loyal and compassionate friend who was already up for the next adventure.

Castaldo echoed Gerke’s sentiment: “First and foremost, she was a free spirit; she was just always happy, always had a great smile, always gave you a big hug.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. Keith was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. He can be reached by text or call at 406-475-2954 .

MORE FROM AUTHOR