Bike Rides: Counting crows and the art of picnic table curling

By Dan Urlick

I took a last look out the picture window before turning in for the night and noticed my neighbor Hank’s bike tracks were completely erased.

He’d only spun by an hour ago and already the mounting snow had destroyed his Trek tire tracks, a textured artwork on the sheet of white canvas that used to be my driveway. I’d have ridden out with him, but it was “Death Week, 2014,” so I was officially on annual quarantine.

The habit of getting good and sick at least once a year is a tradition I’ve carried with me since childhood. The ailments present themselves in varied forms and degrees, from the exotic (who gets Bell’s palsy?) to the traditional (pneumonia, a Death Week favorite).

You see examples of this in nature all the time: The extra wiry Thomson’s gazelle, the loping lion pup,the curious stray gosling paddling against the current, the troubled child, left vulnerable to opportunistic predators like swooping crows or lurking hyenas.

A recent study I read on communications excellence cited personal health as the topic of least interest to your friends and associates, so I’ll tell a quick story before I lose any more readers, then we’ll cut the ride a little short this month.

Thanks to the onset of Death Week, an onslaught of Alberta clippers and some disgusting new meteorological phenomenon from hell called the Polar Vortex (I liked El Niño a lot better — at least it sounds fun, like a Mexican hat dance) I’ve only had three bike rides since the last column; that’s a record low number for any season of any year I can remember.

One ride was remarkable, though, as Hank and I invented a new game just in time for the Winter Olympics while we were taking refuge from the elements inside the main pavilion at Todd Park.

We found the thin layer of wind-whipped snow and ice that coated the smooth floor inside the cold, limestone icebox was slippery; not fall-on-your-butt-and-break-a-hip slippery, but get-a-running-start, slide-across-the-hardwood-floor-in-your-socks kind of slippery.

With several picnic tables stored inside the building, it was just a matter of time before we started sliding them around. Eventually a competition grew from the fun. The idea was to carefully push a table across the whole floor, and see how close you could get it to a row of tables spread across the opposite end without actually bumping them together, an action which disqualified your turn in any given round. It took a couple tries to develop the proper touch but once we did, the competition was on. It was close, as most of our games are, but in the end Hank took the gold and I had to declare him the champion of Sochi Picnic Table Curling.

Just as I was about to close the living room blinds, my eyes turned up from the white canvas driveway and I noticed a murder of crows now occupied the boulevard tree, and then I heard a strange barking, or even laughing sound haunting the night from a distance. That’s when I knew this was going to be a short column and a long winter.

Thanks for riding along.

Traffic Tip: Super Bowl Sunday is the first sure milestone that, optimistically speaking, signals the very beginning of the end of winter.

Hear the Bike Rides Radio Show Fridays on KMSK, 91.3 FM at 1 p.m., or go to dansbikerides.com.

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