Monday, October 31, 2016

Flat Tires and Warm Hearts

All I wanted was to take the afternoon off and dull the edge of the week I’d had.  It wasn’t the most stressful week of my life, or of the year, or of the month I guess.  But it’s October and I have decided I’m not going to squander my life—especially the fall foliage peak—on the mundane.  Unfortunately climate change has taken the favored crisp October air and hidden it behind a blazing sun of summerness.  But I digress.

My adult responsibilities parried for the time, I headed for Spaas Creek with my mountain bike.  I wanted a rematch with the climb to the ridge top.  You’ll remember not so long ago I rode Spaas Creek and over to Pumpkin Hollow but cursed and grumbled as my spectacular spectacles stayed fogged in the heated humidity and slowed progress and obscured the fun of the ride.  But I digress.

I found my normal parking spot occupied by an RV.  There was a nearby campfire smoldering but no one seemed to be around.  There was plenty of space to park along the road for a few dozen yards to the south, so I turned about and slid off the left side just beyond sight of the RV.

As I dragged my bike out of the Jeep I heard a dog barking and saw a furry critter coming down the road toward me.  Great, I thought, all I need is another dog bite.  Now, the last time I was bitten was probably two years ago and before that I never really had a dog bite of consequence, but it’s one of my perpetual fears.  The last one was pretty painful.

Before I could stress too much the dog stopped barking and returned to the RV (I assumed), but I knew I would have to deal with it again as I rode past.  I finished shrugging into my pack, snapping on my helmet, and then I turned my front wheel toward the depths of the Spaas Creek drainage, and pedaled off.  When I reached the RV, vigilant against canine violence, I was rewarded with not one but two dogs rounding the vehicle, snarling and barking, and charging straight for my bare ankles.

I yelled something.  Then I yelled “Get your dogs!” to the lonely forest.  Finally I dismounted and began using my bike as a shield, and—for a brief moment—as a bludgeon.

Far too late to be of any help to my vulnerable lower appendages a middle-aged couple came running around the RV.  I reiterated: “Control your dogs!”

The man grabbed one of them and apologized.  The woman threw up her arms as the other dog ran around still frantically barking but somewhat timid from being fork-checked.  I don’t remember exactly what she said, but she made some defensive comments about being in the woods and the dogs should be able to run free.

“This is a county road and we’re surrounded by public land,” I said gesturing at my feet and overhead.  “There’s a county-wide leash ordinance as well.”  That’s true, but we were on the county line, and I’m not sure if Menifee County has an ordinance or would enforce it if they did.  I suspect not on either account.  I know Powell has an ordinance and enforcement is inconsistent.  But still…

The man apologized again and again. The woman just snarled in disgust and told me to go on, pointed up the road, and shrugged again in defiance.  My intent was not to go up the road due to the rather large mudholes, so I followed the nicely packed ATV trail through their campsite and on up the creek bank.

I was keyed up for a few minutes as I pedaled up the road, crossing Spaas Creek which is startlingly low for late October, and continued through a pine grove.  Slowly I recomposed myself, and by the time I came up on the four horsemen I had mostly forgotten the Dog People.  I slowed and waited until the rear equestrian heard me.  I stopped as they moved to the side of the road and then rode slowly past them, keeping the pedals turning so my Hope hub wouldn’t clack and make too much noise.  I kept talking to the men as I rode past as well.  I felt pretty good about my interaction with them and they were pleasant enough.

The climb up the head of the valley was technical and challenging.  I rode everything clean, but failed cardiovascularly within sight of the summit.  I walked a few yards of the steepest terrain and then got back on to ride.

Once at the top I turned left and southwest and rode the long rolling ridge all the way out to a place called Wild Country Wall.  I’d been out from the Jeep for an hour at that point.  That was all the time I had.  In order to make it back to town to pick Boone up from school I needed to make tracks back.  So I turned the bike around and pedaled still.

The descent down into Spaas Creek from the ridge was noticeably faster than the climb up.  In fact, as I neared the final creek crossing I noticed it had taken me about half the time to descend Spaas as it had to gain the ridge.  I came up on the equestrians about a quarter of a mile from the crossing.  We repeated our dance and I chatted a moment with them as I continued past, and then I was thinking about the prospect of having to pass the Dog RV once again.

I tried to let my hub clack as I pedaled along the creek.  I kept my eyes peeled and ears attuned as I rolled closer and closer.  But when I could finally see for certain the spot where it had been parked the RV was gone.  And someone had jammed a branch between two trees where I had entered the trail I was returning on.  It was easy enough to duck under, but I wondered if it had been aimed at slowing me down.

As I rode through the pulloff I saw the campfire had been put out and cleaned up and there was no garbage anywhere.  I felt bad that the couple’s day had been tainted, but I still didn’t think their letting the dogs run loose was justified.  I felt justified in defending myself from the charging dogs.  I had no way of knowing if they would bite or not, and I had seen no human handlers anywhere and had no reason to assume they were within earshot.  I shook my head and pedaled on the last few strokes to the Jeep.

When I neared the back of the car I saw that my passenger side rear tire was flat.

My first thought was the Dog People had slashed my tire.  But then I corrected myself.  No, maybe I had run over something on the gravel road.  Occam’s Razor.  Benefit of the doubt.

I bent down and inspected the tire.  There was no obvious puncture.  It was flat flat and no air was still rushing out.  I checked the valve cap.  It wasn’t tightened so I pulled it off.   And jammed up inside was a small stone.  I dropped the bike and circled the Jeep.  The driver’s side front tire was flat and there was dirt jammed inside that cap.  The other two tires looked fine, but my hackles were up, and my brain was in paranoia mode.

Until recently I had been keeping a bicycle floor pump in the back of the Jeep.  I have two.  But for whatever reason after I took it out the last time I didn’t put it back.  All I had was the small low volume seat bag pump I carried on the bike.  My situation wasn’t dire, as that spot on Spaas Creek is less than fifteen miles from my house.  I could and have in the past ridden home from there.  I enjoy the ride even.  However, it was 2:35pm and I needed to be at the middle school to pick up my son in less than an hour.  That wasn’t going to happen.

Then I heard horses clomping down the road.  The four horsemen were returning to their trucks and trailers about a half mile further down Spaas Creek Road.

As the first guy approach I asked: “Any chance any of you would have an air compressor or pump in your trucks?”

They didn’t think they did.  When I told them what I suspected had happened they were aghast and said the Dog People had given them a little trouble too.  The dogs came out and barked at the horses and the couple hadn’t seemed too happy about the horses being there. 

They rode on to their trucks, and I was left with my problem.  It only took a minute or so to decide I had the power to help myself so I put my pack and helmet back on, locked the Jeep once again, and started riding toward home.  When I reached the horse guys one of them was waving a small box.

“I did have a pump!” he exclaimed.  It was one of those cigarette lighter powered tire pumps.

So I was able to air up both tires and get to town just in time to pick up Boone from his grandparents’ house.  He had walked there from school and said it was such a nice day he didn’t mind.

What was most troubling about the ordeal was that I didn’t do anything to antagonize the Dog People.  I was simply riding my bike on a public road through public land.  The dogs came after me.  I didn’t intentionally hurt either one of them and if I did make contact with the one dog it wasn’t hard enough to inflict injury.  My words were a little harsh for the couple, but I was justified in pointing out that they needed to keep control of their pets.

They fully intended to inconvenience and perhaps strand me in the woods.  I hope they didn’t think it would do damage to my Jeep. I know that driving on underinflated tires can damage all-wheel drive and it’s definitely not good for the tires.  I had to drive slowly back to town to fully inflate them both.

The incident wiped some of my typical anti-horse sentiment.  I could go into a whole post about the interactions with those guys.  Afterward I felt more inclined to reach out to the horseback community to partner for the Powder Mill Trail project.  I think I needed that interaction to open my eyes a little bit.

The weekend was packed with activity, but this one event took quite a bit of page space so look for another report around Wednesday.

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