• Patrick Gabrion

Enemy of cyclists

Last August, in a blog entry titled "It's a matter of taste," I described my unfortunate encounter with a big bug while cycling on the Kennebec River Rail Trail. The long and short of it is that I ended up digesting the nasty creature. Well, here's another insect tale.


With it being May in Maine, that means we're in the thick of black fly season. Officially, our state bird is the black-capped chickadee, but the annoying black fly runs a close second for many people — mostly because of its notoriety. While not being at all selective when it comes to searching out victims, cyclists are especially tasty targets.


So you want a piece of me, Mr. Black Fly!

The winds of spring, while indeed refreshing, also do a wonderful job of propelling black flies into the back of one's throat. After a few miscues of such morsels, most bike riders finally remember to keep their mouths shut. And don't even think about stopping, particularly when cruising through a wooded area. If I were to get a flat, there's no way I'm dismounting from my bike to change the tube. I'll ride home on the rim any day, as opposed to having chunks of skin ripped out of me by black flies.


With some research, I believe I have a solution to these vicious attacks, easily adapted by those of us who choose to keep pedaling instead of staying indoors. Before going out for a ride, put the following two items in your jersey pocket: a small bag of fine-grain sand and a tiny bottle of Jack Daniel's. If and when you get dive-bombed by black flies, rub the sand on the affected areas and then apply a few drops of the whiskey. With luck, the little bastards will get drunk on the Jack and stone each other to death.


Finally, a rendezvous


The cellphone text said something like "What ya doing tomorrow? Let's meet on 201." Nothing more, but the message was clear.


So the next day, at the appointed time of 2 p.m., I headed south out of Hallowell, connecting with Route 201 in Gardiner. The text messenger pointed his bike north, departed Brunswick, and made his way to the same two-lane roadway in Topsham. It was an enjoyable afternoon for a ride; the sun was bright, temperatures in the 60s, and the spring breezes delivered a plethora of different odors — some sweet and others, like the fresh cow manure spread on fields, not so sweet.


I kept wondering ... Where will we meet up? Who would end up cycling the greater distance? Will we both be mindful of social distancing? Should I have brought a face mask?


Finally, after an hour or so of riding, I saw a familiar figure approaching, recognizing his signature pedaling motion long before I heard his usual greeting of "What's happening, dude?" Yes, it was my good friend Jon, the guy I've cycled with more than any other person in the whole world. Literally, thousands and thousands of miles together.


Once we'd pulled over to the side of the road, keeping a safe distance between ourselves and, more importantly, the vehicles speeding by, it was time to catch up. The topics included how our families were coping with the pandemic, politics, health, food, and, of course, riding bikes. We hadn't seen each other for nearly two months, so there was a lot to cover. After nearly a half-hour, we went our separate ways.


I ended up traveling just over 16 miles that day before I reached Jon; he had gone a hair over 15 miles. So pretty much even-steven. It was a long ride back home, but worth having the opportunity to see an old pal.

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