It’s been a while since I wrote a dog-hike post, mainly because I’ve only been doing familiar, close-in trails. Buck has not been entirely happy with this state of affairs, as he considers even a six hour hike covering 14 miles and 4,000 feet of elevation gain disappointingly short. So I’ve been keeping him active in other ways.
For a while I gave him more run-free time by going to a large unofficial off-leash area near the Microsoft Advanta campus in Bellevue. This is a former airport, later garbage dump, and now a grassy field east of 156th Ave NE across from the State Troopers facility. There a group of dog owners regularly congregate around a bench to talk while the dogs play. In the picture on my About page I’m sitting on that bench.
Taking Buck there had its disadvantages. He’s not a fetch-and-retrieve dog, so he didn’t get much exercise. And the area is teeming with rabbits. It would have been fine if his only rabbit interaction was chasing them from grass to blackberry thicket, but he spent far more time seeking out and eating “rabbit nuggets.”
Then it occurred to me that we could go farther on our daily walks if I rode a bike. At first I resisted the idea, thinking it would be really awkward and the leash would get tangled or I’d run into Buck or he’d stick his nose through the spokes while the wheels were turning. But I decided to try it, and it worked out much better than expected, with one exception.
The leash-tangling hazard was resolved by using a retractable leash – it always stays taut between you and the dog. I have two – a 16 footer and a 26 footer. The 16 retracts more reliably, the 26 allows more freedom of movement for the dog.
This all worked out well until one day I was biking with Buck along 156th Ave NE on the sidewalk the other side of the road from the State Trooper facility. Suddenly he took off running hard, after I knew not what. The leash spun noisily out to its limit and yanked me forward. Brakes were useless and soon I was speeding along much too fast for safety. Then Buck crashed into the bushes and I knew I was next. I let go of the leash just as my bike plunged into the undergrowth in the ditch. The thicket stopped the bike abruptly and I went head over heels past the handlebars. At least the thick branches cushioned my fall – a little to the right or left and I’d have landed head first in rocks.
Meanwhile I heard a pitched battle going on somewhere beyond me in the woods, growls and snarls and yips and barks, and it sounded like Buck was getting beat up. But I couldn’t see anything, as my glasses had come off. And when I found them the lens on one side had popped out. Never did find it. Slowly I climbed up out of the bushes and made my way over to the battleground where I found Buck tangling with a raccoon. I found the leash end, and with great effort dragged him away. I bicycled home with one-eyed glasses, keeping Buck on a shorter-than-was-really-necessary leash. irrationally upset with him though of course the mishap was my fault for not being prepared for such an eventuality.
Buck paid for that encounter by having to wear the “cone of shame” after getting treated for Raccoon scratches.
I had to get a new pair of glasses. And a new plan for bike-walking Buck. I developed a new strategy: whenever bike-walking the dog I am prepared to let go of the leash immediately if Buck takes off after something (usually it’s a squirrel hustling to get the nearest tree). Then I catch up at a safe bike speed, dismount, and retrieve the end of the leash.
(Why not just train him to stop when commanded, you ask. I’ve done that, and sometimes it works. But over time between refresher courses the strength of that training wanes. And even when the training is fresh, sometimes instinct trumps even effective obedience training. Different dogs respond differently to training, and so-called dog training experts who assume you can achieve anything with any dog don’t realize dog personalities are as varied and unique as humans’. )
These events don’t happen very often, but I’ve avoided a couple crashes that way since the raccoon affair, and we’ve done a lot of bike-walking. Here’s a picture of my bike and Buck at Enatai beach in Bellevue, with the leash hanging from the fence rail in the background.
Of course, it’s also nice to be able to ride without holding on to a leash where that’s possible, and I’ve been doing more of that too over the last year. Here’s a picture taken near lake Keechelus. The yellow bottle in the bike water carrier is the dog water bottle you see in the Granite Mountain post.