There, but by the Grace of God

In the process of editing my first book, Finding Joy, I re-read this story about a memorable bike ride at Teddy Roosevelt National Park in South Dakota. I thought I’d share it with you. Before you read my story, here are four random facts you may or may not know: 1. Bison are generally docile, until they are not. 2. The males weigh 2000 pounds. 3. They can run over 30 mph if they get inspired. 4. Bison do not like to be challenged.

 Twelve miles into my ride, an older couple in a white GMC Denali passed me going up a hill and then grinned and waved as I passed them on the way down. I descended at an exhilarating 30-plus-mph pace in the 25-mph zone. But as I neared the bottom of the hill, I noticed three bison on my left. Cars stopped. People were taking pictures from their windows. I squeezed the brakes hard. Ahead of me stood a lone bull, eating on the side of the road. He was facing me. 

He was closer than 50 yards and several members of his family ambled close behind. I stopped, pulled out my phone, took a picture, and then started a video. Two seconds into the video, the bull looked up and started walking toward me. I didn’t figure he was approaching because he wanted to lick my face, have me pet him, or join me for a selfie. My phone made its way back into my jersey pocket in a flash, and I whispered a sincere apology for having taken a photograph without his consent.

Now, I know there is a fine line between brave and stupid. A has-been amateur cyclist standing at the bottom of a hill in the wrong gear, facing a bison, seemed much closer to stupid than brave. The bull told me I had crossed the line when I pulled out my phone. Please don’t ask me what I was thinking. I obviously wasn’t. 

Monitoring his movements, but not making direct eye contact, I did a 180 with my bike. No longer interested in grazing on the lush grass, the bull lumbered in my direction. After awkwardly shifting gears, I climbed the hill I had raced down at 30 mph seconds earlier. I glanced back. Now on the pavement, the bull walked directly behind me and commenced to close the gap. Forty yards. Thirty yards. Twenty. I kept climbing at a slow, labored pace, looking back every few pedal strokes to watch him still lumbering toward me. 

He wasn’t charging, but was he walking faster? I couldn’t tell, but he was tracking me. Of that, I was certain. As I continued, I inched past the three bison, now on my right. They heard my heart beating, for sure. It not only beat in my chest; it thumped in my ears faster and faster as a timpani crescendo in the last few measures of a symphony. 

After two minutes, and what seemed like ten, the gap was too close for comfort. I picked up my pace—as much as a retired girl with bad knees and aching feet can pick up the pace on a 10% grade without bison assuming she wanted to play tag. The bull continued at his same labored pace. My wobbly legs somehow gained a few yards on him, and then a few more. And then . . . a few more. It was not until I crested the climb and began a lightning-fast descent that I felt safe. 

That was way too close for comfort. I thanked God that the bull didn’t pick up speed and come after me.

It killed me to not get more pictures and videos. However, if I had stayed for more photos, perhaps the bison would have killed me. My heart continued to race long after I topped that hill, but I was alive. I have seen many stories involving bison and stupid people on national news feeds and YouTube videos of bison goring and stampeding spectators. As the saying goes, “there but by the grace of God, go I.”

Have you had any close encounters with bison or any other animals? Please share below.