6 min read

I Was Bitten by a Dog. Now What?

Next to distracted drivers, dogs are the biggest safety concern for many cyclists. Now I know why.
I Was Bitten by a Dog. Now What?

Pedaling in Peace

I was riding on a public stretch of road near the Dry Fork of the Cheat River outside Parsons, West Virginia, focused on keeping my heart rate in Zone 2. I found the smell of spring, bright green leaves, and the warm sun enchanting, for my home mountain was still topped with brown branches eeking out their first buds. 

Years ago, this stretch of river was home to me. Eric and I, along with his kids, had spent many weekends kayaking this section, and I'd often jog the shuttle during my marathon training. We also used one of my ancient childhood bikes to ride the shuttle, stashing it in the woods and figuring if anyone stole it, they needed it more than we did. 

Pedaling peacefully, I named the rapids I could see from the road and noted how low the river was. I had visited it when it was extremely high, but never this dry. I couldn't believe the boulders we had navigated over in our boats!

I felt a few fleeting moments of sadness mixed with pride, wondering what Eric would think if he could see me on a drop-bar, skinny-wheeled gravel bike wearing a bike jersey with stuffed pockets and feeling like a roadie. I thought of how far my cycling had come since I first met him and how much it had always been a part of my life. I recalled my first off-road century ride in 2020 and how I purposely put this section of river in the route so I could be there as the sun rose. I remembered when the road was gravel. 

Enjoying the simplicity of a long, slow Zone 2 ride, this stretch of road lulled me into a zen-like reflection. I needed to add this route to my repertoire.

Is that a Bear?

Maybe that should've been my first clue. The dog and her people were at least a hundred yards ahead, and from a distance, it looked like they were loading a bear into their car! I smiled and found it amusing. The bear changed her mind and decided to check me out. As it approached, I realized it was a huge, fluffy dog. For some reason, I wasn't scared. The folks tried to call it back, but it was too interested in me. While not running fast, it was coming my way. I breathed deeply, purposely pushing aside any fear or anxiety. I didn't want the dog to pick up on either, causing it to see me as prey. 

My choices were to pedal through or stop. The last time I was bitten by a dog that drew blood, I was stopped. The bike was between us, and the dog was on a leash. He still darted around behind my bike and bit me anyway. Also, I've outridden plenty of little dogs before and know I'm faster on my bike than on my feet. 

I'm making all of these calculations as I decide to keep pedaling. I'm still far away from the people. Not long after that decision, the dog decided to do more than look like a bear and charged me. She grabbed onto my calf while I was still riding. Again. My knee was next, but I must've screamed loud enough to get her off of me. 

I didn't crash, but I was off my bike now. Blood was pouring out of multiple punctures. I was shaking. I'd never had such physical trauma like this. When I sliced the same calf eight years earlier while mountain biking, I never felt it. 

The next few minutes don't warrant a play-by-play. But I was terrified, out of cell service and eight or nine miles from my van.

Thankfully, the dog's people got me and my bike back to my van. I called my friend Ed, a doctor, and realized I needed to stop calling him only during catastrophes. He stressed the need to clean the bites thoroughly with soap and water. Thankfully, the van water system was hooked up since the eclipse trip, and I had plenty of soap on board. Using the hose out of the back of the van to clean those wounds is currently my number one reason for owning a campervan as a daily driver.

Still shaking, I managed the 35-minute trip home from Parsons. I only wanted to get home and clean the bites in the shower. I wasn't sure of the depth of the punctures and had hopes that I could escape the hospital, and I certainly didn't want to go alone. 

As Ed wrapped the wounds with pressure to keep them from bleeding, I accepted the fact that I was bound for the Emergency Department. And that was fine. I wanted to get this over with. My friend Bill came to get me, and my heart rate was finally returning to normal. 

Due to the bruising and nature of the wounds, the lidocaine-numbing needles were intensely painful. The tears flowed, but I otherwise contained myself. A two-year-old boy beside me didn't. It felt like he was wailing for both of us.

Five hours after getting bitten, I headed home with six stitches, one tetanus shot, and a script for antibiotics.

Twice Shy

The physical wounds are healing. I am hopeful I'll recover without any infections. I look at the bites and am filled with anger, disgust, and gratitude all at once. A single puncture above my kneecap serves as a symbol for what could've been. The bites didn't interfere with ligaments, tendons, or blood vessels. My skin and well-appointed adipose tissue protected my muscles. I can walk, and I can ride. I am otherwise healthy, so my immune system is solid. The antibiotics seem to be doing their job, and thanks to Greek yogurt, my gut is hanging in there.

The battle is in my mind. Sleep would only follow endless replays the first few nights after the attack. I could see and feel it over and over again. I would wake up crying, my old friend sadness settling up shop during the day. As much as riding my bike is work these days, it is also my freedom. My escape from every other pressure or worry in life. It's my time to experience the good, bad, and ugly of nature, work out unsolvable problems, or admit they don't matter. Riding has become the driving force on my road to recovery from grief and loss. 

But now, I am scared to ride alone, especially long distances through regions without service—which essentially describes my training. I had my Garmin inReach with me, so that or a passerby could've bailed me out if needed. However, I realized that just like I can't control the weather, I certainly can't control another creature. But for every issue I've encountered while riding these last few years, I've adapted by changing something about my process, my gear, or my mindset. I don't know how to apply that method to a pissed-off dog afraid of bikes.

A few days in, I suddenly remembered it was time to dig into the Diana Nyad well. If you haven't read her memoir, Find a Way, or seen the Netflix film, Nyad, I highly recommend both. Diana Nyad is the American swimmer famous for attempting to swim more than 100 statute miles from Cuba to Key West without assistance. While she had a crew on boats, she swam without a shark cage, wet suit, physical help, or breaks on the ship. What she did have was an ongoing battle with box jellyfish, swarms of which would sting her at once. The stings are life-threatening and unimaginably painful. Over multiple attempts at her impossible dream, she faced down the jellyfish, each time with a little more preparation and solutions to mitigate the inevitable. Understandably, others attempting the same feat gave up when faced with the jellyfish; she did not. 

“That down feeling, quitting, was far worse than suffering it out to the end, because that decision to quit haunts you and bleeds over into your outlook on everything else, just as not quitting buoys you for all else.”- Diana Nyad

Diana's inspiring story has become part of my endurance DNA. Armed with that and some dog-specific pepper spray, we'll see how this goes.

Hazel ready to ride last summer. She and her friends immediately got to work restoring my faith in the canine species.