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Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The Great Divide - Hey, Bear!

Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife

I mean the bare necessities
Old Mother Nature's recipes
That bring the bare necessities of life

The Bare Necessities, Terry Gilkyson (1967)

Many ask if I encountered any grizzly bears during my ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. No, I did not face a growling grizzly. In fact, I did not see any bear anywhere. But I sure saw bear habitat, bear bins, warning signs of bear activity, bear scat, and an endless array of bear related souvenirs in most every store throughout all five states. Just no live bears.

Not encountering a fearsome bear doesn't mean that I don't have a grizzly tale to tell.

Fresh grizzly bear scat on the single track through Grizzly Basin.

The most likely day for us to encounter a grizzly bear was Day 6 from our remote campsite beside Clearwater Lake, in the heart of Montana grizzly bear country. That was our first night camping dispersed in a national forest and our first night hanging food and other items in bear bags. We see and hear plenty of wildlife there, but no bears.

The next morning, we hike-a-bike 20 minutes up single track and then ride about 8 miles steadily up a good forest service road. Locals confirm our research that this area supports the highest concentration of grizzly bears in Montana. And just ahead lies the aptly named Grizzly Basin, where wildlife authorities relocate problem bears from other areas. Time to get that Timber Bell dinging.

First bear bag hang on our 2021 GDMBR ride.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

We top a ridge and abruptly turn onto single track. Oh, my. It's about 4 miles of gentle downhill, smooth, flowing single track along the shoulders of Richmond Peak. Steep slopes reach upward right toward a  ridgeline and downward left toward a roaring river. Hugging the narrow path, lush vegetation gives way to towering pine trees framing both sides. The surrounding mountains soar above it all. Wow.

We so want to rip down this stretch, but we also don't want it to end. We ride fast for a bit, stop, look around, take pictures, go slow, stop, go fast again but not for long, stop again, and go a bit slower. The views are simply stunning.

Dropping down sweet single track through Grizzly Basin on the Great Divide.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

Then Paul stops again. This time it's not for the big views, but for the big pile of grizzly bear scat plopped down in the middle of the trail. The pile is so big that I veer off the trail to get around it. That gets our attention.

Now, the nearly continuous Timber Bell just doesn't seem enough. We ride on, regularly yelling, "Hey, Bear! Hey, Bear!" and fully expect to see a mammoth grizzly rising up to greet us around every turn. Instead, we get a "Hey, Bear!" right back at us. It's northbound GDMBR rider Michael Himes who is 4 1/2 years into a world-wide cycling tour. He shares some stories for a spell and then quietly pedals on his way.

Paul and I stop to chat with Michael Himes as we pass through Grizzly Basin.

The sight of that grizzly scat did not vanish from our thoughts, however. It couldn't. Over the next mile or so, we saw at least 15 more piles of bear scat right on the trail, a few of which were still steaming. Now, we're on full alert to our immediate surroundings. Hey, Bear! Hey, Bear!

So, what happened here? I conjure an image of one sociable grizzly finding a juicy huckleberry patch, calling all his friends, and throwing a big huckleberry party all night. Staggering home, the bears marked their trail on the only flat ground around. We're just riding through downtown after the parade.

Negotiating a slide area through Grizzly Basin.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

Too soon, we pop out of the single track and fly down a hard gravel road toward Seeley Lake. We find no bear scat on this wide, relatively well developed gravel road. With bear spray at hand, we refill water bottles and eat lunch along Blind Canyon Creek. Then we roll another 26 miles on good forest service and county roads to Ovando for the night. 

Of course, we're not out of grizzly country. Not for over 700 more miles. But we're through the steaming bear scat of Grizzly Basin. And that's something.

Enjoy those roadside wild raspberries, Paul.
Just know that you're raiding a grizzly's pantry.

Addendum. Others have encountered bears on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, including two cyclists that I met in Montana. While filtering water from a stream in Montana, John watched a young grizzly eat beef jerky right off his bike before sauntering away. And Ron Kennedy scared off a black bear at night in a campground in southern Colorado. He wrote about it here. Ron's Black Bear Encounter. So, there you go. You have something besides poop for your effort in reading this.

The Bare Necessities, The Jungle Book (1967)

1 comment:

  1. I loved that singletrack, and yes, all the bear scat was a little unsettling.