The wild things along the trail
Anthony Edwards / Staff Photo
The Delaware and Hudson Rail Trail trailhead.
Rambling along at a good clip, I hardly had time to notice
the four mature Canada geese and about 10 goslings resting along the shoreline of a small pond.
I slowed down by gripping the brakes, and, as I did so, one of the adult geese turned to face me and opened its mouth, showing its big red tongue in a threatening manner, as if to say: ďGo ahead and try something. Iíll be all over you like a bad suit.Ē
This was just one of the moments, those grand, unexpected joys that a mountain biker can experience while riding a trail that skirts the back woods.
I started mountain biking after long years of running. The right knee, injured in an errant Army paratroop jump back in 1967, put a stop to running. For the next 10 years or so, long walks did the trick ó that is, until the old knee would no longer allow that, either.
So two years ago I got a mountain bike and found that, unlike when running or walking, the knee felt just fine, even after a 16- to 18-mile bike ride every other day.
But I donít take the bike out for the scenery or the wildlife watching. Itís all about exercise ó and what a great workout it is.
But, every now and then, I get a great surprise while riding along a wonderful pathway called the rail trail, a well-groomed trail that runs from Castleton to Poultney.
Frankly, Iím somewhat surprised at the ease with which I can sometimes approach wildlife while moving along on the bike, something that I know, from experience, would not occur if I were on foot.
I was tooling down the trail a few weeks ago when I spotted a large, light brown object just inside the trail. It was a good-sized deer, and its head was down, almost certainly feeding on the fresh green grass that runs along the pathway.
I pulled to a stop and froze, about 30 yards from the deer, now in its gorgeous light-brown summer coat. I wondered if it was a doe and if it had young nearby. The deer studied the strange object in the trail for a long minute or so, then dipped its head to feed once more.
After a little while, I looked up and noticed another mountain biker coming from the direction I was headed, and, when the biker got to about 100 yards, I figured my deer-watch was about over. I got back up on the bike, and, just like that, the deer spotted me and was gone, in one bound, into the woods.
Even wild turkeys, those wary birds, seem either perplexed or downright at ease with the approach of a fast-moving mountain bike with a man aboard.
Last fall, I got to within perhaps 25 yards of a small flock of turkeys before they decided to scamper. But what is most memorable is the fact that, rather than hasten into the safety of the thick woods that run alongside the trail, the birds decided to run right down the trail. As they did, I increased the speed of my bike and actually drew even closer until the birds wisely decided, with me only 15 yards away, to take wing.
And those Canada geese? They can, at times become very aggressive when it comes to their young. One year ago, again in June, a pal of mine was riding this very trail and was charged by two adult geese that had young at their side.
One day last June, I happened upon a huge snapping turtle making its way from a swamp on one side to a pond on the other. I braked, laid the bike down and approached the primitive-looking snapper.
As I drew near, the turtle pulled its head inside its shell. Concerned that another biker might come by and strike the beast, I grabbed its prehistoric-looking tail and pulled the creature off the trail. In a flash, that snapperís long neck came out and it tried to grab me, but Iíve handled snappers a number of times in the past (mostly as they crossed a busy roadway) and was fully aware that its neck could not reach my hand.
Itís a treat riding the trail, and, after making the mistake of riding during the sweltering heat of a hot afternoon, Iíve made it a point to be on the trail by 7 or 7:30 a.m. That hour has also been part of the reason that Iíve gotten to see the wild things along the way.
Fellow mountain bikers, people on horses, women pushing baby carriages, joggers and folks young and old just out for a stroll all walk the rail trail.
The trail is a natural wonder, with birds singing and wildlife surprises, sometimes right around the next corner. You get a grand taste of nature, some great exercise and spectacular views. As such, itís a rail-trail treat.