Cycling Chronicles Vol 4

Consider the moose. Compared to a human, I mean. Height wise, we are talking 5½-7½ ft (1.7–2.3 m) at the shoulder, ranging in weight from 900 lbs (408 kg) for a mature female to way over a 1,000 lbs (454 kg) for a mature male. Even a female dwarfs a standard horse. This is a story of a chance meeting between a female moose and me. I would classify this as a close encounter.

It was the mid 1990’s and I had decided I wanted to ride my bicycle from Lake Louise, Alberta to Vancouver, British Columbia. My intention was to rise to the challenge of crossing the Rocky Mountains in four days of riding, with a rest day in the middle, stopping in Kelowna. To make it more achievable, I decided on a fully supported touring approach, with my companion driving a rental car, and meeting me at predetermined spots along the route. This would allow me to travel with a minimal amount of gear on the bike. What could go wrong, since there are only a few roads that go through the mountains?

The bicycle chosen for this adventure was my 1989 Miyata Ti6000. The Ti stood for titanium, while the 6000 represented the grade of aluminum in the frame. The two elements were mated in the bicycle frame by use of aerospace adhesives in cast aluminum lugs. The bike was made more attractive by a lack of paint. The whole frame was just a highly polished amalgam of silver metal. The components were Shimano 600; the iteration before the change over designation from 600 to Ultegra. Fourteen speeds were enough, hopefully, to get me over the mountains. The bike was finished out with Wolber Aero rims and an avocet racing gel saddle. Compared to today’s bikes, the frame was a bit whippy to be a good climber, but with slight frame flex and gel saddle, it was a comfortable all-day cruiser.

Day one was successful, as the 225 kilometres from Lake Louise to Revelstoke went by without incident. We had chosen September for fewer tourists on the road. The cooler weather and clean mountain air made me feel like I was turbo-charged. The scenery was so spectacular, I had to really concentrate on piloting the bike. I had also taken to drinking coffee in the mornings, something I had never done before. This was a nod to what the European pros did. It may not have helped my performance, but psychologically, it helped me to think I was giving this attempt my best shot.

Riding out of Revelstoke at 7:30 a.m., headed for Kelowna, a distance of almost 200 kilometres, I felt good. Another good weather forecast meant one less thing to worry about. I could just concentrate on riding and using my energy wisely. The fact that I would finish the ride at a slightly lower elevation was reassuring. The atmospheric conditions in the mountains meant that early in the morning, the roads were damp and slick with condensation. However, the good quality of the road and the lack of traffic made me feel confident to build up some speed.

It was a sweeping downhill curve on a two-lane road. I was descending at slightly over 50 kph. Keep in mind, evergreen trees on either side of the road limited my long-range visibility. What I saw as I rounded the curve, stunned me for a split second. Standing sideways, in the middle of the road, straddling both lanes, was a full-grown female moose. I say full-grown because I cannot imagine an animal that big not being full-grown. My head, while sitting on my bike, was not even close to the bottom of the moose’s shoulder.

When happened next needs some explanation. When I am in dangerous situations, everything slows down as I evaluate my options. What I am talking about is the feeling of one to two seconds being enough time to evaluate several options and the likely success of each of them. The effect is of time slowing down and a heightening of your senses and observations.

The first realization was that I was traveling quite fast on a wet road on ultra thin, slick tires. Braking in time was out of the question. This led me to imagine my first option. You may think it is funny but, due to the amount of time to impact, I first thought my only option was to lock up the rear wheel of my bike and lay the bike and myself down on the pavement. My speed and the damp road condition would possibly allow my body and bike to slide under the moose, between it’s legs, a space that appeared to afford enough room to pass through, judging from the over all size of the animal. In a millisecond I discounted this option, since it was practically guaranteed to result in injury (of me, not the moose). That left two options. To aim for the oncoming lane side, where the moose’s head was, or to the right-hand side of my lane, where the moose’s flank was. Logically, I knew the option of steering around the flank was the most reasonable. If the animal were startled, it would likely move forward. The problem was that centrifugal force was moving me to the outside of this downhill curve, on a low friction pavement surface. Any abrupt steering input would most likely result in a skid and loss of control. The stakes were high, with craggy ditches on either side of the road.

Taking everything into account in my roughly two seconds of analysis, I made my decision and started to commit to it. I would slightly veer to the left, with as little steering input as possible to limit skidding, to pass the moose on the head side. If the moose moved forward, we would collide.

As I remember it, there was a strange serenity in that millisecond as I passed the moose. My hands were off the brakes and I was trying to relax my body, in anticipation of impact. For this plan to work correctly, and for me not to end up in the ditch, my path would take me quite close to the moose. This closeness, plus my heightened senses, let me see, in minute detail, the texture of the animal’s fur and smell the damp mustiness that emanated. I remember thinking that perhaps it would be a sort of soft airbag effect, to make contact with that fur.  At the expected point of impact, luckily for me, the moose did not move. I flashed by, like a moment of victory at a finish line. Looking behind me, a few seconds later, I saw the moose had turned and lumbered back into the woods on the inside of the curve. I had made the right choice and had survived my first close encounter with a moose.

There were other stories to come out of this cycling adventure, but they are for another time.

Other stories by Steve Stoller