Today I spent part of the afternoon visiting Dick's Sporting Goods to get Youngest's bike tuned-up (bought the bike a few months ago, he learned to ride that same day) and getting some replacement tires and handle grips for my old Diamondback. Then, after tire repairs, chain lubricating, and adjustments, given the unusually clear day, and the mid-eighties weather (a reprieve in our NC July), Youngest and I decided to go ahead and take that ride we've been discussing, through the waterfowl impoundment north of Durham. The whole area is closed to cars and it makes a great off-pavement experience. This photo is of the place where the ride began, but I took it on a hike four of us took there in February, a year and a half ago. Picture it all overgrown, with six foot grasses on one side and a field of corn on the other.
We road more than four miles over gravel roads, stone causeways, and overgrown grassy paths. We took a long road I'd never taken on my previous trips, which excited him - the unknown. We never saw another human until we were back at the end. The sun set on the tail end of the trip, when we were driving back. The light was glorious, the riding was fun (even though I will be sore in fifty places tomorrow), and we saw so much wildlife. The place was shaggy, overgrown, and like the back forty of an old semi-abandoned farm. We startled a fox, who ran down the road ahead of us for three or four hundred yards, before ducking into the woods on our left. Later we had a deer bounding across the road in front of us, with tall leaps and several flips from its stunning long white tail. Gold finches flew around us in the fields, bending down the tall heads of redstem grass. We rode in a nearly constant cloud of dragonflies, which rose from the road in front of us. We saw passion flower blooming in one spot, and jewel weed, and jacob's ladder, and huge white hibiscus. The roadway itself was yellow with the small bright blossoms of thread-leaved helenium. Most of the old fields were fallow, but some were sown in corn, which was bearing. Some cobs were here and there left by the road, plundered and eaten by racoons. One section was planted in large sunflowers, just starting to bloom. Tiny toads hopped out of our way as we walked the bikes over the eighth stone causeway.
We ate a picnic dinner in a clear space beneath two old trees, where the large bright green June beetles (cotinus nitida) were buzzing around the ground and up into the branches. I caught one and showed it to Youngest, letting it vibrate loudly up out of my hand, its brilliant deep green back exposed by the elytra spread in flight.
Toward the end of the long ride we walked the bikes through the maintenance area, which was abandoned in the Sunday evening. We passed by one large garage where two heavy old trucks, early 80's vintage, one a Ford and the other a GMC, sat side by side, like old rivals/friends. A little further was an open garage bay, with equipment visible in the gloom within. We were so busy looking at the interior that we both nearly missed the large black animal stretched out on the concrete entryway. My entire body clenched at the sight of such a huge black dog, braced for it to wake up and charge us. Then I realized with even greater fear that it was a black bear. And almost in the same instant I realized it was dead. I have never felt such a rush of relief and sadness both hit me so suddenly together. Youngest had seen it just before I did, and I realized he was asking me about it. It was actually a small bear - but it would have been quite intimidating if it had been alive. We never slowed our walking - both relieved and weirded out by the whole thing. Neither of us wanted a closer look.
The entire ride was like a story, a strange fairy tale, even, full of birds and insects, and animal talismen, with a large dark scary creature dead near the close.
But we had another mile to ride after that, almost all down hill, over a long gently curving gravel road. We rolled along, side by side, and talked as the stones pinged and popped from under our humming wheels. Youngest wants to do more of this. So do I. At the end we put the bikes back in the van, pulled out some home made chocolate chip cookies (Tollhouse), more bottles of water, and walked back into the fields. We sat down in the middle of the gravel road (about half way up that photo above). I stretched, and we ate cookies while watching the slate blue clouds drifting north across a pale western sky. Usually we chatter each other's ears off when the two of us are in the car alone - but this trip home was fairly quiet, each of us full of thoughts and the relaxed contentment that follows an adventure.