On July 7th, 2007, I was riding back to Oakland from Tacoma, along the Oregon coast. It was late, around 11:00pm, and the weather had turned rather chilly. Several miles south of Florence, Oregon, as I rode up a pitch black, desolate hill, an oncoming car flashed its brights at me a couple of times. “Jerk!” I thought, and flashed him back. After reconsidering, I thought he might be warning me of a speed trap, so I dropped down to a more legal speed.Coming over the rise, alert for the presence of any cars at the side of the road, I noticed a furry blur rocket past on the shoulder. It appeared to be a dog, walking at a brisk pace alongside Highway 101. Thinking that it was a bit odd to be out without its human, I stopped and circled back. The dog looked a bit shocked by this, and switched over to the opposite side of the road. I did another u-turn and came up beside him, getting a nervous, sidelong glance in return. He wouldn’t come over to the bike while it was running, but he seemed interested in some human companionship, so I turned off the engine and hopped off.
He was still dubious, and kept wandering along the opposite side of the road. I was calling to him, but he wasn’t committing. Unfortunately, that was about when headlights came over the next hill. A car was approaching, probably doing the usual 60mph, and this dog was still in the middle of that lane. I flipped on the ignition and started flashing my brights as fast as I could, but the oncoming vehicle showed absolutely no sign of slowing, whatsoever.
I was beginning to panic, flashing back to a particularly gruesome experience from a childhood Halloween, and was alternating between looking away in horror, and looking back in hopes that he had moved. At the last moment, the dog changed his course a bit to move out of the way, but I could swear the truck must have missed him by only a foot.
Since the dog was still skittish, I hopped back on the bike and road fifty yards or so up the road, to where the shoulder was wider at the end of a guardrail. I got off the bike, and took off my helmet and gloves just in time for the dog to come skulking nervously past me again. Getting down on my knees, with a lot of soothing calling, he finally walked over to me. Not in the, “I’m happy and curious to know you,” way, but more in the, “I have no idea where I am, and I’m just going to stand in front of you because you’re a human who might not kill me,” way.
With enough petting and cooing, he let me hold his collar and get a look at his dog tag. The owner’s name, address, and phone number were listed, along with the dog’s name, Bungie. He seemed a lot happier being around me once I called him by his name. Sure enough, the address was in Florence, which was several miles back in the opposite direction from where he was headed.
I pulled out my cell phone and, of course, had absolutely no signal. A car would pass every minute or so, but absolutely nobody stopped. In fact, I don’t think anyone even slowed down for safety’s sake! I started going over my mental inventory of what I had with me that I could use to tie poor Bungie to the guard-rail while I rode back into Florence to find a street I’d never heard of.
Luckily, at just about that moment, a highway patrolman finally arrived, lights ablaze. I can’t think of the last time I was happy to see police emergency lights when I was on a road trip. In fact, I don’t think I ever have! I walked back toward the police truck, which was stupid because Bungie was spooked by the newcomer and wandered away from the safety of the side of the road again. “You’re gonna get run over like that!” he said. “Yeah, but I have a dog here that’s out here alone, and his tag says he’s from Florence!”
By this time, Bungie was across the street, eyeballing the cop with the same dubious stare he’d given me only minutes earlier. I couldn’t blame him, since cops give me the willies, too. “Will he come to you?” the officer asked. Hmm, I bent down a bit, slapped my thighs, and gave the perkiest, “Bungie! C’mere, boy!” that I could muster. Bungie bounded over, tail wagging, delighted to come to someone who was, by comparison, an old and trusted friend.
The cop, despite his initial gruffness, was clearly a dog lover. He praised and petted Bungie as I walked him past by his collar. He wrote down the information as I read it off Bungie’s dog tag, and said he thought he knew the owners. Once we got the rear door of the quad-cab police truck open, I walked Bungie over to it, shuffling along backwards between the truck bed and the hillside, since Bungie refused to go first. In typical doggie manner, he had already forgotten the stresses of the evening, and was simply excited to be going for a ride, though the extremely high seat caused some trouble. I had to grab around his ribcage and give a good lift upward to get him up into the seat. So there I left him, sitting awkwardly with his butt on the seat, his forelegs all the way down to the floor, uncomfortable, but infinitely better off than he had been on his own.
The cop seemed pretty delighted with the experience. No doubt having expected to find some moron biker doing something stupid, he instead found out that he got to haul home what will probably be the friendliest and most pleasant ‘perp’ in his career. He thanked me enthusiastically, including a handshake (how often do you get one of those in a traffic stop?), and wished me a good night.
Foolishly, and uncharacteristically, I never took a picture of Bungie. So, I’ll have to rely upon this artist’s rendition of the scene: