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Apr 13
The Day I Hit The Bear

The day started out like most days in the mountains. The sky was bright but not entirely sunny. It was a Friday morning at 8:37 when I pulled out of my ‘economy’ motel on the eastern outskirts of Roanoke.

I had spent the previous afternoon (Thursday) riding the Blue Ridge Parkway from the Carolina border to Roanoke. It was after 6 and the heavy tree formation along the Parkway had started to darken the road, so I decided to call it a day. Too many animals call that time of night nirvana for me to feel safe after dusk anymore.

After a quick stop at ‘Denny’s” it was off to bed in the $41.00 motel I found just off the entrance to the Parkway. I slept great, as I always do on the road and woke up at seven raring to go. After a gas-up and ‘breakfast’ at the B.P. station, I was back up the entrance ramp onto the parkway and making the left turn that would take me North all the way to Front Royal Virginia.

As I started North, I got to thinking. I was riding my beloved Venture Royale, which I had always referred to as just the ‘Venture.’ Most guys I know after establishing a love affair with their motorcycle name their bike like they do their children and dogs. I never had — it was just the Venture.

After 150,000 of the most unbelievable miles anyone could imagine, the bike still had the name it was given by its manufacturer  I had always felt guilty about that, but never seemed to be able to come up with the appropriate name.

As I left the Blue Ridge Parkway and entered Shenandoah National Park (Skyline Drive), the sky darkened and the posted speed limit dropped to 35. I’ve always wondered why the speed limit was only 35 here yet 45 on the Parkway just below. The makeup and complexion of the roads looked identical or at least so it seemed. It’s a long ride through the park to Front Royal at 35mph, and if you don’t stop you might make it in about three hours.

I was now at a consistent elevation above 3000 feet and the air and shrubbery started to feel and look like the Rocky Mountains. I stopped at a rest stop to use the facilities and drink some water and then quickly got back on the road because my goal was to make it to the Pennsylvania line before dark.

The Bike was running as well as it ever has, and after 22 years of faithful service that’s saying a lot. There are only 2 states we haven’t been to together (Mississippi and Rhode Island), and I’ve got both of them on my short list to round out the lower 48. The Venture, there I go again calling it something so bland, has also been to Alaska twice. It has made 5 cross-country trips and my favorite, a 10-day Odyssey with my son going up one side of the Rockies and down the other. The memories of our times together came flooding back as I rounded a large bend in the road to the left.

Then it happened !

Before I could react, downshift, or even pull the brake lever, it was directly in front of me. I saw it, and my life flashed in front of me at exactly the same time. It was a black bear, and it looked to be full size. Before I could even exhale it was less than a foot from the front tire of the bike.

BAMMMMM ! It hit like a sledgehammer. First it sounded like a small explosion just behind the front wheel on the left side. Then the back of the bike lifted up about two feet in the air. I had hit the bear and then run over it as it passed under the bike.

We’ve all heard stories about near death experiences that cause your life to flash in front of your eyes in that very instant. Trust me, it’s true, and here’s what flashed through mine.

Anyone who knows me, knows about my lifelong love for motorcycles and motorcycling. My first ‘car’ was a BSA Gold Star that I had in High School. My mother never knew about it because YES VIRGINIA — my Grandmother and Grandfather let me hide it in their garage.

I bought the first 750 Honda when it was introduced in 1970, rode it all through college and believe me when I say those Penn State winters were brutal. I didn’t know it was called Hypothermia, but I experienced it every week between November and March. I dated my Wife on that motorcycle and am lucky that I still have it tucked away in the back of my garage today.

Combined with my love for Motorcycles is my love of the mountains and the Rockies in particular. I have spent almost all of my vacation time during the past 30 years riding, touring, and exploring the Rocky Mountain West.

As a result of my time in the Rockies, about 25 years ago I also developed a love for bears. All bears. I love Black Bears, Grizzly Bears and Polar Bears, but if forced to choose the Grizzly would be my favorite. My 2 close encounters in Yellowstone, and my 1 in Glacier, with large Brown Bears changed my perception of life and what it means forever. I was totally at their mercy. Looking into their eyes, which the so-called experts warn you against, was a life altering experience that I’m glad to have done

Now, back to what flashed through my mind when the bear was about to make contact. It all seemed to happen in slow motion but I thought as I hit him that if this was truly the end — how lucky I was! YES LUCKY. To end my life doing the thing I loved the most, in a place (A National Park) I loved most being, and to have it ended by an animal that meant more to me than any other. It all just seemed fitting and right.

In that instant I was ready to go, and in a strange and still unexplainable way, I was almost thankful for it happening the way it did.

And then before I had even blinked my eyes, the rear of the bike was back down on the road and now sliding to the right. I counter-steered as I was taught when road racing, and after drifting across both lanes the bike ‘******’ straight up and started heading North again. Instinctively I looked in my rear view mirror and saw the bear run off into the tall grass on the side of the road and then collapse.

I went about fifty yards further up the road and stopped the bike and got off. It was damaged in the front and just slightly leaking. The radiator cowling was broken off and part of the lower fairing was gone. There was organic material all over my left tailpipe which I would later find out was brain matter from the bear. I got off the bike and walked back to where I thought the bear was laying.

He was right where I had seen him collapse and he had a huge opening in his skull where he had made contact with the bike. As terrible as this made me feel, something else made me feel even worse, --- he was still breathing.

Two hikers (a husband and wife), about my age were now walking toward the bear and had seen the whole thing happen. They were locals and worried that there may be more bears around. They both suggested that we leave the area quickly. They told me there was a rest stop two miles further up the Parkway on the left and that I would be able call a Ranger to come and assist (shoot) the bear. I thanked them as they left and watched them head down the trail directly across the road from where the bear and I now were.

I got back on the bike and hurried up to the rest stop. Just as the couple had instructed the nice woman behind the counter called the Ranger Station and they sent a USFS Officer named Gary Roth to talk to me. I pleaded with the Ranger to forget about me, (I was fine), and to please go help the bear. I was pretty sure the bear was unconscious, but even then, you can sometimes still feel pain.

That Ranger spent almost two hours with me, first checking my driver’s license and registration, insurance card, etc. I’m sure he was also doing a back round check on me when he went back to his SUV, and all the while the poor bear was lying in trauma on the side of the road.

These Park Officials claim to love their charges, the animals in the park, but today it didn’t seem that way. I would have gladly given the officer my bike keys and identification, which he could have kept while going back to help (dispatch) the bear. ‘NO’ was all he replied back when I made that suggestion.

Finally, the Ranger left after thanking me for stopping and filing the report. He told me that most people who hit bears (on average one a month) don’t even stop to report it. At this time of the year the bears are very active, as they are foraging incessantly for food, trying to gain weight before hibernation. They are more vulnerable to car and motorcycle traffic in the fall than at any other time. He also told me that I was the only one in his memory (19 years in the park), to have hit a bear on a motorcycle and to have walked (ridden) away.

As I watched him head South on Skyline Drive, I looked at the sorry state of the Venture. I felt guiltier than ever, still referring to my beloved, and now damaged bike, in such an objective way. I decided to ride back to where I had hit the bear and make sure the Ranger did what he said he would do.  By the time I traveled the two miles to where the bear had been, the ranger was gone and there was no sight of the bear. However he did it, the Ranger had removed the bear quickly and took him to wherever they take animals that have been killed on the road.

I turned the bike around and headed North again. As I passed the rest stop I looked over to see if maybe the Ranger had come back, but the parking lot was now empty except for one lone moped parked off on the grass to the right of the building. ‘Must be a camper,’ I thought to myself.

Looking straight North again in the direction of Front Royal, I noticed the ‘Venture Royale’ badge on the dashboard of the bike. An epiphany then happened that had never happened while riding before.

                                THE BEAR / THE BEAR !!!

I would never again refer to my beloved motorcycle as the Venture again. The spirit of something primordial had overcome both of us today and allowed us to survive. From this moment on, the bike will forever be known as — THE BEAR.

Roanoke Virginia
October 2012
Kurt Philip Behm
Written by
Kurt Philip Behm
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