You’ll never get me, copper!
I’m slow on a bike. Like, really slow. In fact, I’m more glacial than slow.
Still, I’m amazed at how quickly I have to make decisions sometimes even though I’m creeping along at a challenged-snail’s pace.
All the time I’m encountering wayward vehicles or run-away pedestrians or even just simple road detritus that threatens my person (and, yes, I do have a person) or bike or simply my state of mind (and, yes, I do have a state of mind, though it’s more Rhode Island than, say, Texas or Alaska).
The other day, I faced the granddaddy of all split-second, do-or-die on-the-bike decisions.
I was inching along on a relatively well trafficked yet still relatively wide minor arterial street. There was plenty of room for me on my bike, the car coming up fast from behind and the truck approaching both of us from up ahead. I could tell all three of us were going to reach the same spot about the same time, but, again, no worries. There was plenty of room for all three of us.
But things got interesting when I noticed a squiggle up ahead, directly in my path. The squiggle was dark, about 10 inches long.
I drew closer; the car and truck were gaining.
The squiggle grew slightly more defined. What was that? A piece of road rubber? A rope? A bungee cord?
The car was getting mighty big in the rearview mirror of my mind, the grill of the truck even bigger in the frontview of my, well, view.
I saw a frightfully large crack in the gutter right next to the squiggle, so I couldn’t evade to the right; to the left would put me in the car’s path.
I slowed and cast a glance over my shoulder. Behind the car were two more; I was running out of options.
Now nearly upon the squiggle, I knew my die was cast, my fate sealed.
I leaned and peered and, sure enough, said squiggle was actually a snake.
Now, I’m no fan of snakes and have run over a few in my day — I envision the segmented Join or Die illustration in my wake — but I’m not a hater. I tend to live and let live whenever I can, but I feared the narrow little tightrope I was going to ride spelled doom for Mr. Snakey. No way I was going to swerve into that gaping maw to my right or into traffic to my left.
Inches away, I had an awful revelation. That snake’s head sure was large and copperish. Holy serpents named after a delicious pale ale! I realized I was about to roll over a poisonous copperhead.
In that split-second, I somehow recalled all I had ever heard about copperheads. I knew their bites are poisonous and painful, their personalities aggressive. I also seemed to recall hearing — perhaps it was only an old tale — that baby copperheads are more poisonous than the big ones. Something about greater potency making up for lesser volume.
I had time to reconsider — one of the benefits of riding at the speed of rock — and flashed to visions of the snake striking at my bare ankle as I rode past. Left … right … straight … snake … curb … car …
Almost without thought, I kicked my left foot out of its constraining pedal, flung my left foot straight out and rolled juuuuuuuust to the right of the serpent’s head, missing it by the width of his forked tongue. I also somehow managed to crack myself up as I thought, in my best Cagney, “You’ll never get me, copper!” — all as the oncoming truck and the cars from behind whooshed past.
I’m sure to driver of the lead car, it must have looked like I was trying to kick in his passenger window, but he neither flinched nor jumped on the brakes to demand an explanation.
So, heart pounding, I pedaled on, rather pleased to have escaped such a perilous predicament.
I had nearly forgotten my brush with death when I approached the same spot the next day. To my surprise, the treacherous snake was still there. It appeared it hadn’t moved. This time there were no other vehicles nearby, so I gave it a wide berth. Same thing the next couple of days before I finally screwed up the courage to stop.
Stealthily I sneaked up on said serpent (sibilants silent, certainly). I found a stick and gave it a gentle prod.
It didn’t strike and, instead, jiggled a little. I managed to roll it over and saw through the grime “China” on its rubber belly.