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Turning over a new leaf
The other night, I was riding home from work through a quiet, tree-lined Old West Lawrence neighborhood.
I was enjoying the crisp, night air and a car-less commute when an ungodly screeching pierced the night.
It scared the bejeebers out of me, and at my advanced age, I don’t have a lot of bejeebers to spare.
I whipped my head around, trying to spy the wraith that was assaulting the dead-of-night quiet, but saw nothing.
I slowed to a stop, and the sound stopped, too.
Certain the wraith was me, I gave my bike a quick once-over. Had I blown a bearing? Was a crank out of whack?
Finally, I deduced the source of the evil cacophony: A bundle of leaves had become lodged by my front brake, rubbing on the front rim and producing the awful wailing.
I dislodged the offending leaves, glanced sheepishly around, hoped I hadn’t awakened the neighborhood and pedaled on my way.
That raucous ruckus confirmed for me something I’d suspected for a while now: This is one loud autumn.
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed the leaves turning color and thought them especially vibrant. That was only the beginning.
Judging from the mess on most everybody’s lawn, the peak is behind us, but … wow. I can’t recall a fall with such an impressive display of autumn foliage.
The elevation-challenged leaves do create a couple of obstacles for two-wheeled commuters.
Wet leaves can be awfully slick, so I’ve had to go slow around a couple of corners. I think the slickest substance known to man has to be a pile of leaves covered with a thin layer of frost.
And I really prefer not to roll through big piles of leaves that either have blown into the street or were placed there by slacker home-owners too lazy to rake ’em up. I’m always afraid a pile will hide a rock or pothole or lawn-dart-wielding opossum.
But the payoff is well worth the extra caution.
Plus, there are games bored cycle-commuters can play in the fall.
For instance, Leaf Slalom: weaving in and out of downed foliage. Alternatives include, in order of difficulty: Single-Wheel Leaf Slalom (trying to weave in and out while making the leaf pass between the two wheels); No-Handed Leaf Slalom; and No-Handed Single-Wheel Leaf Slalom. The most challenging potentially can end up as No-Handed-Single-Wheel-Leaf-Slalom-Turned-Cyclist-Over-The-Handlebars-Eating Asphalt. Good times, indeed.
On windy days, I’ve been known to play Catch the Falling Leaf. Simple on two feet, it’s quite difficult on two wheels. My single-ride record is three.
Or, Dodge the Acorn. Here, I must divulge that my father believes squirrels are out to get him. He has accused them of plotting ambushes. It’s not an unhealthy I-hear-voices mental imbalance so much as an ingratiating irrational fear. So my conviction that the little buggers do, in fact, chuck acorns at unsuspecting passers-by might be construed as a hereditary neurosis. But it’s not.
Games or not, if there’s a better time of year to ride, I’m not sure when it would be.
Just make sure to stock up on bejeebers.