Greatest Chase

For an avid cyclist, country life beats city life hands down. The roads are wide open, have little traffic, and there are virtually no stop signs or lights. The few times I’ve visited big cities and rented bikes, I’ve come home with an even greater appreciation for country roads.

However, there is one downside to riding in the country: dogs. We tend to have a lot more of them running loose, and even those “invisible fences” don’t always work. We’ve gotten a pretty good idea of where every loose dog lives along our favorite routes, and are usually prepared for the inevitable chases. It’s usually not a big deal at all. The dog gallops along, barking, making a big show of ensuring you exit his personal territory as quickly as possible. As soon as you reach his invisible border line, he breaks off the chase and trots home. It’s virtually always more theater than genuine threat.

Last night, we had a very different experience. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this one.

My seven-year-old son and I were out for a nice, easy, evening ride on our tandem. Just pedaling along, enjoying a wonderful rural road, canopy of trees overhead. I was somewhat familiar with this road, but hadn’t ridden it in a long time. I chose it for our tandem ride in part because it was especially isolated and low-traffic.

About a half-mile down this particular rode, we came upon a run-down house, with four State Police vehicles parked in front of it. Cops everywhere. My first thought was “meth lab,” but there was no hazmat team. More likely, they’d tracked a fugitive to the house. I commented to my son that there sure were a lot of police cars there, and somebody dangerous was probably inside. We smiled and nodded at a young state trooper, and kept cruising along at about 15 MPH.

We pedaled on for a bit, everything seemingly normal. I heard and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Still, I got an uneasy feeling. Something told me to look over my shoulder; in retrospect, I’m sure it was my guardian angel (and my son’s). Lo and behold, a huge dog was closing in on us like a heat-seeking missile. He immediately struck me as different from the typical “country dog” who’s just making a show of escorting us through his territory. For starters, he wasn’t barking. He was just running, and doing so with a sense of singular purpose. The way he was looking at us, and the intensity of the way he carried himself, he appeared to be a deadly serious professional. He wasn’t going to quit until he’d taken us down.

germanshepard

Stock photo. No, I didn’t take this picture from the bike.

I noticed something else that was different from the typical country dog: he was dragging a leash. That’s when I put two and two together, and realized this must’ve been an escaped police dog. He’d somehow confused me for the fugitive, and broken away. This dog actually had the skills and training to take me (and my seven year old) down hard. And that really scared the hell out of me.

Behind the dog, I could see a blue police car already joining the chase, but I doubted the cop could call the dog off in time. My son and I were on our own. I stomped on the pedals, and cranked like our lives depended on it. Problem is, it’s not easy accelerating a tandem with a young kid on the back; his power-to-weight ratio just hasn’t developed enough to be of much help. Still, thanks to a crazy adrenaline rush, I managed to get up to about 29 MPH, all the while glancing back. The dog closed to just behind our rear wheel, and was in the middle of the street, looking like he was trying to find a way to strike.

Fortunately, the police car was closing in as well. He was blowing his horn wildly over the PA speakers, doing everything he could to get the dog to break off the chase. As the dog got a bit winded, I was eventually able to pull away a little, and it looked like the cop pulled his car in front of the dog to cut him off.

I glanced back a couple of times, to make sure everything was contained, but otherwise hightailed it out of there and went straight home.

We never did find out what all the police activity was about. Coincidentally, just as we reached our driveway (several miles away, along a more major feeder route), the first couple of state police vehicles came cruising past. I thought about flagging one of them down, and asking if they’d caught whoever they’d been trying to catch — and, more importantly, how in the world they’d let that dog get loose.

But I supposed it didn’t matter, and it wasn’t worth raising a ruckus about. We’d made it home safely, and my son and I got some excitement we’ll never forget. This was definitely a dog chase for the books.

One of Those Things You Don’t Really Believe Until You See…

Posting has been slow of late because I’ve been swamped with professional work. But our family did manage to get down to Amish country in northern Indiana over Labor Day weekend, for the big Midwest Tandem Rally. I’ll post more about that event later, but in the meantime had a photo to share.

We’d forgotten a few key items on the trip, so we stopped at a Wal-Mart in Sturgis, Michigan. It’s just across the state line from where all the Amish families live.

That’s when we discovered just how universal Wal-Mart’s customer base is. And the lengths to which Wal-Mart will go to accommodate its customers:

Yes, that’s a hitching post. And, yes, those are about a half dozen Amish buggies. And, no, I wouldn’t have believed it unless I’d seen it.

I realize many people have divided opinions about Wal-Mart and the merits of shopping there versus supporting local Mom and Pop merchants. For the record, we prefer to support small local merchants, too … but sometimes Wal-Mart is the best option.

It was interesting to find that even the Amish agree.

Catching My Breath

For those who figured I dropped off the face of the earth: you’re right. But I’m back. Posting has been slow the last week or two because everything else turned outrageously busy. Had a couple of projects to deliver for work, and needed to go to Washington DC on Wednesday-Thursday. Yesterday was spent tying up loose ends.

On top of it, some of you may remember a post from January in which I mentioned going “back to school.” I was taking a graduate statistics course in data mining, offered online through a university in Connecticut. Although much of that course ended up being review of other statistics methods with which I was already familiar, the review in itself reminded me of some fundamentals that I’d let get rusty. Then, on Wednesday of this past week, we had our major final project due. I was immersed in that for quite some time, occasionally well into the night, as I tried improving upon my models. That’s what I love most about data mining: the adventure of the hunt for the optimal model. In the end, I don’t think I got a perfect solution — but the key was that I learned a ton about the process, and also about the Clementine software.

In a sense, it was liberating not having to worry about a GPA. I still wanted to do as well as possible on the project, and I need to pass the course so I can take future courses in the sequence. But for once in my life, I didn’t really care whether I got an ego-boosting “A” or a humiliating “D.” I know that I stretched myself immensely, and learned what I needed to learn. I would like a good grade to show for it, but I’m discovering that grades have little meaning in themselves…particularly in this context. And after a lifetime of anxiety over grades and GPAs, I guess that’s why the word “liberating” is what comes to mind.

But of course I had three other projects all come in right as this school project was due…and there was the forced deadline of catching a 3pm flight to DC on Wednesday afternoon. All the while dealing with sheep who were begging for freshly cut grass and weeds (those lawn mower breaks were actually very refreshing, and helped clear my head).

It’s great to have the desk cleared off for a few days now, and it was wonderful spending yesterday evening just hanging out with the kids and watching their favorite movie with them. The weather is looking nice for today, so hopefully we’ll get the tandem out of the barn and roll up some miles.

When we’re not cutting some grass for the sheep.

Tandem Time

We’ve finally had a thaw these last few days, which has allowed us to get the tandem bike out of the barn and back on the road. Feels wonderful to be getting fresh air; this place was frozen solid for an unbelievable number of weeks. I did set the tandem up on an indoor trainer for awhile, but it just wasn’t the same as being outside.

Both of the boys went out with me yesterday, when it was sunny and fifty degrees; Big Brother stoked for nearly ten miles, and Little Brother (who would now like to be known on the blog as “Forest Puppy” — long story) stoked for nearly seven miles. Homeschooled Farm Girl (HFG) did a 10K on Thursday, and another 11 miles today. The big news is that HFG grew quite a bit over the winter, and has now graduated to the “adult” pedals that Big Brother had been using. Her feet even grew enough to fit his cycling cleats comfortably. That means little Forest Puppy is the only kid still using the Child Stoker Kit (visible in this photo, but notice that his pedals have been removed so HFG can ride using the lower set).

HFG and I had a grand time exploring the rural roads surrounding our farm today. We especially enjoyed riding past one house, where a couple of crusty old farmers were out in the front yard burning leaves. They looked up and smiled broadly as we rode past, and we all waved at each other. “Great day for a ride!” one of them exclaimed. I think it’s difficult to look at a tandem, especially with a kid on the back of it, and not smile. And speaking of which, we passed several houses over the last few days that had kids playing in the front yards. Regardless of age, each of these children has had a nearly identical reaction: a gaping stare, accompanied by an expression of wistfulness. My stoker kid typically smiles and waves, and then we disappear over the next hill. Perhaps someday they’ll realize how lucky they are.

Daddy is tired, but glad to be getting back into shape. I used to be an avid cyclist, having ridden over two dozen events like this one or these when I was younger. But when the kids started arriving, I found that I just couldn’t do justice to both family and cycling. I tried to do both, for much too long, and both suffered badly; finally, at the end of 1999, I hung up the cleats and rarely touched my Bianchi again. But I never lost my love for the sport, or the open road. And now that the children are older and finding they enjoy riding stoker, cycling has gone from Family Time Killer to Coveted Daddy-Kid Time.

Here’s hoping that we can all rack up many many more miles this year…