Today it is 99 degrees in Memphis, TN, US. When many folks head indoors during this weather, I find it to be the ideal time to go bike riding. So my friend and I loaded up our mountain bikes today and headed out for a couple of hours of riding along the Wolfe River. This got me to thinking of a story I had written a few years ago called the Smallest Deer I Have Ever Seen. Here it is again:
The Smallest Deer I Have Ever Seen
I thoroughly enjoy mountain biking. In a memorable biking experience, I saw the smallest deer I have ever seen in my life – a fawn, couldn’t be but a couple of weeks or so old. Here is how it happened . . .
I was riding my mountain bike out along the River trail about 4:00 PM, the hottest part of the day. I have come to savor the heat that is the South. A couple of days each week I start my work day very early so I can ride the during the heat of the afternoon, when I rarely cross other bikers and only the occasional runner on the trail.
The route I have worked out is a 12 mile loop through the woods. There are a few steep ascents and descents up and down levees and lots of roots. I am reading some about technique – the zen of becoming one with the bike and the trail. Speed seems a big thing in the tech lit of mountain bikes. On first half of my loop today I did well on the technical end. My speed picked up – I think the fastest ever. I got up all the inclines without a hitch, and made it through the sand traps – thanks in large part to recent rain. The greatest improvement was in my looking ahead on the trail, and not just right past my front wheel – allowing me to feel the flow of the trail unlike ever before. On my iPod, I listened to Bill Moyers interview the poet W.S. Merwin, reading from his recent volume for which he won the Pulitzer Prize, In the Shadow of Sirius. All was quite well.
I got to the end of the first half at the trailhead. The parking lot was empty, baked asphalt. I sucked some water and a Gu Gel and listened to Merwin read a poem about fathers and sons.
I started to head back. The first leg of the return I know best. After an initial descent, the trail is about one mile or so of reasonably flat to rolling twists and turns till coming up on the first levee. I have always felt the most one with bike and trail on this stretch. Today, I ripped along through the first open field into tree cover. Barely 30 feet in front of me stood a full size deer – I don’t know a buck from doe to how many points or hands – it was just a big old deer. I skidded to a complete stop. I know that deer will run in a completely unpredictable manner – it’s best just to stop and let them go on their way, then proceed. But this deer held its place in the middle of the trail. I flipped up my sunglasses, and saw the smallest fawn ever between the legs of the big deer – could not have been more than 24 inches tall – think a miniature Bambi. The fawn started to trot off and the big deer followed. After several starts and stops, they soon were in the dense wood, and I could only make out their occasional move through the vegetation.
I stood astride my bike on the trail for a few minutes, put away W.S. Merwin and Bill Moyers, and listened to the heat, the insects, the birds. I rode off slower and got up on the first levee and down the other side. I decided to try a different oneness with the trail on the way back – a very slow, mindful, intentional amble, iPod stowed in my back pocket. I knew not to be so naïve or grandiose to expect to see another deer, or something of a similar spectacle. When I ascended to the second levee, I rode the spine to the river and sat for a while staring at and thinking of nothing. I continued on deliberate, mindful, quiet and slow. Toward the end of the loop, the trail runs along the narrow spine of a ridge full of roots, drops and turns. Typically, this is the most difficult part of the ride for me. I get flustered, hit roots wrong, feel awkward, and not one with the trail. I usually rationalize it’s towards the end of a 12 mile loop and I am just a bit tired, but I know that is not really the case – something is missing. Today I was more one with the crest and the roots than ever before, slowly looking and living into each root, dip, and turn.
After taking the gravel road back to the main park area, I always end the ride with a quick lap around the one mile asphalt track filled with joggers, walkers, and little kids on bikes. When I pass the little kids with training wheels, or recently without, I always say “Hey, I like your bike!” and that always gets a smile of pride from the little ones. And today, even though hot, a child on her hot pink Barbie bike was there with her folks walking along and she grinned wide at the compliment.