Day 13: When dogs attack - Chris Cross America - CycleBlaze

May 5, 2022

Day 13: When dogs attack

Day 13 stats

Start: Hindman, Ky.

End: Buckhorn, Ky.

The Daily Progress: 49.97 miles

Elevation gain: 2,785 feet

Average speed: 9.8 mph

Maximum speed: 40.5 mph

Food expenses: $17

Lodging expenses: $24 (Buckhorn Campground). Plus $20 donated to the First Baptist youth program in Hindman when I left this morning.

Here's an external view of the First Baptist Church in Hindman, where I stayed last night.
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I slept on a couch in the main chapel. The vaulted ceiling and glass lanterns hanging from above (what do you call those?) made for a pretty cool backdrop. The parish moved to another location and not the building is used by a youth group.
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Day 13 highlights

Cue the "Mission: Impossible" theme song.

Whoa, whoa, now slow it down. This is a bike touring story, not a motorcycle chase.

There we go.

We cut from black to see our hero on his trusty bike, Blue. He's decked in his usual cycling kit — yellow helmet covered in reflective white stickers; tinted cycling glasses, yellow, orange and blue MWABA jersey; and black cycling shorts with yellow trim at the bottom. Also, one brown sock and one navy blue sock cover his ankles as his feet, in black cycling sneakers with orange laces, turn the pedals steadily, deliberately. Chris hears the sound of dogs barking and keeps his cadence steady to take advantage of the slight downhill, maintaining a strong speed for a fully loaded touring bike, probably somewhere around 15 to 18 miles per hour. His big yellow panniers hang on behind him, an American flag flapping in the breeze against the black garbage bag covering the tent on the rear rack.

He sees a dog in a fenced yard to the left. 

"Phew," he thinks, "he's fenced in. Still, I'd better keep up the pace just in case he manages to get ou—"

Two large dogs burst onto the road from the right, in a full sprint. One crosses in front of Chris and the other heads straight to Chris's right side.

Okay, now let's speed up that music.

Chris ramps up his tempo and veers slightly left to keep some distance from the dog to his right, then pulls back to the right to avoid the dog that had crossed in front of him. The chase is on.

Chris shifts down and spins his legs like a revving engine. He quickly gains speed and shifts back up. The dogs catch up, one at each side, their noses inches from his spinning feet. Chris thinks to himself, it doesn't really matter if they catch up to him. If he keeps spinning his legs, there's nothing for the dogs to bite — they would just catch a foot or a pedal right in the face. They follow at this uncomfortably close distance for a few seconds as Chris instinctively puts in more effort despite the logical assurances he just gave himself, and he shifts up again, curving to the right to follow the bend in the road. 

A pickup truck comes rolling in from around the corner. The dogs slow. Chris grimaces, thinking a wrong turn by either dog could cause it to get whacked by the truck. With his body positioned for maximum speed, he can't make a hand signal to the trucker driver, but the truck slows anyway as he approaches Chris. The dogs and the truck suddenly behind him, Chris flies ahead. To his relief, he hears no squealing of brakes, no sound of a collision. Just a few last barks as the dogs give up the chase.

***

It's true what they say about loose dogs in Kentucky. By some stroke of incredibly luck, every time I encountered one today — and it must've been about a dozen encounters — I was heading slightly downhill, making it pretty easy to outrun them. I had read that the best strategy when you can't outrun them is to get off the bike and keep the bike between yourself and the dog. Otherwise, use a water bottle to squirt water at the dog to surprise them and hopefully scare them off. I didn't need to employ either strategy. I told them all, in a ridiculously friendly voice, what good dogs they were, to try to trick then into thinking I was there to play with them, that I am their friend. 

But if I'm being honest, no, I am not definitely not their friend. I'm a cyclist, and every cyclist who has ridden through rural residential areas knows that the vast majority of dogs HATE cyclists. Something about the alien-looking helmets or the unnatural way we move our legs in perfect circles or — I have no idea what it actually is, but many dogs just lose their freaking minds at the mere sight of a person rolling down the street on a bicycle. And so they bark and chase and bark and chase and, yes, occasionally bite. It happened to me once a few years ago, and it was actually a relief to be bitten — on the ankle — and to see that it did not hurt and did not break the skin. Of course, I know there could be worse bites, obviously, but the point is, now that I've been bitten once, I'm a little less terrified of the dogs catching up to me. Emphasis on "a little." You can't ignore your instincts.

Here's the post office for Gays Creek, Ky. It looks like a one- or two-room wooden house with a quaint wooden sign that reads: "U.S. POST OFFICE. GAYS CREEK, KY. 41745"
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The road weaved left and right and left and right as I descended a big hill. Around each curve is a sign urging people to use slower speeds around the curves. There are three such signs in this one view.
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So today the challenge was dogs more than hills — but there certainly were hills. But the challenges are what make the adventure. It was otherwise another glorious day for a bike ride. There was salad and ice cream for dinner. And I met, for the first time, another cyclist riding the TransAmerica Trail!

His name was Chad, and he was downright ebullient. I was just as excited to see someone else doing the ride because I had started to assume that I might not run into anyone until around the halfway point, when I'd see lots of people passing as they went the opposite direction. For a few days now, I've been hearing at convenience stores about a pair of cyclists who were two days ahead of me. I kind of thought I'd keep hearing about them but never actually catch up to them, and I thought, the same was probably happening to cyclists behind me. Maybe they'd hear about me, but I'm planning a St. Louis detour, so by the time they catch up to me, I'll be off the official route. 

Well, anyway, here was Chad, heading the opposite direction, a solid month before I would have expected to run into anyone heading east. He was super friendly and eager to share some things he was carrying (and eager to lighten his load, he admitted) and gave me some Gatorade powder and gummies. He'd skipped a lot of the trail for various reasons, and a few of his comments made it sound like he was pretty new to bike touring. I simultaneously felt glad that he was not letting that stop him and I felt proud of myself for having made some mistakes already and having learned from them and applied those lessons in planning for this trip.

In any case, Chad was now cruising right along from southern Illinois through Kentucky, and, like me, he has been amazed by all the hospitality he's been shown by the people of Kentucky. There may be a lot of loose dogs who hate cyclists, but there seem to be far more people who are happy to see us ride through.

Chad and I exchanged tips and contact info and headed off, refreshed.

The view heading into the towm of Buckhorn includes, of course, a green mountain in the background, as well as a very handsome brown wooden building, which looks almost like a huge barn but must be a church, with thin white stripes and a white cross emblazoned on the side
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Today's ride: 50 miles (80 km)
Total: 622 miles (1,001 km)

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Comment on this entry Comment 7
Scott AndersonGlad you made it through safely this time, but it’s a losing bet trying to outrace dogs and it’s a mistake to downplay how serious a dog bite can be. I was attacked by a midsized dog who appeared out of nowhere two years ago and left about a three inch square patch of my calf with him. I was in care of the doctors and wound nurses for a month, and it took months to fully heal.
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3 months ago
Chris GeorgeTo Scott AndersonYikes, sorry to hear this! Thanks for sharing. Any tips for what to do when they get too close, or do you recommend the water bottle squirt or dismount and keep the bike in between?
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3 months ago
Jeff LeeTo Chris GeorgeThe "Halt!" brand pepper spray is the best for stopping dogs, in my opinion experience.

It shoots in a stream, and is easy to aim, even while riding.

It's designed specifically for repelling dogs - mailman carry it with them.

I almost always carry it on rides. A sizeable percentage of touring cyclists I encounter carry it.

Most bike shops in this region sell it. A cyclist who stayed at our place last month left his behind by mistake, so I've got an extra can if you want it. The TransAm is probably too far from us to justify your riding here to get it, but I could probably bring it to you if you stop for the night in Sebree or Utica.
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3 months ago
Chris GeorgeTo Jeff LeeThanks, Jeff, great tip! And that's really nice of you to offer, but I'll look for it in stores, thanks!
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3 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Chris GeorgeOne thing I DON’T do any more is pull out the pump and use it as a weapon to ward the dog off. The last time I tried this was about 40 years ago, when I stuck it through the front spokes and went over the handlebars. It did however stop the dog, who seemed astonished.

We don’t bike in loose dog country often, so I generally get by with shouting and getting off the bike as a last resort. The water bottle is pretty useless in my experience. If I lived in Kentucky I’d probably carry Halt also.
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3 months ago
Gravel JuiceTo Jeff LeeI'm an old guy and have been riding bicycles for 60 years, some 10,000 miles over all. I have never been bitten by a dog - I've encountered some vicious dogs. I understand that they are protecting their territory, and when I ride I'm looking out for dogs, cats, racoons, bears, and other varmints. When I see movement I immediately slow down - bike, thinking, voice - and begin to interact with the dog talking calmly and slowly and softly. Trowing a few treats on the ground in front of it, rather than at it. I need too I get off the bike and walk slowly, talking gently.
I find slow and steady, helps the dog not to react to the speed and chatter of the bike. The tires put a whine, that may engage something in the dog's head that is threatening. If there is more than one, I try to put a tree behind me and the bike in front, and try not to exhibit fear - though I've been terrified several times. Treats in front of them and not at them. (One problem has become on one route, they come out not to attack, but they want more treats, they've become friends.)
Finally, since I'm the guy who comes behind you, I really appreciate all the terrors you've put into the dog's head. All of us who come after you are the beneficiaries of your abusing the dogs.
I try to be careful how I act when riding - courteous, careful, friendly - not only with animals, but with people too. That might lessen dog bites, and dodgy drivers attacking us too. I try to never do anything that is going to hurt someone who comes after me. I'd appreciate if you did that for me. Again, just an old man thinking about the great wonder of riding slowly through the wonder of nature.
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1 month ago
Jeff LeeTo Gravel Juice"Finally, since I'm the guy who comes behind you, I really appreciate all the terrors you've put into the dog's head. All of us who come after you are the beneficiaries of your abusing the dogs."

I certainly disagree with how you characterize my advice about dogs.

I definitely do not "abuse" dogs. I like dogs. But I don't want them to run out into the road and cause me to crash if they get in front of my wheel (that's the primary danger - getting bitten is much less likely.) Also, I don't want them to develop the habit of running into roads where they will inevitably be run over by a car at some point.

Spraying them with the mild pepper spray that mailmen carry is not abusing them. It causes no permanent damage.

You don't say where you live, and ride. I live in rural Kentucky, and believe me: If someone followed your advice they would spend more time slowing down, stopping, and distributing treats than actually riding.

My advice is based on about 100,000 miles of riding in the last seventeen years, much of it in Kentucky and other rural states likes Mississippi, Missouri, and Alabama.
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1 month ago