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Spare Parts: Of weather, whitetails and James A. Farley

By Ernie Copper

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” proclaims the inscription high atop the Corinthian colonnades of the James A. Farley Post Office in New York City. Farley, the building’s namesake, was the Postmaster General and was also in the building supply business, which I’m guessing had something to do with his “git-r-done” work ethic.

As Hurricane Sandy becomes a distant memory for much of the country, I’m counting my western Pennsylvania blessings. When it comes to locking horns with Mother Nature, we don’t often make the news. The West has its wildfires, earthquakes and drought, the East Coast has its hurricanes, the Midwest’s Tornado Alley is going to have to add more lanes if traffic increases, and the Southern coastal regions are having 100-year storms on an annual basis these days.

We get a variety of weather in Pennsylvania to be sure, but nothing that ever really changes your plans. Temperatures of over 100 in the summer are rare, and the coldest day of my life was 12 below—I have the newspaper to prove it. We have had tornadoes, but they are rare and thankfully usually limited in their scope. The same goes for flooding. We’re only good for one or two decent snowstorms a year these days, so the threat of an avalanche is nonexistent.

None of our weather events are all that extreme, and you aren’t likely to see Jim Cantore leaning into the wind, broadcasting live from these parts. But still, it takes a versatile and resourceful creature to live here.

The white-tailed deer is just such a creature and is likely the greatest natural threat to the North American biker ’round here, especially during the rut (mating season). Just about the time Hurricane Sandy was roaring ashore, white-tailed deer across Pennsylvania started to forget all they ever experienced in terms of looking both ways before they crossed the street. Fortunately, all that gorgeous fall foliage we enjoy is typically a few weeks before the rut, because the best places to ride and see autumn’s kaleidoscope of color are also the best places to get hit by a rogue deer.

If this deer roulette isn’t dicey enough, your odds of contact increase at night. Deer move more freely when the temperatures are lower. That’s comforting.

It is common to hear stories of bikers hitting deer around here, and when that’s not enough to win the campfire storytelling contest, you’ll hear about the riders who have ridden through a deer! I know such a man and at least one of those stories is a true one.

Statistically speaking, deer were hit 3,400 times by vehicles last year in Pennsylvania, according to the 2011 Pennsylvania Crash Facts and Statistics Report. Nine of those accidents resulted in deaths to humans, but the statistics for loss of deer relative to those accidents is not available, nor is there specific information regarding the number of motorcycle/deer collisions.

It is safe to say that hitting a deer is much more difficult than hitting a utility pole. (9,257 people hit poles in 2011.)

I don’t believe as riders we have much influence over our chances of hitting a deer. They don’t seem to care how visible you are. All the safety yellow in the world won’t keep a deer from jumping out in front of you. Maybe we should dress the deer in lime green. Loud pipes may or may not help; we’d need a beta test to prove that.

I guess we need to remember the problem at hand. These are animals chasing sex and, just like us, they don’t always make good choices when they have sex on the brain. “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” That unofficial Post Office creed applies to sex even more than it applies to mail delivery.

One day a deer may skitter out in front of you; the next they stand at attention, cloven hooves safely planted on the curb until you pass. I don’t eagerly anticipate a deer confrontation while riding, but all things considered, it beats the hell out of waiting for a hurricane that you know is coming.

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