CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE FURRY KIND

Almost every weekend during warmer months, my friends and I pack our cycling gear and head out to a trail for a day of socializing and exercise. Rural sections of the Silver Comet and Arabia Mountain Trails are my favorite places to ride where the smell of honeysuckle is in the air, the creeks are noisy and clear, and wildlife abounds.

The Silver Comet was built on an old railroad bed that winds through a sparsely populated area of Northwest Georgia. The Arabia Mountain Trail was built through a vast, nature preserve chock full of giant rock outcroppings, dense thickets, and lush wetlands. It shouldn’t be a surprise that cyclists riding on these trails built through previously undisturbed landscapes frequently encounter every species of creature native to the area. This cyclist has seen them all.

Shortly after we opened the Silver Comet Trail east of Brushy Mountain Tunnel, I rounded the big curve to see a bobcat standing on the centerline of the trail. He turned and leisurely jogged down the center of the trail for at least a thousand feet before dashing into the woods. I had a similar encounter with a red fox near the Pumpkinvine Creek Trestle a few weeks later. It was if I had interrupted their inspection of this white ribbon of concrete that had invaded their hood.

I’ve had numerous encounters with spastic squirrels. First they run left, then back to the right, then they stop and …. are they going left again??  I have come within inches of running off the trail and crashing my bike trying to avoid squishing a squirrel.

Snakes and lizards are my favorite encounter. Nothing gets my juices going quicker than to see a big old king snake draped across the pavement on a warm, sunny day. I always stop and enjoy a few minutes with these beautiful creatures before “encouraging” them to leave the trail to avoid a different encounter that may be harmful to their health. I did see a butchered king snake on the Arabia Mountain Trail a few years ago…thus the signs you see asking my fellow trail users to respect native creatures during visits to their home.

Last summer, my friend and I encountered a huge Diamondback Rattlesnake in mile 27 of the Comet. I stopped to take his picture (from a safe
distance, of course). I got rattled and hissed at just for showing him a little attention.

My most memorable creature encounter was near the wetland overlook on the Arabia Mountain Trail. I talked my friend into joining me and my black Lab, “Roxie” for a long walk on a cold wintery day.  As we rounded the curve south of the boardwalk a sizeable buck walked onto the trail a hundred feet in front of us and stopped. Not knowing what my city dog would do facing a big hairy deer, I tightened my grip on her leash and stopped to enjoy the event. For what seemed like an eternity, the four of us remained motionless, staring at each other.  I can only guess what was going through the mind of the deer and the dog. It lasted long enough for me to realize it was a memory I would cherish.

Then the buck began to paw at the pavement, something like a bull would do right before it charged. For a brief moment, I thought the buck would make a run toward us. It took a few steps in our direction, straining to get a sniff of us before moseying off into the forest. Roxie began to pull me to the spot where the buck had stood so she could check out the smells of her new acquaintance.  Her attention soon returned to the trail ahead and the other intriguing odors of the wild.

The more popular our trails become, the less likely it will be to see a bobcat or to have a stare-down with a twelve-point buck. I guess we’ll have to build new trails in new woods so the next generation can have their own furry encounters to tell their kids about. If we could only convince
those squirrels to go to one side or the other!