21 February 2012

Downhill With Animals

Auburndale, in Queens, is one of those neighborhoods you've never heard of unless you've lived in it.  It's also the sort of neighborhood people don't normally associate with New York City:  Along its quiet, leafy streets, late-model sedans are parked in front of detached houses not unlike those found in suburban Long Island.

One thing that makes it even more unusual for a New York City neighborhood is that people actually let their cats roam free in their yards.  As sometimes happens, one scampered across my path.  However, this time I very nearly had black and white fur entangled in my spokes.  I don't recall the last time a cat came so close to my wheel.

It got me to thinking about other "near misses" involving animals I've had on my bike. 

Two of the scariest such incidents, as you might imagine, happened along mountain roads.  In the first, Jonathan, with whom I took a lot of rides during my college years, and I had just crossed back into New Jersey, near Flemington, from Pennsylvania.  

According to the US Geological Survey, there are no mountains in New Jersey:  High Point, near the point where New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York State meet, misses that designation by something like ten feet.  Even so, in that part of New Jersey, there are some steep climbs--and descents.  The reason for that, as I understand, is that many of the roads in those hills were built during the American Revolution and were simply paved over in macadam and, later, asphalt.  Because roadbuilding techniques weren't as advanced, and because roadbuilders didn't have dynamite or modern machinery, in those days, they usually followed the path of least resistance when building roads.

Jonathan and I weren't feeling much resistance as we barreled down those old roads.  As we were about to begin one descent, we saw a "Deer Crossing" sign.  One of us--I forget which--said something like, "Wouldn't that be some shit if a deer crossed in front of us?"

Well, you can guess what happened.  Worse, that deer crossed near the bottom of the hill--after we, of course, had built up speed.  We must have been riding 50 MPH (80 KPH), or close to it:  That was the speed limit and we passed two cars that were at, or possibly above, the limit.

That deer bolted a hair or two in front of the tip of my nose, or so it seemed.  Those of you who are physicists can calculate the damage that would have ensued had a cyclist travelling at 50 MPH crashed into an animal that weighed a few hundred pounds more than my bike and I weighed.  You don't have to be a physicist to know which party would incur the damage.

The next time I had such a close encounter on a downhill, it was a bit more exotic, and dangerous, to say the least.  Earlier that day, I'd crossed the border from France, just southeast of Pontarlier, into Switzerland.  It seemed that for the previous couple of days, I'd been pedaling up and down inclines, so I wasn't surprised when I did both immediately after crossing the border.  And, because my bike was laden with full panniers and a handlebar bag--and I was a mile or so above sea level-- you can imagine how fast my wheels were spinning.

Well, about two-thirds of the way down, I flatted--on the front tire, naturally.  Imagine your bike going "thump, thump, thump" at what seems to be twice the speed of sound. All you can really do is to continue riding in a straight line, as any sudden stop or sideways movement will send you into a nasty tumble!

And, as I'm trying to keep my bike in a straight line and my shoulders from flying apart with the vibration, what should cross my path but one of the world's rarest species:  an Alpine Ibex.  At least, I'm very sure that's what it was. That night, I described it to the hostel-keeper, who said it most likely was.  Still, she was as surprised as I was:  An ibex, from what she said, very rarely goes near a roadway because he or she usually sticks to the steepest rocks, which is where they find the herbs on which they subsist.

Somehow, I always imagined that Ibex going back to his Ibex  buddies that night and having a good laugh:  "Those silly humans think they're such good climbers."  On the other hand, I don't think deer have such a sense of humor.  In any event, I didn't hit either one--or the cat that crossed my path today.


  1. The best solution is to keep your bike out of harms way – but at the same time have it in the most convenient, easy to access place! Visit Biking Storage

  2. Big animals can be bad, but http://dfwptp.blogspot.com/2009/11/be-seen-light-is-not-enough.html would also be pretty nasty...

  3. Justine, lovely stories about animal encounters. Actually, I fear comming into contact with anything larger than a feline on a bicycle, including a badger in Wyoming or a curious bear cub in Oregon. Im sure all these creatures had a SCARY story to tell, poor things! Artful dodging saves the day!

  4. Steve--Thank you for the link. I'll check it out.

    David--I can't imagine what it would be like to encounter a bear or badger on my bike!

  5. I have encountered a puma in the Scottish landscape and as we faced each other felt an idiot for only having a 4x4 inch view camera with me! More scary was meeting a rabbit!! I was on a steep twisty decent when I encountered a road surface which had been tarred and covered with loose chips, a stupid system because the cars just push the chips over the edges in a few weeks but before then are as bad as riding on ice. Out pops a rabbit in front of me and decides to race me down the hill anticipating every one of my gentle changes of direction, the adrenaline must have kicked in because it seemed to last for an age in slow motion and I knew i could not touch the brakes or I would fly off addend up in a mess. Finally the stupid rabbit jumped aside only to jump back on to the road to have the same fun with my friend only a few seconds behind!

    Isn't cycling fun?

  6. Coline--Sometimes I wonder if those animals are messing with us and having a good laugh with their friends afterwards!