A number of years ago while I was road biking through a marshy area, out of nowhere an adult sandhill crane shot out of ditch and planted itself inches from me with its beak zeroed in on my handlebars. It squawked, it flapped its wings and I sailed past with my mouth open in stunned awe. I stopped down the road to look back and see the cause of this assault – a baby crane under the adult crane’s protection. Wow. Bikers are frequently chased by dogs, but how many of us have experienced a crane attack?
I experienced something even more astounding recently, so I started to muse over memorable animal sightings I’ve had while biking. Living in the dairy state, I doubt I’m the only biker that’s pulled up short for a group of runaway Holsteins who have gotten only as far as the road before losing interest in their mission. But how many bikers have had the same experience with runaway llamas?
Many years ago, my husband, brother and I decided to do an all-day ride from Appleton to Madison, Wisconsin. This ride, as all the ones we share, was epic. After forgetting to bring our maps, diving into a barn during a severe thunderstorm, numerous flats – the last in swampy mosquito country at night – and a bee sting, we were almost back. We were about 10 miles from Madison at about 9 p.m.
Biking slowly on a dark country road, we heard a repetitious clickity clack. It was not until we passed a light that we found we had a little black and white furry friend running along with us. Thank goodness it didn’t feel threatened. We smelled bad enough after 150 miles of hot biking.
Biking with my husband in the southwest part of the state we encountered your standard farm dog. This little pipsqueak of a dog came roaring out at us trying to look fierce. He pulled up short of the road and ran back to the barn. As one who fears the chase, my husband tried to calm me saying, “He’s scared and going home.”
“Yeah,” I replied, “he’s going back to the barn for reserves.” Sure enough, the pipsqueak’s bodyguard came roaring out of the barn at us. Pipsqueek follows behind, barking orders at his lackey.
I did have one moment of extraordinarily satisfying dog revenge. On this ride a dog catch sight of me from his backyard. In our biker-dog mind meld I could see it was going to run behind the barn standing adjacent to the road and jump out right as I passed in front of the barn. With impeccable timing I leaned forward on my bike as I passed the front of the barn and screamed like a banshee. The dog, rounding the corner of the barn at the same moment and fantasizing over a tasty ankle, launched vertically into the air like a Saturn rocket, petrified. I will never forget the glory of that moment.
Another ride that summer led to a farm cat that looked like Disney’s Pluto. As we crested a hill, the Pluto cat sat midway down in the center of the road. Instead of heading for the safety of the brush, this cat took off roaring down the center of the road, hind legs reaching over its shoulders, as in the cartoons, to give it more power. Fearing a wipeout by the cat, we hung back and watched it run on and on and on.
There have been other vicarious sightings to treasure. My husband and I were biking cross country in the ‘80s and just about to cross east into Pennsylvania, when we encountered a biker coming in the opposite direction. The biker warned us of impending danger. He pulled out a Pennsylvania state highway map across the entire western part of which he had written in big red letters “DOGS.” It struck fear in our hearts.
Even in town, nature works its magic and destruction on city bike paths. This spring I came across a hawk that was trying to haul off a mallard. I judged the hawk had won the uneven match. I decided not to stop and watch nature finish its sometimes brutal course.
Until the other day, though, this summer has delivered only the usual sightings of cranes, herons and hawks. Then, after a long, extremely hot ride up through the Baraboo Hills, I was heading home. Fifteen miles to go and I was only thinking of finishing the ride and eating watermelon. I pedaled up one more hot hill and happened to glance to the side at a farmyard of Holsteins.
One struck me as odd but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I thought maybe it was going to poop when, in a flash, out pops this black and white lump onto the ground. Holy cow! Eighty miles of countryside and I happen to glance in the right spot in the three seconds it took for a baby calf to be born. I stop to watch this miracle of life.
I worried that the newborn looked dead after the mom-to-ground landing. Then the mother cow licked and nudged and licked and nudged they groundling. This went on for maybe five minutes when finally a little leg kicked. Meanwhile the other cows in the yard came to sense something was happening, looked up and then come over to form a ring around the mother and nose her baby. Mom kept licking and nudging and finally the baby rolled over onto its side, lifted its head and looked around at its new world.
I biked home with joy for having witnessed this event and gratefulness for living in this wonderful state with its tremendous opportunities to experience nature while biking.
Alice Erickson is a retired data architect and an avid silent sports enthusiast. She enjoys cycling, running, swimming and rock climbing. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with her husband, Dave.