Suddenly I am awake. Night has finally engulfed my world in the tent. Why am I awake? Ah, the noise. I hear it again. There must be an animal outside my tent. Thumping. Could be a moose, I thought. I find my headlamp and bear spray. I feel threatened, alone and feeble in my little polyester shelter; in an environment I am not fit to survive in.
There it goes again. A rapid thump thump thump sound, not on a hard surface but in the air. I attempt a deep roar to assert my presence in the forest, though even in the moment I can hear in my cracked voice the tones of fear that any sentient creature could recognize. With logical thought temporarily disabled, I failed to consider that a moose was not likely to disturb my tent, as a bear would.
I relax, realizing the noises are the fluttering wings of a grouse. Just a grouse. Back to sleep.
I had biked 10 miles to Mystic Lake, an area of relatively subdued topography on the northern fringe of the Gallatin Range. The lake was dammed by humans in the early 1900’s, but after the dam was breached in the 80’s, beavers and snowmelt resumed control of the hydrology. Most of the trail was an old logging road, so the climbs were long and moderate; an ideal first bikepacking route. Two friends escorted me on the first day’s ride and turned around at the lake, where I would stay. With awkward goodbyes and the dark storm clouds looming on the near horizon, I felt like a child being dropped off at summer camp.
The rain came. I hastily set up camp in a stand of pine above the shores of the lake. Much of my gear was already wet, including the floor of my shelter. Now relatively warm, I worried about my friends who were now struggling through the technical singletrack section of the route during a downpour.
Riding. In my mind. The plan is to connect the Sourdough trail with Moser Creek, crossing into the Hyalite drainage, then looping back to the van; a 20 mile day. The trail is lined with red Indian Paintbrush of a deeper hue than the ones I observed 1,000 feet lower. And so many! I consider stopping to photograph them.
A sudden presence. I lock eyes with a mama moose alongside her calf, they are only 10 yards away. Her ears are perked, I startled her. I decide it best to not change my behavior and continue pedaling the slow climb I’ve been hobbling up for miles. The moose are standing off the trail between the meanders of a switchback on this old logging road, meaning that I must cross them again from above. In preparation, I draw my bear spray from my chest pocket of my overloaded running vest. After climbing the trail for several miles and climbing still, I wobble at my slow cadence, clipped into the pedals of my bike while holding the canister with my right hand. I put the spray away, considering my efforts to use it would be futile; aim or balance would likely fail me. I keep pedaling, hoping she doesn’t charge. She only stares. Such vulnerability! I live another day.