In Search of the Giant Salamander

One of the many things I love about riding my bike every day is that I experience the world up close and directly, not through the medium of a being inside a big metal box that is moving very fast and making a lot of noise while doing so and generally running over every creature in its way.

Luckily for me, I ride along the ocean and through a Redwood forest every day. That means I see tons of non-human animals. Sure there’s all of the common critters: horses, cows, deer, ducks, hawks, millions of bunnies, squirrels, skunks, raccoons, snakes, lizards; the list goes on. While I enjoy seeing these critters on a daily basis, I also get distressed when I see them killed by cars. Obviously the cars are indifferent to the lives they take, unless the animal is big enough to hurt them while they are being killed. We all lose though.

Occasionally, I see other creatures that are less common. These include: coyotes, wild turkeys, owls, eagles, bobcats, lynx, otters, seals, and sea lions. Just the other morning, while riding in the dark on my way to work, I noticed something run across the bike trail, right in front of me. I stopped and was face to face with a healthy looking, young coyote. We were both just looking at each other and both panting a bit from riding/running. Just for a second there was a mutual recognition of two creatures moving fast on a mission. Then we said goodbye silently and parted ways. Until next time!

Every once in a great while though I see something very unexpected from my bike saddle, like a bear, a mountain lion, a giant northern fur seal, or a whale. Those moments are really great! Doing what you love and experiencing some of the most amazing creatures on the planet at the same time is pretty hard to beat.

No matter what kind of critter it is though, if it is in danger (and anything on a road with cars is in danger), I try to help as much as I can. More than once I have stopped traffic for a rattlesnake crossing the road.

So imagine my surprise when I came across a creature near the side of the road that didn’t look like anything I knew existed in our world today. I mean it looked like a salamander, but was way too big to be a salamander, or so I thought. Plus, she was making a really amazing noise and everyone knows that salamanders can’t talk! (Turn up your volume if you can’t hear this.)


Obviously, she was trying to get to the creek below the road, so I had to help her cross the death zone and get her to safety. Once free in the creek we said goodbye silently. Until next time! I have heard this magical sound though once or twice near the same spot, so I hope she’s still okay.

After some research, I found out that she was a dicamptodon ensatus, or California Giant Salamander. They only live in a couple of counties on the central and northern coast of California and only in coastal Redwood forests. It made me realize that there’s so much about the natural world around us that goes unnoticed (at best) by most people, or is just flattened under a car tire without so much as a thought escaping the ordeal.

Preventing one specimen of one rare species from joining the ranks of roadkill won’t save the world, but it’s better than killing everything in your path like cars do. Cars are weapons. Biking is all about making a smaller impact on the natural world. This world needs all the help it can get to avoid being flattened by humans. Our human impact on the natural world is reaching traumatic proportions. Just last year, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization published a dramatic warning about how loss of biodiversity is harming our global food supply. This isn’t just altruistically trying to save animals; This is about saving our own species too.

We need a revolution for making a smaller impact. We bikers can help, but we need to get a lot more people Off The Wagon and on to bikes!

Ride On! And Save the Salamanders!