Whether you're a fledgling woodpecker or a birder on a bike, landings are tricker than takeoffs.
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I was riding my bike home Monday, reveling in a gorgeous autumn afternoon after a lovely morning with my grandson Walter. Halfway home, I hit two big milestones. First, I got #40 on my bicycle birding list thanks to a few Pine Siskins flying over.
I’d seen a total of 40 species my entire first spring of birding, so 40 always feels like an important number to reach. And right after that, my e-bike odometer hit 150 miles.
This felt so auspicious! It had been three decades since I’d ridden any bike regularly, and because the e-bike is so heavy, adjusting wasn’t a simple matter of muscle memory. But around the time I hit the 75-mile mark, I was feeling at one with the machine. Now I was plotting out how to reach 300, maybe even 400, miles before snow puts the kibosh on my biking for the year.
I was riding on Snively toward the traffic circle to Glenwood. At that point the bike path along the road turns onto a sidewalk which veers off at a shallow angle, but the lip where the raised cement starts is parallel to the road. I usually veer to the left of the bike lane so I can turn sharply onto that lip, but a car behind me was slightly in the bike lane so I made too shallow of a turn and my wheel caught and skidded. Oops! Down I came.
I could tell my right pinkie was broken and my knee was scraped, but I got right back up on the bike and rode home. My grandpa was younger than I am when he broke his hip in a fall, so I was feeling pretty lucky, especially after a gorgeous Turkey Vulture banking up from below Hawk Ridge looked right at me and I thought I saw disappointment in its eyes—for all that I love feeding birds, there are limits. I was also thinking that last mile home how much I love riding a bike—that sense of freedom and joy on such a beautiful day.
An x-ray proved what I already knew—a bone in the pinkie is indeed broken. As easy as it was to ride the bike home with a broken finger wearing bicycle gloves, now my hand is in a cast that will make biking impossible. Well, not the riding, but the stopping, because in the cast, my right hand can’t operate the brake.
It’ll be at least six weeks—October 30—before the cast comes off. I’ll still be 71 years old for a few days before my November birthday ratchets that up another notch. We don’t usually have lasting snow before that, but suddenly I’m wondering. Baby woodpeckers take their first flights out of their nest when their wings are strong enough to fly fast but before their brain has entirely grasped the concept of landing. They are fast learners, but meanwhile, their bodies are much less dense than ours and so well-cushioned in feathers that they don’t hit too hard while figuring out those awkward landings.
In a city with so very many people sharing the roads and bike paths, I guess awkward landings are pretty much guaranteed to happen now and then. Like a baby woodpecker who has spent its entire life in a dark cavity and now is opening its wings in flight for the first time, my bike has been giving me a wonderful feeling of flight and escape, but my 71-year-old body isn’t quite so resilient.
With the cast on my right hand, typing is awkward and slow but doable, and I can still operate my camera clumsily but well enough. On Wednesday I wanted to make sure of that, so I got my camera and cranked open the dining room window the very moment my dear BB the Pileated Woodpecker flew in.
BB was the first bird I saw when I got my bike out for its inaugural ride, and it’s a photo of him that I made into stickers to decorate my bike. Whether I ever take off on my bike again, I’d still say I’m one of the luckiest people in the world.