Photo by Jonf728/Flickr.
As I crested the hill, I raised my head and hit the brakes. Standing in the road just 40 feet in front of me was a female moose. In a car, this sort of experience is terrifying. But I was on a bike, so it was merely startling. For a second or two, I contemplated what would happen if she charged me. Would I be able to clip my shoes back into my pedals, spin around and accelerate back down the hill quickly enough to escape? Would my legs even have the energy to do that after I had just gone up the hill? The answer to both questions was probably no. So instead, I simply stayed where I was, and enjoyed the opportunity to look at a moose up-close.
Our staring contest lasted for about a minute, neither of us moving much. I did try to tell her to get off the highway and back into woods before a car came speeding along this desolate stretch of road. She didn’t heed my advice. She seemed as intrigued by me as I was by her. (Perhaps she was wondering what a man in his forties was doing wearing Lycra biking shorts.) Eventually the rustling of some other animal in the woods made her skittish. She meandered back into the woods.
I spend a fair amount of time on a bike in the non-winter months – not training for the Tour de France, just getting exercise. After my close encounter with the moose, it struck me how much wildlife and nature I see from two wheels. Dodging scampering squirrels and the occasional rabbit is a routine experience. Swerving around crawling newts, hopping frogs and stationary road-kill is just as common. I’ve seen twin fawns with a doe, and foxes playing in a field. Once, a heron took off from a small river alongside the road I was riding on and kept pace with me in what seemed like a slow-speed race; we were neck-and-neck for a good 30 seconds before it landed again.
More depressingly, I was recently straining to get up a particularly arduous hill when I was overtaken and passed by...a butterfly. I might have been able to identify what type it was, but it went by me too quickly.
Bicycles can be excellent mobile wildlife observation platforms. While animals can hear a car from a long distance off and have plenty of time to scatter when a slow-moving hiker is coming their way, a bike is a stealth vehicle that’s both quiet and quick-moving (sometimes!).
It’s not just animals that I spot from my bike seat; biking is also a great way to see seasonal changes across miles of landscape. When I first hit the road early each spring, there’s usually still snow covering the surrounding ground. Eventually I see that melt and can smell that spring is in the air. The heat and humidity make summer probably the least pleasant time to bike, but I’ve found that if I get out early in the morning, I can often catch a nice sunrise and beat the heat – and the summer traffic.
Fall is probably my favorite time for a ride. Hopefully I’ve built up enough fitness over the summer to take on a mountain pass or two and see the foliage changing with the elevation. A bike ride along a dirt road is maybe the perfect way to take in autumn. It’s less strenuous, but I’ll still burn enough calories to justify a few apple cider donuts.