The Journal of Provincial Thought
jptArchive Issue 14
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Bike and Bear dept.
On a remote mountaintop, the fate of motorcyclist
John Rice rides on the whim of a beast

On top of Pine Mountain near Whitesburg, Kentucky is the Little Shepherd Trail (, a 38 mile crooked “road” made from a hiking path along the top of the mountain range.  About 20 miles of it is paved, though still difficult for most ordinary vehicles due to the ascending and descending switchbacks that would have typical 4-wheeled transport dangling a wheel or two to get around the curvature.  On the way home from the BMW owner's rally in Johnson City,Tennessee, I detoured back up to the top of Pine Mountain on Rt. 119 to take the trail because I’d promised myself on several other occasions to do it “next time I’m down here.”  Although it was a sunny summer Sunday, there were no other humans on the trail, something I found both refreshing and appalling.  The views from the top are amazing, stretching at least 50 miles north across the valleys and over to the next range of hills nestling in this mountain’s shadow.  I pottered along the paved path on the 93 R100 GS/PD, a bike well suited to this environment (but a 250 would have been even better!), working my way around the curves and ducking the overhanging branches. I stopped at a few of the overlooks to stand on the edge of the precipice, something some of us never outgrow.

motorcycle on mountain, c 2009 John Rice
Author's mountain-pounding BMW 93 R100 GS/PD
c 2009 John Rice
At one point a wild turkey strolled across the path in front of me, taking flight only at the last possible moment.   A large deer stood and watched me approach, then bolted into the forest, iconic white tail raised high.  I wondered where all the hikers and bicyclists that should be enjoying this view with me had gone to.  Then, looking through the leaves to the next turn ahead of me, I saw what I took to be a hiker’s large black dog standing on the surface, looking back at me.  I slowed to a crawl, not wanting to scare the dog or its owner.
Then the mother bear stepped onto the path to stand beside her cub.
I stopped, then began backpedaling the PD (not a simple task, usually, but surprisingly easy with the right incentive) so that mama would see me retreating in her field of view.
She looked at me, back at her cub, then raised up slightly on her back paws, stamped her front feet back on the ground and made a “woof” sound, not a bark but more of an exhalation that said “I don’t think you really want to mess with us over here.”  Not a terribly articulate sound, but very effective communication.  I knew I couldn’t turn the bike around on this narrow trail, which was barely as wide as the bike was long, without being in a position of sitting duck for longer than it would take her to get to me. She took a sort of step toward me, more like moving her front feet forward without shifting the back.  She was telling me, as near as I could make out, that she didn’t really want a confrontation, but if I had any notion of harming this cub I should weigh the potential costs quite carefully. Message received, Ma’am.   I continued backpedaling slowly.  She looked at the cub and back at me.  The cub, a long-legged skinny thing that did resemble a large dog as much as a bear, watched me with more curiosity than apprehension.  Typical adolescent, he felt no particular fear, with mom there by his side, and instead was up for the adventure of this new thing in his world.  Great, I thought, that’s all I need now is for him to start this way to see just what motorcycles are like up close.  People have been telling me for nearly half a century now that I was “going to get killed on that motorcycle,” but I doubt that this was exactly what they had in mind.  I had visions of park rangers later finding a young bear wearing a red Darien jacket and a helmet, using my pocketknife to pick shards of plastic fenders from his back teeth. 
Finally, after what seemed like forever, Mama gave me one last warning look, “woofed” again and herded her curious cub off into the bushes.  I sat there for a few moments to give them time to get where they were going, then started forward slowly, but accelerated hard when I got near the spot they’d vacated.  If she was going to catch me now, she was going to have to work at it.  I was going to be fast food, in the literal sense. I was a ways down the trail before I slowed down to catch my breath.  I’ve always loved trail riding alone and the wildlife is an added bonus...but I much prefer the vegetarians when it comes to sharing the trail.
John Rice
jptARCHIVE Issue 14
Copyright 2009- WJ Schafer & WC Smith - All Rights Reserved