Every spring and summer, the Salt Creek Bicycle Trail fills up with traffic, and at times, the bikers, walkers, roller skaters and joggers are so thick that you might as well be on an expressway during rush hour.
This state of “trail clog” is at its worst during the best days of summer, when vacationing kids and adults decide to go for a ride. Sometimes the trail is so crowded that you have to spend less time watching nature than you do watching out for your own safety.
At any moment, you are apt to run into those bikers who ride two or three across, the “trail hogs.” And you never know who may be coming up, from right behind you. And don’t even get me started on the bikers who think the trail is their own private racing course.
Experienced bikers breathe a sight of relief when Labor Day finally arrives, because they know that traffic on the bike trail is about to diminish dramatically. The summer vacationers have all gone back to school or back to work, the days are growing shorter and the weather is getting chillier.
As autumn arrives, the trees in the woods along the trail are the first to change color and lose their leaves, since they have received little extra water or attention from the roving hordes of landscapers who give scheduled care to the properties of suburban homeowners.
This is a wonderful time to experience fall (and falling!) colors here, as the trees shed their leaves. Forget going off to some northern villages and towns, just grab your camera, hop on a bike and hit the trail, which is now pretty well devoid of traffic, especially on cold days.
If it’s windy, however, watch out for the usual loose branches and sticks on the trail. They can puncture your tires, get stuck in your wheel spokes, and, if large enough, can fling you right off your bike.
As the leaves fall in greater numbers, they can cover the trail with a blanket so very thoroughly that you will be hard-pressed to separate the asphalt trail surface from the adjoining ground level.
To complicate matters, the asphalt is usually an inch or two higher than the ground, which means that if you misjudge, you may slip off the trail entirely, and suddenly find yourself struggling to maintain control of your bike on bumpy, unfamiliar terrain. All of which means that, yes, you could hit the ground, even harder than a whole treefull of leaves.
I guess if you really want to take long and careful notice of something, you might as well just completely stop, move your bike off the trail, and then drink in this interesting time of natural change.
Rain causes the wet leaves on the trail to become slippery, so watch your stops and turns while riding on them. Also, rain sometimes is accompanied by wind, and that causes the trees to shed sticks and limbs. If you are on the trail, and it’s growing dark, watch out! A small limb can blend in with the color of the trail surface and send you unexpectedly flying over the handlebars.
After weeks pass, you will see more and more deer out, foraging. Sometimes they will stand a little distance off the trail. If you are passing by them, make no sudden moves and they will just eye you as if you have all the substance of a picture on a television screen.
If you choose to stop, they will be on their guard, and ready to bolt from your vicinity. Do not approach them. While some may dash off, there may be the rare one who not only stands up to your advance, but moves closer to you, ready to defend themselves or their herd.
So watch them, take photos of them if you want, but remember, they are, despite living in the suburbs, still wild animals. You may look harmless to them, or like a threat.
As winter approaches, dress more warmly when biking. Make certain your brakes are in fine working order, and you can even bring along a bottle of coffee, tea or hot chocolate to keep you warm. Just because it’s getting colder, doesn’t mean you can’t be out on the trail.
Besides getting some exercise, and seeing how nature copes, there is an additional benefit. Sometimes, after a period of riding, you may become suddenly aware that you have seen no other bikers approaching you or in back of you. Then you begin to believe that you may be the only person on the entire trail, which is now all yours, and yours alone, to ride on and explore. This may be true, so enjoy it, while you can. And say hello to the deer for me.