From http://bulgier.net/pics/bike/Broken as of 2006/07/19.>
BEWARE THE SQUIRREL (A tale of passion and betrayal on the Kern River Bike Path, Bakersfield, CA)
by Robert E. “Squirrel Boy” Parr
Twenty-three-point-seven is what the speedometer on my cycle computer read just after I crossed beneath the BN & SF railroad bridge westbound on the Kern River Bike Path. It was June 4th and one of those nearly perfect days we sometimes get here in Bakersfield in the spring, and again in the autumn, between the chilly damp of winter and the oppressive, searing heat of the southern San Joaquin Valley summer. Bright, sunny, and so clear I could make out the snowy peaks of the High Sierra to the north. I was traveling west after having ridden to China Grade Loop. The location of my job at Cal State University, close to the exact center point of the bike path, affords me the opportunity to get out four or five times a week for a noontime spin. Usually I ride to the west end of the path and back, a little over 25 miles of flat, open, uncrowded cruising.
On this day, for a change of pace, I decided to go to the east end. I was on my recently-acquired Giant carbon frame road bike - a bloody rocket. Half way back, pedaling through one of the many parks along the path, I had pretty much decided to continue on to the west end and make it a 45+-mile day. I was feeling strong and figured on putting the hammer down for the last 20 miles or so.
It was about this time that they made their expected appearance. I've seen them many times as I've ridden the bike path. Ground squirrels. Dozens of the vile rodents grazing contentedly in the grass. They take over this activity early each afternoon from the bunnies who seem to work the early morning shift. They live amongst the rip-rap and other debris on the river side of the path opposite the park. When faced with the approach of something fearsome, say a bicycle, a sight they've pretty much seen every five minutes over their entire lives, they panic and fling themselves en masse at the offending object. Or, more correctly, in front of it— the better to reach the safety of their comfy burrows on the other side of the path, I guess. It doesn't seem to matter that they are 50 yards off the path and clearly out of harm's way. No, better to hurl oneself directly at any large, fast-moving mechanical device in the general vicinity. It's the Way-of-the-Squirrel, a way we pathetic hu-mans with all our science and powers of reasoning will never understand— nor care to.
I encounter the little vermin all the time and generally have found them to be annoying at best. I try to avoid them if at all possible. But their erratic pattern of scoot, dodge, stop, reverse direction, etc., has not always made avoidance possible and, in the past ten years I've run over four of them. Three I hit with my front wheel; they all got up and hauled squirrel-ass-the-hell-outta-there. One I caught with my rear wheel. He didn't go anywhere. None of these previous impacts felt like anything more than a trifling perturbation in the flow of the universe. The Jedi would not have noticed. I don't like hitting them. Live and let live I say. But only four hits with one squirrelly fatality in over 30,000 miles of riding is probably a pretty good safety record.
As I approached the grassy area by the park I could see two or three dozen of the bushy-tailed rats lunging across the path several yards ahead of me — the usual drill. Then, the next thing I knew, I was looking down at my front wheel between which and the road was wedged a particularly robust specimen of California ground squirrel (Spermophilus beecheyi). I recall feeling as though my wheel had struck a large glob of butter which is, after all, basically what a ground squirrel is — a fur-covered ball of butter, only not as smart and probably not nearly as delicious on toast — not even with marmalade. The wheel lifted ever so slightly up and lurched abruptly to the right like it was sliding across greased ice — not much, just an inch-or-so. I got that familiar, sick feeling. After that, my perception was of a formless phantasmagoria of color and movement (I remember the color green being a prominent theme). No pain, no sense of impact, no nothing. On a certain level, however, I was aware that something was terribly wrong.
Events, as I recall them, then unfolded as follows:
I was squatting in the shade of a tree propping my bike up with one hand. “What a nice bike.” thought I, “I've seen this bike before— recently. I remember. I bought it sometime in the recent past. This is my bike. Cool.” I noticed that my right-hand brake/shift lever had twisted a bit on the handle bar, the front wheel was slightly untrue but rideable, and thought, “Well, it's time to go.” I have no idea how long I had been sitting there or how I, and my bike, made it to that tree, about ten yards from the path. I didn't see the squirrel. I have no recollection of mounting the bike, clicking into the pedals, or riding the three miles back to my work place. I do recall crossing the highway between the bike path and work because there was a car waiting at the light and I thought, “I won't have to stop and hit the button to get across.” The next memory was of pulling up to the bottom of the outside staircase that leads to my office. There were two girls sitting on the stairs and I said, “Pardon me ladies, I need to get through.” or words to that effect. They looked at me strangely then stood aside to let me pass. Being accustomed to strange looks from young women, I gave it no mind. One of them spoke, I thought, but I had no idea what she said.
In my office, I looked into the small wall mirror I keep there and understood the girls' strange look. There was blood streaming down the left side of my face from an abrasion on my cheek and more blood running down the right side from a cut where I had apparently bit through my upper lip. Kinda looked like one of those rubber Halloween fright masks. This all was news to me— I was very impressed. I patched myself up the best I could. About an hour later I had to dig a pick handle out of the storage room to use as a cane so that I could actually walk upright.
Later that day, while on the phone (I should've gone home, I guess, but apparently the concussion prohibited the making of wise decisions), I glanced at my helmet which happened to be on my desk and for the first time noticed the four large cracks radiating back from the left-front quarter. Until that point I was not even aware that I had struck my head in the crash. But, apparently, I had which might go a long way to explaining the 16-minute gap between the elapsed time and running (actual riding) time on the clock of my cycle computer. Sixteen minutes spent . . . sitting under the tree? . . . lying unconscious? . . . discussing the weather with passers-by?. . . trying to engage the squirrels in conversation? . . . who knows?
The butcher's bill: a respectable concussion, the effects of which I felt for a week; a massive, deep contusion on the left hip that resulted in my having to walk with a cane— when I felt like walking at all - for three weeks and a pronounced limp for a week more (I was solid purple on my left side from my knee to my shoulder); a bit-through right upper lip which resulted in a scar; abrasions on my left cheek, forehead, nose, chin, left forearm and knee. The good news: there was no damage to the bike, just a slightly tweaked lever, slightly out-of-true front wheel, and a minuscule scuff on the saddle. Except for the scuff, everything was easily repaired. The worst thing, of course, was two weeks off the bike, my longest time-off in living memory.
In my 27+ years of adult cycling I've had five crashes (not counting a couple mountain bike episodes). Two were a result of making stupid moves, one was because of an honest misjudgment, and two were complete, unavoidable surprises. What I now refer to as “The Squirrel Incident” is included in the latter category and was the worst of them. My remaining friends tell me I should have gone to the hospital. They were probably right.
Not a week earlier I remember thinking, “I'm just riding the bike path; the weather's getting warmer. Why do I need to wear my helmet? What can happen on the bike path? I should be feeling the wind through what's left of my hair and all that crap . . . yeah.” I know now that had I not been sporting my trusty Giro my brains would be decorating the bike path this very moment and I would be penning this account in some form of crude picture writing - maybe after a year of therapy. So boys and girls, remember, always wear your helmet when you ride `cause you just never know. And, oh yes, Beware the Squirrel!