You head out for an evening bike ride, for a bit of good honest solitude. You’re several miles down the most obscure country lane in the north of England. The only signs of humanity are the Tarmac beneath your wheels and the odd dry stone wall.
You’ve even turned your phone off.
But still, you are not alone.
Your surroundings are teeming with wildlife just waiting to interact with you. Until you’ve been honked at by a goose, stared down by a sheep, or belligerently ignored by a cow, you’re not a proper British cyclist.
I often wonder whether I might one day strike out on some epic ride across a continent – from one end of Australia to the other, for example. When I consider this, the thoughts that spring to mind are always the same.
There’ll be Funnel Web Spiders in my tent and Kangaroos bounding alongside me as I ride. I’ll undoubtedly spend much of my time beating off Saltwater crocs, Pythons, and poisonous Cane Toads. Meal times will see me fretfully attempting to distinguish between good, nutritious bush tucker, and plants that want to murder me.
To be honest, I can’t imagine I’ll even have much time to ride my bike.
All of which makes the odd panicked peacock or adversarial hare, both of which have confronted me over the years, seem trivial. And extremely British.
On one recent evening ride, as I skirted the dusky light between day and night here in Lancashire, I may have had the most British wildlife encounter that any cyclist has ever had.
As I rolled absent-mindedly down a deserted lane – probably happily mulling over the difference between drizzle and mizzle, or firming up my personal moral position on the best flavour of crisps, as we Brits are prone to do – a medium-sized rabbit dashed across the road ahead.
He glanced briefly up at me, and disappeared into a hedge.
Two pedal strokes passed, and he appeared again.
I was surprised, he was terrified, and he leapt with involuntary panic at the sight of my front wheel; a panic not, it seems, tempered by the fact that he was at least about to be run over by a rather nice Campagnolo front wheel, rather than some run-of-the-mill piece of kit.
The panicked leap had him appear, surprisingly, at face height, before landing with front paws on my handlebars and the length of his body resting on my wrist and forearm.
He gripped me, with a fearful tension.
“Aaaaahhh…ooohhhhhhh…whaaaa!” I said.
“Squeak. Squeak squeak squeak. Squeak eeeek,” he said.
We freewheeled together for a few seconds, unsure what to do, before he flung himself to the Tarmac and skittered, legs flailing, into the undergrowth.
I should mention at this point that “he” could easily have been a “she”; in the confusion, I didn’t have time to sex my new friend.
Neither did I have time to get a picture.
This has led to doubtfully raised eyebrows each time I tell this anecdote, as if this is exactly the kind of evidence-free tale I would conjure up from thin air.
Had I been thinking clearly I would have engaged the rabbit in conversation, gained his/her trust, and requested that we recreate the whole implausible scenario while I took some pictures.
This would have provided a sound evidence base for an entertaining anecdote.
Instead, you’ll just have to believe me.
I’m just glad it wasn’t a Saltwater croc.
(Bike Image: http://www.ragtimecyclist.com | Rabbit Image: via pixabay.com)