Running with the big dogs
"He's still coming", I blurted. Norman didn't respond, he just kept grinding up the long hill facing us.
"He's still coming!", I repeated, and still no answer. Our studded tires clattered along the cold pavement, scratching into the salt and sand on each downward pedal stroke up the steep hill. It was just above the freezing point, and trickles of melting snow and ice streaked the quiet country road, and reflected the bright setting sun where it pooled at the snow banks along the road.
"He's catching up!" was my latest update. By now, Norm realized I wasn't giving a Phil Liggett Tour-de-France-style commentary of our hilly ride. "That dog is still coming!"
Our ride was being joined by a very large golden Labrador in full pursuit.
A very fit lab, it turns out. I first noticed him about a kilometre back, running down a driveway near the top of a hill we had long since zoomed down. Now as we climbed the upward side of the next hill, he was gaining ground. But another upcoming downhill would surely end this chase, I thought. But a look over my shoulder while climbing the next hill revealed that this animal was still coming.
Most dogs in this area look upon us cyclists as a fleeting challenge, and lose interest after a furious sprint Their territory defended, their job done, they retreat, satisfied that the funny-looking invaders with the round spinning legs and odd-coloured skins have fled their master's domain. Having been caught and bitten by some man's best friend before, I tend to keep a close eye on these roadside creatures. When ice, snow, mud or gravity keep your speed in check, better to hop off and face the music. At least you can turn your steed into a shield if needed. Reaching the plateau, we dismounted, ready to meet the approaching canine.
But this beast was all shy wiggles and licks when he caught up, After making our acquaintance with copious sniffing and nudging, we realized he was no threat. He ignored our demands to "Go home!" so we rode on, hoping he would just get tired and turn back.
There was no turning back. This lab had better lungs and legs than most cyclists, and was quite happy to gallop along behind for another kilometre or so, to the spot where the road runs out at a picnic site on the St. Croix River. He was breathing less heavily than us, and while we stopped for a rest, he was content to romp and roll around in the snow drifts on the frozen river.
After a snack shared with the new team member, Norm and I started back, up and down the hills again, our mascot keeping a more consistent pace than us all along the way. We decide we should stop at his owner's house and turn in this fugitive. Otherwise, he'll follow us all the way back to town and back into traffic.
This pup-at-heart was really having a blast. He spent part of the ride through the woods beside the road, the deep snow slowing him only slightly as he bounced through it. When he got ahead of us, he would dart into a side trail for some exploration, then run out to catch up when we went by. And his hydration habits were any cyclist's envy. On the fly at full speed, he could drop his tongue down to a puddle and scoop up a drink, or run through a snow drift chomping down snow to keep his fluid topped up. "Don't eat the yellow snow", Norm reminded him.
But it turns out that the yard he launched from was not his own. "He's from down at the corner of the Mosher Road", said the kind lady at the house. "He's always getting off his leash and he's down here all the time." Another two kilometres to go, and all downhill.
When we got there, discussion with a woman in the yard confirmed that "Scout" enjoyed roaming the great outdoors as much as any of us, and that soon became clear when we tried to turn him over to his real family. There was no way he was going to let us near him. No more nudging and wiggling -- Scout knew that his capture meant the end of the ride for him!
So I rode away from his home and called for him to join me, which gave me a good chance to snatch him and walk him back to his home. "Better me than the dog catcher," I told her as I turned the prisoner over. Scout's five kilometre run with us was probably just a little slice of his typical day on the loose.
As I sit leashed to my desk with the work piled up, I know how Scout must feel, back home at the Mosher Road, eager for his chance to get out for a ride again.
So, how do you get that leash undone, Scout?
March 6, 2004