You see lots of things while you are cycling. Some are wonderful, some are annoying, some are bizarre. One day in May we see several from each category as we pedal south along the central Texas coast. . .
Wonderful: Five scissor-tailed flycatchers fly from a barbed wire fence and swoop upwards in formation, five rosy breasts arched towards the sun, five impossibly long tails fluttering earthward. The tails flutter like the cloth tails I taped to the kites I flew as a kid.
Annoying: There is no-one else on the road when a blood-red pickup truck, about as wide as the southbound lane, thunders past us without bothering to swerve to the left (as every other truck has done all day). I can feel the hot rush of wind. Maybe he is hung-over. Maybe he is talking on a cell-phone and the conversation was more riveting than three bicyclists – even if we are a rare sight on Texas highways. Maybe he owns the road.
Bizarre: “Alligator,” yells Malkolm as we cross the first bridge over a series of bayous. I look, but all I see is a giant swirl in the dark water. In the next bayou, “Chocolate Bayou” an empty, wide-bottomed boat drifts lazily. Just before I whiz off the bridge I look back and see feeble splashes. A head encased in a red collar rotates slowly about fifteen feet from the boat. I yell to Wendy and Malkolm, check the rear-view mirror and turn around.
“Hey,” I shout. “Are you okay?” I can see now that the red collar is a ‘keyhole’ life jacket that appears to be the only thing preventing the man’s head from being at one with the muddy bottom of the bayou. “Okay,” he answers weakly. He looks to be about 60, out of shape and a non-swimmer. I can see his arms moving beneath the surface. He spins, like a phalarope trying to whirlpool insects the surface, but he gets no closer to the boat.
“I want to make sure you understand,” I yell. “Do you need any help?”
“I’m okay,” he gurgles, as if he always uses his submerged body as alligator-bait after church on Sunday. Wendy joins me and we watch as he wriggles and squirms. He is no threat to make the US swim team for Beijing. I swear it takes him five minutes to gyrate to the boat and grab it. We wait until he has a firm grip before wheeling around and joining Malkolm.