idol survivor | daily-fic challenge, day 16, #2 | 1370 words
It's the weekend again, not my favorite time for riding on the bike path because the crowds are nerve-wracking, but it still beats biking in the garage. I check the temperature to gauge the maximum amount of clothing I can wear, then sunblock the remaining exposed skin and head on out.
Down through our neighborhood, checking the cross-streets to make sure no one is about to run a stop sign and hit me. Out to the first of the busy streets, where I go from "warm-up" to full-speed pace, checking the bike lane for glass and watching for cars backing out of driveways or stopping past the stop sign and into the bike lane. I'm always on alert.
Nearing the second busy street, I look over my shoulder to see if anyone is behind me. There's a "yield/merge" corner there where I turn right, and I always worry about cars and trucks cutting that corner and trapping me up against the curb. No one's behind me, so I sail around it and continue on.
I'm approaching the edge of the property that has a decorative pond down below, or as I like to think of it, a "mosquito farm." The water is algae-covered and murky now, but I'm more interested in the pavement. Accidents near that spot are common, and sometimes a spray of broken glass coats the bike lane there and goes on for several more blocks. I think it's because of that merge lane—either side-swiping accidents from someone trying to merge into another vehicle, or nervous drivers being rear-ended when the path is clear but they slam on their brakes when the person behind them doesn't expect it.
The pavement look okay, so I don't have to edge out into traffic—always a relief, since the typical speed there is more than 50mph. I keep going and eventually cross that boulevard in halves, then start down the road that leads to the bike path. Then I go up through the parkway gate to the levee, and down the ramp into another world.
On weekends, I ride downriver. It's less pretty than upriver, but also less crowded, so there's less risk of an accident or near-accident from people doing something stupid. The trail is a bike path, but because it's paved, people often treat it as their personal promenade, so "stupid" includes things like walking or standing on the pavement, riding in the wrong lane, stepping out in front of a bike or pulling onto the path in front of an oncoming bike, or walking a dog and/or its leash in that space. Like I said, nerve-wracking.
But for a downriver ride, I always start by going upriver for a bit and then turning around before I reach the more crowded areas. The place where I enter the bike path rarely has any interesting wildlife—usually it's just rock doves or those suicidal ground squirrels. But three-quarters of a mile up, there's a rise where you get a nice view of the river below. That's the spot where the land along the bank forms a deep upside-down "U" and creates a backwater pool. One year, a swan was in that pool for a good eight months. I assume it escaped from one of the pricier private homes a few miles away, rather than being wild, but who knows? No other swans ever joined it (i.e., it had no flock). After a few weeks, though, a Canadian goose made friends with it, and they hung out together until the swan left. Or was it re-appropriated? I can just imagine someone biking or walking near there, and going, "Wait, is that our Clarence? That little sneak! I paid good money to have him decorate the yard, not go off and do bird things. I'm going to send someone after him."
A few years ago, I spotted a snowy egret sitting in a tree above that spot, which was just strange. You usually see them in-flight or standing around in fields or shallow water. They're such large birds that this one looked too big to be supported by the branch it was sitting on!
Another three-quarters of a mile is where I turn around on weekends and head back downriver. I don't usually see much of anything else in this stretch, but HalfshellHusband has twice seen a large turtle there, presumably trying to cross the pavement. Presumably the same turtle both times, too. ;)
Not far after where I originally entered the path, there is a curve with a bush. That was the site of one of my favorite things ever, with a baby squirrel and a baby wild bunny sitting side-by-side under that bush and watching the world go by. I felt like I'd stumbled into some alternate-reality Disney moment there—it was unreal!
In the next few miles, I sometimes see California quail. I did today—about 8 or 10 of them, with adult males flanking a group of half-grown chicks. This is typical—quail tend to move around as a group, and when there are chicks, the males lead from the front and herd from the back.
Further downriver, there are usually jackrabbits bounding across the path and through the tall grass. Then the golf course, which has been infested with Canadian geese for years now. Past that, the trail rises near the pumping station and then goes down and around several curves. Coming back up again, it goes by a set of picnic tables where I've seen several stray or abandoned kitties these last few months. The white one with the light-gray Siamese-like markings was near the edge of that picnic area today, and a middle-aged woman was sitting at a table at the far end. She seemed to be making a tiny bit of progress getting acquainted with that cat.
I ride just over a mile more before turning around again. Sometimes I go farther, where there are sloughs on one side of the path (created by spillover from the river and not rainwater, as I once thought). There are often egrets and ducks in those sloughs, and sometimes turtles. I once saw a wide pink mouth down in the water that I later realized belonged to a river otter!
On the return, I hear a red-winged blackbird out in one of the wide-open areas between the highway overpass and that picnic table area. That surprises me, even though that field is at least a square mile, because I only ever hear those birds near farmland.
About ten minutes later, I'm past the golf course, and in another ten minutes I'm in the heavily-shaded area that goes for a couple of miles before my exit. There is a red-headed woodpecker sitting in the dirt by the side of the path, and that's the species that seems to like the more forested area along the bike trail. Searching online, I see that it's an Acorn Woodpecker, which makes sense because these are oak forests. The more common speckled, long-billed flicker is the kind we find in our yards.
This is pretty impressive range of wildlife for one day! During yesterday's upriver ride, I saw a gray or Great Blue heron (they're both gray) and a white and gray falcon, and two days earlier, I'm pretty sure there was a Mountain Bluebird upriver as well—those are not common at all around here.
I continue on out of the parkway and pedal back toward home. There are no turkeys clustering in their usual spot on the return and waiting to wander out into the roadway, which makes for a nice change.
Instead, there is a large, black bird flying above and arcing downward toward me. It alights at a street-side puddle to wash the red berry or other stolen fruit it holds in its yellow beak. It looks like a crow, and later, I will Google it and discover that food-washing is common for crows even if I've never seen that behavior around here. But my web-search doesn't find any in this area that have yellow beaks, so somehow this most common-looking of creatures becomes the ride's biggest mystery of all.