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The Clearing

Those big eyes watching cyclists ride by

I’m a cyclist. And because I’m a cyclist I’ve had my share of animal encounters. I’ve been chased by enough dogs to fill a pound. I’ve been stung by enough bees—not all on the same ride—to send a good-sized deer into anaphylactic shock. A squirrel once darted between my wheels; that we both survived was luck of an order I’d like more of. And then there were the crunches. There was the dull bump of the snake I ran over. I’ll never forget the hugetastic beetle tacking across the road I was unable to avoid; it gave off a crunch like I was rolling over dried leaves.

Then there was the horse standing in the middle of Colorado singletrack less than a mile from the road back into town. It wouldn’t budge. When I tried to hike around it, the great stallion got anxious and aggressive.

Territorial much?

I rode back up the mountain on a trail that locals will tell you, “Oh, no, you only want to descend that one.”

So I’ve had my encounters, yes. However, only one animal encounter ever frightened me, frightens me to this day.

It was fall in New England. The race season was coming to an end and I’d been doing more easy rides as I tried to preserve what little fitness was left for the last of the ‘cross races. In the afternoons following work, I’d taken to doing mountain bike rides south of town where the terrain was flatter, exploring trails I’d never ridden.

It was the last Friday before the daylight savings change when I found a spur trail I’d never seen before; if I’d been going full speed, I’d have missed it for sure. As it was, it was barely visible for all the fallen leaves. I stopped, backed up, and began rolling down what ...