The Hound of the Gastonvilles

The beast continued to advance its short fun bristling up over much of its body with an intermittent snarl revealing sharp and powerful teeth and a low rumble reverberating through its taut chest.

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My mind roiled in a feverish mix of fear and excitement as I imagined the following exchange between myself, the beast, and the beast’s owner:

“Bring it big boy!”  I shouted standing on the side of a state road clutching my helmet, “I’ll beat the fuck out of you!”

“There’s no need for that kind of language,” protested the dog’s owner from the edge of her yard, “He wouldn’t hurt a flea.”

I didn’t tell this woman her dog had hurled himself at me earlier in the day narrowly missing my thigh before striking my rear wheel.

Instead, I replied, “Ma’am, this dog intends me harm.  Either get control of him or I’m going to leave him lying in the street.”

The beast took another step prompting me to….

Understanding the evolution of this violent and savage scene requires a trip back in time of about a week when I first contacted the Gaston County Cycling Club about participating in its 25th annual Polar Bear Ride.

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I expressed interest, weather permitting, in attempting the event’s 100K metric centiry route.  The gentleman with whom I was speaking discouraged the idea saying most riders choosing that route average 18 – 20mph and that their volunteers would be reluctant to continue staffing rest stops and the finish line area to support a single slow cyclist.

After we hung up, I decided not to drive to Cramerton and play the entry fee even though I liked the charity the ride supported, a local chapter of Feeding America’s Backpack Program benefiting hungry children.  However, the weather deteriorated later in the week and with the temperature now forecast to be around 20 degrees at the start I realized I would ride the short route instead of my normal 100K as I am still getting acclimated to these below freezing conditions.

I communicated with the same gentleman again to inform him I would attend and to ask about the registration cost, which was listed at $25 on BikeReg.com and $35 on the Gaston County Cyclists website.  Online registration had been closed for at least a week prior to the event, and I asked if the BikeReg price would be honored, and he assured me it would.  I felt better about the nearly two hour drive with this $10 reduction in cost.

When I arrived that Saturday morning, the woman running the registration table quoted me the $35 price, and when I asked to see the gentleman to confirm our conversation, I learned he was not there due to being ill.  I paid the $35 and consoled myself with the thought I was helping put food on the table for hungry kids.

My ride went well, and while the short route was only 20 miles in length, crossing the finish line got me out of the cold or at least I thought it would.  I discovered the assembly area for cyclists was the outdoor patio of Doffer’s Canteen, a Cramerton eatery, where hot chili and warm sweet tea awaited us along with a small fire and space heater.  The fire and space heater struggled to provide warmth in the face of temperatures that had yet to reach 30 degrees, although I was told later cyclists were welcome to go inside Doffer’s to escape the cold.

I am not a fan of most chili, but this recipe went heavy on the beans, which I like.  I even had a second cup.  I did not enjoy the warm sweet tea and lamented the lack of hot chocolate, but had fun talking with other cyclists and club members who organized the event.  The polar bear mascot, always a nice touch at these cold weather rides, wore a white suit with a dark vest and matching boots.  She did not pull the bear’s head down over her face which made some of the costume’s features difficult to see and undermined the overall look.

I asked the mascot about a post on the Gaston County Cyclists website in which one of their members reported being bitten by a dog on a section of the intermediate (40 mile) route a week or two prior to the event, and while we were discussing that situation, a report came in of another cyclist suffering a deep puncture wound from a dog attack that morning on the 100K route.  Receipt of this news appeared matter of fact by club members even though the frequency of these attacks seemed excessive and a cause for alarm at least in my experience where cyclists are often chased but rarely bitten.

This news gave me pause about returning the following week to ride the 100K route in warmer weather until I remembered dogs are typically quarantined for 10 days after biting someone and then their owners do not always bring them back home.  Surely, these canines represented the extent of the local vicious dog population.  With that thought to comfort me, I made the almost two hour drive again three days later with the high temperature expected to be near 60.

All the routes begin with an over one mile ascent of Crowder Mountain, which I found easier this time perhaps because of the warmer weather or because I knew what to expect and stayed in the big ring.  My ride went well until I neared the intersection of Kendrick and Ridge Roads at about the 14 mile mark in York County South Carolina.  Twin dogs, resembling Wire Hair Fox Terriers, came charging out from a manufactured home and swirled around my bike.  I yelled at them as I continued to pedal and then felt a hit near the ankle of my right leg.  I glanced down to see that one of the dogs had bitten my Achilles tendon!  I wore thick double socks and shoe covers that velcroed over this area so fortunately the dog’s teeth did not penetrate past the fabric.  Wrenching free, I quickened my pace and left the dogs behind without further incident.

I settled back into the ride and traveled another 8 miles reaching the turn that signaled the beginning of the metric century loop.  Excitement and trepidation washed over me as I had completed a third of the ride without stopping but remembered I was entering the part of the route where another cyclist had been severely bitten the previous Saturday.   My apprehension proved warranted as two miles further in (24 mile mark) near the intersection of Lewis and Sparrow Springs Road in Gaston County I encountered two larger dogs while climbing a hill.  These dogs appeared to be mixed breeds and weighed about 50 – 60 pounds.  The one with the brown and white short haired coat bull rushed me and launched itself at my left thigh as it drew near on the bike.  Somehow its teeth failed to close on flesh and instead gave my rear wheel a glancing blow.  A quick look back confirmed the dog had lost its balance and came skittering to a stop in the middle of the road.  Its less aggressive and longer haired companion posed no immediate threat and once again I was able to pedal away uninjured.  Before reaching Sparrow Springs Road, I noticed “DOG” had been painted in large white letters in the opposite lane, and I remember thinking another ride must have trouble with this same canine.  Little did I know nor could I imagine the route I was on would bring me face-to-face with this same dog a second time.

Blissful remained my ignorance as I dipped back down into South Carolina for the third and final time encountering a series a rolling hills that I believe other cyclists termed “The Triple Ripple” and then reaching what I considered the most beautiful section of the ride, one that took me past Kings Mountain National Military Park before crossing back into North Carolina via Cleveland County.  I would enter the town of Kings Mountain , turn southeast, and be treated to a stunning view of the mountain itself (much more spectacular than the image below) on Lake Montonia Road as I neared Gaston County.

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Waiting for me ahead was the metric century route’s other signature climb (in addition to Crowder Mountain), a steep 700’ ascent on the aptly named Pinnacle Road.  I was euphoric when I crested that hill.  I was at the 39 mile mark, and I knew I could make it now to the finish of this craggy, western Carolina course without stopping for rest or refreshment.  My euphoria carried me to Sparrow Springs Road and masked my impending danger until I turned left back onto Lewis Road and pulled up short when I saw the word “DOG” painted directly ahead in large white letters.

“No way,” I thought, “What kind of pinheads would take you past a vicious dog, apparently a known vicious dog, not once but twice?!”

I spied a utility worker repairing a junction box on my right, and after garnering his attention and establishing his familiarity with the area, I asked how I could detour past Lewis Road to get back on Bethany.

“You really can’t,” he replied, “unless maybe you go down into South Carolina or up to Kings Mountain, but either direction would be miles and miles out of your way.”

I explained my encounter with the dogs earlier that day, and he sympathized.  “Yeah, I got a man working in front of that house, and they’ve been out in the front yard pretty much the whole time barking and raising Cain whenever we walk over to the truck.  There’s a woman who comes out and checks on them from time-to-time.”

Not knowing what else to do, I called animal control.  I was clear I was uninjured and my bike undamaged from the earlier attack, which caused the dispatcher’s interest to wane.  “This situation is low priority.  I don’t know when I can get a unit out there.”

I protested I was from Greensboro and was alone with no back-up or support and needed to get back to Cramerton before dark.  She found this situation odd even when I explained my limited participation in Saturday’s charity event coupled with my desire to ride the metric century route.

“May you should have planned better before coming back down here,” came her unhelpful reply.

“Oh, I got something that can handle that dog.  I just don’t want to use it.  I was hoping you could intervene.”  What I actually had was pepper spray, but I didn’t reveal that detail to the dispatcher in hopes of escalating the matter.  That ploy didn’t work.

“As long as what you’ve got is otherwise legal, you have the right to defend yourself on state property sir.  I’m not giving you an arrival time for a unit.  You’ll just have to wait there no matter how long it takes, and it’ll be awhile, if this is how you want to handle the situation.”

I disconnected and shook my head.

“That didn’t seem to go so well,” offered the utility worker.

“No, it didn’t,” I replied.

“Tell you what,” he said, “I’ve got to go down to the truck soon.  I have some pepper spray in there, and the other guy has pepper spray too.  Maybe between the two of us we can get you past that dog without anyone getting hurt.”

That idea became our plan.  I removed my helmet, head covering, gloves, and glasses in an effort to blend in and hopefully look more human to the dog.  We moved out a few minutes later with the utility worker in front and me trailing behind pushing the bike.  The dogs spotted us about the time we reached his vehicle and sounded a cacophonous alarm.

The utility worker shut the truck’s door after retrieving the pepper spray and called out to his friend.  “Hey _____, let’s see if we can get this guy past these dogs so he can be on his way.”  I noticed a woman walking across the front yard of the house about this time as well.  I felt relieved.  The situation seemed under control.

That’s when our strategy started to unravel.  The short haired dog evidenced little interest in the utility workers instead locking onto me as its fur started to bristle and a snarl escaped its maw with its sharp teeth glistening in the sun.  Apparently, I appeared no more human to the hound than I did on the bike and the owner’s ambling gait as she trekked across her yard also did little to reassure me.

“Don’t run.  Just keep your pace.  It may not like the sound of your [cycling] shoes on this pavement,” stated the first utility worker.

The hound continued its relentless, measured advance looking more like it might charge with each step as a low rumble began to build deep within its taut chest.

 

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My frustration with these aggressive dogs boiled over as the following scene played out in my mind:

I stopped to brandish my helmet towards the advancing canine and shouted, “BRING IT ON BIG BOY!  I’LL BEAT THE FUCK OUT OF YOU!”

“There’s no need for that kind of language,” admonished the owner who had halted at the edge of her yard, “He wouldn’t hurt a flea.”

I didn’t tell this woman her dog had hurled himself at me earlier in the day narrowly missing my thigh before striking my rear wheel.

“Ma’am, this dog intends me harm.  Get control of him or I’ll leave him lying in the road.”

In reality, the light weight helmet would have made a poor weapon , not to mention carrying it with one hand and holding onto the bike with the other hindered me from being able to reach my pepper spray.  Should this hound attack I would be in a tough spot.

The first utility worker motioned me to come around him while his companion engaged the owner in polite conversation as she seemed unconcerned about the actions of her dog insisting he was harmless.

The hound adjusted course and continued to approach me in a menacing manner.  The utility workers took turns interspersing themselves between me and the dog as we slowly exited its territory.  I thanked them for their help once we were clear, quickly redonned my helmet and other attire, and sped away on the bike.

Hills dominated the next 13 miles while the final 9 mile segment was largely flat and included the descent down Crowder Mountain.  I arrived back at Doffer’s Canteen in Cramerton prior to sunset even with my late morning start and lengthy dog delay.  Because the one stop I did make was safety related, not for rest or refreshment, I counted this effort as my 46th No Stops ride.

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I messaged a different Gaston County Cyclists club member the next day to let her know what had happened as well as what I enjoyed about their Polar Bear Ride.  I made a point of mentioning my positive experience Saturday on the short route and how much I liked the chili, the spectacular view of Kings Mountain I had doing their metric century, the road markings, and the overall design of the routes.  I critiqued a minor aspect or two of the event and raised the dog issue citing 4 dog attacks in approximately 2 weeks as evidence of a serious canine problem.   I wanted to be helpful, but my words were not well-received.  Here is a truncated version of the club member’s response:

Thank you for your comments….You say we have a serious dog problem.  We do not.  The homeowners have a serious dog problem….We do everything possible to ensure a safe ride….I have ridden the metric century route several times and have never had an issue with dogs.  You were unfamiliar with this area and riding alone.  I think you may have become confused and gotten lost.  We cannot be responsible for roads outside the official routes.

Here is a slightly more expansive version of what I messaged back:

Thanks for reading and replying…..When I tell someone I was bitten by a dog and then nearly bitten by a second dog, I say, quite naturally, that these attacks happened at the Gaston County Polar Bear Ride not in front of Jane Homeowner’s house…..

Have you considered adjusting your routes?  If not, you are NOT doing everything possible to ensure a safe ride…..

I absolutely stayed on your metric century route the entire time.  Remember I said your road markings were great and provided you with mileage data and street names taken directly from your cue sheet to identify where the attacks occurred…

I know riders sign waivers, but above and beyond liability issues, I know you also care about the experience your riders have.   I was BITTEN.  Another cyclist suffered a DEEP PUNCTURE WOUND on Saturday and one of your members was BITTEN on an official route a week or so before the ride.  I would think you would want to discuss these attacks as part of your planning meetings for next year.

To conclude, do I feel angry or resentful?  I do not.  I was not hurt nor was my bike damaged.  If anything, I feel sad.  This ride is challenging and has some gorgeous scenery.  Club members I met were decent, down to earth people.   I want to like and recommend this event.  But for the moment, all I can say is bring your pepper spray if you want to take part.  You’re going to need it.

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