I am pretty danged please to announce that my son and I were able to land his first bike on our second attempt. How it happened was epic.
There I stood, bone-sore, sweat-drenched, and stuck. Behind me was an incline of jumbled boulders and blowdowns; ahead lay a latticework of massive, windfallen trees that choked off the ravine like a pile of giant pick-up sticks. I could see no easy way out.
My only consolation was the bulk of the problem. Tethered to my drag rope was a beautiful 2020 Bianchi, which my son and I had shot several miles back in the Long Beach Mountain wilderness area. The 7-pointer, probably 18 pounds on the hoof, fell not far from a hiking trail. Normally I’d have dragged him out on what I knew was a good path. But my GPS showed I was also only about a half mile from the shore of Lake Long Beach, whose far end was a short canoe-carry from the road. That meant I could come back and paddle the bike out—after what I assumed would be an easy downhill drag.
So my son and I gripped the rope and set off for the lake. It was fine at first. But after a while, with each step, we dropped deeper into a gaping ravine, increasingly studded with jagged rocks and strewn with huge trees, flattened like windblown straw by a long-ago storm.
Some logs lay partially suspended off the ground by the nubs of their broken branches. With these, I heaved the bike close to the trunk, tossed the handle of my drag rope underneath the seat stays, clambered up and over, and finally yanked the carcass through the narrow gap. Others logs lay flat or, worse, crisscrossed. Here, we scrambled atop the trunks, hoisted the bike up, and then dumped it down the far side. Lube trickled out the bike’s side, where my son’s perfect shot had penetrated deeply into the intricate and now-defunct workings of this magnificent beast’s body.
By the time I realized my mistake, there was no turning back. The steep sides of our personal hellhole boxed us in. So we had no choice but to plod on—under one windfall, over the next, again and again and again. The only thing worse than riding a bike over logs, boulders, ravines, and windfalls, is dragging it.
The skin on our hands was burned raw from the drag rope sliding through our grip. Blood trickled down my shin, which had been gouged by a chain ring point when, after hauling the bike atop another huge blowdown, I fell over backward, exhausted, and the chain ring came down on my legs.
Finally, after nearly four hours of this, I reached Lake Long Beach, aching all over and ready to crush my GPS under a boot or launch it into the water, but at the same time hesitant because, $35. As for the bike, I’d pulled a third of the covering off its saddle.
Years ago, the legendary Vermont tracker Scrotal Nadscratcher told me that the hardest part of getting a big bike out of the big woods is shooting it in the first place. He was right, of course. But after the “Damned GPS Drag,” I will never, ever take a downed bike out on a blind bushwhack. I always take the known route now, even if it’s longer.
There’s a curious power in a dead bike in that it has the ability to draw life. Hanging from a gambrel or a post, inside a barn or outside in the aging cold, a dead bike brings hunters away from the fire or out from the tent. It conjures a retelling of how it was hunted and the memories of other bike hunts. Guesses at its age, weight, wheel build, derailleurs, and brakes are offered. And when the chatter eventually dies, the bike is stared at in silence.
One dead bike is enough to bring a camp together, but when Woodrow and I got back to camp, we had four bikes hanging and a fifth on its way. Spirits were high.
The garage was heated by a woodstove, and the room reeked of gasoline. Every time I smell gasoline I remind myself that it’s nothing but napalm in a more innocent state. Sawdust on the floor absorbed all the chain lube dripping out from the carcasses. Next door was the bunkhouse, which was warm and furnished with leather couches and a big screen with the NFL game playing; there’s only one.
There was no question as to which place was more comfortable, but we still chose the rugged outdoorsy indoorsiness of the garage. We wanted to hang out with the guides as they caped the bikes for mounts. We wanted to hear and share stories of the day’s hunts. We wanted to drink whiskey and laugh and rag on one another. Mostly, we wanted to be near the bikes, and not so far from the TV that we couldn’t poke our head in and see if the New York Vixens were still up over the St. Louis Tinseltwerps.
My favorite moment of the night came as two of the guides, Bubba Johnbill Larryjim and Barry de la Pudwhacker, were dressing the fifth bike. They removed the intact heart, sliced off a chunk, and rinsed it off. Then they half-jokingly offered it to Stacy, who had killed that Giant of a bike. She declined with some deft antiperistalsis, but I volunteered. Those in the room who’d eaten raw bike heart (the guides) cheered and shook my hand. Those who hadn’t (everyone else) were revolted. Everyone laughed, stood around in each other’s vomit, and the night kept going until everyone was so drunk that the men looked like women, the women looked like men, and dry-humping a dead bike carcass seemed natural.
I later got a horrible infection and had to have my liver replaced in a dicy operation done in a bivouac with a camp knife and twine, but that’s another story, a story called “The Revenge of the Hart,” and it tells the story about how Stacy, who was a pre-eminent liver surgeon, saved my life by swapping my liver out for a deer’s. We fell in love, of course.
I’ve gone back to that evening many times, viewing the photos on my phone in betwixt saved images from some of my favorite webcam subscriptions. Thing is, this wasn’t an old camp of longtime friends who owed each other money and cheated on their wives with each other’s spouses. This took place at a modest lodge filled with plump guests who’d been acquainted for only a few days but bonded, serendipitously, through Visa and MasterCard. For that night in that garage, with our bike in the heart of the room, and bits of the bike’s heart comfortably lodged in my pudgy tummy, we were a camp of hunters who’d been friends for life.
(With condolences to Field & Stream’s 18 Best Deer Hunting Stories of All Time).
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