Mad moose are continuing to put the fear of nature into mountain bikers in Anchorage's Kincaid Park. At least four people have been kicked or stepped on by aggressive moose in recent days, and many more have been threatened.
Well-known Alaska rider Darcy Davis said she was happy she was the one who got stomped Tuesday and not the 12-year-old behind her. Davis had just led a group of cyclists out from a crowded parking lot not far from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport onto some new single-track trails to watch a bike race.
"I was under the naive impression that I hadn't heard of anyone having trouble for a while, so it was OK," she said. "We were not riding real fast, just cruising along. We came around a corner, and this cow moose with baby in tow came charging at me."
Davis had just enough time jump off her bike to duck and cover.
"It was remarkably quick," she said. "Like, holy crap. I survived this, and it was over ... and my bike is OK."
The moose basically trampled the woman as the riders behind her scattered to give it room to flee. "My arms got kicked,'' Davis said a couple days later. "I'm sore, but I'm feeling better. I'm pretty lucky."
A moose sent cyclist Carla Smith to the hospital on May 26. But for the helmet she was wearing, she believes she might be dead.
"During my attack," she reported, "I was on my right side in the fetal position and was able to curl up enough to protect my vital organs. Getting my head beat pretty good made me think I was done for, but the bike helmet saved my life ... my injuries included a hematoma on the back of my left thigh the size of a cantelope (still healing almost two weeks later), along with a 3-inch deep contusion a little lower that needed to be stapled.
"We were thinking she must have had a branch on her hoof that stabbed my leg, or perhaps a sharp hoof. My legs are bruised up and down from her stomping me and my bike helmet is cracked and dented in," Smith reported.
All of this despites Smith's efforts to escape after a chance, close-range encounter with a cow and calf: "I got off the bike and lunged into/under a spruce tree since it was the only security around besides under my bike. (But) she stomped the crap out of me, my head, my shoulder, my legs. My friend was riding behind me and was finally able to yell at her enough so she would leave me."
Once mad moose get pumped up on adrenaline, they don't much seem to care if you are trying to get out of the way or not. Cyclist Bruce Ross tells a story similar to that of Smith. He, too, tried to get out of the way only to have a moose do a two-step on him repeatedly. He was sore for days. Most riders are aware of how dangerous moose can be. They have stomped two people to death in recent years in Anchorage.
"We were thinking we'd be safe," said Darcy's husband, Mark. "There were a ton of people out there" for the bike race. Many people thought that might encourage the moose, usually human-fearing creatures, to retreat to quiet corners of the park and hide. But it obviously didn't work out that way.
Sometimes it doesn't.
Anchorage touts itself as home to The Big Wild Life, but sometimes it can be a little too wild. Darcy is not the first member of the Davis family to suffer an ugly encounter with a large, wild animal in town. Her daughter, Petra, nearly died after being mauled by a grizzly bear during a bike race four years ago.
Petra, then 15, eventually got back on the bike and is now racing again. The moose stomping of her mother did, however, leave her a little rattled.
"I guess, to be honest, it was harder on Petra than Marcy," Mark said. Marcy said the Davises are now thinking about avoiding Kincaid for a while.
Mama moose fearless
"There were moose encounters all over the park (Tuesday)," she said. "I think they're just super agitated now. And often you can't ride Kincaid without encountering a moose. There's a ton of moose out there."
Jessy Coltrane, area wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said most of the moose attacking people have been protective cows with calves. Mama Moose are known to be as fearless as Mama Grizzlies, and sometimes even more cantankerous. But they aren't the only moose that have been known to get aggressive with people. Bull moose are notoriously aggressive during the fall breeding season called the rut. Young moose newly shooed off by their mothers can be testy, too. And any moose having a bad day or a bad week can potentially turn dangerous.
One regular rider at Kincaid Wednesday logged onto the website MTBR.com to report witnessing problems with "an aggressive young male moose for the last several days. I observed a couple of ladies trail running on the ski trail that parallels Good Greeff get stalked by this young male and then charged on Friday 6/1."
Good Greeff is a new section of narrow, single-track trail named for the volunteer who oversaw its construction, Ryan Greeff. There has been some speculation that moose in the area are agitated because, after decades of adapting to life in the quiet spaces between winter trails busy with cross-country skiers, they are now finding their space invaded by fast-moving mountain bikers. The single-track bike trails built last summer were designed to minimize conflicts with the ski trails, but they have generated problems of their own.
Everyone is hopeful those problems will start to fade as moose calves grow bigger and can more easily follow their mothers out of the way of mountain bike traffic. Despite the aggressive incidents of late, most moose would rather flee than fight. It is much the same for bears.
Slow down, ride cautiously
Coltrane said it might just be a good idea for mountain bikers to slow down and be extra careful for a few more weeks, or ride the now snow-free Nordic ski trails. Those trails are wider, straighter and have better sight lines to allow people to spot moose. Singletrack trails are narrow, twisty and just about ideal for a surprise encounter between wildlife and a fast-moving mountain bike rider.
Smith echoes those comments. She advises against riding the singletrack with its bad sightlines until the moose calves are bigger, riding with friends, and maybe carrying some bear spray to drive a moose away if it attacks someone. Wildlife biologists say the spray works as well on moose as on bears.
Josh Durand of the Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department, himself a mountain biker, posted warnings to Kincaid single-track riders Wednesday night.
"I think I might even have seen (the problem moose)," he said Thursday. "There's definitely more than one moose out there, but most complaints that I heard were about one cow with a calf. It seems localized to the Toilet Bowl area."
Toilet Bowl is a sculpted and banked trail that flows downhill. A good rider can swirl down it almost as smoothly as water goes down the toilet. Such riding, unfortunately, might not be such a good idea at the moment.
"I think a lot of this (problem) has to do with the speed of the mountain bikers and how fast they can come up on things," Durand said. They have now been warned, he added.
"The signs talk about aggressive moose in the area. I put them up at all entrances to the single track," he said. The signs advise mountain bikers to ride defensively and stay alert. Whether the warnings will help remains to be seen. The new single-track trails are so beautifully designed for mountain biking they all but beg people to go as fast as they can.
Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com