A good day to ride
BY MITCH MODE
I adapted to riding bikes in the heat of summer so long ago I can’t remember the year. I always liked to ride but I hated to ride in the heat. Then I took a bike trip. Boxed the bike and flew to California. Assembled the bike, loaded it with gear, put the Pacific Ocean at my back and headed for home. Rode north through the big redwoods and turned east.
I rode along the Columbia River and there were no trees and no shade, just miles of open road. The temperature topped 100 degrees. Then it got seriously hot; 110, 112. I rode 100 miles each day. I got used to the heat on that ride. Never have not ridden because of the heat since then.
I heard a noise close behind me. It was a harsh, metallic sound, mechanical and loud and unsettling” -Mitch Mode
I rode last week. It was 80 degrees, going up. Not a big deal. I took an extra bottle of water and rode a mix of paved roads and gravel. On the gravel sections the trees shaded all and it was pleasant. I saw a couple grouse; not much more, only the ever present deer flies. Occasionally one would land and bite and I’d swat it. More often I’d see them when I looked down; their shadows matched mine in the dust and dirt of the firelane. A strange tableau; bike shadow, rider, fly; together on a July day.
Twenty miles into it I came out on blacktop county road and I turned back toward home. The sun was in full and I lowered over the handlebars and pedaled steady. It was hot.
I rode head down and mindful of cars and trucks on the blacktop. It had been too long since I’d been on the bike. I felt leg-weary but good. It was a good day to ride. I like riding in the heat; I enjoy the time.
The road made a long, lazy S curve, the “S” elongated in the middle and with good visibility. I was halfway along the middle of the stretched out S when I heard a noise close behind me. It was a harsh, metallic sound, mechanical and loud and unsettling and very close and I felt a surge of fear and turned hard and went off the blacktop to the gravel shoulder and stopped.
I turned my head. A silver car was 20 yards behind me and pulling off the road to the shoulder. It came to a stop. A woman got out. I turned the bike and pedaled back to her; asked her what had happened.
“Deer” was all she said. Then told of coming up behind me, watching me in the right lane as she should have and having the deer come fast from the left, behind me and in front of her. She hit it.
The car was dented and there was a tuft of deer hair dead center. She told me it was a rental and how she’d have to call the rental agency for the second time this week. Deer? I asked her. No, the first car did not go into reverse. I offered up that a car that did not go into reverse might be a handicap to most drivers. But she was unhurt and that is what counts.
I looked in the grass along the road for the deer. She said she thought she’d killed it. I went to where she pointed. Grass was matted but I did not see the deer.
I walked along the road for a bit. No deer. Then I went into the woods. It was heavy with greenery, lush and cool and full of mystery, as if a wonderland in a fantasy book. I walked parallel to the road looking for the deer.
I did not want to find the deer. If the deer was dead there would be the heavy sadness of a violent death on a summer day when the world was alive and full of wonder. But that would not be the worst. The worst would be to find the deer wounded but alive. That would be worse; a crippled animal in pain and suffering and nothing to do about it except to leave it to die. That would keep you awake at night.
I’ll tell you a story. Years ago I hit a fawn, late summer but it was still small and spotted. I was slowing down for a corner and I never saw it. But I hit it. I could see the fawn on the side of the road and it was still alive. I walked back to it. It was crippled and I walked right up to it.
And I thought; I can’t leave it to suffer. So I went back to the truck and found a length of 2×4 and I walked back to the fawn like the death angel to hit it hard and kill it. I didn’t feel very good about it. And it was against the law and I knew that but was this a time when what is legal is not what is right?
I walked back to the fawn and started to raise the 2×4. And the fawn got up and ran away.
Thought to myself: That would have been a mistake.
So it can happen, car hits a deer and they run off. To what they run is the mystery; slow death or recovery. One will never know.
On this day I did not find the deer. On this day I hoped for the best, that it was hurt but not dead.
I picked up my bike and started to ride back home. The world seemed alive and full of wonder. I felt the heat came down on me like a weight but after a while, I found rhythm and ease in the ride. After I while I forgot about the deer. And after that the heat was not a burden and all I had was the bike and the pedaling and the hot summer day and a cold glass of water when I got home.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800. To comment on this story, visit starjournalnow.com.