Saturday 22 May 2010

Startling Discoveries

One of the advantages of mountain biking over road biking is that it brings you closer to nature. Road biking does sort of do this, except most of the nature is squished. And a squished creature is not nearly as exciting as a live one, unless you enjoy roadkill cuisine or taxidermy.

Yesterday evening it was glorious. You could smell the heat, taste the roasting asphalt in the air. No wind, clear skies and dusty trails. It would have been a crime not to ride.

I dragged the full-sus bike out for the first time since Spain and set off on a very well known loop - Greenham Common, down to the canal, up to Bucklebury and back home. I've ridden this so many times, especially the Greenham section. You normally see a few deer, rabbits, wild cows (well, common cows) and occasionally ponies. This ride brought me a three new discoveries.

Firstly, a (presumably) female duck with a dozen tiny ducklings. This isn't that strange, but I've never seen something like this running along wooded singletrack, well away from any water. Little ducklings tend to fall over a lot when startled by a mountain bike, and they don't have the sense to run off the trail - they just tumble along it, cheeping furiously. Eventually they figured it out and I was able to pass without turning them into tiny singletrack-kill.

Next, and this was a real surprise, my first UK snake. In all my time riding, walking, being out and about in the UK I've never seen a live snake. The closest has been a couple of dead slowworms - so very slow worms. I glimpsed it out of the corner of my eye as it made a break off the trail to the undergrowth, having heard me approach. And OMG... it was about 18" long! Real inches, not man-inches. Probably a python, or maybe a cobra. I concede that a grass snake may be an option too.

My final discovery was the biggest, most active, and most entertaining. Descending a fast gravel track I noticed a runner ahead, his back to me, well to the right hand side of the car-width trail. I moved left. He started to drift left. I moved even further left to the extreme edge of track and slowed, tyres crunching noisily. He moved to the left edge of the track. By now I was only a few metres behind him. Some sixth sense must have alerted him from his iPod-zombism as he turned quickly, saw me skidding to a halt and reacted like a startled fawn. He leapt off the trail, into the verge, and danced across the adjoining field shouting profuse apologies, flapping his hands in the air. I suppressed a giggle, let go of the brakes and rolled down the hill.

Thank god the snake wasn't wearing an iPod too.

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