The Bicycle Chain Saw Massacre

The other day I ran over a snake. On my bike.
Wait, it gets worse. I didn’t exactly run it over. I sort of turned it into a snake salad in the chain and the gears.
For those of you who are eating breakfast or brunch, I will spare you the recipe. And given that last week I shared with you more details than some of you needed to know about the relationship that my cats have with the moles in my yard, I also want to stress that my wife and I support PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), and we’re vegetarians. I like animals. Really, I do!
I certainly didn’t set out to run over a snake midway up the Lincoln Gap. Nor was it my plan to scare off a couple of extremely nice leaf peepers from New Jersey (more on that below).
What happened, essentially, was this. I was passing a pond about a mile below the western summit of the Lincoln Gap on a lovely weekend last month, and I was vaguely aware that there was a car behind me. This meant that I had to stay to the side of the dirt road. But then I saw the snake: a small, olive green garter snake. It darted out into the road from the brush on my right. Because I couldn’t swerve to my left, I zipped to my right — just enough that I bounced into a rut. Apparently, the snake saw the car, too, and so it zoomed back toward the pond as well. Unfortunately, my wheels were now lower than the road, and when the snake bolted, it went directly into the Snake Sausage Grinder that doubles as my bicycle crankset. It was a million to one shot, I think.
Immediately I climbed off my bike, if only because I didn’t think it would be safe to continue riding if I started to vomit. Then, when I saw the condition of the chain and the gears, I walked the bicycle about a tenth of a mile farther up the mountain, where there is a sweeping left-hand turn and a spot where I could assess the situation. The bike was fine. Messy. But in far better health than the snake.
I was staring in disbelief when a very nice couple in a car with New Jersey license plates pulled over.
“Are you all right?” the fellow asked. He and his wife were a casually elegant, sporty pair in their mid-60ss. They could have modeled for LL Bean.
“Oh, I’m fine,” I answered. “It’s the snake that’s seen better days.”
And that was when they saw the snake dangling off the bicycle chain. Instantly the color drained from the woman’s face. Of course, it might also have been the smell. The snake — not me, honest — smelled like feet. According to Joseph Schall, a professor in the biology department at the University of Vermont, this is an “anti-predator tactic.” It is also, apparently, a tactic that is more effective against bigger snakes and hawks than it is against bicycles.
“That’s a snake?” the woman asked.
“Well, part of one, anyway,” I answered. “The rest … never mind.”
They couldn’t get up and over that mountain fast enough. It’s not often that experienced drivers burn serious rubber on the Lincoln Gap, but they sure did.
A number of years ago I had a dead bat in my woodstove, and I thought that was the most disgusting thing that I would ever have to clean up. Wrong. I was able to dispose of the bat with a spatula. The reptile? It took the garden hose.
Consequently, I’m a little relieved that the bicycle season is drawing to a close in Vermont. I hate to think how long it would take me to clean up the crankset if I happened to run over a moose.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on November 4, 2007.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

2 thoughts on “The Bicycle Chain Saw Massacre

  1. SnakeOnTheFastLaneToGlory says:

    Hmmm, well, it’s best to be philosophical about this sort of thing. For instance, as a child, I once saw my Siamese cat “play” with a garter snake. The poor snake had to endure getting shredded to death (I tried to stop the “festivities”, but a determined Siamese is hard for a kid to fight). I think my cat was enjoying herself greatly, but the snake probably wasn’t feeling much glee. So, your death-by-bike snake probably went a lot faster than my death-by-kitty snake did. I’m not a vegetarian, but I don’t eat snakes (or moles). Still, chocolate is the only thing to be eating when reading these types of stories…

  2. AnEmptyStomachIsBest says:

    PS: I meant: eating chocolate as a comforting diversion from the grim realities of your story, but the possible connection between what happened to the snake, and eating something gooey and brown…(ummm, maybe you should just strike that last line from my comments)…

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