Monday, September 12, 2005

Catch and Release

Not a great cycling weekend, this last one, 91 on Saturday and 89 on Sunday, humid both days and very windy. Sunday I rode to church. I unwittingly joined the Saint Paul Classic Bike Tour for a bit of my route. I'd ridden down Hoyt and worked my way through the neighbourhood to Como Ave where, from a distance, I could see a surprisingly large number of cyclists passing by. When I got to the Stop sign, I remembered why; this big 31-mile bike ride was going on, and there were cops at the big intersection and cones marking off lanes. I rode down Como with the flow of cyclists. At the Intercampus Transitway, one of my favorite routes to downtown and the University, the Saint Paul Classic turned left and headed up over the bridge while I carried on down Como. I turned on Raymond and passed under the Transitway but discovered at Energy Park Drive that the Classic had rejoined me, getting off the Transitway at Energy Park and doubling back. A bunch of us got clogged up at a red light at University and it was the same group I'd started off with. We rode down a block and they all turned right. On my own again! Another block and I turned, and sure enough, there they were again, all pedalling down Pelham. I was mingled in with the crowd until the Lake/Marshall bridge, where I got off to cross the Mississippi as the Classic continued on down the East River Parkway.

I have mixed feelings about these big rides. I thought about doing it, but it would have been $40 for me and $12 each for the kids. Sixty four bucks to ride on public streets in a crowd on a muggy day seems a lot of money to me, we can do this anytime, without all the others crowding us, and on a nicer day. Sure, we don't get a t-shirt, but we have too many clothes anyway and I have three t-shirts from my bike race volunteering earlier this summer. On the other hand, to people who don't ride much (including, for instance, my wife, were she to do it), cracking off 15 or 31 miles is a real accomplishment and the safety of closed-off streets, traffic police at big intersections and coned-off pathways makes it less intimidating than riding the same route on a normal day. For some people, it's a way to safely test their ability to ride intermediate distances on the bike, see the town and gain confidence, and that aspect of the ride is great. It's just not for me.

We caught our groundhog. I ran a picture of him outside our kitchen window a couple of weeks ago. He was actually pretty cute and if it weren't for his digging holes all over the place I wouldn't have minded him being around. Also, he kept pooping on our back patio. I did try to kill him one day, we came up to the driveway in the car and he was munching grass right next to the driveway so I tried to run him over. He saw us and took off running with the car right on top of him. Our driveway kind of weaves around this big oak tree and I hadn't felt the characteristic "thump" of hitting an animal so as I slowed down he ran from in front of the car over to the house and dived down one of his holes, although it looked to me in his rush that he bonked his head on our siding first. It must have been a pretty hilarious sight from in front of the car but secretly I was kind of happy I hadn't hit him.

Anyway, on Saturday we rented a Havahart live trap (a Model 1045, judging from the website) and baited it with slices of peach, some tiny carrots and nice lettuce. I put this outside his garage hole, which he'd started work on, very industrious this little bugger. Nothing happened. After church Sunday, Henry and I saw him by the kitchen patio hole, so moved the trap there. Five o'clock passed, the 24-hour mark on the rental, and nothing. About 6:30, I was in the living room and mentioned to Henry that he should peek out the kitchen window and see if we'd caught anything. I'd half expected to nab myself a succession of squirrels and rabbits. Dad! We haven't caught him, but he's right by the trap! We zoomed upstairs, so as not to startle him, and watched out the upstairs porch window. We quietly gestured Karla and Geneva in as well.

What followed was five minutes of some of the finest family entertainment we've ever had. Mr. Groundhog warily looked in the trap. The food looked pretty alluring. There is this plate in the center that, when weight is applied to it, releases doors at both ends of the cage, catching the prey inside unhurt. The food was on this tray. Mr. Groundhog nosed around, then sat down and began to eat. He liked the peaches; they went first. He crawled out to eat one, then went back in to get the other and actually sat in the cage eating it. He came back out and examined the cage some more, getting up on his back legs and looking over the top while hanging on one of the sprung doors. I was afraid he'd trigger it while on the outside and then there'd be no way he'd get close to it again. This all happened at an excruciatingly pace. The door didn't trigger. He went back in and ate the lettuce in a leisurely fashion. He got one carrot and came back out and sat down to eat it, then nosed around some more. He looked wary, and at one point looked as if he might go back down his hole. Maybe there were pedestrians walking by in front of the house or something. Fortunately, there was another carrot, and it had fallen off the back of this angled plate; to get it, he'd have to step on the plate. He looked around, nosed back in, and with agonizing slowness tentatively moved down to the middle of the cage. The tension in the Cole's back porch was thick! He saw the carrot, moved forward onto the plate, it didn't spring yet, another step and SNAP!, the doors slammed closed and a roar went up from the crowd! We had him!

We tumbled down the stairs and went out to have a look. He was unhurt but unhappy and had lost interest in that last carrot. He made little clicking noises at us which I expect indicated displeasure. Now what? We got the pickup truck out and put the trap in the back. It's an extended cab Ranger and fit all four of us comfortably when I got it eight years ago, but is now a real squeeze. I recalled a good spot from my bike ride to the J.A.R. bridge in August; the Bryant Avenue bridge that dead-ends next to a wetlands and has railway tracks and a busy street between it's turnaround and any homes. I don't want to inflict this guy on any other homeowners (actually, in a couple of un-Christian moments, we'd cackled at the prospect of releasing him by the homes of some deserving individuals, but our better natures reasserted themselves). We drove down there. Unfortunately, this bridge had chained and locked metal gates closed across it. Hmmm. We drove on down to the J.A.R. bridge at 66th Street in Inver Grove Heights. It's all overgrown wetlands and forest right there, too, and the bridge sure isn't used. We parked there, got the trap out, opened the door and...nothing. All of a sudden he loves the cage. We gave the reluctant Mr. Groundhog a jab with a stick. He took off out of the cage and went zooming off into the undergrowth exhibiting the same burst of speed he must have had when I tried to mow him down with the Avalon. Born Free! As free as the wind blows! I hope he has a happy life.


annie said...

Nate and I accidentally joined the Classic too, although by the time we got out it was almost over. We did get stuck with them going up the "hill" from the river road under the Lake St bridge up to St Thomas, which kind of sucked because they were going slow enough to make me worry about falling over, but I felt really rude whizzing past them. I did it anyway though. I didn't want to fall over.

Doesn't the shorter route go up Ramsey Hill? I was hoping to see some of that carnage, but when we got to that end of Summit the ride was clearly over as there were no Huffy-riders in sight. Oh well!

Matt said...

I was in early, shortly after 9:00 late in the course on a ride that started at 7:30, so the riders I encountered were serious and fast. I do think the short, 15-mile route goes up Ramsey Hill, which is a pretty brutal short climb. I expect that a lot of those folks end up walking up. I've done it myself!

annie said...

I didn't leave my house until almost noon, so the riders I encountered were the ones that took four and a half hours to ride 15 or 30 miles. It made things interesting!

I'd have to walk up Ramsey too if I was riding bikes like all those people had. Those bikes probably weigh as much as I do!

Anonymous said...

Another advantage of massive organized pleasure rides like these is that they are 'festive.'
There is food, entertainment and so many people enjoying themselves that it's contagious. That in itself is worth going for, especially for people who don't ride very much.