The Early Bird Catches The Slug
More like a snake, really.
It was like a big, black, slimy speed bump on the trail, except this speed bump moved -- very slowly, yes, but it moved.
A slug -- one of the biggest specimens I've ever seen -- was making its way across the trail near the village of Přední Kopanina. It had recently rained, and the forest paths were alive with snails and slugs.
Regular readers of this blog know that I have a soft spot for snails. If I see a large snail crossing the road or path while I'm riding, I'll often stop and pick it up and take it across myself. I just don't like the idea of these cool creatures getting crushed.
Saving snails is a full-time job in the Czech Republic, though. There are so many snails here that the country is exporting them to France, where the populations have been depleted due to the French fondness for escargot.
I've seen plenty of snails on the trails before, but this was my first encounter with gargantuan gastropods. The slug I photographed was more than 20 centimeters long -- a good bit longer than from the tip of my index finger to the tip of my thumb, when my hand is fully stretched.
Here's a fun little fact about slugs that I bet you didn't know. According to Wikipedia, slugs -- which are hemophrodites -- are prone to engage in aophallation, "when one or both of the slugs chews off the other's penis. The penis of these species is curled like a cork-screw and often becomes entangled in their mate's genitalia in the process of exchanging sperm. When all else fails, apophallation allows the slugs to separate themselves. Once its penis has been removed, a slug is still able to participate in sex subsequently, but only using the female parts of its reproductive system."
I observed no slimy hanky-panky on my ride, however.
As for the slug in my photo, I picked him/her up and put him/her in the grass, where he/she was free to do whatever he/she wanted, in privacy.
Perhaps I saw so many snails and slugs on this ride because it was early morning. Very early morning.
I'd gotten up at 5 a.m. in an effort to fit in a ride before work. I've been finding it hard to muster the energy for evening rides lately, and figured I'd do what my riding buddy Rob does all the time and get up and go before most of the world has woken up.
It was quite a shock to hear the alarm at 5, but at least it was a lovely morning.
The sky was blue and brightening in the east, and the sun shortly rose, with nary a cloud in sight. I managed to get dressed and get on my bike by about 5:40 a.m. and set off from my house in Černý Vůl, northwest of Prague.
I headed through Statenice and toward Tuchoměřice on a small country road, but then turned left onto a small trail that heads into the dark woods. It's a beautiful trail, but on this morning it was deep with soft mud. It quickly heads uphill for a kilometer or so, and it was a tough slog. The sun couldn't penetrate that deeply into the woods, and it was chilly and damp.
It's quite amazing, however, to have a forest all to yourself.
A carp breaks the surface of a country pond, looking for breakfast and seen only by you.
The trees are alive with unseen birds all taking to each other at the same time.
European brown hares -- laughably, ridiculously large -- hop across your path.
Pheasants squawk and lift off noisly from the tall grass beside the path in a flurry of feathers.
Sunlights streams through the foliage on a deserted trail deep in Divoká Šárka.
Poppies next to the road near Podbaba.
I didn't see any deer, though. I really wanted to see a deer.
Rob says he sees them all the time in Divoká Šárka, and I passed through a good bit of that Prague park on my early morning ride. You can follow my exact route by clicking below, thanks to my trusty Garmin Edge 305 GPS device:
View Larger Map
The rest of the ride was lovely but uneventful, save for encountering a felled tree blocking my path between Roztoky and Únětice. The recent rainstorm must have knocked it over.
I hadn't thought the storm was that strong, frankly. I had to carry my bike up and over.
I made it back home 32 kilometers and about two hours later, just in time for a quick shower before heading into the office.
I couldn't help but think of that old U.S. Army ad that said, "We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day." Or of Thoreau (WARNING: Pretentious Quote Alert!), who said, "An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day."
Yes, it was only a stupid bike ride, but it was also something more than just working out at the gym. I had touched a slug and seen a hare and smelled the wet leaves and damp earth and felt the warm sun on my neck.
I felt alive.
Length of ride: 32 kilometers
Average speed: 18.6 kph
Maximum speed: 38.8 kph
Time on the bike: 1.41.38
Pivo Index: 0
Distance ridden so far in 2008: 739 kilometers
Big-sky country between Přední Kopanina and Divoká Šárka.
The icy, spring-fed swimming pool in the middle of Divoká Šárka. Empty and calm on this morning, but soon to be filled with screaming kids and topless women.