Some say he’s a specter. Some say he’s a figment of overactive imaginations. Some say he’s a harbinger of disaster and tragedy.
I don’t know what I think about all that. All I know is that he’s real, and he either tried to kill me or save my life.
It started, like many terrifying tales do, with a bad decision. I had decided to take one more autumn gravel ride around the beautiful and twisty backroads in the Moose River Plains. I set out from Indian Lake with no real plan or itinerary. My only goal that day was to enjoy the fall colors and the cool mountain air. I made it through the Cedar River Flow and the Moose River Plains, and down into Inlet.
After a stop the Screamin’ Eagle for lunch, I rode over to Pedals and Petals to look at better bikes than mine, but I settled for a Power Bar and spare tube.
I let my lunch settle while sitting on the dock at Arrowhead Park. The warm sun and cool autumn breeze were intoxicating. Before I knew it, I was sound asleep. But this mountain cocktail of sun and air would prove to be more of a siren’s song, luring me toward disaster.
I awoke with a chill. The sun had dropped below the mountains and the air was getting colder. I knew that I had at least two-and-a-half hours of riding ahead of me to get back to my car in Indian Lake. I wasn’t planning on being out this late, and foolishly I didn't bring a light. My hubris told me that the way back was a simple gravel road and there was a full moon; I should be fine. So with a healthy helping of foolhardiness I returned to the backroads of Moose River Plains.
I made good time until the last gleams of sunlight disappeared, but then it was dark and cold, and I wasn’t prepared for either. I came to a fork in the road. Was this here before? Which direction did I come from? I strained my eyes to see down each road. One road was covered in a fog and at the farthest reaches of my sight, I saw a ghostly figure drift into the road. What was it? Was it a human? Was it a bear? No. it was much too big for those. It stood at least ten feet tall. Its body was a pale color that glowed in the moonlight, or was it glowing on its own? The moon was shrouded in clouds still. What supernatural machination could this be? Then I saw it. His eyes. God help me, his eyes were glowing red!
With adrenaline flowing through my blood I pointed my bike in the opposite direction. I rode as fast as my tired legs could take me. The trees blurred as I pushed myself faster and faster. The moon came out from behind its cloudy shroud and illuminated my path, but it also cast terrifying shadows in the trees. After a couple of miles, I encountered another fork in the road. Which way? My head was swimming from a mixture of exhaustion and panic. Neither direction looked familiar. The moon slipped behind more clouds and plunged the woods into darkness. Down the left fork I saw a small wisp of light, as if a small brilliant lantern had just been lit. The glowing light grew brighter until it took the same form that I had seen before. It was closer now and I could see that it had four legs, each like the trunk of a birch tree. Its body was big, and as he lifted his head I could see the massive antlers glimmering in the tree branches above the road. It was a bull moose! It was the biggest moose I had ever seen and its fur was bright white, but somehow translucent, like a sheer curtain with the morning sun behind it. And his eyes still glowed an angry red.
I couldn’t tell if it was the terrifying sight or the cold, but chills ran down my spine. What could this mean? In fear I rode away again down the other road. This happened again and again. I sped down countless dark gravel roads, hopelessly lost. At every junction the specter would appear. Was this intentional? Was it herding me toward something or away from something? What if it was a guiding spirit? What if it was a bad omen?
Now I’m shaking from the cold. I’m out of water, food, energy, and hope. Riding for my life, I slam on my brakes as I come to yet another fork in the road. Not just any fork, but the first one that led me astray. Perhaps the specter wouldn’t appear and I could finally find my way out of the wilderness. As I searched for any signs of the ghost moose I was relieved to find no trace of it. The moon still shown bright in the sky. Now was my chance.
I shifted into the highest gear my weary body could tolerate and stood on my pedals as I powered down the moonlit road. With no sign of the apparition, I thought that my ordeal was finally over. But before I could make it to the end of the road, the darkness swallowed everything around me. The moon was being devoured by ominous green clouds. What evil has befallen me! Ahead, in the middle of my path, a dim orb appeared. It pulsed and danced and grew and grew until it took the form of a white moose again. This time I was so close to it I was looking up at its long face. Its red eyes felt like they were burning through my soul as it slowly dropped its massive head down to my level. With a snort of vapor it stood up again, its antlers sweeping through the high branches of trees as it swung its head and turned and walked down the road. Was it trying to get me to follow?
I swallowed the lump in my throat and decided to take my chances. I pedaled hard toward the retreating phantom. Its vapor trailed behind it like tendrils. I pushed on. The fog got thicker and thicker the closer I came to the ghost. Soon I couldn’t see anything but the eerie glow of the supernatural fog around me. Suddenly I heard a loud crack and crashing sound coming from the woods to my left. A massive evergreen tree crashed through the canopy and landed in the road mere inches behind my back tire. The force of the impact dissipated the fog. Once again I could see my surroundings as the clouds moved on from in front of the moon. I looked around, but could not see any sign of the ghost moose.
Why did the moose appear to me? Was it trying to warn me of this danger or was it trying to lead me into it? I may never know for sure. As I finally reached my car, I tried to put the whole ordeal out of my mind, but I couldn’t help but wonder if I had made a friend or foe that night in the dark woods of the Adirondacks.