Friday, January 20, 2006

Reconnaissance



My eyes follow the road up into snowy mountains I've never been to before--captivated, transfixed, almost failing to notice the German Shepherd coming on hard from the left. I had left home in worsening weather with a basket full of wool and bread to fend off the cold. I stopped by the shop to tell Rachel where I was going ("Up Butler Creek until the snow or cold stops me"). At the north edge of downtown, I circled a roundabout and rolled onto a brick-paved street along the tracks.

To my left, a bicycle caught my attention, and then the cycler, and I waved a hello.

"I like those handlebars," shouted the cycler.

I slowed and looked around, but there was so much to like about this fellow's bike that I couldn't seem to pick just one to compliment.

"I like your whole bike!" I replied, as he rode up alongside.

The smiling cycler rode a deep green Waterford adorned with all of Rivendell's finest: Boxy Bag and a Little Joe, Noodle Bars, bar end shifters--not the sort of bike one sees every day here. We chatted about Rivendell and the nice riding weather as we ascended and descended the spiral rise and fall of the bike/ped rail yard crossing. Usually, the expansion joints clang with each tire pass, but today it was silent.

"You can tell when it's cold when they're quiet," he noted. I had never put that together before.

We parted ways, but the cycler's friendliness set a warm tone to the grey afternoon. Riding along the northern edge of the valley, the usually stiff west wind was only a breeze, and the miles passed quickly. Past a school, I turned right, passed under the interstate, and felt the excitement of a road not yet ridden.

The valley opened up around tiny Butler Creek. Each bend surrendered expanding views of the snow-covered mountains the road led toward. I would only get to look today. I wanted to know whether I could access the National Forest from this valley, hoping to come back in warmer seasons to camp and explore those hills.

The road narrowed, and a few small ranch houses dotted my peripheral vision. It was then that the dog broke my eyes' trance. There would be no outrunning this dog up a grade in my low single gear. I was weaponless, carrying only a stowed mini pump today. One of the lesser known skills a seasoned cycler develops is a keen sense of canine intentions. I haven't developed it yet. I hopped off the bike to starboard, placing it between the two of us.

"It's all right, buddy; it's OK. Just passing through."

The dog was not convinced. One thing most dogs never develop is a keen sense of cycler intentions. With much noise and violence, the dog seemed intent on herding me up the road, which was exactly where I wanted to go. I tried remounting. He closed in. I dismounted. Just as things were becoming comical, an SUV approached.

The driver tried to mediate the situation. He tried to maneuver between the dog and I, which worked for a piece, but when the dog fell behind and saw through the diplomacy, he redoubled his efforts to catch me. I dismounted. Now there were three of us in this dance and if anyone was watching from the houses, or if the dog had a sense of humor, it must have been hilarious. The SUV jerked, I mounted and dismounted, and the dog ran from one end of the SUV to the other to make sure I wasn't pulling a fast one.

Finally, the dog looked around, seemed to realize how far he was from home, and gave up the chase. The driver caught my eye, and we exchanged laughs. He turned in a driveway, and I went back to pedaling and staring up the road. The pavement ended, and I began to hit some patches of ice and snow in the shade. The valley closed in and gathered creek, road, and trees close together. A couple of steep climbs winded me. The road continued gaining altitude.

Another steep climb, and the valley opened up now to the right. Right near the top, as I slowed to a walking pace, a sign read "Slow Down!" I tried desperately not to follow instructions. Soon after, the road split, and I took the fork that didn't have a Dead End sign. The sign was somewhat redundant as any road leading through those mountains ahead seemed unlikely.

More climbing and finally a sign explaining that the road squeezed through private land to access the National Forest. Success! And, just in time, as snow began to deepen on the dirt road. I continued for another mile to the gate my map had shown. I rolled up to the gate, pulled out a rolled up pancake I had tucked away, and imagined what lay up the steep road and ski tracks beyond. I'll be back.

3 Comments:

Blogger Keasty said...

What a great picture you painted of the 3 of you dancing about! I enjoyed it immensely. Dog's sure know what's going on and what's going down eh? We are packing up to leave for our journey round the world and Dinah (Bolt) the dog sure knos there's something brewing.
Sounds like a beautiful part of the world. Maybe we'll put it on the agenda!

2:48 AM  
Blogger Paul Cooley said...

We've found squirting a dog with a water bottle works pretty well. Then, of course, you're low on water. And I've never tried it while riding solo; my wife is always the dog discourager when we're out riding on the tandem.

I'm glad you made your escape.

10:44 PM  
Anonymous Kiril, The Cycling Dude said...

Thanks for sharing a great story!

11:58 PM  

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