Friday, July 4, 2014

Cycling is Wild! - Even in New England... blog post by Mike

Cycling is Wild! - Even in New England...

Cycling inherently places us in contact with the outdoors and anything that runs, slithers, or flies around out there. While you're almost guaranteed to come across the occasional stick or broken glass, it is the fauna (that biological stuff that walks around) that seems to give us primary concern when riding on a wooded road. Little did we know that even in New England, the roads can be a little wilder than we think.
So, let's begin our bike-related animal safari.

1) Rodents (this includes chipmunks, mice, and the bane of all rural and suburban cyclists; squirrels)

Sciurus carolinensis - scourge of the roadways. 

These frantic critters have a wonderful habit of blindly running across roadways and paths, directly in front of bicycles and vehicles. On a short ride with Yale Cycling Captain, John Wen, we had an unfortunate run-in with a squirrel that crossed the road, saw a car, and sprinted all the way back across the street, only to be met by my back tire as it ran beneath me. Generally, the cyclist merely feels a bump when he hits a squirrel (and some remorse), but we can only hope the squirrel felt nothing.   

Animalia muerte - reminding us to stay alert
2) Roadkill (generally the unluckiest of the animal kingdom, including skunks, opossums, rodents, lagomorphs, and the occasional bird or fox).
Animals that have met a cruel fate often litter the shoulders of highways and present an unfortunate obstacle for cyclists that may join the critters along the roadside if they do not remain alert while passing them. Sad to see... 

3) Deer (T-bone venison)
Odocoileus virginianus - mobile roadblock 

A little over a year ago, riding home at dusk, I road my bike through a suburban neighborhood in Ithaca,
NY, and came across a family of deer (a doe with four fawns) huddled together in a front yard. One may think the best defense to avoid danger would be to run away from it, or hide... but deer beg to differ. Upon seeing my bicycle, the deer quickly reacted by scattering in all directions, one in particular dashing into the road before me.

T-bone! As my front wheel collided with the deer's side, it was repelled to the right of the bike, and in one smooth motion, the deer was wedged between my right handlebar drop and the frame. Amazingly, neither of us fell, but as the deer ran, its wedged backside pulled me along like Santa's sleigh. All I could do was coast (to avoid hitting its legs) until I slowed enough for the deer to pop loose and run away. I stopped my ride, confused, thankful that I didn't fall, and hoping that the deer wasn't too badly injured, while "silently" cursing its poor judgment.
Ursus americanus - fuzzy harbinger of death

4) Bears (they're waiting for their dinner)
During a pre-race course ride of the ECCC Black Moshannon road race in Pennsylvania, MTB boss Molly Oakley and I were within meters of a joyful little black bear playing in a forest clearing. I yelled to her as she left the car, unaware of the creature off in the distance. It wasn't the little guy I was wary of, but of the potential aggressive mommy, hiding in the bushes nearby.

5) Peacocks! (Yes, an actual peacock; not a ring-necked pheasant)
The peacock: These highly venomous, native birds of Connecticut have a strong taste for leaping out in front of bicyclists, challenging them by waving their brilliant plumage in the rider's face as they fly.

Racing along, I hear rustling and squawks from a nearby bush, only to find a rather large peacock leap in front of me, gliding and fluttering as I cruised, pacing the bird. It's brilliant blue neck shown bright as its extravagant tail trailed behind, like an ornate kite. As it moved off to a nearby yard, I watched to ensure I wasn't crazy. My initial reaction was indeed "What the #%&$?" and my bewilderment stayed with me minutes after. I would guess it was someone's pet, seeing as peacocks are native to eastern Asia and the Indian subcontinent...Last Sunday was the CT State Time Trial up in Durham, CT. Most of the course actually overlapped the Yale Saturday ride by several miles. However, with three miles to go in the race, I found myself in the wooded section of the course where, to my reality shaking surprise, I nearly collide with... a peacock.

6) Humans (Homo oblivious)
Potentially the most dangerous and most often encountered of the wild beasts, this half organic, half mechanical creature (whether on a bike or in a car) is well known for its prolific breeding, invention of the tootsie roll, and terrible driving. These creatures are to be carefully watched and respected, as you may never know when one decides to turn right, from a stationary position, into a CVS, without a turn signal or checking the mirrors, cutting you off as you ride on the shoulder so that you impact the side of the vehicle (Too specific? Well, it happens).

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