Today’s Costume: Biker

…..NO, no, not that kind of biker!  Bicycler.

Our area of Florida has some real nice biking trails; paved, no hills to speak of, not overly crowded. But my favourite trail is an unpaved seven mile loop through Crystal River State Park. I always see critters there – wild turkeys, wild hog, armadillos, raccoons. Thankfully no bears. Well it used to be my favourite trail but not so much this week as you shall see. Here’s how it played out.

It was in late March. I arrived relatively early to beat the heat and was greeted by this sign:

I was rotted but also pleased to think that they were finally doing some trail maintenance. It was badly torn up in one section from service vehicles. I figured I would go as far as the blockade and come back and fill in my time on the paved road in the park. Off I go. And go. And go. No barricade, no caution tape, surely I am more than two miles in. Then I noticed the trees on my right were charred. This was new since last ride but they frequently do patches of controlled burn to keep down the noxious invasives. No, that’s not a Trump initiative, I mean the invasive plants.

 The burn went on and on (still no tape or trail marker) “This is no controlled burn!” I thought to myself. I kept going and the blackened swath along the trail-side showed no sign of stopping. Then I noticed it was getting  a little hazy
And then there was a distinct column of smoke.
The plume dissipated by the time it reached the treetops but it was enough to make me think “where there’s smoke, there’s fire!” What to do? Do I call 911? One thing I did do was turn around and start to boot it out of there. There is little that I am more afraid of than forest fire. Give me a gale at sea anytime, or a night in the woods by myself, but please don’t let me near any fires!! Trying not to panic I shifted up to 14th gear and gave it all my little gnome legs could. There appeared suddenly a critter-chewed map alongside the park trail. Odd, I didn’t notice that on the way in.
It had a park phone number.”It’s an omen!!” Looking behind to ensure there wasn’t a billow of smoke following me, I stopped and got out my cell phone. “Your call cannot be completed….” I tried three times. No connection so I got back on the bike and figured I would try again when I was at the vehicle. In the meantime my imagination went into overdrive. I wondered if I burned alive would that make me a saint. Or did I have to be martyred to be a saint. Or Catholic? I thought, if it catches me I will get off this bike and sit in the path in the lotus position like a good Buddhist monk and let it consume me while meditating on ‘when you’re hot, be hot’. That oughta get my picture in the paper.
It wasn’t long before I was back at the trail head. Intact. There was a different number on the posted sign and this time, thankfully, I connected with a real human.
Me: “Hi..I don’t know if this is the number to call but I was just on the loop trail and saw some smoke…..”
He: “Ma’am, the loop trail is closed”
Me: “No, the sign says it is only closed between mile 2.2 and 5.2….”
He: “Ma’am, the loop trail is closed”
Me: “Even so, I was just  in there and there is smoke”
He: (in a patronizing voice, I’m sure if he saw my grey hair he would have prefaced with Dear or Deary) “We know about the burn. They have it under control. You needn’t worry about that.”
Me: “Well, I thought with it so dry they would want to know that  there is a spot that is actively smouldering”

He: “it’s all fine, Ma’am. We are looking after it”

I wished I’d asked him how long the park was to be closed. I wished I’d asked him if it was indeed a controlled fire or a wild fire. It has been really dry and there were as many as seven recent brush fires in our area. But I was pretty sure by his tone that I was becoming a nuisance so I hung up. In the span of two minutes I had gone from an intrepid junior forest ranger who was out to save the park from total destruction, to errant trespassing criminal. (Indeed, on the way out I passed a sheriff coming in but I doubt if he was looking for me)

Anyhow, what exercise I missed out on in distance I made up in speed. I wished I had taken some photos but was too concerned about being deep fried. So Sunday past I went back only to find the park had reopened. I got my pic of the sign (the photos used above were from my second trip in) and then decided to do the loop. Not pretty. Not pretty at all, but I determined that it must have been a controlled burn because it definitely followed the trail edge on one side only and never crossed over, nor did it go deep into the brush.

It didn’t seem to have scared the critters off either. I saw lots hoof prints in the sandy parts of the road, and one wild turkey who, when she saw me, took off into the charred woods. “Mmmm” I thought “roast turkey.”

The fire was still smouldering and for some of the trail it made for some pretty smoky breathing. I wondered how sensible I was being by biking along a smouldering trail (that’s progress, for many years I never stopped to wonder which can get you into all kinds of situations) and whether I should turn back. Maybe someone just took down the sign and the park was still closed. Maybe it flared up again over-night and no one knew yet. I have to admit to being nervous but I thought, it’s like falling off a horse right? You have to get right back on. So, there being no wind, I completed the seven miles, but the ugly charred landscape sucked the fun out of a good portion of the trek.

So just a reminder to all you woodsy folk: make sure your campfire is out before you go to sleep and don’t smoke. Period. Intrepid aging bikers and Smoky the Bear will thank you.

© Judy Parsons 2017
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