There, but by the Grace of God

 Twelve miles into a bicycle ride at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, an older couple in a white Denali passed me going up a hill, 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 grazing on my left. Cars stopped. People were taking pictures from their windows. I squeezed the brakes hard. In front of me stood a lone bull, eating on the side of the road facing me.

He was closer than 50-yards and the rest of the herd 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 2000-pound beast of an animal, seemed much closer to stupid than brave. The bull let me know 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, my bike and I did a 180. No longer interested in the lush grass, the bison lumbered in my direction. After awkwardly shifting gears, I climbed the hill I had raced down at 30 mph seconds earlier, fully aware that bison can run faster than that if so inspired. I glanced back. Now on the pavement, the bull walked directly behind me and started closing the gap. Forty yards . . .  Thirty yards . . . Twenty. I kept turning the pedals at a slow, labored pace, looking back every few seconds to watch him still lumbering toward me. He wasn’t charging me, but was he walking faster? I couldn’t tell, but he was tracking me. Of that, I was certain. As I pedaled, I inched passed the three bison, now on my right.

Don’t make eye contact. Don’t look at them. Just keep pedaling.

After a minute, and what seemed like ten, he had cut my lead in half. 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 beast 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. I crested the climb, and the legs I thought had nothing left regained their power as I flew down the other side of the ridge.

That was way too close for comfort. I was so thankful, so lucky, the bull didn’t charge me. I so wished I could have gotten more pictures and videos. However, if I had stayed for more photos, that might have been my last wish. My heart continued to race long after I topped that hill, but I was alive. You have likely seen stories involving bison and stupid people on national news feeds. Bystanders have loaded YouTube with 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 other dangerous animals? Please share.