Sunday, September 30, 2012

It Just Snapped

By now, I'm sure most of my readers are familiar with my bicycling addiction hobby.  In fact, the 35 miles I rode yesterday (a beautiful, sunny 70F-degree day, with cotton-candy cumulus clouds and the first hints of fall color) brought my total for the year to 1502 miles. It's only the second time in the last 15-or-so years that I've reached that many.  With the riding season in these parts typically lasting until Thanksgiving or so, there's a strong likelihood that I'll surpass the 1609 I rode in 2010.  Woo-hoo!

Anyway, my friend Xavier recently prodded my memory cells for a story that I was sure I'd told before, but I couldn't find it anywhere in my archives.  So, here you are. . .


I have always enjoyed cycling.  When I was growing up, I would ride my bike from one end of my hometown Up North, to the other, exploring new corners of town that I hadn't seen before, sometimes for many miles in a day, by the time I returned home at dinnertime.  My bike was my main form of transportation, in the parts of the year where the sidewalks weren't snow-covered (which, even as far north as we were, was still roughly from April until Thanksgiving) - I would ride my bike to the beach, to my ballgames (both formal and informal), and on my early-morning paper route (my dad would drive me during the winter months; he was The Man!).

When I went to college, I took my old paper-route bike with me.  It was a good, sturdy old bike, and not nearly fancy enough for anyone to want to steal it.  So, for three years of the five-plus I spent in college, I rode my bike to get around campus.  I finally lost that old bike when I lived with some buddies in a house during the summer after my junior year.  At the end of the summer, I moved back into the dorm, and left my bike in the garage, figuring I'd come back for it in a couple days.  Which I did.  But when I went back to retrieve it, the new tenants in the house had run over it with their car, leaving a twisted mess of metal and rubber on the garage floor.  At that point, I figured it was their problem, so I left it there.

Not long after Jen and I were married, I bought us both nice touring bikes (hers was a mixte-frame, a type of 'women's' bike that was only around for a few years in the early 80s), and I started riding the back-country roads around Our Town, for tens of miles at a stretch.  I quickly found that I much preferred cycling to, say, jogging, as a form of exercise, since I could go fast enough that the scenery changed often enough to be interesting, and turning the pedals was a lot less stressful on my knees and legs than running.  Particularly to the northeast of town, there were some really nice, interesting, picturesque routes, that quickly became my favorites.

As I became a more avid cyclist, I made contacts with other avid cyclists, and even convinced a few of my friends to join the ranks.  One such friend was a guy named Tony.  I convinced him to do DALMAC with me, and before long, we were riding together regularly.

One of my favorite routes goes through some rolling farmland northeast of Our Town.  It also passes through some nicely wooded stretches, and the rolling-ness of the terrain, besides being pretty, also makes the cycling interesting.  At one stretch, it passes through some low-lying wetlands, where the swampy ground comes right up alongside the roadway.

One time, Tony and I were riding through this wetland stretch, when we espied a large snapping turtle by the side of the road, his front paws on the pavement, poised to head out onto the roadway, where the imminent end of his existence, in the form of being squashed by a passing truck, certainly awaited him.  This was a BIG turtle; a typical snapper in these parts might be anywhere from 8-12 inches in shell diameter, but this guy was at least 15 inches across.

Tony and I rolled our bikes to a stop, first, just because we wanted to take a look at a truly impressive, and duly formidable-looking, critter.  And, noting how poorly-directed he was, we contemplated how we might redirect him back toward the marsh he'd crawled out of, while simultaneously maintaining the structural integrity of all our fingers, and other body parts.

I suppose that, if we'd been more experienced in dealing with snapping turtles, we might have attempted the old grab-his-tail maneuver, but that seemed fraught with peril for someone, like Tony or me, who didn't really know what he was doing.  We thought about nudging his hind-quarters with our shod feet, but that didn't seem so smart, either.

Finally, Tony hit upon an idea.  He unclipped the pump that he carried with him on his bike (in case, you know, he had to fix a flat, or anything like that), and thought that perhaps he could use the pump as a prod, to move the turtle around, and get him headed back toward the swamp.

In those days, the external tube of those frame-mounted pumps was usually aluminum, but the central piston-shaft was steel, maybe a quarter-inch in diameter; a fairly stout chunk of metal.

So Tony began prodding the critter in the area of his front shoulder, pressing on his hard shell, so as not to press into any soft flesh.  He shoved it once, twice, and again, turning it by 30 degrees or so from where it had been pointed.  He smiled - his plan was working!

About that time, the turtle decided that it had had quite enough of being jacked around by Tony's bike pump, thank-you-very-much.  BOOM! It struck out with its head, snapping the pump in two, even through the steel shaft.  Tony was left holding half a pump, looking dumbly at it, muttering, "My pump. . ."  And we looked at each other, with looks of 'man, are we glad we didn't try to use any of our actual body parts on it. . .'

Actually, I'm not sure we were quite deterred by the mangling of Tony's pump.  We looked around, finding a stick about three feet long, and an inch in diameter, and tried to repeat the pump strategy, but the turtle, figuring he'd already made his point, was in no mood to endure any more jostling, and he quickly did to the stick what he'd done to Tony's pump.  And at that point, we figured, you know, we tried, but the turtle just didn't want our help.  So we got back on our bikes and rode on.

"Stupid turtle!" Tony called over his shoulder as we rolled away.  "I hope you get run over!"  Then he turned back to me and muttered, "Damn turtle broke my pump!


I half-expected to see, the next time we passed that way, a week or two hence, the gooey squashed remains of our snappy friend.  Flattened turtle shells are not an uncommon sight along the side of the road, after all.  But we never did see anything that looked remotely like the shattered remnants of a 15-inch snapping turtle.  So, you know, maybe he didn't need our help after all. . .


  1. Maybe he didn't... but did Tony replace his pump?

  2. "Flattened turtle shells are not an uncommon sight along the side of the wall". Really? I've never seen one, ever! Turtles have been unusual in all the places I've ever lived I guess. Good job on your cycling miles!

  3. We have a nearby 'nature' pond. You know, not the other kind. Anyhow, it's got roads running down either side and plenty of turtles so twice a year the signs go up: 'caution, turtle crossing'. Every time the signs come out the accidents and near misses come up. I can only imagine what it would be like if they were snappers! Fortunately most are painted so they tolerate being 'helped' now and again.

    Snaps are just cool man ....

  4. Sailor - Oh, yeah, he did. You can't go out on long rides without a pump. . .

    Bijoux - Well, they're not as common as dead 'possums. . .

    The area around Our Town is rife with low-lying wetlands, and that's like Turtle Heaven. . .

    Xavier - The 'other' kind? Un-natural ponds?

    We have painted turtles here, too, but they mostly seem to prefer to sun themselves on logs and such.

    If you think snappers are cool, God bless you. I mostly think of 'em as 'dangerous'. Which, I suppose could be 'cool' to a certain frame of mind. . .


  5. being familiar with bike pumps and not unfamiliar with snapping turtles....i was not surprised at the outcome. glad you didn't trust your sneakers to get the job done or tony might be minus some toes!

  6. Lime - Yeah, no kidding. We may be city-slickers, but we're not THAT dumb. . . I was mighty impressed that a critter's jawbone could shear a quarter-inch steel rod, tho. . .

  7. you're the engineer. what's the necessary ppsi of pressure or whatever to get that job done?

  8. Hmmmm. . . lemme see. . . that would be. . . a LOT! And I suppose the salient point is that fingers/toes are not nearly as strong as steel rods. . .

  9. oh yeah, snappers are the coolest. most of my real turtle stories involve 'em- from finding 'em inide my garden fence to trying to trap 'em in back-waters. evin losted a fishin pole to one.

  10. When I was little, I imagined that turtles put on their shells, rather like an overcoat. And so, when I see a turtle in real life, I can't help but have a childish thought run through my head, "I wonder what it looks like naked?"

  11. indeed, i recall having titanium (which presumably, like steel, is stronger than bone) used to hold some rather magnificently shattered bones together.

  12. Xavier - That fishing pole story could be a fun one, I'm guessin'. . .

    Flutter - Well, that's how they do it in cartoons, isn't it?

    One of my cousins has a pond on his property, and he'll pull a turtle out of there and have it for dinner, from time to time. I remember the first time I got a look at the shell of a turtle I'd just eaten, and how the 'backbone' was just integral with the shell.

    Lime - Yeah, titanium is in a whole 'nother class of 'strong-and-light'. Plus it doesn't corrode much, so it's near-perfect for medical applications. . .

    I didn't really mean to be all glib with my previous comment; I actually thought about running thru some thumbnail calcs just for fun. But it makes a lot of difference which grade of steel you're talking about. And I'd guess that pump rods are a pretty strong grade. . .

  13. sadly no. a snapper was walking towards a buddy, he didn't want the snapper near so he picked up my pole and poked the snapper. no more pole, the snapper kept coming, the buddy ranned away.

  14. Xavier - Nice. He couldn't have poked the snapper with his OWN pole, right?