19 Jan 2011
The phrase, “Like a rabid pack of dogs,” popped into my head this morning. I woke out of a dream where I was trying to explain to someone what I feel like when I’m not riding. Apparently I’m getting desperate for a proper fix of adrenaline and endorphins so I’m seriously considering going for a run. Ick… but the words echoing in my head this morning reminded me of one of my favorite stories from the Western Hemisphere Bike Expedition.
In the summer of 2000, Scotty and I landed in Prudhoe Bay, AK – also known as Deadhorse. Prudhoe Bay is an oil field on the arctic ocean and it’s as far north as you can go on a road in Alaska.
How and why we found ourselves there with our touring bikes and gear is another story entirely. After many weeks of traveling down the Haul Road, through Fairbanks, out the Parks Highway into Anchorage, we met up with a friend who told us he had a place for us to stay in Anchorage.
This long leg of sleeping outside in the pristine and sublime wilderness of the Arctic had us pretty excited for the chance to have a roof over our heads. Being smarter than the bears was a full time job and the idea of not having to worry about our food as well as ourselves becoming bear snacks for a night was a nice thought. Up to this point we had done a good job. In fact, the scariest thing that happened on the trip to Anchorage involved a mama moose and her calf. Again, a story for another time.
The weather was terrible when we rolled into Anchorage. Torrential downpours, deep black-blue clouds cracked with thunder and lightening and crazy wind swept through the city. It was the middle of the day but it felt like the middle of the night, which was also weird because the sun doesn’t go down in the summer. We found our friend, Mark, at the REI where he was working and living in the back of his truck in the parking lot behind the store, (not at all uncommon in AK). After an afternoon of tripping around town with Mark he took us to where we’d be sleeping that night.
It was never clear to me who’s house we’d be crashing at but it was crystal clear they’d left in a rush for a climbing trip. It looked like a bomb had gone off inside the house. Every surface, including the floors, was covered in stuff and after a few uncomfortable moments it became clear Mark didn’t even know these people. They were friends of friends of friends or something like that. Awkward.
Normally we would have gotten on our bikes and moved on but we were in the middle of the city, the rain was coming down in buckets, we were tired and there was no real possibility of getting to a campground that night. So we carefully pushed aside the piles of things on the living room floor to make enough space to put out our sleeping bags and tried to get some sleep.
Certain the occupants were about to arrive home at any moment, I slept with one eye open. Fitfully tossing and turning in and out of slumber I listened to every rain drop hit the deck outside, every whistle of the wind through the cracks in the house and every leaf rustling on every tree. And then I heard steps on the stairs but it wasn’t just steps, it sounded like an army was running up the stairs outside to the front door (the main entrance to the house was on the second story with a flight of stairs for access).
In the haze of my half sleep I heard the front door crash open. I fully awakened to 5 huge dogs, (some mammoth-mutant breed of Husky), running wildly in circles in the front room around us. 10 red eyes filled with rage looked down on us eagerly waiting for the nod from their leader to attack. It was like a tornado of 2000 wet tasmanian devils spinning out of control.
While still in the warm cocoon of our bags, it occurred to me we were in a very compromising situation. We were about to be eaten alive by a wild pack of dogs in a house in a neighborhood in Anchorage. Think of the headlines after our bodies were discovered… “Man and Woman Devoured by Unknown Assailants – Neighbors say they saw Aliens.”
A millisecond later I was on my feet. I stood up tall, squared my shoulders, pointed to the door and shouted in a very deep and loud voice, “Everybody OUT!” The leader of the pack stopped, looked me straight in the eye and turned toward the door. The rest of his buddies followed him out. Scotty later said he’d never seen me exude so much authority and was completely awe-stricken the crazed dogs actually did what I asked. Needless to say, I was surprised as well.
Running to shut the door behind the last evil dog, the reality and weirdness of the event started to settle in. How did they get in? What were they doing out there? What on earth just happened?????
There was a little window in the front door and I peeked out to see what was going on. I was met with a giant menacing dog face pressed up against the glass. Standing taller than me, the alpha dog was up on his hind legs leaning into the door and pushing hard. I could feel the door jam start to loosen and I yelled at Scotty to find me something to put against the door or these dogs were getting back in.
After securing the door, we took stock of the situation. There was much discussion about being dog food and we finally decided there was nothing to do other than try to get a few hours of sleep. The plan was to get out first thing in the morning. Those dogs were milling and puttering around outside on the deck for the rest of the night. I remembering asking Scotty how we were going to get out of the house if those crazed dogs wouldn’t leave? We were trapped and would be dead meat for sure.
We woke up to blood curdling screams of a woman’s voice down on the street.
“CALL YOUR DOGS OFF! Oh my god, they are attacking my dog! CALL YOUR DOGS OFF!”
I didn’t know what to do. Images of blood, hair and body parts strewn down the street rushed through my head. I cracked the front door open enough to stick just my head out and yelled, “They are not our dogs!” This was the distraction the lady needed to make her escape as the pack of insane dogs came sprinting back up the stairs to my voice.
Great. Now they were back up at the front door instead of down on the street where at least there was a possibility for distraction creating a window of opportunity for us to get out in one piece. I was pretty certain we were not getting out, ever. Finally, after getting our stuff packed up, we decided we had no choice but to make a run for it. We were determined not to be a headline in the morning paper.
When there seemed to be a lull in the commotion outside, we grabbed our stuff, hauled our bikes and trailers down the stairs and rode as hard as we could in a direction we hoped, but didn’t know for certain, was away from the dogs. I heard them behind us but never saw them. I couldn’t get myself to look back for fear of slowing down and giving them one last chance to get me.
Obviously, we survived but the hair-raising lesson here is cities are dangerous places and you should sleep outside whenever possible. Don’t worry about the people; they are, for the most part, ok but watch out for the dogs. For me personally, I learned my voice is a powerful tool in times of danger and distress. Maybe more importantly, it’s good to remember life can throw you for a loop when you least expect it. I seem to keep learning that one over and over again.
** For those of you who know me, I apologize. I’m sure you’ve already heard this story a million times.**