Tuesday, December 1, 2009

NOVEMBER ENDS WITH FOWL ASSAULT ON CYCLIST

Yes, I know the riding season has been full of assaults on cyclists again this year. It seems that every day we read more instances where cyclists have been injured and, unfortunately, where cyclists have injured others. I’m about to add to the plethora of documented assaults. I wouldn’t do it but this one somehow calls out for publication. I’m not asking for sympathy or vindication. I just think it is my duty to highlight one of those lurking dangers along our highways in the hopes of saving someone else’s “bacon.”

The day started ugly. Perhaps it was a harbinger of things to come. Clouds heavy with expected rain closed in the sky covering the tops of Cold Mountain and Sugar Top. The actual rain event wasn’t expected until late afternoon so I took the opportunity to clean up some loose ends in the morning and around noon. My “best half” was off caring for her dad and I was alone at the house. My “honey do” list was mostly complete and I could hear the road calling, “you need to ride…you need to ride…you need to ride.

I listened. After all, it was ugly but in the upper 50’s – certainly pleasant enough to ride even if the sun wasn’t shining. I also knew that the “ridable” days were diminishing in frequency for awhile so I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. I dressed, I ate, I hydrated. I headed off to the local middle school to start the ride from there in a nice safe parking lot.

The ride started uneventful enough. There was a little more traffic than is perhaps normal for a Sunday afternoon in the Bethel community. Still, it was pleasant. I had a nice spin going as I took NC 215 toward Canton eventually coming alongside the river. My legs felt pretty good and I was keeping a decent, for me, cadence going.

In the back of my mind, I knew I would be passing Stamey Cove, which is a road that has been part of the Bele Cher road races in the past. I’ve even ridden escort once on my Harley and I’ve ridden through the Stamey Cove Gap many times but never under my own power on two wheels. I went for it. I wanted to add to my rides yet another climb previously not done by me. The road starts up immediately from the river and has a maybe 4% average grade incline for a mile. About the last 1/2 mile, the grade jumps to 7.9%, which is enough to get this middle aged man’s heart rate up into the low 170’s. All in all though, I pedaled up and over in fine fashion and negotiated the “S” curves on the downhill run.

Rather shortly, I turned off Stamey Cove Road and began traversing the side of the mountain on a road that eventually intersects with Broad Street in Clyde.

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(Along Stamey Cove Road – November 29, 2009) 

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(Chambers Mountain seen from Stamey Cove Rd.)

The pleasant and, thus far, uneventful but delightful ride continued on into Clyde proper, or as proper as Clyde gets anyway, and from there along Business 19 to Canton, NC. As I headed up NC 110 toward Bethel and the end of the ride, I was keeping a close eye on the skies. A few drops of rain had lit upon me while coming through Canton and I really did not want to get soaked in mid-50 degree weather. Unlike the images above, the clouds had become increasingly heavy looking taking on the appearance of dark gray cotton that was twisted and turned and holding back some heavy material, which at any moment might break through and land upon me.

I made the turn at the Pigeon River and was heading to the truck. Traffic on US 276 had picked up and I was frequently being passed by cars and trucks as they headed north toward Waynesville. The road is narrow and has no shoulders so you really are “sharing the road” along this stretch. I made it past the football field of the local middle school and was beginning to spin up a slight grade. I heard the truck behind me. It’s engine rumble dropping quickly as the driver dropped gears and increased his braking as he came upon me. Clearly, he realized he wasn’t going to beat the oncoming traffic and he and I were about to intersect in time and space.

I was trying to remember that the “Wood-man” always tells me to ride so hard it hurts and if someone hits me, I’ll say “thanks for stopping my pain.” The oncoming traffic made it by me and I heard the truck move to my left and drop a gear to get his speed back up. In a flash, I saw him approaching out of the corner of my left eye. Was there room? I had nowhere to go to give him more room.

And that’s when I heard the explosion. It came at me from my right – the side of the road. The sound immediately drew my attention from the truck as my brain registered this new challenge to life and limb. The disturbance was massive, the screeching unimaginably loud as the truck accelerated by me on its way. Fall’s dried leaves along my right side in the gutter were jumping to and fro and that’s when I saw the first wave of the assault. They were running alongside me, helter skelter, like a gazillion squirrels trying to make up their mind which way to go.

I held fast to my handlebars ready to take on any, who might venture in front of me. Fortunately, they stayed away seemingly quite scared of ME! I don’t know if it was the sound of the truck slowing down that spooked them or the amazingly bright apparition moving along the side of the road that energized them into motion. Whatever it was, I learned that free range chickens can sure make one heck of a lot of noise in dry leaves! Truly, it was an assault of a very fowl nature.

(Please note: No 4X4 trucks or free range chickens were harmed in the telling of this story.)

(Xtra note: To view a map of this ride, Click Here!)

Happy Holidays to All!

- Zeke

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