SPEAKING OF SCARY TRAVEL STORIES
Unrelated announcement: See my latest article on Home Goes Strong, “Renovation Basics, What You Should Know Before You Remodel.”
I was not looking for trouble. As you may know, my riskiest activity is bicycling and I do so with great caution, riding on sidewalks, wearing a helmet, using a Velcro travel mirror on rental bikes, lighting up like I’m Las Vegas when the sun goes down.
I’ve biked in some scarily trafficky locations for a worrywart, like Beijing, Paris and New York. So the last thing I expect is to have the bejesus scared out of me on a bike trail in Niagara-on-the-Lake (near, but nowhere in sight of, the terrorizing falls) where summer-green vineyards soothe on one side and a lazy blue-green river meanders on the other. On my first day out, I am biking along in a dream, when I emerge from a short stretch of sun-dappled woods (I know all this is a cliché, but it’s precisely my point that this whole place is a cliché of sun-dappledness).
Just as the shade trees part, I spy in front of me a fox. Tightening my hold on the handlebar grips, my legs spin the pedals fast as a pinwheel at sea. The fox continues strolling, like we’re two neighbors passing on the street in the kind of neighborhoodwhere folks go about their own business and don’t acknowledge one another.
Then, swifter than I could say “Gadzooks, a fox!” this guy from nowhere bicycles up close and says, “There are plenty of foxes around here. They’re just looking for food, nothing to be afraid of.” And I’m thinking “Oh, yeah?” but I say “Whew, that’s a relief.”
Then he adds, “What you need to look out for are coyotes.” The bicycling bearer of impending doom hears me gasp and tries to reassure me, “The coyotes usually won’t hurt you (here, I breathe out, but only a little). . . unless they’re in a pack.” What?! My brain is doing a jig trying to figure out when I run into a pack, am I supposed to pretend I’m a rock or ought I skeedaddle?
Maybe Guy on Bike is perversely trying to take it down a notch when he says, “What you really need to be careful of is all the ticks.” He reports he plucked two off his leg this very morning.
Funny how everything is relative. Without the coyote scare, I could have made a whole day out of dwelling on ticks. As I pedal, I keep glancing down at my legs in search of blood-sucking insects and the Target logo. I mention my plan to bike the vineyards tomorrow, hoping he’ll steer me to some especially scenic areas. “I hear they’re lovely,” I say.
“Yes, they are,” he answers, “but watch out for drunk drivers, they’re everywhere.” He cites wine tours and out-of-towners who indulge to excess. I’m impressed by how many alerts he has managed to cram into such a short span of time, but is this guy for real?
Or is it me? Do I have some kind of anxiety feramones that attract frightening information? I wonder whether other people encounter admonitions like this wherever they go. Maybe they do and just don’t take notice.
When I return to my bed and breakfast, the uber-involved owner sits down and pours us both a glass of wine. I tell her about the doomsayer and that I plan to bike the vineyards tomorrow. “Keep an eye out for chemicals in case they’re spraying the
fields,” she replies.
The next day, before wheeling around to admire the grapevines, I saturate my skin with deet (I know, I get the irony, it’s a tradeoff) and put on my neon yellow windbreaker so drunk drivers will at least see me. On the ride, I sing Christmas carols to keep the coyotes at bay, and I keep an eye out for chemicals.
I return to D.C. with nothing worse than one poison ivy bump. (Come to think of it, I was warned about that too.) It is a relief to be back in a place where the only things I have to worry about are crime and terrorism.
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