I love to ride my bike in the evenings. I love the way the sunlight highlights the architecture of everything, from buildings to trees to birds to stones. Sunday evenings are the best time to ride in DC because there is very little traffic to worry about and the city is quiet as people end their weekends inside, preparing for the new work week.
But my favorite evenings to ride are the ones that happen on Chincoteague Island. It’s the sudden hush hush that falls over the island as people move indoors to eat. The constant whirring motors from the jet skis, fishing boats, and scooters take a break. The wind calms the senses as it lightly rattles the marsh grasses. The lonely windsurfer on the water last night only added to the sense of peace as I headed out to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.
An hour or two before sunset, the marsh grasses begin to glow as the light shines through them at an angle. As I rode my bike to the halfway point, a stop at the beach to wave at the waves, I saw and heard a handful of red-winged black birds, egrets, and doves.
On the trail out to the beach, I searched the tops of the tall, dead trees for the large bald eagle I spotted two days before. No sign of him this time. But someone got a little cheeky on the beach. Luckily, I saw no sign of what potentially “lay” ahead (see photo below).
After a quick run into the ocean, I rode through the second half of the refuge: more birds but not one of the more exciting nights for spotting animals…until I got to the last quarter mile stretch.
In the middle of the path was a black rat snake, over 3 feet long. I had to make a quick decision which side to pass him on since I couldn’t tell right away where his head was. I chose the wrong side, but he didn’t strike.
A car came up behind me (cars are allowed in the refuge in the evenings) moving fast enough to make me think it wouldn’t see the snake in time. So I positioned my bike across the path in order to force the car to move to the left, away from the snake. Thinking I was a safe enough distance from my charge, I started to snap pictures.
At first he was tolerant of my presence and I was proud of myself for not being scared. But then he lifted his head, turned it towards me, and opened his mouth in a big scolding hiss.
My heart took off, leaving me and my bike to figure out how to get out of there fast before he could strike. Luckily, they aren’t poisonous but they can still make nasty bites. It was time to go.
Riding home, I was reminded why I enjoy riding over being in cars. I could smell the woody smoke of the camp fires and the coppery perfume of the salt marshes. I could hear bits of life as I passed by briefly: a small dog whimpering to go outside, clinks and clanks of dinner being eaten privately indoors, rustling marsh grasses, the gossipy chatter of seagulls, water gently rushing the roadside as the tide moved in.
Bike riding in the evenings is a way to exercise my senses as much as my legs. It’s experiencing the most naked, candid moments of living. It’s plugging myself into life.