Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Polecat is a great word. Not knowing exactly what it meant as a kid while watching westerns, it was obviously a negative connotation. Polecats in westen movies were usually villianous, or some type of scoundrel. For my purposes in this setting though, polecat is being used in a less coloquial and more literal sense. Of course I'll be referring to #2 below, being that I reside in North America.

pole·cat [pohl-kat]–noun, plural -cats, (especially collectively) -cat.

1. a European mammal, Mustela putorius, of the weasel family, having a blackish fur and ejecting a fetid fluid when attacked or disturbed.

2. any of various North American skunks.

Skunks are supposed to be pretty intelligent creatures with excellent olfactory (go figure) and auditory senses. They do not see very well though. In my noctournal cycling wanderings throughout Southern California, more than a few have been sighted. A few of those sightings have been along my commuting route on a Class I bike path. Most of the time they hear my approach with plenty of time to react and retreat. There are exceptions to every rule.

A recent weekend night jaunt on the aforementioned Class I bike path garnered an encounter with a polecat that may not have had the best hearing. Zipping along at 0300 with reckless abandon that an empty multi-use path allows is a brand of fun that can be very appealing. This particular occasion saw an empty path that was accompanied by an almost full Moon, lighting things up better than usual. Something moving on the right-hand side of the path caught my eye and the dark object with a white stripe immediately registered as a polecat. Options clicked next; stop and end up in close proximity, swerve right into the dirt to go around, and swerve left on the pavement. The left swerve won by a landslide vote.

Now comes the reason I call this particularly villanous critter a polecat. It appeared to have heard me at the last possible moment and decided to move right into the swerve that was being executed. The polecat appeared to have glanced off of the front wheel, gone under the chainring and then be run over by the rear wheel that had fortunately been lightened with the anticipation of that probability. It all happened so fast, there was nothing left to do but keep pedaling and put some distance on what was now most likely one very angry scoundrel. Upon stopping, it was rapidly determined that in the very few seconds of the encounter, this polecat was able to unleash some of its mixture of sulfur-containing chemicals.

Arriving at my residence, it was time to take a real damage assessment. The bike took a pretty good chemical hit on the front and rear wheels, with the rear wheel even displaying some tail hair stuck to the valve stem. My left shoe and shin were soaked with it and the right shoe got hit some as well. It was then decided to hit the local pay & spray for a quick blasting off to at least get the bike and my leg somewhat clean. The shoes were bagged and tossed into a dumpster, being split leather and pretty much ruined. The socks joined the shoes. For some reason, anti-bacterial hand soap worked to get the funk off of my legs. The next day I followed this formula to get the rest of the funk off of my bike.

The fallout on this encounter lasted about a week. A few spots on the bike had been missed and it took that long to spot-clean the rest of the odor out. Also, my olfactory senses were way out of whack. My sinuses burned for a couple of days and food tasted funny for at least a week.

Pepe Le Pew, yeah he is.


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