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Wildlife cycling

Tony Pearson is a blogger and cyclist who loves getting out and about in nature.

Not long after dawn the cool mist lingers over the dew soaked landscape and it feels as if I have the whole world to myself. It’s chilly, but strangely the cold holds a promise of another hot sunny day as the flaming red ball of a fiery sunrise pierces the fog and splits the horizon ahead of me. The temperature may be low but I am fuelled by the prospect of another day of adventure and I can’t stop smiling. I’m travelling at around twelve miles an hour in almost total silence and I’m carrying my world with me on my bicycle. An hour ago as I dozed, wrapped in a cosy sleeping bag in my tent, the dawn chorus penetrated the flimsy nylon skin that barely separated me from the natural world. I am doing something that many people have never heard of, let alone experienced. I am cycle touring.

 

A barn owl experience

Something catches my attention out of the corner of my eye and I can’t help but let out a slight gasp of excitement as I realise I have company. A barn owl is flying just twenty feet away on the other side of the hedgerow and for a few moments we match our speed and eye each other with mutual curiosity. To see the bird in flight like this, but to experience it as though it was stationary is really extraordinary. It’s as if I have somehow stepped into the most sophisticated natural history film set but without all the technology and paraphernalia required to capture this magical moment.


Suddenly I am conscious of how ungainly and clumsy I must appear to this fabulously sleek and beautiful creature as it glides in what  I now realise is true silence, not the poor imitation I thought I travelled in. I feel a certain connection with the bird, we are free spirits, travelling where we please but then I am reminded that I’m not quite as free as I thought because the road bends to my left and takes me away from my travelling companion. The moment is instantly lost, converted from immediate experience to magical memory. Something to be stored away and brought out from time to time, to rekindle the joy and to bring that silly grin back to my face.


 Wildlife encounters

 

I’ve never considered myself to be a bird watcher, or a naturalist. I don’t go out specifically to look at wildlife but my passion for cycling and being outdoors would be like an empty jewellery box without these special moments with nature. The combination of travelling quietly on a bike and camping in a small, unobtrusive tent gets me close to the natural world and brings with it unexpected encounters that are all the better for being completely unplanned.


Like the time I was riding along a very quiet lane in Scotland and in the space of thirty seconds a deer and a polecat crossed the road in front of me one after the other. Or the moment that three leverets burst from the field side next to the road just twenty yards ahead of me. They seemed oblivious to my presence as they chased each other madly round in circles playing what looked to me like a furious game of tag. I was frozen to the spot waiting for them to come out again but they never did. The episode was all over in less than ten seconds but has stayed with me for years.


Life in a small green tent! 

At the end of another day my small green tent quickly becomes absorbed into the landscape and it’s amazing how quickly wild creatures will get used to this new intrusion into their habitat. It’s not unusual to find a hedgehog in the tent porch during the night or to lie in the tent with the first steaming brew of the day while a robin sits on the guy-line and studies me with its bright eyes. Wondering no doubt whether I represent a potential source of food or not. There is nothing quite like being at ground level watching swallows quarter the field in the late evening sunshine. At times they look like they will surely join me in the tent until with an imperceptible flick of their tails they glance away at the last moment and I can’t stop myself from flinching.

There are occasionally penalties to pay for this close proximity to nature of course. Returning to the tent only to find that ants have discovered something sweet and sticky in a pannier or having several thousand midges turn up uninvited for dinner can be a pain but it’s the price I pay for immersing myself in the natural world. The rewards are always worth it. Falling asleep to the sound of a tawny owl and being woken eight blissful hours later by the early morning song of a blackbird are experiences that enrich the soul and make me smile inside and out.


Being a part of nature

 

Cycle touring for me isn’t about an opportunity to see nature but rather the chance to be a part of it and experience it with all of my senses. Seeing, touching, hearing and smelling the natural world and even on occasion, tasting it as yet another fly gets lodged in my teeth or stuck in my throat.


It’s all part of the complete immersion in the environment that brings both a sense of calm and the thrill of discovery in equal measures. There is something very special indeed about spending all of the day and the night outside, witnessing the cycle of sunrise and sunset and becoming a part of the wildlife rather than simply observing it from a detached perspective.
 


Sometimes when I am back home sitting indoors, watching wildlife on the TV, nature feels like something other than, something that goes on apart from, and despite me. That’s when I know it’s time to dig the tent out again, to service the bike and load up the panniers and to dive back into the real natural world that is just the other side of my front door. Who knows what wildlife treats might be in store this time?


Tony Pearson

http://www.gillandtony.co.uk/ 


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