New PR/KOM; My first Florida Black Bear encounter!
There was a break in the thunderstorms yesterday morning, and I decided to get a mountain biking ride in during the brief respite. I am very glad that I elected to hit the trails: it was fantastic, very exciting ride!
Like I said yesterday, we’ve had some pretty serious storms here this week. Lots of rain, lots of wind. I figured I was going to encounter a considerable amount of debris and probably some downed trees, but I decided to attempt to break some records anyway. Apart from the storm debris (and, indeed, there was a lot of it), the trail conditions were a mixed bag: the sugar sand was wet and about as fast as it gets, but the leaves and pine needles were also wet. We call the dead leaves and pine needles that often blanket the trails “Florida Ice” or “Brown Ice”, and they are especially slippery when wet.
The first segment (Sand Lake Trailhead to Marker 13) is, as most of you know, the section of trail that I have been doing timed rides on long before I started using Strava. My record time on that section is really dialed in, and beating that time was going to require a nearly flawless ride. I knew that if I encountered anything on the trail that would require me to stop, or even slow down, my bid at the record would be over.
As expected, there were a lot of branches and sticks all over the place. None of that was a problem, but not too far in there was a tree laying right across the entire trail. It wasn’t a big tree, and I easily hopped it, but I was concerned that it was a harbinger of what was yet to come.
As I continued the ride, I saw that I was ahead of my record pace. Even though some of the corners were slick with wet pine needles, I was able to hit them with a good amount of speed thanks to the heavy, but very grippy, WTB Velociraptor tires that I recently put back on my Fuel. The Continental MK2 tires I was using up until a couple of weeks ago are nice and light, but they would have washed out at the speeds with which I took many of the corners yesterday.
With less than a half mile to go (and still ahead of my record pace), I saw a downed tree on the trail ahead. It was a big tree, and I frantically scanned for a way around it. Not a chance, the forest on both sides was too thick. I had two choices: stop and carry my bike over (ending any chance of breaking my record), or bunny hop it. The tree looked to be about 1 foot in diameter, and that’s right at the edge of my bunny hopping abilities under ideal conditions. The ground was soft and sandy, I was on a slight incline and I was doing about 13 miles per hour. I decided to go for it anyway…
… I made the jump, rocketed to the finish line and broke my record! Had I hit that tree the tone of this morning’s blog would have been considerably different.
I’m beyond stoked that I shaved off another 11 seconds from my personal best time on that segment, and the high risk/reward bunny hop at the end makes the record-breaking time that much sweeter.
The next segment (Marker 13 to Marker 19) had three downed trees, and two of them were massive. No chance of beating my record on that segment, but I still rode at a good clip.
The third segment (Marker 19 to Sand Lake Trailhead “Sand Hell”) is where things got very interesting.
Not too far into the third segment I encountered another massive downed tree that took me about 30 seconds to get around. Oh well, there went that record attempt. As it turns out, it didn’t matter…
A couple of minutes further into the ride I was doing about 14 MPH and I went around a bend. There, about 10 feet in front of me, was a large black bear. I estimate that he was an average sized male, probably about about 300 pounds. The bear was in the middle of the trail, and he was walking on all fours with his back to me. I hit the brakes and came to a fast stop. I was breathing hard, and he heard me. The bear began to turn his head, and time seemed to slow to a crawl.
I’ve often said how much I wanted to encounter a black bear, and there he was, not even three bike lengths away. I was feeling a mix of excitement, adrenaline and–I must admit–fear. Standing alone in the middle of the forest next to the largest land animal in the state of Florida was a thrilling, but almost surreal, experience.
As the bear turned his head towards me I remember thinking over and over, “Please don’t kill me, please run away!” The instant we made eye contact he was gone like a bat out of hell. I heard him crashing through the forest for about 30 seconds, and those sounds grew more and more faint as the bear quickly put distance between us.
The entire encounter only lasted about 6 seconds, but it felt much longer to me. I can recall every moment in vivid detail. I remember the exact instant when I saw the bear, and the surprise that washed over me as my brain processed what I was seeing. I can still see the bear slowly turning its head towards me while a few flies buzzed around his glossy black fur. The look in his eyes during the brief instant our eyes met. How he snorted a sharp blast of air as he made a break for the forest.
There are only between 2,500 and 3,000 black bears left in the entire state of Florida. As an animal lover, I can’t even describe how fortunate I feel to have finally encountered one of these rare and magnificent creatures in the wild. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.
Here’s a cool guide to Florida Black Bears (PDF Format), and below is an extremely informative and very interesting video on Florida Black Bears:
OK, today is my upper body workout and I’m going to something similar to last week: moderate weights, high volume and high intensity.