Monday, June 16, 2014

I had a bear encounter and my entire body hurts

(Fortunately, those two facts are not causally related.)


The last time I owned a bike, I was nine years old. The last time I felt comfortable riding a bike, I was nine years old. In the decade or so since, I have ridden a bike exactly twice: once in France on an eighth grade field trip (I lost control of the bike and threw myself off before it fell into a rock pit) and once in Albuquerque the summer after I graduated from High School (I lost control of the bike and slammed head-on into a bush, and skidded on my ribs on the road for a few meters).

So, when Raphael suggested that I borrow his sister's mountain bike for the summer, I lol'd. But I managed to wobble around on the sidewalk and made it successfully (with a bit of shrieking) to the University of Montana campus and back.

Raphael seemed to think that my performance was worthy of leveling up, so he suggested that we go on a mountain biking trip: eight miles up, camp overnight, eight miles back down the next morning. I said sure. What the hell, why not. Mountains are like flat cracked sidewalk, right?

And just like that, I found myself in the passenger's seat of Raphael's '88 Mercedes with two bikes riding on the back.

This is probably a good point to tell you that I've been a little nervous about bears. Montana is very much bear country, and in the next few weeks we're going to do quite a bit of hiking and camping. When I told Raphael's dad about my fear, he responded by telling me no fewer than four stories about innocent people getting mauled and killed by aggressive bears. "Maybe I should bring bear spray!" I said. He responded with "I prefer this kind of bear spray," miming holding and firing a rifle. Great.

With that in mind, we reached the trail head a little after noon. I swung on my backpack (which had zero rifles, but among other things our camping stove, fuel, and my sleeping bag) took a moment to think "wow, this is actually a little heavy," got on the bike, and wobbled around the parking lot for a while. I felt okay, so off we went!

The first half hour or so was tough. I kept panicking and stopping, trying to fiddle with changing the gear on the bike. Eventually I had such bad nausea (and period cramps. UGH they were terrible.) that I had to get off the bike and sit on the ground. My legs hurt, my stomach hurt, I was out of breath, and my butt was NOT happy at bumping over all those rocks. I also felt incredibly embarrassed that I was slowing my companions (Raphael and this guy) down. Mark had to get back into town by the evening, so he zipped on up ahead while I puttered around on the gravel and dirt. Raphael was very patient, though, and eventually my bad temper passed and my balance on the bike improved. Not to mention that the scenery was beautiful:

At some point, I literally could not continue (my legs were operating so slowly that the bike would just stop and tip over) so we took a break. We sat on the side of the road, and I scanned the meadow across the stream. Suddenly, a large brown mass moved. Hey, it was fuzzy! Kind of like a teddy-

OH GOD. "Raphael, what is that?" Raphael looked, then said "let's get back on the bikes." So, we got back on the bikes, and suddenly I had enough energy to keep going for a while. It's amazing what your body is capable of when that flight response kicks in.

A few minutes later, though, I was definitively out of steam, so we stopped for a proper break. I had to do that a couple more times before we reached our destination: Franklin Bridge. And in the last few minutes I was walking and pulling my bike along. But we made it!

The couple who took that picture for us had run into a park ranger on the way. "Did you guys hear?" they asked. "There was a bear and mountain lion spotted around here." Here, as in: our camping site. WHY?????????????

Raphael was amused by my freakout: I guess if you do this kind of thing enough, you make peace with the idea of being ripped to shreds by a set of sharp teeth while you sleep.

We toyed with the idea of biking onwards for five miles, but I knew that I wouldn't make it, so we set up camp instead. When we (well, mostly Raphael) set up our shiny new two-person hammock, it looked like a spaceship!

Pro tip: there is no such thing as a platonic two-person hammock. If you ever find yourself sleeping in one, prepare to cuddle.

We (well, mostly Raphael) made a fire and ate dinner.

We then slept for twelve hours straight, without meaning to (we had assumed that we would wake up when it was light...whoops). It felt fantastic, though. In the morning, we packed everything up and began the journey downhill.

Conclusion: I like downhill mountain biking a lot more than I like uphill mountain biking. I was also much more confident than I had been the previous day (I guess practice helps) and went zipping down without freaking out and having to stop every two seconds. I also learned to shift my weight to my feet when going over rocks, so that I wouldn't bounce around on the seat as much. It rained but I was happy anyway: we zoomed down in about a third the time it took us to get up. I sang a rendition of my new hit single "beaaaaarrrsss! please don't eaaattt meeeee" and Raphael whistled, so that we wouldn't sneak up and surprise anything or anyone. Fortunately that all worked great and there were no bear encounters.

Raphael took some pictures:

Now I'm back in Raphael's house, having unpacked and done the laundry. Mountain biking is a full body workout, and I can barely move. Raphael said that we should try mountain biking again, but this time without the heavy packs -- I said sure, I'm down.


  1. Anna! This sounds like so much fun! (Once you subtract the bears, that is).
    Also - is that a hammock-tent? I've heard of such things. Two person hammock-tent - bears = cuddles + awesome .

  2. Those kinds of exploits can't be strenuous. However, I don't think that's enough reason to swear them off. In my opinion, you should continue what you do there, with all those trekking and stuff. Just be wary of the stresses and effects, though. We'll never know what will happen. So, it would be wise to go on regular check-ups, just so you'll prevent and sustain the strength of your body.

    Bryan Kelly @ CK Physiotherapy