Since we left Lithuguyistan some two-and-a-half years ago for the hinterlands, my balance of attention while riding has shifted dramatically.
In the urban and suburban mix, most of your attention is devoted to teasing out the human hazard threads from the fabric of the riding environment. Oncoming cars and sudden careless left turns across your path, cars exiting parking lots and driveways unexpectedly, road hazards left behind by slovenly workcrews, construction debris and common litter, oblivious pedestrians with iPods and lattes blithely appearing out of nowhere, red-light runners and overt hostility are all part of the game, tossing and tumbling in various proportions as the miles pass by.
But out here, there are so few intersections to speak of—those benchmarks of hazard for motorcyclists—the human hazard is drastically diminished. Certainly the same foolish and thoughtless behaviors exist here; but there are so many fewer people exhibiting those behaviors that the level of risk they represent is dialed down dramatically.
The slack is taken up by a different kind of risk, one that certainly existed in the suburbs, but has much greater import out here—the wildlife, otherwise known as Meat Rockets.
These silent, stealthy menaces wait along the roadside, suicide bombers on an anti-human jihad, ready to hurl themselves into traffic with eighty pounds of venison strapped to their ribcage in a valiant effort to take us out. The term "Meat Rocket" was coined of necessity; by the time a sharp-eyed spotted calls out to the driver "Hey! Look out for those deer on the roadside up ahead..." it's probably too late. But a crisp "MEAT ROCKET!" alerts the driver to all they need to know.
And it's an apt term, if you've ever seen the crazed and inscrutiable boltings of a buck, a doe, a fawn, or even a lowly squirrel. As fighter pilots described the spiral corkscrew of smoke from a SAM locking in on their doomed airplane, so could you try to describe the path of an incoming Meat Rocket, hell-bent on your destruction. Whether the Meat Rocket finds it's target, forces you into evasive manuvers or simply distracts you and leads to a crash, the final score is usually the same: Meat Rocket 1, Rider 0. Frequently, the final score is a tie, with both sides losing badly.
These furry roadside IEDs—Insane Executioner Deer—exist by the thousands. For each one that is killed, ten more are waiting to take its place. Needless to say, there is never a good outcome from an encounter, particularly if you are on two wheels when targeted. [I have heard apocryphal tales of late model BMWs rending deer in twain; the massive A-arm casting of the paralever front suspension both withstands the impact by transmitting it directly from the front fork assembly into the stressed-member engine/frame assembly, while at the same time neatly cleaving the incoming Meat Missile. Most other traditional fork tube suspensions are too flimsy to endure such a violent impact and fail with devastating consequences for rider, bike and meat missile.]
Certainly squirrels, birds, rats and pigeons are common enough hazards in the urban or suburban motorcycling environment; they represent the small-arms fire of this interspecies battle. Deer are even common enough in our modern world that most riders will grow accustomed to looking for them, particularly at those seasons of the year when the jihadi blood runs hottest. What I still have a hard time getting used to is cows.
Cows are the ICBMs (Immensely Collossal Beef Missiles) of the human/animal intifada.
Several times this summer I have encountered a lone loose cow on the two-lane country road in the few miles between my house and the main road. There's absolutely nothing like first thing in the morning leaving for work, heading down the road with a song in my heart, leaning into the fourth ess-turn of nine, rolling on the throttle, coming around a perfectly-banked right-hand sweeper...and there, standing full-across both lanes, stands 1200 pounds of black-and-white bovine inertia without a care in the world.
Now, I understand that some of these ICBMs are designed to go off on contact; others are proximity-fused, and you'd best keep your distance. Do you cut the red wire or the green wire? You do neither; it's a tense little standoff. These ICBMs cannot be defused, reasoned with, cajoled or otherwise induced to do your bidding. I stare, and snort. Pawing the ground impatiently, I blip the throttle. No reaction. I honk once. No reaction. Eventually, I shut off the engine and wait patiently, and in the end, this seems to produce the best results. With quiet grace and dignity, and a modicum of mutual respect, we go our own ways unmolested and unharmed.
I stop at the end of the next driveway and walk up to the house in all my riding regalia, letting the neighbors know once again that Bossie got out, and hope everyone else heading out is paying attention this morning.
There is a certain cognitive dissonance when an ex-city dweller finds themselves delayed by a cow who is not particularly concerned with someone else's schedule. It's refreshing in a peculiar way, and in truth, it is comical (when the outcome is good) and a pleasant counterpoint to a commute built on sitting still in interstate highway traffic.