Night Critters

I recently past 20,000 miles in my modern cycling career.  Because of work and family commitments, most of my riding for the past several years has been (and continues to be) done in the wee morning hours.  Nothing like being blasted out by the alarm clock at 4:15am to hit the road.  One of the good and bad things about that is the various critters that you get to share your ride with.  What follows is a rundown of what I generally see, the hazards the represent and some amusing encounters with them.


I felt compelled to update this after this morning's ride added horses to the critter list!  

  • Bats
    Having had bats in my house, I can attest to the fact that they can be buggers to catch because of their erratic flight.  I don't think it's too likely you would run into one while riding, as they can change directions pretty quickly.  But they certainly do mess with your head when they dive bomb in front of you to catch a moth!

  • Birds
    Usually not a problem, but at mornings first light they start moving.  Occasionally they swoop in front of you, particularly if being chased by another bird.  I've actually had more problems with bird during the day than at night.  Once during a very long ride on an extremely hot day I had one that appeared to be trying to land on me!

  • Cats
    You always see lots of cats, but they are pretty skittish and have never posed a problem while riding as they tend to run off and hide as soon as they hear you.  Often you can see their glowing eyes as they peer out at you from their hiding place.

  • Deer
    I happen to live in an area that is populated with a lot of deer.  I've pretty much have seen it all from these knuckleheads!  Although there have been mornings where I'm up and moving before them —I see them bedded down in a field near my home, they are usually on the move, often heading to the (Erie) canal for a drink.  You see them on the edge of the road, in the middle of it and any point in between.  Sometimes they run away, sometimes the just stand there staring at you.  And sometimes they will be a good distance away and decide they should run right out in front of you!  I've also been startled on numerous occasions where they come bounding out of a ditch, embankment, or wooded area and right across the road in front of you.  They are very unpredictable and are one of the biggest and potentially dangerous obstacles in the dark.  You definitely don't want to tangle with one of these guys while on a bike.

  • Dogs
    If you ride regularly at all you surely are familiar with dogs, both friendly and unfriendly.  And you never know the difference when you see them so you out sprint them just in case they are of the unfriendly ilk.  Fortunately it's rare for me to see one that's not tied up when it's dark.  Thus I've never really had a problem with them at night.  Maybe I'm just lucky, but I ride mostly in fairly rural areas that are mostly farm free.  If you ride in farm country as I used to, you will likely find at least one beast of the canine variety on your routes.

  • Horses (6/20/06)
    Well this certainly was a first!  And I really didn't expect to ever see horses mulling around on the side of the road at 6am, but there they were.  In the name of safety I provided them a wide berth as I passed them twice on my way out and back on Donner Road.  My guess is these guys were escapee's that weren't supposed to be out at that time.  In any case, the last thing I want to do is spook a horse that's several times my size!

  • Opossum
    Another of the "scurry across the road" club.  They're very slow and reasonably timid so generally are not a problem.  The problem is that because they are slow, they often get splattered on the road by motor vehicles.  This is where the real hazard lies for a cyclist.  I've swerved around large numbers of these big rodents over the years.  (Actually they are North America's only marsupial.)  That would be the end of it except the time I was stretched out on the aerobars and didn't see one that was taking a "dirt nap" in the road.  I was able to swerve and missed the bulk of it, but I will always remember the slimy, slippery feeling of rolling over its tail!  Whew!  That was a close call.

  • Owls
    Technically this should be under "birds", but this relates to a rather unique experience.  About a month ago I was riding early in the morning as I often do and it was still quite dark.  It was above me, but flew a path straight across the road.  At first I didn't realize what it was, but it's the only thing that size that would be out at that time.  Cool…as long as you keep your distance!

  • People
    Yes, I've actually had someone walk across the road in front of me at 4:45 in the morning!  Fortunately for them I saw them before they were in my path.  I easily swooped past them as they continued across the road.  Needless to say they were left spinning in circles in the middle of the road because they didn't know what was happening.  Apparently they either didn't look or they simply didn't see me and my headlamp.
    Generally I don't see too many people on the beginning portion of my ride.  But in the summer you will occasionally find a stray late-night party reveler wandering the streets.  I've never had a problem with any of them, but I am always very leery and prepared to sprint when I see them.  Being intoxicated, they can be unpredictable.

  • Rabbits
    Rabbits seem to steer clear of roads if they can.  I've never had a problem with them on the road while riding in the dark.  I have had problems with them while riding on a bike path, in the dark, through a moderately wooded area.  They were everywhere, but mostly right in front of me.  One was so bold to have run right under me between my front and back wheels.  Needless to say that's the last time I rode the bike path at night.  I generally avoid bike paths anyway as the are narrow and usually filled with clueless people during the day.  Plus technically the speed limit is 15mph which make me a danger to others.

  • Raccoons
    I used to see a lot of raccoons, but thus far this year I have seen very few.  Rather odd I think.  Anyhow, they usually aren't a problem when they are alive as they run for cover if they see or hear you.  But they suffer a pretty high rate of becoming road kill, much like opossum and skunks.  Thus they are a "bump in the road" hazard more than a "hey, look at me run in front of you" hazard.  Since I originally started writing this, I did witness a sad raccoon event…  I could see little critters mulling around something in the road up ahead.  As got closer I found it to be three young raccoons circling around their mother and one of their unfortunate siblings.  Quite sad actually, as there prospects for the future probably aren't good.  That was about a month ago.  Just this week I saw 3 small raccoons one morning near the area of this incident.  I'd like to think it's the same three and that they've managed to pull through on their own.

  • Skunks
    Everything I just said about raccoons pretty much applies to skunks.  Plus you get the added bonus of smelling their handiwork!  I do have one story that's an exception…  I was just starting across a bridge over the Erie Canal when I see something mulling around near the edge of the road about halfway across.  Hmmm…looks like a cat, it'll run away.  Still mulling around, not running way.  What is that?  Oh shit! It's a skunk.  I'm sure it was pretty humorous watching the two of us trying desperately to avoid each other!  Fortunately we did avoid each other so he didn't get run over and I didn't get sprayed!

August 5, 2004 @ 07:39 am | Category:
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