December 2, 2005

Silent Running

"The order is...engage the silent drive!"

Ahhh, yes... this is the time of year when it's good to be fixed. As the mercury drops, activity on my route homeward drops with it. A large portion of my commute home is on the local bike trail, which runs alongside Indian Creek through the remainder of the woods that weren't clear-cut for suburbia. As if gets closer and closer to winter, the attire on the trail changes dramatically -- once scantily-clad runner are now wrapped up like jogging burritos, their faces clouded by wisps of their own condensed breath. A short time, and several degrees later, the runners are gone, as are the dog-walkers and the casual cyclists. The only ones left are the hard-core, which I suppose on some level includes me.

Being 'hard-core' is not something to consider one-self, so I don't. That's a moniker that is left for others to describe upon you -- in my own mind, I'm not hard-core at all: mainly because of the above, and mostly because I know people that truly ARE hard-core, and I fall WELL short. But, in a small sense, I suppose as far as the bike trail crowd goes, I am the hardest by elimination. Today, as sleet and snow fall and wicked westerly winds blow at upwards of 20 MPH, I am alone. There are no tracks on the trail save for the ones my own tires leave behind me. Today was cold. Cold and hard.

Anyone that has stood outside in the cold during a snow shower knows of the magical sound-absorbative properties of snow in the air. Traffic noise from major streets that normally echo across miles is suddenly absent. Only the loudest sounds come through, like a nearby freight engine wailing at a railroad crossing, but that's it. Today was the first of those days this season, and even as the snow was only light the effect was profound. The bike trail, though isolated at times, is really not that far off the main drag, so you're always aware of the intense susburban traffic-stream that the trail offers protection from. Today, it was as if the cars were not even there. The only sounds making it over my own breath came from the tires flying through crushed leaves and the occasional fallen twig -- farther off the trail, squirrels and rabbits could be heard frantically forraging for the months ahead. Proving it's worth as the quietest form of forward propulsion the fixed drivetrain rotated silently underneath me and, combined with the sound-killing snowfall, allowed me to glide past the wildlife virtually silent. Past the Atlantic patrols, past their sonar-nets..... uhhh....yeah.

The first solid evidence of my silent-running was near the last trailhead in Overland Park, where I completely freaked out a rabbit that was grazing near the path's edge -- and when you scare a rabbit, they jump straight up into the air. High. Which this one did, and I'm not 100% sure but he might have jumped higher than my head. He let out a little squeak when he hit the ground, and took off in a line perfectly perpendicular to mine. I scared a bunny. I smiled. This nature thing was kinda cool.

That was, until I scored a kill.

A few miles later, after getting used to the fact that nature was practically oblivious to my prescence, I began to revel in it a bit. Instead of making the usual "ticking" sounds with my tongue to scare squirrels out of my path, I simply took pleasure in observing how close I could get to them before they noticed me. Not dangerously close, mind you, but just rolling along the path and not making a sound, seeing if they'd notice. Always on the lookout, squirrels are not easy to sneak up on, so most were off and running up a tree before I was within a meter. Save for one.

Looking quite occupied while digging something out from under a fallen branch, this little squirrel didn't hear me until I was REALLY close -- and because he only SAW me, and didn't HEAR me, I don't think he knew precisely where I was - and there wasn't much time for his brain to figure out which of his two highly-seperated eyes was correct. He darted left instead of right - directly under my front tire. Remembering what a friend once told me about this exact set of events, I fully expected to come halting to a stop, flying over the bars headlong into the path ahead. I don't know if it was a last minute subconscious bunny-hop attempt, or pure luck, but the front tire simply rolled - seemingly with very little pressure - directly over the squirrels mid-section. The back tire never hit him, because he was already off and up a tree on the other side of the trail! CERTAINLY he was not injury free, because I defintely hit him -- but there was nothing I could do if I had caused damage, because he was gone! I'm not sure, but he probably didn't even have time to launch counter-measures. I didn't ride back to check, anyways, but if the tables had been turned, I would have launched them all over the road.

I made my apologies to the pagan god of the forest, and rolled on.
Fixed gear - always silent, sometimes deadly.

Needless to say, the nature-watch was over, so anything producing body-heat within a 5-meter radius was getting a brake-lever click, a vocal 'tick', or a bell ring. Luckily, I was nearly to the southern end of Red Route One, so it was my turn to live in fear of quick Karma. I ventured onto the streets of suburbia for the final few miles homeward, wondering if I would get struck down by a quiet Hybrid car out for a cyclist-watch. "I was just seeing how close I could get before he noticed I was beside him, officer."

What a weird day. Uneventful as far as repayment goes, I made it home intact.
I'm seriously thinking about some small bells on the handlebars - heaven forbid there ends up being a migration of brown bears to the bike trail.
Talk about quick Karma: try sneaking up on a bear. He,he.

"I would have very much liked to've seen Montana..."


Anonymous said...

It's funny that your write this story today, today of all days. Not only the references to one of my favorite movies but the fact the almost the same thing happened to me last night but in a much larger fashion. I was cruising along at dusk along the bike path near Nelson Island know that no joggers et al would be in my way so I had my head focused just at my headlights. I made a corner and 15 feet in front of my stood MR Whitetail deer - eyes fixed at my headlights. He didn't move until my bike came to a stop almost within touching distance but the effects of the "blinding lights" was off! Great story writing.

Kin said...

[a squerril is racing toward them]

Capt. Vasili Borodin: Squerril impact, 20 seconds.

Captain Ramius: [to C-Dude] What websites?

Commuter Dude: Pardon me?

Captain Ramius: What websites did you write?

Commuter: I wrote a blog of, of myself and my friends, called "CommuterDude", about, uh, MS-150, coffee rides, and single speed bikes...

Captain Ramius: I know this blog!

Capt. Vasili Borodin: Squerril impact...

Captain Ramius: Your conclusions were all wrong, C-Dude...

Capt. Vasili Borodin: ...10 seconds.

Captain Ramius: ...A fixed gear bike without playing cards in the spokes just isn't the same.

Nice website and blog C-dude!

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your post. The other night riding home on the trail here the snow glittered and it was only me and the bunnies. Absolutely gorgeous are difficult to explain to someone who hasn't experienced it.