“Hey Buddy” wasn’t working. Brandon was off his bike. Walking toward the dog. Black, wild eye’d, teeth out. Mad. He really didn’t want Brandon to be walking him down like Davy Crockett walked down a bear. The dog: apparently not a Disney fan. I was dead. Legs cooked. Eyes roving, half mast lids, tongue dry, lips cracking at the corners. I couldn’t outsprint the dog. I couldn’t out descend the dog even if there was a downhill to be had. There wasn’t. Just endless climbing. Continual grinding, legs fried like over cooked cheap bacon at a greasy diner. We’d been to out nowhere, and slightly further.
Woodsboro to Taneytown to Westminster to New Winsor with endless dirt roads, fantastically named: Ruggles Road, Murkle Road, Molasses Road, and Whiskey Springs. Which is where we were, when the dog ambushed John and Brandtonio Branderas. A culvert, dust hanging suspended in the late afternoon sunlight. The dog’s eyes shiny, furious, his voice an automatic shot gun. During the confrontation, Brandon’s new idea being to walk down any threatening dog, I snuck by, silently crawling up the hill. Face beyond agony. Face of the finished.
The day started well. Ended well too, in that I didn’t die, didn’t walk a hill, didn’t get bit by a dog, didn’t collapse in a ball crying. But we headed out, all kitted up in Fresh Bike Doctor Frederick style. Past farms of black hogs rooting in thick soil.
Alpaca in black and cream, eyes and ears curious at our passing, fat sheep in winter wear, munching impossibly green grass, brown cows with huge eyes and soft noses, goats in herds butting heads and complaining bitterly about the lack of cans to eat. The narrow bike path width road leading to a double truss bridge and a thickly regraded section of dirt. Cow dung stinging the sinuses. Clinging to cleats, cranks and chainrings. The road unwinding into unridden territory. New dirt, bisecting soy fields, yellow leaves low against umber soil against cerulean sky. Clouds smeared and dancing.
Four hours in and we are out of food. The last dregs of water tepidly swirl in our bottles. Our natural orientation decimated by two pages of cue sheets, wandering wooded paths and wide open farm fields. Plow on, peep and pass towns of derelict splendor and minimal merchantiles. No water. No food. Partisans eye us from behind tattered drapery, fresh around Calvin Coolidge’s first term. Did he have a second term? The vistas, views and visions are blurring, the need for something squishy and delicious is causing my glasses to fog with heaping helpings of hamburgers.
Suddenly we’re in Pleasant Valley, impossibly perfect, a glorious trudge up a rolling hill cuddled by farms of a picturesqueness rarely seen outside of the Sound of Music. Are there even farms in that film? If there is, they would look like this. Tiny farm animals masticating grass so lush and perfect that it looks like it was rolled out fresh that morning.
We’re (and by we I mean me and my legs) are falling apart. Think Buick LeSaber circa 1984. Never good to begin with, now really really bad. Need food. Neglected to check the magic food reserves preride. Paying. Digging deep. Eight more miles to New Windsor and the lovely 7-11. Drag over Jasontown Rd. Sloppily ascend John Shirk. Barely broach the big gear. Gratifyingly grind the granny gear. I go someplace else. Florida. No hills in my head.
Truck traffic signals the town of New Windsor. 7-11 looms large. We rush in: poach Pop Tarts, fig newtons, a chocolate eclair pie, we quaff danishes, squishy unidentifiable bars of infinite calories. Vitamin I. Gatorade. Water. Pink Tic Tacs.
The fuel refreshed. We plowed on, into the early afternoon. We dodged dogs, ate dust and chain oil, fanatically pushed through and persevered. The day was long. The ride was hard. We chipped the mud off our cleats, clipped in, continued on.