Day Four: Carlton to Twisp.
Mike saw it first. “What’s that?” I heard him say. I glanced in my mirror. Mike was standing up in the pedals peering at the way ahead. I looked where he was pointing. There in the middle of the deserted road, a hundred yards away stood an animal. It had spotted us some time before and now regarded us with its wild, creature eyes.
Rain woke me from a deep sleep and a troubling dream. I was walking on a twisting path through a tangled wood. Someone was calling for my help but I kept getting lost. Somewhere far off a cat was walking back and forth along a piano keyboard. Dreams can be surreal like that.
I keep a flashlight hanging from the clothesline in my tent, I sat up and switched it on, glanced at my watch; 3:30 A.M. I drank from my water bottle, lay back down and pulled the sleeping bag over my head. The rain tap-tap-tapped me back to sleep.
The morning broke clear, the rain had passed and now bright sunlight streaked through the fabric of the tent giving the space a yellowish glow. I got up and walked to the bathroom. When I returned, Mike was already packing up his tent. “Let’s skip breakfast this morning and hit a café in Twisp. I have a lustful craving for eggs over easy.”
“Suits me,” I said.
The day’s ride was to be short. 12 miles to Twisp and our four-day bicycle trip around eastern Washington would come to a close. In a little under ten miles, we’d reach the turn-off to the Loup Loup Pass. Another couple of miles and we’d be at the car. It was such a nice day neither of us wanted the trip to end.
We rode out of camp and onto the highway that follows the Methow River. It was early and there was little traffic. Tens of minutes, quarters of hours would pass between cars. The temperature hovered in the low 60’s and with the sun still low in the sky we raced with our shadows.
The road along this stretch of the river valley is bordered at intervals by both wild country and cultivated farmland. Orchards and alfalfa fields are interspersed with groves of willow and alder and sagebrush, green this time of year. We stopped for a water break at an overgrown meadow near where a stream wound down from the rocky hills above. Animal signs at the small pool were abundant.
Later, as we rode through a particularly wild section, we spotted an animal standing in the road ahead. It stood at the top of a small rise, to one side was a hay field, dense woods grew along the other. “What’s that?” I heard Mike say. I glanced in my mirror. Mike stood in his pedals and peered ahead. I slowed my bike.
“A dog?” I said.
“Big for a dog.”
We slowed down a bit more. The animal had spotted us some time before and was standing frozen, watching us approach. As we neared its form became clearer. “Damn,” Mike said, “it’s a fawn, can’t be more than a couple of weeks old!”
We were less than ten feet away when she finally sprang. Off the pavement and into the woods to my right, she bounded down the embankment and took off on a line parallel with the road. She was a few feet ahead of me, down and to my right, crashing along through the underbrush. I had a clear view as she sped along on those legs like steel springs. She was brown-colored with darker brown—going to almost black—blazes along her back. I picked up my cadence to match her pace.
Why she didn’t choose the safety of the deep woods right away is a mystery, but as we raced along, side-by-side, I watched in fascination as she darted between trees and leapt over rocks with a surety of grace and elegance of movement that would make a champion slalom skier seem awkward by comparison. And for just an instant, in my own clumsy and human and mechanical way, I was a part of this amazing tableau and I understood in some dim and long-forgotten way what it means to be wild and free.
Then, in an instant, she wheeled, and with a flick of her tail disappeared into the darkness of the forest.