Midnight in the middle of nowhere is not the time and place to learn that fresh bear prints on a wet trail appear to glow when illuminated by the light on a bicycle helmet.
As a matter of fact, I could have been quite happy to grow old without learning such a thing.
Oscar and I had just convinced ourselves we were nearing the Hope end of the Resurrection Trail when I rounded a turn and the prints lit up like paw-shaped lights against the dark, brown surface of the muddy trail. I probably could have found a less jarring way to announce my discovery than loudly blurting out, “bear on the trail!” which led Oscar to momentarily think the damned thing was standing right in front of me. For all I knew, it might have been.
This is the fun of riding sweep in the Soggy Bottom 100. You get to leave in the rain about 7 p.m. to do a 40-mile trail ride over two mountain passes that are swept by rain and cold wind. You slog through quagmires of mud and splash through multiple pools of frigid, hub-deep water. Then, after hours of negotiating slippery rocks and roots, and slick-as-snot, off-camber mud surfaces, you find yourself in the dark, surrounded by thick vegetation containing a very live bear. And just to spice things up, there’s a stream nearby and rain is falling, so sound doesn’t carry worth a damn.
At this point, it is permissible to ask yourself, “How in the blue fuck did I end up here?” At least, that’s what I did.
Not wanting to surprise the bear and spark a defensive attack by approaching too quickly, Oscar and I dismounted and started walking our bikes while yelling, “HEY BEAR!” at the top of our lungs. Unfortunately, bears are smart enough to recognize the benefits of walking on a trail, so the one that had passed by only minutes earlier was in no hurry to re-enter the brush on both sides of us. We eventually got back on our bikes and rode slowly, shouting everything we could think of to alert the bear to our approach.
This went on for a freakin’ mile. Every time the prints disappeared, I’d start to yell over my shoulder to Oscar, “No prints, I think we’re good to … SHIT! More!” And not one of them bore the imprint of a bike tire. Believe me, I was looking. The critter ahead of us had walked the trail right after the riders ahead of us had passed through.
At last, the prints disappeared for good. This was when Oscar kindly reminded me that now we had no idea where the bear had gone, so we again cranked up the volume on our nonsensical shouting. After a few hundred yards, I began to relax. But tension doesn’t fade quickly after experience like that. We had already spent hours on alert for bears before the intense 15- to 20-minute period of knowing we were following one at fairly close range.
So when a snowshoe hare bolted from the dark directly into my path, I spontaneously unleashed my best, loudest warrior cry of, “GYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” Which scared the shit out of both the hare and Oscar.
I suppose you could call it a scream, but I like to think it was a manly scream.
A little while later, we caught up to the last two riders on the course, and the four of us pedaled into Hope together feeling hungry, tired, cold and relieved. And I can tell you one thing for sure: There have been few nights in my life when I was happier to see the glow of a town’s lights coming into view.