Oct 11 2011
The snake was just leaving a pool of deep shadow on the shoulder when I first spotted him. I was heading north on the state highway. The snake—a two-foot-long garter snake—was headed west. I had 20 miles to go. The snake had about 30 feet. But I knew I was more likely to finish my journey alive than he was. So I signaled to Farwell that I was stopping, and we both pulled up short. Maybe, I said to myself, one of us can grab the snake and carry him across the road to safety.
It didn’t seem very likely, however. An unbroken stream of cars and trucks roared along the highway in both directions. All of the drivers were engrossed in their phone conversations. None of them noticed the snake. Or if they did, they simply didn’t think a snake worth a moment’s concern. None of them slowed. None of them tried to steer around him. Still, despite the long odds, he survived. First one car passed over him. Then another. And then a third. Every time it happened, the snake was tumbled back and forth by the turbulent 60-mph slipstream, but each time he somehow escaped being crushed beneath the wheels. Then, just as we were beginning to hope he’d make it, a fourth car—a pickup truck, actually—broke the snake’s back, leaving him writhing on the far shoulder.
A few seconds later, there was a brief gap in the traffic, and Farwell sprinted across the road to finish the job the pickup truck driver had left half done. It’s something we’ve both had to do before, but you can take it from me: It’s one job that doesn’t get any easier with practice. That last office performed, Farwell returned. Soon we were back on our bikes, headed north once again. Every few seconds a car or truck passed us. Some of the drivers moved over to give us a little room, but others showed no more concern for our well-being than the driver of the pickup truck had showed for the life of the snake.
The worst of the lot were probably the drivers of the big, bus-like RVs. A few seemed to have some idea how to pass cyclists. Most didn’t, though. Or maybe they just didn’t care. So for the next few miles we rode with one eye always on our rearview mirrors, hoping that we’d spot the next rightward-drifting RV in time to avoid being struck. And I’m happy to say we did.
So we had more luck than the snake. But luck was what it was, pure and simple. The Adirondack North Country is a holiday destination for a lot of folks, most of whom want to cover as many miles as they can in as little time as possible. Anything that gets in their way—whether it’s a snake, a deer, or even a cyclist on the shoulder of the road—will just have to take its chances.
That’s not exactly a comforting thought, is it? Particularly if you ride a bike on North Country roads. Then again, why should it be comforting? Snake or cyclist, it makes no difference. Life is cheap here in the hills.