This week I managed to go out three times cycling, twice to work, which is 15 miles away. Since my bike is part of my exercise plan and a way to save money on gas, I came home satisfied, though tired. As I came through the back door, I could hear my six-year-old granddaughter in the living room, so I went in to say hello.
Me: “Hey Cynthia, how was school?”
Cynthia: “Good. Hey Papa, why are you wearing that?”
Me: “These are my cycling clothes. I rode my bike three times this week. Isn’t that cool?”
Cynthia: “Yeah. Hey Grandma, Papa’s recycling!”
© Joel Tipple
Note: No dogs were injured in this episode (annoyed perhaps but certainly not injured).
Around 2000-1, I experienced a rebirth of my love for the bicycle. I had started looking for a way to lose weight and noticed that my friend and next door neighbor was going out for a ride every morning. He would ride by our living room window, something I considered very inconsiderate, since I was usually sitting on the couch eating a fat and sugar laden breakfast while he was going out in the cold and doing something healthy. That, and a few choice words from my brother concerning the shape of my physique goaded me into finding some sort of exercise plan that I could stick with. I hated gyms and my knees couldn’t handle asphalt anymore. Add to that the fact that cycling is an outdoor activity for the most part and it turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. In the years since my last bicycle (a ten-speed) mountain biking had become quite popular. The geometry of the Trek hardtail I tried at my local bike shop appealed to me so I started riding it every day. Within a short period of time I had lost that weight and become a cycling fanatic. All my extra spending money went into bikes and the assorted bike stuff one can purchase once consumed with the hobby. Within the next two years I added a couple road bikes for my stable and started participating in local rides, including several centuries (100 miles in a day).
Long distance tours like centuries mean that you need to be on the bike almost every day. Good training plans have you going out for longer and longer distances to get you ready. There are lots of little inconveniences you encounter on those long rides, one of those being dogs. We live in a fairly rural area with lots of little ranches and dairies. Occasionally one of the ranch dogs will get its exercise by chasing you while you are getting yours. For those dogs that prefer lean cycling legs and those cyclists that don’t take the time to do a lot of sprints, it can be a mutually beneficial experience. After a few close calls, more enjoyable for the dogs than me, I decided to start carrying one of those little pepper sprayers that you see clipped to mail carrier bags, just in case. On a late fall afternoon I parked my pickup on the outskirts of a redwood park south of where I live and began the ride that I planned would take me about 10 miles out and back. The asphalt was a mix of smooth and rough with the first five miles being fairly level, before climbing sharply. That day’s weather was crisp and cool and I would have to hurry to get back to where I was parked by sunset. One of the things I love about riding where I live is the abundance of wildlife you get to see, even from paved roads. That day I remember seeing some rabbits and, for the first time, a wild turkey. I didn’t know they could be so skinny! Now, one thing about dogs and their territory is that they will often object to your riding by, but even if they are outside a fence, they will usually only give you a hard time until you are past a certain point. That’s fair, after all they are just doing what we’ve trained them to to for eons, guard their property. I had been up this road on a few tours with large groups of riders, where there is some comfort in the strength of numbers. Today it was just me and the occasional vehicle interrupting the sound of my tires on the road. I had been climbing in a low gear for awhile and passed a gravel road that veered off to my right when the unmistakable sound of the scuffle of paws and low growling made me jerk my head around. Dogs and young men have something in common. By themselves they are usually harmless, but their level of stupidity and aggression can increase exponentially with numbers. Most of the time the biggest and stupidest is out front. I could see this was one of those times. The problem was that I was getting jumped at a place in the road where I was moving too slowly. A glance at the incline up ahead told me that wasn’t going to change soon enough to help. I stood on the pedals to give myself a little momentum and then grabbed the pepper spray which was clipped to my handlebars. I had never used it before so I hoped it would work. If it didn’t, I would have to jump off and try to put my bike between myself and the dogs. As I turned, all I could see was brown and black fur and teeth. I pressed down on the top of the can and was surprised at how far the stream shot out. It hit a few feet to the right of the lead dog and I swept it to the left to connect with his muzzle. He stopped and shook his head violently while the two dogs a few feet back and to each side of him quickly lost interest. A surge of adrenaline kept me moving up the hill for a while until I finally decided it was time to go back the way I had come. By the time I rode back past where the dogs had started chasing me, they were long gone. I could see where the pepper spray had traced a line across the road. I relaxed after a bit, knowing I had the advantage of speed as the road swept downward. I was relieved when I got back to my pickup and the welcome drive back to home and a warm shower.
Somewhere I have a photo of myself standing next to my first faux Stingray bicycle on Christmas morning. My smile is huge. A bicycle for a young person means freedom. For the first time, you’re able to expand the physical boundaries of your adventures. The narrow, two lane road we lived just off of saw a lot of traffic because at the time, a small Navy base was located at one end, just off the beach. My family ran a tow service, and periodically a young sailor would drive too fast or too drunk or both. Later, you could tell where the accident had been, due to the new stretch of wooden fencing. I wasn’t allowed to ride my bike on that road since my parents were afraid I’d be run over. Later, when I was older, that five-mile-road between town and the beach was one of my favorite jaunts.
As I got older, of course, the bikes got bigger too. I put a lot of miles on a Schwinn Varsity that I saved my money to buy. I think it cost around $100. I later regretted buying the small frame, because I got my big growth spurt the next year and raising the saddle was not a perfect solution. I’ve never been much of a mechanic and some lessons along that vein are learned the hard way. One morning I decided to ride the 15 miles to our county seat. Later, I would make that same trip with my sister and my bike would be stolen, only to be returned to me by the police when we made our way there to report the theft. But that’s another story. The day before my first ride I had worked on my bike, mostly cleaning and doing minor adjustments. The brake pads on this model were mounted in such a way that they slid in one end of a bracket. It was important to have the open end facing opposite the direction the wheel was going, otherwise the pressure of the wheel would slide the rubber brake pads out and you would lose the ability to stop. I learned the hard way that I had put the brake pads in backward when they popped out about halfway down a hill connecting to the main thoroughfare. Several drivers witnessed my demise, so after laying my bike down to avoid the traffic at the bottom of the hill I got up and waved that I was okay. Later, after I had made it home, I was listening to a local radio station. The on-air host told about going to work that morning and seeing a bicycle accident. He described exactly what happened to me. The only thing that could have made it better would have been film.