I really like it when quirky little things happen to me when I am playing outdoors.  A good example is the time I was fishing and hooked a river monster (flathead catfish?) on the Mississippi River. It dragged me and my canoe across a small bay, swam into a downed tree, and snapped my line before I got to see what it was.  In another instance, I was cross-country skiing a frozen lake in the Boundary Waters, when a Canada jay flew toward me from a distant shoreline. It landed on the crossbar of my backpack, perched there for about 30 seconds, then headed back to where it came from.  I assumed it hadn’t seen a human being for several weeks and just came by to say, “Hi.” 

This afternoon I was attacked by a fish on my bicycle. How he got on my bicycle, I’ll never know. (When I wrote the first line of this paragraph, the old Groucho Marx joke jumped out at me.)

Let me try again. This afternoon I was attacked on my bicycle by a fish. Since the COVID-19 pandemic closed my gym, I’ve been bicycling for exercise. It started with a sixty-minute loop, but now I have the same distance down to forty-five minutes. About a third of the route is through the La Crosse River Marsh. Last night it rained hard enough for the La Crosse River to reach over its banks. When I biked through the marsh today, I found a hundred-foot stretch of paved trail underwater. I didn’t think the water depth on the flooded section was more than six inches deep at its lowest point, so I decided to slowly bike through the long narrow puddle. My shoes got wet on the downstrokes, but it wasn’t too bad. 

Halfway through the submerged section of trail, I noticed something swimming toward me. My first thought was a snake, but then I saw the humped back and dorsal fin of a large carp. It moved left, as did I, and we passed each other by a good foot and a half. The wake created by my bicycle tires must have stirred something in the fish. I didn’t look back, but heard it splashing frantically as it reversed direction. Seconds later it smashed into the side of my rear tire. It hit me from the side three times, then whacked my tire directly from behind with enough force that I felt the impact. 

I assumed the fish was an out-of-control male mistaking me for a female heavy with eggs. Spawning carp don’t have nests, but nudge each other in the shallows while expelling eggs and milt. The amorous carp stayed with me until I pedaled into three other fish bent on the same pursuit. My attacker found them more interesting than me and finally left me alone.

When I taught outdoor recreation at the university, I often told my students that interesting things would happen if they spent enough time in nature. This is a case in point. 

Steven Simpson