A day in the life of the Bike Patrol.

As all five of you know, I started my volunteer position in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park two weeks ago. The Cades Cove loop to be exact. And it went like this…

I got up at what I call the butt crack of dawn, otherwise known as 4:45 am. Consider that my earliest day at the shop is 10:00 am. I arrive around 6:30 am to the Ranger Station. Somehow, someone manages to get ahold of the radios we need and we make our way up to the orientation shelter at the beginning of the loop. This would be around 7 am.

After any workers (car drivers) are let in to get to their assigned destinations, we start one or two at a time heading to the first checkpoint. The idea is that after a certain amount of time, another patrol person heads in to bump the person before them up to the next checkpoint.

Myself and Scott (both new BPers, this term comes up later) went out together with one radio. Being the first day that the Park closes the traffic for only bikes and hikers to enjoy the loop it is strangely not too busy. I guess school is still on for the kids? We make it uneventfully to the first checkpoint, which is an animal overlook. It looks out into a huge field and there are a bunch of deer hanging out. We figured it would be 20-30 minutes until the next BPer bumped us up.

An hour goes by.

I started to ask visitors if they had seen a guy with the same uniform shirt as us on a bike. I finally got one to answer yes and that he was maybe ten minutes back.

When our relief BPer makes it to us, we find out that there had been an accident. One which required opening the gate (it was close to the beginning of the loop) to let the volunteers with a car go in and get the person back out. Without going into any detail, said person was knocked for a loop, didn’t want help, was checked over and released to friends who happened to be nurses.

I said it must not have been too bad because the radio wasn’t used.

The radio had indeed been used. I must be in one of those spots with bad reception.

So, Scott and I move on to the next checkpoint and through it to the Visitor’s Center about halfway through the loop. Still not much going on. We hit the restroom, got back out on the bikes, waited a few and continued on to the next checkpoint.

I guess having the hour delay put us on a quicker schedule to make it around the loop.

So, our next checkpoint of note is called bicycle hill.

It is one of two points where there is a Walk Your Bike sign. People have actually died at this one. It’s steep and the curves are sharp. Sadly, many people out on the loop do not have much experience on a bike, so it’s easy to lose control or not be able to stop. The hill  has been known to have an animal at the bottom right in the middle of the road before.

Just before we bump the other BPer up, I hear his radio. I do not hear mine. Suffice it to say, I had been hauling around a 3 pound block of metal and plastic.

On the second half of the loop, we continue the bumping up of each other. This is where most of the bikes are by now.

I hadn’t really been counting the animals, but many deer and turkeys for me this day.

By the time we reached the last overlook of the loop, we had just missed a bear siting. We all hung around for about fifteen minutes or so…long enough for the last BPer to catch up.

Did I tell you why we now use Bike Patrol and our name on the radios instead or BP and name? Apparently last year in the wake of the BP oil spill, a visitor or ten heard the call and thought representatives of BP were out there! I guess it was enough of an issue that no one wanted to deal with, so the change was made immediately.

Scott is not one to stand around too long, and the lack of movement makes my legs start to tighten up, so we skedaddled along. Well, after handing my radio around and trying checks to solidify that my radio was indeed just a block of plastic and metal.

So, we’re almost to the end of the loop…and behold! Our first bear jam!

Bear Jam: the sudden stopping of humans regardless of where they are, leaving their vehicle in the middle of the road or wherever it happens to be, and running to get closer to said bear(s) to get that picture.

It wasn’t too bad, seeing as not many cars had made it around the loop yet. It opened only a half of an hour before. That is, until the one car pulled up.

We watched the driver and front seat passenger get out and then the backseat passenger. I can’t remember which one of the passengers it was, but one picked up a big fallen branch and was trying to carry it in front of her. We watched for a couple of minutes, it was just odd. Then we realized , I think, that she was trying to hide behind the branch to get closer to the bear. Scott went over to bring her back to reality.

Did I mention it was a mama with three cubs?

Some more bicyclists came and a few cars. We directed them to park on the other side of the road and we also kept people back far enough to not disturb the bears. The cubs were a blast to watch. They climb the trees and then two of them played and smacked each other around.

The the masses started coming. Lots of cars.

It also was our job to either keep them moving or get them to also park across the road. And remember, my radio didn’t work, so I couldn’t call to the others to help us. Though, thankfully they did appear not long after this. As well as the Ranger on duty.

At one point we ended up making a path on the road for the bears to cross safely.

Mama gets across.

Two cubs on the way.

And there goes the third cub.

That bear jam lasted well over an hour.

So, an 11 mile loop in a valley in the Great Smoky Mountains took all of 6 hours to complete! Can’t wait to go back:)

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2 Responses

  1. Holy Bears, I had no idea your volunteer work would be like that, and starting at the butt crack of dawn, good grief, I wonder what my sister dawn would say about that. 🙂 Good for you, and sounds quite interesting.

    • It’s always interesting when you put people and wild animals into the mix, especially early in the morning. I’m starting to get to know individual bears and their attitudes.

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