Arie 2 / Bison 0 — a short story about running into bison's in Canada
The night before I got no sleep. I had shared by invitation a campground site with two old farts. They stopped on the side of the road the other afternoon to offer me water. The campground was just outside Fort Providence, Northwest Territories off of the Yellowknife Highway. They stayed up late in front of a campfire and because I was their guest, I felt I should stay up to. The thing was that I did not expect them to get up as early as they did the next morning. And the campground owner wasn’t too happy that I was guest at the site as it took a bit negotiating before she finally said “whatever, go ahead and stay.” So, when I heard the guys stirring, I got up myself completely regretting how late I went to bed.
It was July 29, 2011 and the hot summer sun was beating down on me hard on the Yellowknife Highway headed north to Yellowknife. The highway was straight and with a slight incline. A parallel line of the dominant black spruce trees less than 200 feet away lined both sides of the highway. Ever since taking the ferry across the Mackenzie River the afternoon before, signs of bison were everywhere. I even saw a few of the brute beasts that afternoon.
This day was an usual day for me. Between the unchanging landscape and simply being tired I was actually bored out of my tree for the first time since this ride through western and northern Canada had started. And there he was, big and dopey and minding his own business. When I had seen a few of them earlier in the day I pedalled past them before they became aware of me. But this time I had different ideas.
I blame my tiredness. But this time I wondered what would happen if we faced off, bison against cyclist. I don’t mean aggravate the big guy; I mean just face each other. So that what I did. Instead of silently pedalling past this 2,000 lbs of pure who knows what. I stopped my bike and faced him.
When he finally noticed me he was about 50 to 75 feet from the shoulder of the highway. He raised head to give me a better look and then he got it in his head that maybe he should come check me out. He slowly made his way straight to me. Admittedly by the time he reached the highway shoulder I was rethinking my brilliant idea of facing off with a wild bison. But now it was too late.
He was on an angle about 30 feet from me on the far shoulder while I was on my shoulder. Moving forward would only bring myself closer to him and an unknown outcome. I was touring with a BOB trailer so backing up was not an option. And a u-turn into the center of the highway seemed risky. I came to the conclusion; one of two things was going to happen.
Either he was going to become bored and leave the highway or I was in pretty big trouble. I was so focused on what might happen and how my ride or life maybe coming to an end that the third option never occurred to me. I actually never even “heard” the third option until my savior, a pick-up truck pulling a travel trailer with horn blasting came from behind me and blew past and between me and the bison. The blasting horn was enough of a ruckus to cause the bison to reconsider his interest in me.
Arie 1 / Bison 0. Forward I pedalled deciding I would think more clearly my options when coming across any future bison’s.
Twelve days later on August 7th headed west on the Liard Highway I would come across another bison; this time standing in the middle of the road. And this time I am not feeling nearly as brave as I was during my last encounter.
I came to a stop about 300 feet from the animal. Now what? I looked at him, he looked at me and he had nowhere to be. For the next 3–4 minutes I proceeded to yell, holler and clap my hands in an effort to convince him it was worth his while to move off the road. And you know what? It eventually worked, for about 10 seconds.
As the big guy slowly made his way off the road, I took this as my cue to start pedalling. The part that needs to be understood is the Liard Highway west of the Yellowknife Highway is actually gravel. Which is kind of weird considering it is the main and only highway through the Northwest Territories.
Anyways as this bison was making his way off the road, I pushed my pedal down in an effort to push off. Unfortunately, the grinding of the gravel under my bike tires startled the bison right back on to the road. As I watched this happen before my eyes, I was about to be pissed at myself for screwing my chance to get past him and down the road.
Except something kind of interesting happen right before me. The bison started to trot down the road away from me. Maintaining my momentum, I pushed my bike forward before the bison could change his mind and either stop in his tracks or decided to turn to face me.
With the sounds of the gravel grinding under my bike tires the bison continued to amble forward. It was actually kind of sight to see. A few things though. The bison was unwilling to move off the road and kept his slow gallop down the road. For many kilometers actually. Believe it or not I had him going for almost 5 kilometers! I was actually passing kilometer markers along the side of the highway. And still, he wouldn’t leave the road.
But how much longer can a 2,000 lb animal running in heat of an August afternoon before he comes to his senses and realizes that he doesn’t have to run from anyone or anything? He just has to stop and stand his ground. I knew my chase was coming to an end real soon and then this beast would simply face me down. But I had one more ace up my sleeve.
Every 4–500 feet he would momentarily stop and swing his head to the side to see if I was still on him. When I sensed he had about enough and was about to stop for good I zig-zagged my bike across both lanes of the road in an effort to show him the length of my bike and trailer combined. I was betting that seeing my complete length with me standing on my pedals would make me look far bigger than I was and far bigger than he expected. And you know what?
It worked. That bison got one look at me and literally bolted down the road far faster then I could keep up with and disappear around a curve up the road. I was actually worried when I finally got around the curve and caught up with him, I would be back to square one. But when I finally got around the curve he was nowhere to be seen. Arie 2/ Bison 0.