dog, bike, woods

Yesterday, Natasha took Bubba out for a three mile run and he misbehaved the entire time. He was jumpy, pulling, distractible, and hyperactive, despite having plenty of exercise the day before (as he does every day). This morning I set out for a long bike ride with him, planning on tiring him out so we could get some things done later today. He was the same way for me; wanting to sniff every tree and pull toward every yard. I started correcting him whenever he wasn’t focused on where we were going, and he fell in line pretty quickly. That’s a lot easier to do on the bike than walking or running, because we’re moving faster and he has less opportunity to fixate on things.

Anyway, without a route in mind, we ended up down at Stony Brook Reservation, a couple miles away from home. This is a big area of woods crisscrossed by a network of hiking and mountain biking trails as well as paved walking paths. Natasha and I have taken Bubba here for a few walks with mixed success. I’ve practiced trail riding with him a couple times near the house in the morning, but this was our first time “mountain biking” so to speak. It’s tricky because normally I ride upright and hold the leash at my left side with my right hand on the handlebars. That allows me to work the rear but not the front brake, which is okay at the speeds we go on the street, but not okay for trails. So it was super important that Bubba stayed by my side and didn’t pull when I would bring my left hand up to the handlebars to work the rear brake (or for more stability on rough trails). If he were to pull, it would jerk the handlebars to the left and we’d crash into each other or into the woods.

He behaved like a champ. He was so happy being in the woods and we banged around on the trails for an hour at a steady run. We saw two walkers with their dog, a small terrier which they picked up as we biked past. Bubba barked and pulled, but got over it quickly. On our way out we saw someone walking a golden retriever on a nearby path. That dog was really agitated by us and barked loudly… and Bubba barely glanced his way. I imagine proximity has something to do with the difference in his reaction to those two dogs, but in my mind, the second dog would seem much more threatening. It’s important to note these things, to be better able to anticipate his reactions in the future.

The real reason I wanted to write about our ride this morning is to recognize some of the great things Bubba has brought me. While we were out riding this morning, all that mattered was the trail below us, making it up that hill, avoiding that root. We had the wind, the mud, the woodpeckers drumming around us, and the earthy smells of the woods. We were pushing our bodies hard and exploring new places and a new physical challenge together. I didn’t think at all about work, or money, or any of the things I have to do this weekend. I felt the way I did as a kid, the enjoyment of immersing my full senses into something I love doing. This dog gives me countless opportunities to experience life in the moment, stripped down to the essentials. It feels authentic. These are lessons he’s required me to learn in ways that no person could have shown me.