Roadkill

There's many things I miss about bike touring. One thing I don't miss is the roadkill.

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As any long-distance cyclist could tell you, there is a lot of death at the side of the road. It's easy to miss it when you flash by in a car, but riding a bicycle offers a candid view of both the road's shoulder and the roadside ditch. No critter seems exempt: I've seen everything from dogs and cats to raccoons, skunks, squirrels, possums, deer, antelope, coyotes, foxes, elk and a beaver.

One time, halfway through the flat, hot expanse of Kansas, I pedaled through a scene worthy of a horror movie.  It appeared to be a donkey that had exploded in a linear fashion, and bloody body parts were scattered along the highway for nearly 20 feet. As I carefully steered Miya through the reeking mine field, I speculated on what could have caused such a mess. Coming up with no satisfactory explanation, I mentioned it to a cycling couple from New Jersey that I met later that day. 

"Ew!" Exclaimed the woman, making a face. She and her husband were clearly disgusted, but more with me than with the scene I described. "Why would you tell us about that?" The woman asked.

"Well, you're gonna go right past it..." I pointed out. I'd honestly thought they'd be interested. After all, the tapestry of squished snakes and grasshoppers had started to get boring. At that point in my trip, surrounded by hundreds of miles of flat crop land, an interesting roadkill specimen was my idea of entertainment.

At first, I had found it horrendous. My eyes watered at the sight of a newborn fawn sprawled in a drainage ditch in Oregon. But after seeing roadkill countless times a day, I became accustomed to it. Even the smell stopped bothering me.

Seeing all that roadkill began to warp me. For over a month I thought that armadillos had a pink tint to their gray bodies: I had only seen them crushed at the side of the road, stained by their own blood.  It was only when I saw a live armadillo scurry away from my campsite in Mississippi that I realized their true color. 

It got to the point where, when I saw a deer quietly crossing the road in front of me, I couldn't help but think of it as already doomed. The image of it dead and bloated on the roadside would come too easily to my mind. I had been conditioned to think of animals as roadkill, in much the same way as urban kids might be conditioned to think of animals as creatures in cages at the zoo.

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People, I've noticed, don't like to talk about roadkill. They don't even like to think about it. Part of it is the grotesque image, but part of it must be guilt, too. Because without people, there would be no roadkill at all. We euphemistically call it "roadkill", as if the road itself is to blame.

I think it's time we talk about roadkill. Having seen and smelled my fair share of it, I think we can behave differently, and avoid at least some of the million animal deaths that occur every year at the side of the road. Throughout my bike tour, I became increasingly interested in transportation infrastructure, especially the design of "complete streets" that work for multiple modes of transport. I'd like to suggest another component to the "complete streets" idea: that we should have roadways that are safe for the other members of our biotic community, not just humans.

It gives "Share the Road" a whole new meaning.