Sweeping around a wide open corner in the lush, green farmland outside Altoona, Pennsylvania in full throttle descent a beautiful quintessential farmhouse stood atop the hill completing the idyllic scene.
Then, I saw him. The farm dog.
He leapt off the porch in magnificent form that impressed me more than scared me because a good 150 yards separated me from the house, and since he would have to chase diagonally across the vast front yard, I figured the chances of him catching me were slim to none.
I flew down the hill about 35-40 mph on the rental bike I rode while covering bike races. This was my free day to explore.
Suddenly I realized the pooch gained significantly as he charged down the hill faster than I’ve seen any canine. Oh shit.
The curve straightened, and now he had the angle on me. He hit the road 20 yards behind and made up that cushion in a blink of an eye.
At my speed, stopping was out of the question. I stopped pedaling so he didn’t have anything to nip at. What followed was the most surreal experience I ever had on a bike.
I looked down as this dog, galloping at 35 mph, gently opened his mouth, tilted his head, and put that mouth around my ankle.
His legs pumping in perfect unison, his full body thrusting up and down, and his head as still as a meditating monk. He eventually lost interest, slammed on his brakes, and headed back up to the porch.
Blown away, I rolled to a stop and looked at my ankle, dripping with dog spittle. Are you kidding me?
I told that story for years. Finally, one day, I told it to a farmer. He shrugged. Aw, that’s just a cattle dog. That’s how he moves the cows around. Puts his mouth around their ankles.
I lived and rode in Southern California for 10 years and was chased by four dogs. Total. When I moved to Tennessee, and rode in Appalachia, I got chased by at least four dogs every ride.
With our move from Tennessee imminent, I hit the road for my final farewell ride. My favorite route that, well, included the nastiest dog I’ve ever encountered.
Most of the time I got the jump on him, and I was long gone before he could react. But on the occasions he has forced me to stop, it’s a healthy 10-15 minute ordeal. He gets vicious. I. have to wait for someone to pull him away.
So my preparation for escape began. I started cranking. Shifting it up to my big ring upfront and, BOOM!
The chain drops, my leg plummets toward the Earth with no resistance. That pulls me completely down to the left, with my handlebar snapping in that direction.
Suddenly my front tire is perpendicular to my rear. That sends my ass flying up over my head as I flip forward.
In the olden days, that wasn’t so bad of an ordeal (Oh, yes, I have childhood flip stories). However, with today’s technology, your feet are clipped into your pedals. So, whereas in crashes past the bike is slow to follow if it does follow at all, it now not only follows, but rips your leg muscles asunder as it does so.
I managed to roll my shoulder as I land, avoiding a full impact. I’m not so sure I rolled my shoulder as in, once again, my Dad guided it just right, always my guardian Angel. I smack the back of my helmet on the pavement, and scrap my knee as it brings the bike full circle for its landing. I lay in a daze, hurtin’ like hell.
It takes more than a minute or two for me to take inventory. I’m thinking a dislocated shoulder or broken collarbone are possibilities. Hell, Dr. Wood wouldn’t release me to play football or wrestle back in high school because I have some sort of deformation in my collarbone, and he said it would pop out like nothing with the slightest hit on it. Luckily, that was the right shoulder, not the one that hurt like hell that I was cradling like a baby in my lap.
Well, who should arrive but the dog and the old fart who usually takes 10 minutes to get him under control after yelling for 8 of them. I explain in no uncertain terms it’s the frickin’ dog’s fault.
“He won’t never bite ya,” the old man says.
“In case you hadn’t noticed, he doesn’t have to bite me to cause injury,” I say, my Wisconsin sarcasm completely lost on him.
He breaks into a bushel basket of small talk about crashing on his bike once. He’s crashed a bicycle, motorcycle, and plenty of cars over the years. He and his buddy, Delvan, once crashed real good on their bikes. “But those bikes were nothing like this one of yours,” he says. “It’s pretty expensive, huh?”
I bite my tongue.
I want to start rattling off a breakdown of damages in dollars, so as to maybe get through his thick skull the magnitude of the situation. As misguided as his efforts are, his heart appears in the right place. I can’t stay too pissed at him. He’s too damn entertaining.
“That dog ain’t but 15 years old,” he said. “He ain’t got much time left. The folks who used to live in the trailer yonder just up and left without him. Folks in the neighborhood feed him. Like I say, he ain’t long for this world.”
I’m thinking, why the hell couldn’t he have kicked off last night in his sleep? Of course, I wouldn’t have known that. I still would have crashed because it was a pre-emptive strike gone sour. Then I’d be listening to him sing the praises of the deceased dog whose spirit caused my crash.
All this goes down while at that trailer up yonder, where this dog no longer lives, a yard full of Chihuahuas tied up neatly behind a fence bark endlessly as if to say, “Serves you right, muchacho, and if I weren’t strapped to this chain, don’t think I wouldn’t kick your ass just for the hell of it. If I could reach your ass. I’ll rip your ankles to shreds if you come an inch closer. I’m not kidding!”
As the Chihuahua dialogue races through my head, I’m thinking I might need to get my noggin examined. Then I remember, of course, I have no health insurance, since my wife and I both quit our jobs and we’re headed off on a summer adventure in a few days to find a new place to live. Hopefully a place with fewer dogs.
The old man eventually holds the dog as I roll down the hill. I get to Asheville Highway, but can’t shift out of my big ring. There’s a little wobble in the front wheel. I’m in no mood to be riding on a highway, so I call the girls to pick me up.
By mid-afternoon at the local pool, my tailbone throbs. Slowly the pain continues to spread everywhere. Nowhere is it seriously painful. Just annoyingly so. Couldn’t wait to put Tennessee dogs in my rearview mirror.
Time to ride.