OVER THE TOP
For Bruce’s final day as my riding companion at Flatwoods Park, I had planned on something spectacular. A trumpet-playing friend might play taps, appropriate since Bruce had addressed me as Sergeant Ohr, and himself first as Private Dagremond, then Corporal, as his mountain-bike mileage climbed from 14 to 21 to 30 daily over the course of a year.
Instead of taps, however, I did something unplanned, unscheduled, and very showoff. I went over the front bar of my Schwinn comfort bike when my jacket caught in the front tire - stop bike, and promptly toss Ohr into the air.
Where has Bruce gone away from Flatwoods? He has gone to be manager of manager management, or something like that, a desk job, as far from the shafts of sunlight breaking through flatwoods’ pines in the morning as one can get.
For nearly a year, while Bruce conducted his job search, we witnessed many things at Flatwoods Park. One was Cat Woman, muscular and petite, and attired in Spandex, whom I referred to as “my girlfriend.” White Woman Jogging was a blond, fit marathoner covered with sun block. Bruce’s Next Wife, a roller bladder, zipped by us with abs of steel, hair of gold.
Lest our “Indian Names” seem chauvinistic, Painful Jogger, a tri-athlete, ran as if a spear had been chucked in his side. The Jesuit jogged called out to God in Spanish as he ran, and when he completed his morning run of about four miles, he got down on his knees on the grass and prayed with his hands outstretched to the heavens.
Say a prayer for all of us, padre.
As if this people parade were not enough reason to come to Flatwoods Park, there were the animals – oh, and plants. Bruce and I puzzled out identifications of three types of goldenrod, saltbush, golden aster, in the company of fleet deer, enormous pigs, startled bobcats - and on May 31, 2006, I bicycled up on a cougar, a panther.
I know: I saw a bobcat, not a panther. That’s why it had a brown tail a couple of feet long.
“Long-tailed bobcat,” skeptics might say.
Folks, I edited MAMMALS OF THE NORTHEAST. I have wrestled with captive panther kits.
All of this sort of whirled around in my head as I soared over the handlebars of my mountain bike. I was not wearing a helmet, thinking such things “sissy-like.” On my way down to the planet earth in a way never intended, all I could think of was not to bang my head on the asphalt first. Instead my left hand went out, turning my ring finger and middle finger 30 degrees to the left.
Then my head hit the asphalt.
“Tim,” Bruce said, “you alright?”
“I think I broke my fingers, Bruce,” I said, and crawled to a standing position. Then, after examining my ring and bird fingers a little, and wiping away blood from my forehead, other hand, and leg, I decided, “I think they’re just dislocated,” and promptly straightened them out with audible sound effects belonging in a horror movie.
To his credit, Bruce did not faint. I got back on my bike and gonzo-like bicycled another 25 miles.
“You should have immediately gone to the nearest emergency room,” my doctor told me later.
“But I thought the emergency was fixed, doc,” I said. “I straightened out my fingers.”
“Buy a helmet, knucklehead,” Joe said, with a shake of his head.
Instead of heading for a hospital, Bruce and I pedaled by Mike Pease’s turkeys, a flock that once included three hens and a multitude of chicks, thinned down to a lesser number since the brood hatched.
I met Mike Pease, St. Petersburg Times’ photographer, when a bearded, long-haired ranger name Grizz, for Grizzly, drove him about Flatwoods in search of turkeys. Grizz stopped the truck to introduce the “writer who saw the panther.” Mike and I chatted and discovered we have mutual friends. Since he took my mug shot for a Times article on my books.
That day, Mike Pease’s pre-Thanksgiving assignment was to photograph a wild turkey, and Grizz did not find one. Such an event is exceptional, for turkeys are almost a daily sight at Flatwoods The next day, when Mike wasn’t there, turkey mothers with a fleet of chicks were at the Flatwoods Park’s Bruce B. Downs entrance. Bearded tom turkeys popped from bushes everywhere. Ever since, any turkey seen at Flatwoods is called Mike Pease’s turkey.
That’s the way it is with wildlife, one day a multitude of sightings, the next nothing. One day you expect to see wildlife, you don’t see it. You give up and expect nothing and see more wildlife than ever before.
That was certainly the case with Bruce’s bobcat, a beautiful full-size creature that shot across our path one foggy morning and has since grown in length with each recitation by Bruce of the encounter.
Flatwoods Park is actually one of five water management district sites along Morris Bridge Road (north of Tampa) the extension of Fletcher Avenue from I-75 east. At least four sites are managed by Hillsborough County as parks. They are remarkable and located along the meandering course of the Hillsborough River. Two of the sites, Morris Bridge and Trout Creek, are canoe launches for exploring the Hillsborough and meeting its Godzilla-like alligators. The sites are open to the public from sunrise to sunset and have facilities at entrances.
Included within the site system are inter-connecting off-road trails, so that one can start at Trout Creek and work one’s way east to Flatwoods or vice versa. Be advised there is a dangerous .4 miles on the road itself.
You can die on the off-road trails. I know because my dental hygienist, Judy, told me so. Her friend did not show up one morning to take her to the airport. He had a good excuse. He was dead in the woods on the off-road trails across the street from Trout Creek. I asked the rangers about this, and it is so. He fell and broke his neck in two places and was not found until the next day.
The experience of flying over my handlebars has given me new respect for bicycle accidents. I now own a helmet, which means I will never fall again. Wear a helmet, tie your shoe laces so they don’t get caught in the spokes, keep your clothing away from the spokes, and have your bike regularly serviced. That way you don’t have to see your fingers pointing in directions you never thought they could.
I still can’t give anybody the finger two month’s later. Some will say this is a good thing.