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Published: October 22nd 2003
As I was riding down a small trail off of a harvested field at sunset, looking for a place to pitch my tent, I wondered to myself, is it deer season yet? The single shot in the distance answered my question, and I quickly threw on my flourescent yellow vest over my sweatshirt. Even though I was off my bike, after a moment's consideration I also put on my white bike helmet for extra visibility, and then began thinking about what my last words should be, in the event that an eager hunter mistook all 6 feet, 5 inches of me for a deer. I decided it would be rather Larson-esque to declare, "Look, they only call me 'Buck...'" But failing that, I figured that stating the obvious would work while trying in vain to plug a mortal wound with my fingers: "What!? Do I LOOK like a deer???"
When you're on the road by yourself for hours at a time, you have to find ways to amuse yourself, and thinking up last words is a great passtime. If you don't keep your thoughts occupied, your mind tends to wander into the back corners and dredge up adolescent horrors that you'd rather not relive. I tend to get a song stuck in my head for a dozen or so miles. Then I might try to work out a new harmony to an old tune. Sometimes I'll rehash the plots of favorite novels, such as "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," or "The Chronicles of Narnia." Occasionally I'll find myself reliving Monty Python routines, but I try to stay away from that as much as possible, because I find that riding into town on a bicycle while wearing flourescent lycra and spouting off British obscenities is simply not a good way to impress the locals.
More often than not though, I'll spend my time looking at the scenery as it rolls by. I figure I usually ride a quarter as fast as the cars going by, but I see four times as much. I love looking at the old, boarded up country stores, the palm readers ("$15 and Madam Rose Will Read Your FORTUNE!"), the grain mills, the town signs ("Princeville- The First Town Incorporated By Blacks in America"), the barbeque pits advertised by frantically feasting pigs, and the birds overhead. I also keep an ear tuned to the sound of approaching vehicles, and I can usually hear them a quarter of a mile away. That gives me maybe 15 seconds to evaluate the situation & decide if I should head for the ditch & get out of the way of a particularly wide load coming up behind me.
Then there are the dogs. As a general rule, if somebody has posted a sign at the edge of their property declaring, "Beware of the Dog," then the dog are too dangerous to be roaming loose. As soon as I hear a dog barking, I look to see where the dog is. With any luck, the dog is tied up or in a kennel. But if I see the dog running free, I reach for my back pocket and pull out my can of pepper spray. I've only ever had to spray one dog in my lifetime, but I don't take any chances. I'd rather be ready to inflict temporary pain on a dog then to take the chance of rabies, puncture wounds and/or a collision with a vehicle as I try to avoid a biting dog. If the traffic allows, I get to the opposite side of the road from the dog. Dogs have been raised for thousands of years to protect their territory, and most of the time their territory ends at the road. And if I keep my speed up, I'll usually be past their territory before they can get to me. If they keep on coming, I bellow out in my most authoritative voice, "Bad Dog!!! Go Home!!!" That usually works, but there is the occasional dog that loves a good chase. Luckily for me most of these dogs have already gotten themselves deselected from evolution by passing cars and trucks. But I did run into a big white dog recently that wanted to chase me despite the best efforts of both his master and me.
I was crawling up a hill at less than 10 miles per hour, and I ran through my whole procedure as soon as he came bounding out from the doublewide towards the road. I pulled out my pepper spray, looked over my shoulder, and crossed over to the left side of the road while shouting, "Go Home!!! Bad Dog!!!" I heard someone shouting from the trailer, "Come back here!" and I thought I was safe until I looked to my left to see three beagles making a run towards me from their side of the road. At the same time a logging truck was barrelling down the road towards me, headlights flashing. A deep ditch separated me from the beagles in their yard, so I got as far to the edge of it as I dared and let the logging truck fly by. I turned to the right to see the white dog had stopped running, but he had also stopped barking. Barking dogs are, for the most part, safe dogs since they are just doing their job. It's the dog that doesn't bark that really wants a piece of you. The dog's master was running across the yard towards him, but I was still worried.
I checked out the beagles again, and thankfully they were stymied by the ditch. As it was I was almost past their yard and out of their territory. Looking again to the right, the white dog had decided to ignore his master and make a run for me. He came across his driveway and was onto the righthand shoulder when another truck came up from behind us. I don't know how close the truck came to taking out my pursuer, but I don't think the white dog was more that a tail's length away from the trailer. I yelled a couple more times, and the dog finally gave up the chase, much to my relief. I pocketed my pepper spray and crossed back across the road as soon as I saw that the white dog was being dragged back to the doublewide trailer by his master.
So yeah, I keep myself busy on the road. Cars generally give me wide berth, and truck drivers are often courteous enough to slow down and wait until after the left lane is clear before they pass me. And even the dogs aren't all that bad. But from now on I don't think I'll do any freestyle camping until deer season is over.
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