Before embarking on my southbound journey along the Adventure Cycling Association's mapped Underground Railroad Route I had noted that previous cyclists had offered warnings about loose dogs in some of the more rural areas, particularly once one ventured into Kentucky and then into Tennessee. In preparation, I purchased what I considered to be the requisite can of HALT pepper spray at a bicycle shop just south of Newport, Kentucky. I'm ready, I thought to myself. I can't let a few dogs get in the way of my long dreamed of cycling adventure.
That was a little over three weeks ago. Yesterday I entered Mississippi and a lot has happened in the interim. Essentially, the dogs have won. I am absolutely fed up with being chased, hounded and otherwise constantly threatened by animals that have the potential to cause my death under what could prove to be horrific circumstances. I am very fortunate to have never lost control of my loaded touring bicycle as I rapidly respond to one or two or on at least one occasion more than half dozen loose dogs bearing down on me. I have growled and barked at them until I have gone hoarse. I have used pepper spray and have blasted my air horn at them. At one point I needed to suddenly swerve to avoid one dog only to find myself dangerously close to traffic passing me on these insidiously narrow roads lined with rumble strips.
If anyone were to ask my advice about cycling along the route I just traversed I would simply say “Don't bother.” I accept that there are inherent dangers when one chooses to tour by bicycle. It requires you to stay alert and be prepared to deal with traffic, unknown roads, and much else. But to add to that the experience of constantly being harassed by animals that could cause you significant harm turns what should be an enjoyable experience into something at times verging on a nightmare.
I have spent the past few hours reading over numerous articles on CGOAB regarding this issue. There are lots of suggestions about how to deal with dogs, and page after page of discussion on the forums about “who is to blame.” Maybe it is the cyclist's fault for being on the road suggests one person. No, it is the irresponsible dog owner who doesn't maintain control of his or her animal, says another. I am firmly of the belief that dogs aren't irresponsible, it is the caretakers of those animals who are. However, such a relatively straightforward perspective flies in the face of an entrenched culture in this part of the world that seems grounded in the belief that dogs are meant to be free and unencumbered.
I have cycled thousands of miles around England, and across much of southern Ontario and upstate New York over the past ten years. In all that time and over all that distance, I could count my experiences with troublesome dogs on one hand. Such encounters have clearly been the exception. In rural America they seem to be the rule.
Loose dogs have spooked me off continuing to pursue cycling in this part of the country. Rural America can continue to enjoy its dog centered culture. I just don't want to have anything to do with it. It is too dangerous.