1 March 2017. I’m about 40 miles out of Las Cruces, New Mexico, feeling strong and happy, looking forward to lunch in the next town, when the dogs attack.First I hear them, then I see them. With relief I note the dogs are still in a farmyard about 100 yards ahead of me…
Then I realise that the gate isn’t shut.
I’ve been cycle touring in the US for almost a month now. I’ve cycled through the Texas Hill Country, through the desert of Big Bend and West Texas, through towns like Terlingua and Alpine, and out into the rural lands of New Mexico. This instant check to see if dogs are contained the moment I hear barking has become a habit, like glancing over my shoulder before making a turn.
Despite the fact the damn hounds are in front of me, I start pedalling frantically forward, swearing and — as suggested by my Warm Showers hosts in El Paso — grab a water bottle in order to squirt the attacking dogs.
In a moment they are all around me. Four or five big bastards. Barking and snarling, snapping and jumping. I swerve across the road, trying to find a way through the pack. It’s both a blessing and a curse that there are no passing vehicles.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck off!
Maybe the dogs don’t understand my British accent?
I squirt water in the nearest dog’s face. It looks positively delighted, snapping the stream of water out of the air. Maybe its owner doesn’t leave them enough water? The rear of my bike is jostled from the right and I look around, still pedalling and trying to keep upright. I look forward just in time to see the bloody great Great Dane begin to gnaw at my left hand, the hand still gripping the handlebars.
The dog is so big it doesn’t even need to reach up. My hand is at eye level — well, jowl level — like a bloody pink snack, delightfully presented in a ASSOS track mitt.
As if by some awful magic, with a awful jerk, my forward motion stops. I don’t really grasp the physics or mechanics of it. My bike is just no longer rolling forward. I’m stuck. I brace myself to get mauled, continuing to shout at the dogs. I will not go quietly into that New Mexican afternoon.
But with the end of motion, after a final few snarls and barks, the dogs lose interest and head back to their yard.
They have torn off a rear pannier, snapping the hooks which held it to rack, twisting it into the rear wheel. The bag is firmly rammed between the inside of the rack and wheel. While the dogs continue to bark at me from the farmyard, I scream at the top of my lungs, scream at the dogs, scream at the farm house where there is no sign of anyone.
It does… nothing.
Then, not knowing what else to do and just wanting to get away, I pick up my bike and haul it along the road until I am no longer opposite the property.
All the screaming and swearing has done literally nothing. A car approaches and passes, ignoring my attempt to flag them down.
What the fuck am I doing? What should I do?
I get on with things. Totally alone (for the moment at least). I extract the bag from where it’s wedged, find my first aid kit and clean out the dog bite in my hand. It’s pretty minor. My rear wheel is damaged, but still fairly round. As well as damaged hooks, have obvious teeth marks in both my rear panniers.
A few minutes later, a kind Hispanic women stops to see if I’m OK. She prays for me, then sorts me a lift into the next town. Her name was Pilar, and she was a miraculous mix of spiritual and practical. In Hatch I have a pig skin burrito, report the attack to animal control, buy some bungies and keep going.
My worst nightmare has literally just happened. Throughout this trip, whenever people conjured up the horrors that I should beware of — red necks and Mexicans, rattlesnakes and wild pigs, men in trucks and OAPS in over sized RVs— I always said it was the dogs I most feared. And the damn dogs came and got me. But I’m OK. The next day I decided I’d had enough of the farm dogs of New Mexico, and didn’t really want to meet the semi-wild reservation dogs of Arizona, so changed my plans. That’s OK, and I was OK.
Your worst nightmare will seldom come to be. And if it does, it might not be as bad as your feared. I still swear and look about wildly if I hear a bark while cycling. While I was lucky, its also freeing to experience one of your biggest fears and come out the other side OK. I’m glad I never let fear stop me heading to the US to cycle tour on my own.
As Lael Wilcox, ultra long distance cycling super star, wrote in a recent piece for Bicycling.com:
If it’s not the serial killers than it’s the bears. If it’s not the bears than it’s the weather. There are just too many fears to keep track of.
It’s easier to stop fearing them.
And that’s the moral of this story.
(Well, the moral of the story is also shut your fucking gate or I’ll sic animal control on you.)
Here’s what I suggest you do when aggressive seeming un-contained dogs run at you and you don’t have the option to sprint away:
- Put the bike between you and the animals.
- Grab a weapon, mini-D lock was my weapon of choice.
- Shout loudly and firmly.
- Hope for some owner intervention.
Luckily i didn’t have to go further than these steps for the rest of my tour.
There is plenty of advice about how to deal with dog attacks when cycle touring. And if you remember it the first time you are attacked by a pack of dogs I’ll buy you a pint.
This post is dedicated to all the not dickhead dogs, and their not dickhead owners, who I met in the US: Chief and Mesa, the crazy good natured desert dogs of Terlingua, Helen and Bjorn, Penny, Solace, and a few more whose names I don’t remember.