The latter half of my day yesterday proved to be far more productive. I left Pergia taking back roads towards the northwest rather than heading the two kilometers south, then back west, and then north to stay on major streets. I had this route mapped out beforehand and, miraculously, I was able to follow these directions without a hitch. There was a bit of doubt a couple times when the road would “y” and I wasn’t sure if this was the true road or another set of driveways. I would just wait until a car passed by and hope they were using the road and not heading home.
On two separate occasions I passed a shepherd leading his sheep down the road. I also passed a few homes with kids playing in the yard. For them, seeing a stranger walk down their street must have been quite a novelty. They would watch me and wave until the road took me out of sight. That was cute. What wasn’t so cute was the dogs.
Most of the time these dogs were chained. Most of the time. On those rare occasions they weren’t, I would fervently pray while meekly walking by the far side of the street. They would bark and chase but they never followed me far into the road or beyond their property.
Then I walked around one corner to see a dog right in the middle of the road on the top of the hill ahead. I stopped. Somehow I had to get by this dog. There was no going around and I had walked much too far in this direction to consider going all the way back. He hadn’t yet seen me when I first stopped, but once I steeled myself and continued forward I didn’t have long before I was spotted. While still about ten to fifteen feet away, I moved to one side of the street and this dog backed to the other while barking furiously at me. By the time I had come even with him, two other dogs also unchained, had joined him from out of the woods on that side of the street. I had barely gone past them when a monster silently came barreling out of the woods on my side heading straight for me.
I thought to myself, “If you run you’re a dead man.” So I turned towards this beast while not quite facing him directly. I kept my sight on him while not quite looking him in the eye. This big black thing looked to be a cross between a Rottweiler and a Retriever. Once I was turned toward him, the beast pulled up short and began barking. His teeth were bared, his ears and tail were up. And other dogs were still joining in. In all, there were seven dogs massed behind this beast who got as close as about five feet but no closer.
I kept my arms down at my sides, but there was an aluminum water bottle inches away from each hand I was more than ready to grab and use as a club. I was doing my best to look submissive and nonthreatening while still looking alert and ready to defend myself. Slowly I started walking backwards away from this pack, and just as slowly they all continued following me at the same distance. It felt like at least a half a mile that this continued. I don’t know. What I do know was that they continued to follow me, sometimes half circling around as we walked down that hill, around two bends, and all the way up another hill. Step for step, that beast and his pack followed me and I firmly believe that if I had looked away once or made any sudden moves that would have been it. My only thought was that I couldn’t take them all on but if it was going to be my end, the big one is gonna die first.
When I reached the top of that far hill, they finally stopped following me. I took three or four steps creating separation when the big one finally turned, walked about ten feet away, and then stopped to watch me. All but one of the others did the same. Only one of the smaller dogs remained where he was about half the distance between us. As I continued to walk backwards this one remained stationary, still barking away, while the others disappeared back into the woods. I still didn’t dare turn around and continue walking forward until the curve in the road took this last sentinel out of my sight.
After that I felt as though I was in a race to get to the highway. The sun was very low on the horizon and the last thing I wanted was another encounter like that taking place in the darkness. I did walk past a few more chained dogs, no more kids, but fortunately the highway was much closer than I thought.
Once I turned right and began my long trek north, I started looking for a place to make camp. I thought I had found a decent place but then I saw another dog watching me from the crest of a nearby hill. He seemed completely uninterested but I was taking no chances on his behavior were I to leave the highway and set up a tent closer to him.
A few minutes after this, I watched a car pull over and pop a trunk. The driver got out, walked around, and pulled two puppies from the back. He carried them into some nearby bushes and left them there with what I believe was a little food. As this driver hopped back into his car and drove away I thought, “See, you’re the problem. Those dogs are gonna go feral and before you know it they will be chasing innocent Americans down the street hoping for an easy meal.”
It was well and truly dark when I happened on a couple farmers packing up their roadside produce shop. They gave me some good conversation, some grapes, a few babynanas and permission to camp in their field. Finding an almost flat spot and setting up my tent was quick and painless. Getting to sleep, not so much. My shoulders, my legs, and my feet were all beyond sore. Even though I didn’t hit my far too ambitious goal for day one, I made up a lot of ground and came much closer than I expected. I walked further this day than I ever had in my life. Now, twenty-five days just like it and I’m all set.