The Butterfly Question

Sep 8, 2010
Outside Magazine

During aggro gravity sports like downhilll mountain biking and skiing, keeping your focus is important. Sometimes that focus can overtake your consideration for others on the hill. I can't lie. I've had problems straight-lining past yardsales on my skis and bouncing by pulledover mountain bikers—only realizing later I should have offeredhelp.

So, I've worked to fix this undesirable trait. I made a concerted mental effort to train myself to immediately register people in trouble and offer help, whether they're yardsaled skiers or stopped bikers. It’sbeen working. But this summer, I've experienced a side effect ofheightened awareness. I keep noticing all these butterflies on downhill bike trails, all the time,everywhere, flying under my wheel.

The first time I noticed one small yellow butterflydisappear under my wheel, I tookmy eyes off my line. I almost clamped my brakes. I was milliseconds fromdisaster when a small, seldom heard, rational part of my brain halted theknee-jerk reflex. It would havemeant hitting the ground unpleasantly and getting run over by the rider behindme. So I rode on, keeping my horrorto myself. And then I saw thescale: the butterflies were everywhere. It's been a plague ever since.

This butterfly has no concept of the danger it is perched next to...

“Oh yeah,” said my friend Sarah, nonchalantly when Imentioned all the butterflies in the trail.  “That happens. I got one in the mouth once.”  My horror increased.“What’s wrong with you?“ My sisterwanted to know, from her butterfly-free office in Manhattan. “Didn’t you stop to see if you actuallydid?” I mumbled something about crashing the bike, injury, surgery, if Ichecked on all the butterflies.

This is not a part of what I thought I’d be concerned withwhen I decided to check out DH biking. Steep trails and rocks, armor, and speed, and big fun bikes, clip-insversus flat pedals, sure. Butterflies? Not so much.

I don’t know any lepidopterologists. So, I found a good substitute in KatieMahoney, a wildlife biologist at the Teton Science Schools. I was hoping to hear butterflies arequick if they need to be, and the situation is not as dire as it seems. “Hm.I’d say you are probably killing them,” said Mahoney. “I don’t officially know much about butterfly reflexes, butI’d bet they are not that fast.”

It wasn’t what I wanted to hear. But I can’t say that I‘ve altered my biking speed. And I'm sure this happens in nature...a moose, for example, might step on butterflies, right? So, I justmutter regrets to the butterfly, and hope deeply that it only looked like itdisappeared, yet fluttered over to the other side of the trail behind me. At least I have managed to continue tobe aware, and manage to stop and check on fellow bikers. But I kind of miss the oblivion.

 It's almost as if they like to be near bike tires....

--Brigid Mander

Filed To: Adventure, Biking

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