The Vulture of Old Maple Hill Road

If you ride your bike a lot, you’ve probably witnessed some very strange things. In my case, the strange things usually happen on Old Maple Hill Road.

Old Maple Hill Road
Old Maple Hill Road in Pender County, North Carolina.

One year, there was a “dead” bear lying peacefully on the side of the road. No tire tracks. No broken glass. No blood. Had I not noticed the lack of breathing, I might have thought it was sleeping. Ninety minutes later on our ride home, the bear was gone. Again, no tire tracks, blood or even hair remained to suggest the bear had been there. If I had been alone on that ride, I might have suspected the bear was a hallucination from the pot brownies I accidentally ate when I was six years old (I’ll save that story for another day).

pavement donuts on old maple hill road
Black donuts are common at the end of Old Maple Hill Road where motorcyclists prove their competence (and sometimes incompetence).

On the less mysterious side of Old Maple Hill Road are the crotch rocket jockeys. The road winds and turns and is rarely traveled by Sheriff’s deputies. This makes it very attractive to hot shots with fast motorcycles who want to prove they can go faster around the curves than anyone else. The multiple crosses along the side of that road have not deterred this motorcycle traffic.

A couple of weeks ago, Lori and I were riding our bicycles down Old Maple Hill Road. It was near mile four that one of those jockeys sped by us from behind. He was keeping a modest speed so I did not expect that two miles down the road we’d come across a wreckage. We didn’t.

About three miles later, the same guy was at it again going the other direction, but the one thing that set him apart from almost all others is that he waved to us. Usually these riders are so focused on keeping their bikes on the pavement that they don’t dare lift a hand from the handle bars. Our only thought was, “He’s friendly.”

At mile eight there is an intersection with Highway 50. That’s where we normally stop to get a drink and turn around for home. On this particular day, that’s also where we heard the sirens. Of course, our first thought was the friendly biker, but the sirens belonged to two fire trucks. Even though the trucks were racing in the direction we last saw the biker, we wondered if someone’s house was on fire.

It took about 20 minutes of cycling to catch up to where the fire trucks had converged. There it was. The motorcycle was in an unnatural position leaning against the electric fence of the blueberry farm. But there was something very odd about the scene.

wrecked motorcycle

Every other wreck on that road has been on a curve. Young and inexperienced CRJs (crotch rocket jockeys) might enter a curve with a bit more speed than they can handle. But they don’t realize they are going too fast until they are already in the radius of the curve. At that point, an experienced biker would lean hard and gas the engine. The inexperienced instinctively hit the brakes which pulls them out of the curve and into the ditch (or oncoming traffic) very fast.

This wreck that we had come upon was on a straight section of road. Had we not talked to the highway patrol officer I never would have figured it out. Lori saw the dead vulture so she had probably already connected the clues.

Vultures have terrible navigational systems during take off. They can’t just get off the ground in a straight line away from oncoming danger. I once hit one with my car because it felt the need to circle around and test my driver’s side exterior rear view mirror. Instead of collapsing in toward the body of the car, the mirror snapped off.

So back to the vulture that Lori saw and I didn’t. It was apparently feeding on a wild boar carcass on the side of the road. As our hero approached, the vulture tried to flee. It fled right into the bikers chest.

He’s ok (the biker, not the vulture).

Until next time…


— UPDATE —

2020-08-30 (two weeks later).

Lori came along with me on today’s workout ride. During the warmup, a pace line of riders quickly approaching from behind passed us. It’s very rare to meet other cyclists on Shaw Highway and when we do, it’s even more rare that I recognize any. The third rider in the line was our good friend Bob. Bob and I have trained together on and off for many years. In fact, we crossed the 2016 IRONMAN North Carolina finish line together. I would recognize him anywhere. It was good to see him out here in the middle of Pender County.

Bob and the pace line moved on ahead to the intersection of Shaw Highway and Old Maple Hill Road. That’s were they stopped to rest and we caught up to them there.

After introducing us to his riding companions, Susan, Paul and Matt, Bob started to tell us a story about how he and Susan were riding their bikes down Old Maple Hill Road a couple of weeks ago. Susan said that just as they emerged from the left hand curve before the blueberry farm, she saw what she thought was a bear running across the road near the end of the farm. As she and Bob got closer to the “bear” they realized it was our hero and his motorcycle.

On that day, Lori and I were wondering who called 911. Susan and Bob were actually at the scene before we were and they were the ones who made the call. A couple more details about the death of that vulture and the wreck of the bike emerged from talking to Bob and Susan.

The vulture hit with such impact that, even though it might not have completely knocked the rider off his motorcycle, it did knock the jacket clean off his body. He was actually conscious and able to talk to them. He told them he thought his collar bone and some fingers might have been broken.

Bob and Susan’s account of the vulture’s kamikaze act occurred before we arrived at the wreck. After the ambulance came and took the biker away, Bob and Susan got back on their bicycles and continued down Old Maple Hill Road (in our direction).

The really strange thing is that Bob and Susan had to have passed us as Lori and I were on our way to the scene. None of us have any recollection of seeing each other that day.

Strange things happen down Old Maple Hill Road.