Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Never Dull

I awoke around 2:30 this morning to the hum of rain on the roof. I frowned and whispered an explicative to no one in particular, knowing it would be too muddy to mountain bike today, before rolling over and falling back to sleep.

The rain had tapered off shortly before dawn, and although the sky was clear when I dropped the boy off at school, the roads were still very wet. By 10:00 the sunshine had started to dry the asphalt, and the temperature climbed to a tolerable 47 degrees. Though I craved the excitement of some trail riding, I reluctantly grabbed the road bike and headed out for what I assumed to be another uneventful road ride.

Because not everyone routinely rides miles and miles deep into the woods, a mountain bike ride can be somewhat interesting to read about. Plus, you can always find something worthwhile to photograph in the woods. Even though I am a mountain biker myself, I enjoy reading about another rider’s adventures.

Road riding generally isn't that exciting, so I did not anticipate having a story to tell after today’s ride. You can only romanticize a ribbon of pavement, traffic, inattentive drivers and the smell of exhaust so much. There simply isn’t much potential for interest.

Unless, of course, you play a high-speed game of chicken with a big turkey.

I was traveling 42 miles per hour down a steep hill. I can tell you this fact with a great degree of certainty because I was looking down at my computer when the big tom ran out in front of me from the right side of the road. Upon seeing me, the turkey tried to reverse course, but his legs slipped out from under him on the wet road. Upon looking up and seeing the turkey, I swerved to the left. Unfortunately, that was where the turkey continued to slide.

Over the years I have run over or struck many critters. I have killed six squirrels. A few small birds. Snakes and lizards. A bunny. A chipmunk. I had near misses with a bear and a vulture. I even smacked right into a huge slumbering sow once (and she barely acknowledged me). Yet I had never hit a turkey. There's a first time for everything, but I was trying like hell to postpone that “first” for another day.

As the turkey slid into my path, I started correcting back over to the right. The turkey then regained its footing and started to run back to the right side of the road.

I haven't killed a squirrel in a few years, though, because I finally realized, through trial and error, that the best way to avoid them is to do nothing. Given the chance, they generally get out of your way if you just keep going straight. A squirrel, with its tiny little brain, is designed to avoid predators by running around like its fur is on fire. This makes it difficult for a coyote or hawk to grab them. A cyclist, with its tiny little brain, instinctively avoids road obstacles in much the same manner. These similar styles were incompatible, so now I just force myself to hold my line, and it always seems to work out. At least with squirrels.

At about 10 feet from impact, I was fresh out of better ideas, so I just braced myself and used my squirrel technique. I was heading straight for the paralyzed turkey. The terrified bird seemed to be looking right into my eyes. At the last possible moment he jumped to the left, lightly brushing my left shin with the tip of his wing as I flew past.

I have only crashed once on the road, doing 25 miles per hour, and it was a horrible experience. Name a joint—ankle, knee, hip, elbow, shoulder, wrist, knuckles—and I had skin missing from that joint. I couldn’t sleep comfortably for days. The crash I had just averted would have been so much worse.

My craving for excitement thoroughly satiated, I continued on. I rode a little slower on the remaining descents, and I enjoyed the extreme boredom of a safe ride home.


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