Saltzman at Night: I did not anticipate the teeth.

I can see the dog’s teeth.

What strikes me is not that the teeth have the potential to puncture skin, but that I can actually see them.

It is pitch black, the cold winter trees of Forest Park blocking out the moonlight. Moments earlier I’d been alone and flying.  Descending a slippery dirt and gravel road in a light rain, with a small ache in between my shoulder blades from having been folded into the drops for so long.  The bike loved the road.  The road loved the bike.

I was following a cone of light into corners that revealed themselves at the last minute.  I knew the road well enough to anticipate them, and I’d grown bold. My thin, knobby tires hugged the slippery leaves that coated the path.

What I did not anticipate was the dog.

I’d noticed the light up ahead, with two curves notice.  It was not as bright as mine and bobbing in place, indicating that it was attached to the head of a human being on foot.  Not on bike.

I’d slowed coming out of the approaching corner, aware that a renegade speeding cyclist in the middle of a rainstorm might spook a night hiker.  The woman was surrounded by dogs.  Six of them.

Perhaps she imagined that six unleashed dogs in the middle of a forest night might spook an otherwise unsuspecting cyclocrosser, because she called them close to her and, when they edged toward me to investigate, told them to “leave it”.

Her voice had sounded sure and the three that had been coming my way retreated, so I’d been convinced I was going to clear the group without incident.  I’d bid her good evening, continued to roll past slowly, and cooed at the dogs to let them know that I was a friend.

Then I’d looked once over my left shoulder, released my hold on the brakes, and stabbed down on my crank.  The bike resumed speed and the next corner made an appearance.

Then the teeth.

The teeth are attached to a dog, of course.  A big one, with a medium, dappled coat.

The dog is fast and despite the fact that I am descending most of the hill without brakes, I can’t drop him.   He runs to my left, within a foot of my line, barking.  This is a game of chase, but I never said I wanted to play.

I wager that I can outride the dog – how long can a dog really run this fast, I wonder.  He swerves toward the front of my tire and I hold my line, finger poised over the brake.  If the dog runs in front of me, then I at least plan to maim him while he takes me down so as to avoid being eaten alive after the crash.

Prior to this, I’d been riding in the other direction – up this very road – Saltzman, and before that, Leif Erickson.  Both roads rise up from the lowlands of Portland’s northwest district toward Skyline, which runs in a quiet undulation at the top of the ascent.  Leif is bumpy and meandering, Saltzman is slippery, smaller, and rises with more aggression.  I prefer Saltzman, but both ascents have taken something out of my focus.

I’m tired.  And the dog will not give up.

I slow less than I should into corners, afraid that my would-be attacker will be able to lay claim to a calf muscle during the lull.  The ground moves underneath me while the tires slide.  My head is full of calculations as to whether a crash will do me more bodily harm than a dog attack.

I decide that if I’m going out, it will be in a blaze of glory.  My fingers moves off the brake.

I am not known for my ability to descend at speed and the dog must know this because the chase persists.  The forest is filled with the sound of my tires through mud and leaves, punctuated by a low, aggressive series of barks.

“Keep barking,” I think, “That barking will slow you down.”

Still, the sound of the dogs voice goes straight into my heart.  I am concentrating too hard to be truly afraid, but I am also aware that my physical being is in imminent danger.

Corner after slow corner with the dog’s breath on my leg.  Spin, spin, spin.  Moving legs are hard to bite, that’s my theory.

I’m astounded by this canine persistence.  How far have we gone?  How far is the gate?  Where is that crazy dog woman to call her crazy dog?  How did she let this one get away?

I think of her up on the road above us with the other five.  She’s wringing her hands and walking down the path as fast as she can go.  She might as well give up, because we’re at least a mile away and moving ever faster.

Time for a new tactic.

Sweet-talking.  “You’re such a good doggie. Hi sweetie, it’s just me.  I’m so nice and I don’t taste good at all.”

My sing-song voice only makes the dog bark louder.

Finally, I am blessed with a few consecutive straightaways.  I push my biggest gear (which isn’t very big) and begin to pull away.  The dog is starting to fatigue.

I sense an imminent getaway and find more speed.

Just as suddenly as the teeth had appeared, they are gone.  I look back over my shoulder and see the dog standing, panting hard.  Dejected.  Beaten.  Conquered.  In retreat.

Two turns later I see the bottom gate and realize that we’ve covered even more distance than I thought.  Feelings come back to me in pieces.  I’m exhausted.  Then freezing.  Then relieved.

Then hungry.

My computer tells me that my heart rate is higher than it should be.  I’m ten miles from home and it’s raining.  Highway thirty is a late night death trap worthy, perhaps, of more fear than an encroaching set of incisors.

I ride home faster than I should and arrive on the front porch of my house breathing hard, soaked to the bone, with the fine grit of mud still grinding and crackling between my molars.

“How was your ride?” Sal asks.

“Ask the dog.”

“What?”

“I’ll tell you after my shower.”

The hot stream of water is sweet relief and I offer a special, silent thanks to the cycling gods for the long stretch of smooth, intact skin on my left calf.

*

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13 comments

  1. I still have a mark on my leg from my neighbor’s vicious herding dog. Getting attacked by a snarling insane “pet dog” is to this day the most terrifying thing that’s happened to me on a bike. I got away because I kicked him in the snout with my cleat. Good thing I continued to ride away, ignoring his owner’s apologies, etc., because the OVERWHELMING urge was to KILL THE DOG. I was absolutely ready to kick its skull flat, and I’m not that type at all. Adrenaline is rad.

    I complained to Multnomah County Animal Control and the dog was quarantined.

    Your post reads like horror to me.

  2. Yikes. Sal was similarly chased on Leif by an off-leash dog but he stopped to tell the owner to leash it. He was also chased while climbing by a Rottie – out in Hillsboro.

    Luckily we both escaped unscathed. I’m sorry to hear one got you :(.

    And, yeah, adrenaline is super rad. It was crazy how almost all physical sensation went away and it was all reduced down to this dog and my leg and these corners.

  3. Which reminds me… the handcuffs store on Sandy Blvd. just West of 28th Avenue sells mace spray that attaches to your bike frame by velcro. It’s specifically made for cyclists to carry. I carried that for quite a while after the dog attack and it helped me believe I’d one-up the next dog who charged.

  4. That’s an interesting option. I have always been anti-mace in general because, in terms of self-defense theory, whenever you introduce a weapon into an attack, you risk that it will be used against you (or fail in some way)*.

    But I guess in the case of dogs and bikes, that concern really does not apply!

    As I was engaged in this interaction, I was also considering how effective my self-defense would be against a dog. I don’t ever want to have to test it, but my theory was that I could probably have kicked the shit out of it if I’d really needed to.

    *I taught self-defense for three years in San Francisco.

  5. Nature’s very own interval trainer. Most dogs are just up for the run and the chase but they do get the old ticker turning over don’t they. I imagine them sitting back with a beer later talking about the one they caught when the were younger.

  6. I’ve found that a blast from the water bottle to be pretty effective in startling a dog and thus slowing their pursuit.

    Although, now that I think about it, I’m not sure about big, toofy, dogs.

    As a last resort my feet have dentition of their own… the Sidi puntales.

  7. I have had a lot of dog run-ins. What works best for me is to just yell NO or LEAVE IT. If that didn’t work, I’d get off my bike and keep it between fido and myself.

    Oh and not that this would have helped here, but when a dog walks directly towards another dog, that’s a sign of aggression. Best to approach at an angle, and keep your head down.

    I have been chased by wild dogs (I think they were wild) in Tucson, too. That was not fun.

    I got chased up a long climb once for about 10 minutes. I was at my max the entire time, and so was he. When I got near the top, we both were exhausted and made friends.

  8. 99% of dogs follow the same instinctual pack hunt technique: spot prey, come in from the side & rear, and try to take it down. As counter-intuitive as it is, I’ve found my best defense to be a good offense. See the dog before he sees you if possible and make serious “don’t mess with me” eye contact, but if he comes at you, face him, stop (or even go after him) and yell loudly and aggressively. I’ve even bared my teeth and growled. I know one day I’ll meet the exception to the rule, but so far after countless encounters I remain unbitten. Fleeing from a hunter makes them salivate ;-)

  9. Charles Lathe tells a pretty good tale here:
    http://cohobicycles.com/cohobicycles/Blog/84C3116C-617C-4364-8DBA-45AAAC540FA9.html
    I love dogs, but occasionally the gene pool needs some 18-wheeler weed whacking.

  10. That was a good story! Although the “red mist” detail kinda made me wanna vomit.

  11. Geek alert…

    This reminds me of Beowulf, specifically:

    “I am ripper, tearer, shredder… I am the teeth in the dark, the talons in the night…”

    “…teeth in the dark” is a strangely frightening phrase. The idea of inky darkness, and the teeth that come out of it… it makes me shudder.

    This made me think of that.

  12. Sympathies. Neighbor’s dog (“he doesn’t like bicyclists” “Then keep him behind your big, tall fence!”), various loose dogs, most recently a nasty blue heeler just outside of Gervais. I could see his sharp pointy teeth, too. Made good time to Mt Angel.

  13. PV Moots guy

    Great story, Heidi.

    Back in the day when we all had Silca frame pumps under the top tube, the easy thing to do was grab the pump and swing wildly away, trying to connect the business end with doggie skull. This was in Oklahoma where the dogs are all rednecks and chased us like the good old boys in Easy Rider. I never connected but did give the chasers something to think about.

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