Dirty Words: The Wood Spirits Ride Again

By Sal Ruibal

If you spend a lot of time in the woods like I do, you see things that just don't exist in the day-to-day world of MTV and that computer pad thingy: Organic things, messy and mossy things, spooky things and recently, really freaking crazy stuff.

Where I ride has a history of spirit sightings. Perhaps it is because the shallow ditch that parallels the paved county bike path was once a Civil War trench where men fought with muskets and bayonets. Blood was spilled and lives lost.

There have been suicides and even the accidental death of rider who slammed into a tree.

This summer, a violent wind called a Derecho raked its nails across the forest, ripping down trees that emerged from the earth 60 or 70 years ago, ripping them apart and exposing and splintering the raw wood inside.

That energy released spirits that had been dormant for decades: Some of them are benevolent, others are troublemakers.

We know this because several years ago the county mistakenly disturbed an indigenous tribal burial ground by allowing mountain bike trails to traverse the sacred place. Insensitive intruders used the spot to do drugs and drink alcohol, actions that stirred the spirits to retaliation.

Not long after, there was a multiple-car crash on adjacent Interstate 495 that resulted in serious injuries. By the next spring, the trails were rerouted and peace returned to the land along Accotink Creek.

But then the Derecho released a few spirits who have appeared for brief moments, but then quickly dashed into the thicket.

Last week, I rode through some of the areas that were trashed, trying to figure out how to move a half-dozen huge trees that fell near the railroad tracks. I love to take photos of the Virginia Railway Express as it passes several times a day and night, so I had my camera with me.

For various reasons that I won't explain right now, I felt sleepy and decided to lean my bike against a tree and catch a few winks before the 5:15 afternoon train passed.

I closed my eyes and immediately fell into a dream state, or what felt like a dream but looked exactly like my woods.

I heard a high-pitched voice, barely audible but also clear. It was laughter. Another voice joined in, this one speaking in whoops and hollers.

I wiped my eyes with my bike gloves and as the scene came into focus, I saw two tiny bike riders, perhaps just two inches high, racing their tiny bikes across the splintered tree above my head like Ned and Tomac at Moab.

It was a race, and the rider in red was in the lead, then the tricolor jersey guy went to the front. On and on, they rode, taking incredible chances on the wooden singletrack.

For an hour or more they clashed, sometimes laughing, sometimes cursing the horrific trail and the stamina of their opponent.

I was mesmerized by their epic ride, wanting to egg them on with shouts of encouragement but fearful that they would disappear. My head was spinning: Should I intervene if one is injured? How would I explain going into the Emergency Room with a tiny biker in the palm of my hand?

Just when it seemed that both riders would tumble off a cliff, they rode straight down the precipice and discontinued the fight, taking a route back to wherever they came from.

Was it a dream or a hallucination from incidental contact with the strange herbs and berries that grow on that hill? I don't know, but I do know that when I was leaving the park, I heard two tiny voices somewhere in the growing darkness.