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Animal Encounters

Motorcycling articles by Leonard R.

Leonard - Motorcycle Touring contributor
Touring the open road to unfamiliar places will always bring you in contact with animals. That is one of the parts of touring Judy and I like. Seeing the common animals such as dogs and cats doing a particular thing as you go buy leaves a brief and pleasant impression. Other animals leave a life long memory. The following are some of our life long animal memories.

Canadian Geese We entered Ontario by going through Thunder Bay and connecting to Trans-Canada highway #11. We don't remember where exactly, but some where north of Quimet we pulled off the road into an abandoned granite quarry to eat our lunch. After eating our lunch, we decided to do some brief exploring before heading on North. As we admired the purity and clarity of the quarry water's, we saw what appeared to be a lizard resting on the bottom at about 4.5 meters (15ft.) down. We marveled at this creature and did take a photo. The depth made it impossible to see if it was breathing or making any slight moves. Out of respect we chose not to disturb it. But to this day, we wonder if it was a real creature.

Later the same day, around the Nipigon Lake area we saw a large flock of geese about to transverse the highway about two kilometers in front of us. As we reached the end of the flock, the geese suddenly altered their course and started flying parallel to our right side less then fifteen meters away. We slowed to their speed and they dropped their altitude to a few meters above our heads. The geese and us, traveled together for another ten kilometers or so, before they made a slow curve to the east and fell behind us. In their flight and their honking, they seemed to say, we are both travelers sharing the wonderment of God. Or perhaps they were warning us of the bear ahead.

Motorcycle touring to Ontario's Macleod Prov. Park After seeing the geese and resuming our traveling speed, we came around a flat sharp curve to see a huge dog running down the middle of the road. It was the largest dog we had ever seen. We slowed and approached it with caution, not knowing what it was going to do. Suddenly the dog turned to look at us and we saw right away that it was a bear. Motorcycles can't win a slapping battle with a bear, so we dropped our speed to near zero, preparing to turn and retreat. But the bear kept on jogging for another few minutes and turned abruptly to the left and disappeared into the woods. A short time later brought us to Macleod Provincial Park and our nights stay. Needless to say, Ontario on our first day, gave us some great animal encounters.

Having grown up in Iowa, during the poor times when hunting wasn't done for sport, but for food, I learned the "signs" of nature from my Dad and Grandfather. I learned to listen to Crow calls and sounds, as they are the biggest gossipers in the animal world. They hold no secrets. What I discovered, that I think is unique, if not to you, but to me, is that Ontario Crows "call" different then Iowa crows. For example, in Iowa, the call for "food on the ground", has a lowering fade off at the end of the call. In Ontario, the call is basically the same except at the very end, the call fades upward in tone. Other crow calls varied slightly in differences too, but the basic structure of the call meant the same thing.

Judy and I as well as my son, have had surprising encounters with bugs too. Once Judy and I were traveling along at highway speed through Saskatchewan and she got hit in the face with a grass hopper. We stopped so she could wash the mess off and continued on our trip. Oddly enough, she developed a large bump in the same spot a few months later. The skin at that spot stretched thin. Judy lanced it only to have a tiny black thing pop out. Using tweezers, I slowly extracted the black wire looking thing, which turned out to be the full lower leg of the grass hopper. The wound healed leaving no scar, but it proves that objects can impact fairly deep into the soft skin.

Spiders grandaddy longlegs One time in North Dakota, my son (14 riding behind me) and I set up our tent and left to buy some groceries for our evening meal. We returned, cooked our supper and made ready for bed. Since it was dark, we were using a flash light to make ready only to discover the inside walls and ceiling were covered with Grand Daddy Long Legs. (Araneae/ Araneomorphae/ Pholcidae) It seems someone left the tent fly open a bit and the warmth of the tent must have attracted them. Needless to say, we stripped the tent, spread our bedding on a picnic table and spent the next two hours extracting spiders. We must have gotten them all, because we did not see any for the remainder of the trip. This turned out to be a bad bug trip for my son. Later in the trip he was hit between his fingers with a bee and we had to extract the stinger and give him an antihistamine pill. A few days later, a humming bird flew over the wind screen, only to strike my son in the bare arm. The beak must have caught him just right, as the bird spun off his arm, the bird took about six centimeters of skin with it. For years after, my son had a slight discoloration in his skin where the bird had struck. Needless to say, we never rode bare armed after that.

spiders: tarantula are not often spotted on the road, but occasionally When we lived in Iowa, Judy and I were going East through Colorado, near the city of Pueblo, which is in a fairly rocky and sandy area. As we rounded a curve, we saw a black patch of asphalt about the size of a saucer, walking across the road. Anyway, that was my first thought. So we slowed to see what kind of creature this was. It was a Tarantula making his way home. We passed within a few inches at a very slow speed to get a good look. It raised it's front legs as to wave hello and we passed on by.

On one of our rides through Saskatchewan, we camped on the very edge of a small town. As Judy was fixing supper and I erecting a tent we were occasionally bothered by a few small honey bees. We didn't think to much about it until we started eating. After a few minutes, we realized these little varmints were going to join us in groups. Now, I don't mind sharing my meal, but not with a hundred bees. Our observation made it plain that the bees were only interested in fluid matter, particularly sweet. So we opened a can of regular Pepsi, and laid it open in a bowl about 9 meters away. The trick worked. The bees disappeared. The next morning we found the can and bowl completely empty with only a couple drowned bees. And we suffered no stings.

While going between Longlac. Ontario and Hearst we had to cross a small bridge. As Judy and I approached the bridge, we could see that the surface was shinny blue. I figured it was a steel bed bridge and didn't reduce our speed. But with in a few meters, I realized what I was seeing and hit the brakes very hard and slowed, releasing the brakes as we rode onto the bridge skirt. The bridge surface was full of May Flies. Or Fish Flies as some people call them. We slid and squirmed as though we were on ice. How we made it across with out going down, is still a question. Why were the flies walking and not flying? We fly fish and thought we understood these woodland fairies. But, I guess not.

We have had fun or funny incidents with other animals too. In Kansas, I lost a pair of sunglasses to a Ground Hog. The little critter came right up, grabbed them in his mouth and ran back to, and down his hole. I suppose he wanted to look cool.

cow herding with a motorcycle Once while living in Iowa, Judy and I took a trip to Montana on the old 96 Vulcan and while on a side road met Cowboys trying to get a herd of cattle through a gate. The problem was, the cattle were on the highway and didn't want to go through the gate. So, I pulled the motorcycle and trailer across the width of one lane and stood at the other end to complete the temporary fence. Judy stayed on the bike and managed to take a picture. The cows turned and the cowboys waved in appreciation.

Our first encounter with Whiskey Jacks (Grey Jays) occurred in Alberta. The locals called them "Camp Robbers." I understand why now. We had cooked our supper and was about to eat when a sparrow size bird flew onto the picnic table and snatched a piece of food right off the plate and flew to a tree. A few seconds later, another bird came and tried to do the same thing. We quickly learned to hunch over our plates and keep everything covered. The birds were persistent and stayed on the table, flittering to and fro. We started flicking small pieces of crackers and such to the tables edge, much to the delight of the birds. We didn't learn until much later, that the birds don't eat everything they steal, but horde it for the winter. Very smart birds indeed.

Our favorite bear story to tell around the camp fire involved a young couple. We had camped in a park on the outskirts of Sudbury, Ontario one night. Shortly after we had set up the tent, a young couple in their early twenties arrived and proceeded to set up their camp about six sites away. They removed the coolers from their car and set them on the picnic table. All the while they laughed and cavorted like newly weds. Gee, I bet they were newly weds. Anyway, their dinning was cut short by more primitive urges and into their tent they went. Apparently they weren't aware of how far noise will travel on a cool fall evening. Shortly after they entered their tent and began the ritual of, well, you know... a small bear appeared and climbed upon their picnic table. He quickly discovered how to open the coolers and began his own evening feast. Now Judy and I were in a quandary. Do we try to shoo the bear away and embarrass the young couple or let the bear enjoy his meal? We decided on the later. Eventually the bear left and the couple came back out of the tent moments later and started to walk away from their camp site. We quickly yelled at them and pointed out that their guest had pretty much made a mess of their food. Of course we didn't tell them we had watched the whole event, but said the bear had left just moments before.

Judy and a conversational cat We seem to be a magnet to cats and dogs. Almost every place we have ever camped, we are visited by cats or dogs. I think our most memorable meeting was with both a cat and dog at the same time. We had stopped for a short break, on a ungodly hot day, in a tiny town called Fontenelle, in Wyoming. The town consists of one building. Nothing else. The building is a combination of gas station, post office, general store, tavern and café. We stopped to get gas, and decided to relax in the shade of the building and have a sandwich. While we sat there, an old yellow dog wondered in, wagged his tail, got the visitor petting and plopped down in the shade. He didn't say much. He was the quiet type, I guess. A few minutes later, a Tabby cat jumped onto a chair, then up onto the table. She stayed all the while we were there and proceeded to tell us all about the local happenings. She advised us that the building serves as a hub for all the people living and mining in hills in the area. She was quite the knowledgeable cat. She suspected that eventually the mining would stop and the building would be retired. We enjoyed our conversation with her and she seemed quite pleased to have us as guests. We so admired her, that a few years later we rescued a similar Tabby from the harsh desert behind our home. And she too, was a conversational cat.

In our travels, we have seen animals of all kinds. Once we had lunch near Gateway, Colorado in front of some pictographs, only to have a mooching lizard for a guest. Another time in Northwest Montana, a Moose sauntered by to check out our camp. He did leave a business card of sorts, right in front of the tent opening. In Alberta we caught a momentary glimpse of a Bob Cat peeking from behind a tree with one eye, a few feet from our picnic table. Coyotes have sang to us in the early hours of the morning. Squirrels have begged and rabbits have snooped. Some animals have left us with short histories and others more impressionable memories. One never knows what animal will leave a long impression. But those that do, leave their legacy in our minds for the rest of our lives.

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