The Critters of the Northeast
Shira and I were out for a stolen ride. We have spoken of them often – it seems to happen a bit more during the winter. Perhaps it feels a far more rarity to cop 100 good miles in the middle of February than in June.
But the warmer weather of this odd day had other things on the move as well.
We were scootin’ down County Road 519, not far south of Route 94, a few miles north of Interstate 80. The creature that came from the left, just a few hundred feet ahead, was long, thick, and feline. In milli-seconds my brain ran through a litany of impulses…
Critter: Big and Long – Cat - Short Stub Tail – Holy Crap!... a Bobcat!
Although not unheard of in the northwest part of New Jersey there was a time when they were extinct in this region – before being re-introduced in the early ‘80s with 24 bobcats that were brought down from Maine.
In 2019 15 bobcats were struck by vehicles – a record high for New Jersey. These cats were mostly young and didn’t truly realize the threat the hard black dirt and Hrududu made.
But bobcats are just one of many of the creatures of the universe that can cause mayhem as we ride along the rural backroads.
The Nature Conservancy has been working on creating what they call “The Bobcat Alley” which runs, more or less from Johnsonburg to the Delaware River over the Kittatinny Mountains and from Blairstown to the south to just above Stillwater.
Much of this is now protected land and many of the people who live here like it this way; but although few of us throw a party when an old farm is divided up and "cookie-cutter McMansions" take their place – the deeper forests and woods that now dominate this region have allowed all sorts of critters to make a comeback, if not flourish.
What we want to talk about, over the next few months, is just what is out there and their potential to take a motorcycle and rider out.
But, before we get to the biologicals that can cause serious damage to ourselves and our machines let us quickly talk about the smaller creatures of the forest… and homes.
Here is the deal.
If a critter runs across your path and it is smaller or (most important) lower than your axle then you can probably hit it, bounce over it and keep going.
For you mechanically challenged this is the middle of your wheel that allows it to spin.
In this genre' of critters, I'll include the insane squirrels, the stinking skunk, chipmunks, peeping frogs, and the like.
As much as you would like to NOT hit a critter, if you see it and can safely vector around, great. But if it does run out directly in front of you DO NOT TAKE ANY AVOIDANCE MOVES!
More riders (and drivers) have been hurt or killed trying to save Rocket J than you can imagine.
So, suck it up and say you are sorry to the universe, sorry down the road.
I will say that you might try to avoid a house cat or dog – especially big in “Hunting-Mode” dogs.
We have found the best way to avoid an unchained Direwolf is to slow down, let the pooch alter its attack, and then use your machine's quick acceleration to, well accelerate!
But, if you hit a domestic animal, you might, if you are human, want to go and tell the owners of the nearby house. I know – scary, horrible, sucky as it is. But, the right thing to do. That said – look at the home, the cars, and the entire situation and make your own call on this. The last thing you need is to come up to the door and see 'Welcome to Spahn Ranch!’
The other little creature that should be spared and saved if at all possible are turtles. Especially in the spring and early summer when they all seem to feel the need to cross the roads – usual after a blind crest.
Again, use your brain. Don’t stop on a busy road where you will put not only yourself in danger, but other motorists on the road as well.
There are stories of people stopping their vehicles, usually at the crest of a hill, to allow a turtle to pass only to be rear-ended and cause unnecessary chaos. No doubt Tubby Turtle arrived at the side of the road without any knowledge of said carnage.
Also, if you do have the space and time – pull over. If you are riding with others perhaps they can control traffic for the minute it will take you to lift Cecil the Turtle up and help it across the road. ALWAYS in the direction the turtle was headed. In the northeast you will come across Bog, Eastern Box (always so pretty), and painted turtles along with others. Most are docile and are easy to move along.
But there is one that needs a bit of precaution, knowledge, and intrepidness. The Snapping Turtle is the Gamera of these shells with legs. These look prehistoric – ‘cause they are.
This prehistoric-looking Snapping Turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in North America and among the largest in the world. With its spiked shell, beaklike jaws, and thick, scaled tail, this species is often referred to as the "dinosaur of the turtle world" and can live up to 70 years.
If you think, ”Hey, this might be a Snapper?” you are probably right.
Snappers are the only land turtle that cannot retract its head. Most turtles just hunker down when you pick them up, a Snapping Turtle is going to try to hurt you and it can, as their head and neck have really good reach. It’ll swing back and grab your hand in that dino-like beak and then…pow! YOU ARE FRACKED!
But, that doesn’t mean you cannot move a Snapper off the road and away from danger.
Ready - Keep your gear on. All of your gear – helmet too. Grasp the Snapper from behind – just in front of the rear legs.
DO NOT grab it by the tail – you can break its backbones by doing this. Again, do not put your hands anywhere near the front of the turtle… YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
Brace yourself, as they can be heavy and volatile. Lift and quickly move to where it was headed and, as gently as possible, place Gamera down and back away. Take some iPhone images of the now totally pissed-off turtle, and brag to your friends and children later that you are the brave Snapper Saver!
The critters that can kill you!