Post 28 in the story of a 5-week long bicycle ride from the East Coast of Florida to Austin, Texas.
Some people I met along the way told me that I should be carrying a weapon. Most of the citizen do-gooders who were concerned for my safety told me to at least carry pepper spray and a few even told me I should be carrying a gun.
“You don’t need to worry about nothing while you’re in [insert name of present state], but watch out when you get to [insert neighboring state], they’re crazy out there.” I found this to be a common sentiment as well. No one ever told me I needed to be careful where we were, just that everyone in the nearby state is on meth.
Or course, I wasn’t carrying a weapon. I had a swiss army knife, but I lost it somewhere between the first and second days of the trip. Three weeks later I bought a pocket knife from Wal Mart for $1, but I bought if more for it’s peanut butter spreading ability than for protection. If someone did want to harm me, they probably could have pulled it out of my pocket and forced the dull blade into me before I knew what was happening.
I did feel threatened once by a person. He was a scruffy looking guy on the side of the gulf coast highway in Florida. He shouted at me as I approached and began stumbling into my path. I swerved around him and he said “hey, where are you going? get back here.”
That’s it. That’s the most dangerous human encounter I had on the trip. The hunter in my camp was a close second, but that happens about a 100 miles down the road.
As I approached Texas, dog chases became more frequent. In Western Louisiana, dogs began chasing me daily, usually more than once a day and it continued all the way to Austin. On a couple occasions, I was pretty sure that I was about to lose some skin to canine teeth. Some cyclists carry pepper spray to use on dogs. I considered this, but I pictured myself crashing while trying to get the pepper spray out, squirting myself, and then getting attacked by a dog.
My strategy was to roar at dogs. If they looked really hungry and I was going slow I would get off my bike and stare them down. That didn’t always make the dogs go away, but it put me in a better position to kick them. One huge dog followed me for a couple blocks, making a throaty growling sound. I was walking my bike and as soon as I began walking away form him, he started growling and approaching me. When I stopped and prepared to kick him, he backed off a little. But as soon as I turned my back he started sneaking up on me again.
Most of the dogs who chased me were football-sized. I think small dogs have poorer social skills than big ones. I usually just tried to herd the little dogs out of the road to keep them from getting hit.
Near the end of a long day in Texas I heard a loud, deep bark that made my hair stand up. I looked to the right and spotted the dog tearing after me. half a second later I noticed the fence between us. I was letting out a sigh of relief when the dog pushed his nose down and his legs back, and slid on his stomach under a gap in the bottom of the fence. I was riding too fast to stop – the killer pooch would be on me before I could dismount – so I pedaled like hell. I could actually feel my eyeballs bulging out of their sockets. I was at the top of a rolling hill, and already tired, but within seconds I was riding faster than I ever have before. I heard paws pounding on the asphalt and growling close behind me, but I was already going downhill. By the time I dared to look back, the dog was 30 feet away and slowing down.
Bike touring alone is a quick way to bring out hospitality and other good qualities in the people around you. It can make you feel cocky. I know at the end I was ready to laugh in the face of anyone who tried to tell me it was dangerous.
But a few months ago I read this article by Willie Weir, who has been bicycle-tour-blogging since before blogs were invented. After a brush with sheer terror, where he considers quitting and going home but eventually presses on, Willie concludes that “caution keeps you awake. Fear keeps you away.”
Also, dear readers, I seem to have misplaced my journal from the trip. I have a few ideas about where it may be. hopefully I will be able to recover it and tell you about the rest of the ride. If not the ending will either be fictional (most likely) or very short.