Last weekend I had the most incredible wildlife experience of a lifetime. On Friday, I headed east seeking sunshine. I decided to increase the intensity of my ride to better prepare for the Pikes Peak, Colorado ride next month.
The weather forecast of partly cloudy proved true. I drove to Newhalem which is on Highway 20, at the base of the Cascade Mountains. The last time I traveled this route was August of last year when I rode the Cascade Mountain Loop. I found that the incredible views were well worth the effort.
I was heading up the road on my bike by 8:30 on Friday morning. The sky above the mountain tops showed promise of a partially sunny day. As I passed may familiar sites, I reflected on the great trip I made last summer. Everything was a little greener this time. There was much more water coming down the mountain as the winter snow was melting. I knew I would have no trouble finding places to fill my water bottles.
I stopped in tunnel #1 to take a photo before continuing eastward. I hit the very steep climb as I passed Diablo and Ross Lakes.
There were many water features worthy of photos along the way. The sound of water falls and bubbling brooks surrounded me throughout most of this west side ride.
After many hours, I made it to the Rainy Pass summit. I prepared for the two mile dive down the east side followed by six miles of grind to the top of Washington Pass. I knew that once I reached that summit it would be a downhill ride for over 14 miles. Both summits offered great views of snow frosted mountains. There was still much snow in patches along the road and surrounding landscape. I stopped briefly at the summit to put on some extra clothing. There was a slight breeze coming off of the snow fields. The sky held more promise to the east with many blue holes in the thin cloud layer.
The ride down this pass is not for the faint of heart. I seldom used my brakes as I flew down the mountain. I passed many great photo opportunities but knew I would be coming back westbound in two days.
I was past the steepest part of the mountain and many miles east of the summit when I had the experience of a lifetime. A car had just passed me and I was entering a more wooded area when something caught my eye ahead. I was doing approximately 30 MPH as this dark object came into focus. BIG BLACK BEAR!
I have seen many bear in the wild but this time it was quite different. With most of those bear, I was looking at its rear as it ran away from me. A few things to keep in mind about bear. The female usually have young close by and are very protective. They eat just about anything and are on a mission to take in as many calories as they can this time of year.
By the time I recognized what was in front of me, I was way too close. The very big adult bear stopped in my path and was looking away from me and at the car down the road. The bear had no clue of the speeding green spandex bullet that was on a collision course with it.
The human brain has the ability process critical events in slow motion. It is a survival instinct brought on by adrenalin and a person’s perception of a life threatening event. I can still picture every detail of this bear incident. I saw that the two lane curved road had a metal guard rail on either side. There were no other cars coming but swerving left would likely put me into the bears path and/or I would not be able to cut back before hitting the metal rail. There was not enough room between the bear’s butt and rail on the right side for me to fit through. I saw no cubs behind the bear and felt that rear of the bear was my best option. I realized that if I tried to brake it would likely put me into or very near the bear’s side. There was loose gravel next to the guard rail road shoulder. Every cyclist knows that speed, turning, and loose gravel are never a good combination. I aimed for a spot at the bear’s hip and yelled my loudest caveman Aurrrgh. The bear immediately rocketed up in the air and forward by two feet. I flew between rail and bear with less than three feet to spare. By the time the bear’s feet touched back down I was pedaling east as hard as possible. I glanced in my mirror to see one very freaked out bear headed for Canada. I think I took my first breath a long ways down the road. I can put this experience on my short list of the coolest scary moments in my life.
The next 30 minutes was a blur as my mind wrapped itself around what had just happened. I made it to the Mazama area in record time. My push to Wintrop was very pleasant as it was sunny, warm, and without any bear incidents.
I checked into the Hotel Rio Vista which is in the heart of the western theme town. I was very happy to see how nice the room was. I could step out of my glass door to a deck that is next to the Methow River. After rolling for 75 miles this day I was happy to park my bike in the room. After a shower and change of clothes, I walked through town. I enjoyed a great dinner at the Arrowleaf Bistro. After dinner, I continued to explore the town on foot before retiring to my room. I anticipated the next day as I planned to relax, get some sun, and enjoy the whole day off of my bike.
I’ll finish this story and the second half of this trek in my next post. I’m glad you could come with.