Saturday, April 23, 2005


(I'm planning to re-use some of the material I've contributed to the Red Dirt Pedaler's newsletter "Wheel Issues", mainly when I'm short on ideas! Here's a column from last fall when my morning commute was well before sun up.)

The scariest part of my ride to work is the occasional too-close encounter with a skunk or a dog in the pre-dawn darkness. Dogs magically appear right next to my knee. And skunks ALWAYS have the right-of-way, no exceptions. But the most dangerous part of the ride is the trip across the parking lot at work. Let's just say that some of my co-workers have little regard for other motor vehicle traffic, stop signs, or even lane markings. Pedestrians and cyclists rank much further down their list.

Today's ride was different.

Before getting to that, however, let me tell you that I was one of those kids with an over-active imagination. My friends and I made the obligatory trips to the Lamp Theater to see those classic vampire movies from the Hammer studio as well as all the Japanese rubber monster movies. The truly scary part was the long walk home in the dark. My friends lived down in the valley, but I was faced with climbing the hill through the woods. I was certain the vampires lurked in those woods! It was a huge relief to get home, climb into bed, and pull the blankets up around my neck for protection.

Since last summer, one of the streets on my regular route has been under construction. I still go through that section before dawn and long before the workers arrive. There's no motor vehicle traffic all the way south to 56th Street. It's pleasant and quiet, but very, very dark down there under the pecan trees.

This morning something started howling in the woods off to my left. It could have been a coyote, but the howl wasn't like any coyote I'd ever heard. Since the wind was calm, it seemed very close, almost within a few yards of the road. I looked over that way with the helmet light, but the undergrowth was too thick to see anything. Then a little further down the road, something started a high, piercing scream. Maybe it was a bird or a bobcat. I still couldn't see anything, and my mind started playing 'what if' games. What if a hungry pack of coyotes charged from the woods? What if a rabid dog half-mad with hunger started trailing me? What if it was the infamous chupacabra, the goatsucker of Mexican legend, or one of those childhood vampires? What if it was a squad of Russian paratroopers? (I have vivid nightmares involving Russian paratroopers - don't ask.)

Then something crashed through the bushes right next to me! I looked again, but there was nothing to see. Adrenaline increased my speed and I sprinted up the last little slope leading out of the valley. The rest of the ride to work was nearly effortless and very fast!


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