Rides We Like: McNeil Road with Bear Patrol
(2016) I shall name it Bartrum.
Currently the local municipalities are in an uproar. There was a beast sighting at a nearby baseball field recently that has been of concern to the locals. What brutish creature could have meandered its way onto a manicured field but a black bear?
Please forgive this area in its forwardness. Recently I mentioned the East Coast’s struggle to keep pace with the west. A proper black bear wondering through a yard is ho-hum out west; people here get excited to view a new animal passing through. I’m sure owners of Newfoundlands have been reproached for walking black bears, or polar bears if they’re white like the two in my neighborhood.
I’m referring to the fact that a black bear was spotted not too far from here strutting its stuff. It seems to enjoy its new digs because it has yet to be apprehended. I hardly blame it considering a black bear hasn’t been seen around here in about five years. The last one seemed to have just picked up and left.
Today’s ride was aimed at encircling the area where the bear was sighted. I’ve been lucky to see a bear cub on the way out of town after the Catskills ride. Since Bartrum (I’ll assume it’s a male) was marching along some of the roads I've ridden when quick rides are a must, this was a shoe-in for a route. The final portion of the route would explore areas where the last black bear was sighted, not more than a couple miles from today’s contact.
I should actually thank the bear for trying to return. It was an averted tragedy on the morning commute when a deer sprinted out in front of an SUV. Had the SUV hit the deer it would have surely flown through my windshield as I headed southbound. Deer are in abundance because they have no predators anymore. In Bill Bryson’s book, A Walk in the Woods, he covers the turn of the last century when local governments were handing out benefits to any person who shot the hell out of animals in the woods. Mankind was stomping out the sounds in the woods. I can’t blame the bears for being skittish for attempting a return.
Well. Back to the ride.
I managed to get out after work. It finally stopped raining for a day and the sky looked beautiful. Cotton balls of dark gray blotted the sky in front of sunshine. The temperature was absolutely comfortable.
I passed through favorite roads that descend the ridge. This put me in the northern portion of Doylestown that was bustling with the evening rush hour. I tapped into old roads from my days of residing in town and accessed Landisville Road. The intersection of Landisville and Bergstrom was where Bartrum was last seen as recently this morning. My head was on a swivel. I tried to think like Bartrum.
I imagined him feeling exhausted from being chased by people. In my mind I saw him melted against a tree trunk, his chin tucked into his sternum, his chest rising and falling with loud breathing. His back legs and feet are spread open with his front paws resting on the knees of the back legs. Bartrum would be groveling at his confusion as to why no other bears have settled in this area. He would also swat at the preseason bugs every once in a while and then fall over comically.
I pushed the pedals down Landisville without seeing my new buddy Bartrum. I also did not see the distant bison near the sight location. Yes. Someone has a bison in a field in Bucks County. After giving up hope seeing Bartrum, I pointed the bike east-ish toward Carversville.
Instead of taking the road its full distance I turned left and went up McNeil Road. This road has always stood out in my mind. The recent Fools Classic ended its climbing on this hill. It is a sleeper of an incline that may leave a rider confused as to why it feels so misrepresented. This hill has always had a dark side in my riding history.
Several years ago I looked over my shoulder to see a larger man on a hybrid behind me. Wouldn’t you know he blew by me going up the hill? I remember his flannel shirt and butt crack. The final blow came when he summited the hardest part of the hill, he motioned his arm in scoopfuls as if to say, “C’mon Roadie, follow me.” He most certainly had a motor on his bike. The gesture runs through my mind every time I come up this hill. Every time.
Summiting sees the woods where the last black bear was sighted. I looked left and right thinking, “If I were Bartrum, I’d tuck in right there.” Or, “That watering hole is a perfect place for him to wait for deer.” Then I got downright abstract thinking about the deer who may have de-evolved to handle a bear contact. “Hey Dave, that’s a dog right?” was the thought that I injected into my mythical two-deer conversation. Ah! The world from the point of view of a cyclist.
I took Twin Silo Road to Point Pleasant Pike, a connector I had never taken before. I encountered at least five people bravely walking their dogs at a time like this. I asked if they were part of the Bear Patrol. They laughed. I doubt they found it funny. But then again they did have dogs. Perhaps they were Karelian Bear Dogs incognito.
I returned past the Gardenville Hotel, past my Doan friends, and returned home. I suppose today I should thank, of all things, a bear for getting me out the door to ride. Perhaps one day I will encounter a black bear in my travels. Since black bears can run up to 35 miles-per-hour/ 56 kilometers-per-hour, I’d like to think that if there was a time I needed motivation to get around a flannelled man on a motorbike on a harsh climb, I’d select the moment I was going up McNeil to become the second slowest rider in the hunt.