4. Arkansas sled dog stories (Huffy)

Arkansas sled dog stories: Those Huffy Moments

In 1998, I moved the dogs to Arkansas, from a land with hot dry summers, but also cold dry winters with occasional snow for mushing. Arkansas was very different. It had long, humid, hot summers, with winters that varied from year to year. Some winters were warm and rainy. Generally there was no snow for mushing at all. This particular Arkansas fall, and the beginning of my training season with the dogs, was much different than the previous year. To begin, the Mazda truck – my “dog training truck” which I purchased after the Suburban had finally gasped its last breath – had been having a mysterious problem and I was not inclined to drive it out to the training area and stand the possibility of a breakdown. I didn’t want to spend the money to get it fixed, either.

I’d also been having a serious problem with my back. While lifting the 100 pound Risdon cart in and out of the bed of the Mazda pickup was relatively easy, it not something I was going to be able to do now. My new Dodge Dakota pickup had the camper on it and I planned to leave the camper on at least until after the fall, so loading the Risdon in and out of the back of the Dodge was not an option. I thought possibly I could have a trailer hitch(called an “actuator” as I found out later) welded on the front of the Risdon so I could simply attach it to the trailer ball on the Dodge, but even this seemed too complicated at this point. My little Schwinn Stingray bike looked pretty haggard after a season of running in the mud.

What to do? I had been on the internet looking at all the bicycle options as I thought it would be easiest just to get another bike and use that to train with, at least for a while. But, there were few sites advertising bikes like I wanted. PHAT cycles out of Southern California produced a great looking cruiser bike and another chopper bike with upswept handlebars; both of these bikes looked very good. But I felt like I really had to get a hands-on feel before I spent much money for a training bike, and there was not a distributor for PHAT cycles within any reasonable driving distance at all that would have a bike in stock like the ones I was looking at and would want to test drive.

What to do? I made a trip to Wal-Mart. All they had with a single speed and a coaster brake – those were my criteria – was a 20 inch kids’ bike. This bike was the same size as the Stingray I had been using. Really too small, but…I felt like I needed to get the dog training show going and I needed to get something with wheels so we could get out and get some miles on those doggy legs. I didn’t want a scooter. I wanted something I could sit on and preferably something I could pedal; the other rigs I looked at were either too heavy or cost more than I wanted to spend. I took the boy’s 20 inch Huffy bike down off the rack and pushed it around and sat on it(if you want to get some interesting looks, try this at your local Wal-Mart). This bike seemed like it could do the job. Maybe not perfect, but good enough. And with those thoughts…I bought it. $34.88. I figured for that price I couldn’t go too far wrong even if it wasn’t exactly what I wanted.

Next day I took it out with Walker, a seasoned bike training veteran, and we had a glorious 3 mile run. I thought, this is going to be fine! Then my third run, with Pine, the left pedal fell off. Pine was running along and pulling me, I pumped up a small hill, and off went the pedal. I picked it up and put it in my pocket and we finished the run, me not being able to pedal now. When I got back to the house I sat down and deliberated. I had the bike receipt. I could return the bike either for my money back or for another bike. If I just got my money back I would be in exactly the same position I was in before I bought this bike. If I got a replacement bike, I might run the chance of having the same problem again. Which path should I take?

I decided to continue on with the bike I purchased, that now had no left pedal. I couldn’t pedal as I was accustomed to, but I could still brake with the right pedal, and I had the seat to sit on. The next time I got the bike out to run I noticed that the front tire was low. I pumped it up with the new bike pump I had gotten. And pumped it up the following morning and several mornings after that. Apparently the tube had a slow leak. I trained dogs with the Huffy bike for about a month. With the no-left-pedal and the tire that lost air. Then on one run after we had gone out about 3 miles, the handlebars loosened and came completely forward and down in my lap. I pushed the handlebars back upright and completed the run sort of balancing the handlebars as I went along – I was about as effective as someone on a unicycle carrying a sackfull of groceries! Upon further inspection I found that the bolts holding the gooseneck (which held the handlebars upright) had come loose. They needed a large allen wrench to tighten them, though, and I didn’t remember where my allen wrench set was. I used a flat head screwdriver and tightened them as best I could.

And tightened them. And tightened them(until I finally did find the allen wrench set and was able to get them TIGHT). We were still running, though. Still able to do our three to six-and-a-half mile runs to get ready for colder weather. At this point you may ask: what is the meaning of writing about something like this? And more to the point: what is the reason for anybody doing something like this?

When I set out to do anything, I feel it is important to keep my goal in mind. Whatever my end result, that is my primary focus. Here my primary focus was on 1) preparing an already-trained dog to run with another team and 2) preparing a couple of other dogs to lead for me. That was my goal for this season. The process to the goal was only secondary. My other considerations were a) cost and b) the way I wanted to arrive at my goal. I didn’t want to spend much money and I wanted to train with a bicycle, or a lightweight wheeled vehicle that allowed me to sit down. The “bumps in the road”…or all the problems that I experienced with the Huffy bicycle… were problems that were unexpected, but ones that I had to deal with. The focus, then, was on continuing FORWARD MOTION…or the continuing journey to the goal. I just kept on going. No pedal, no big deal. Tire that leaks – pump it up with air when necessary. Handlebars that don’t remain upright. Tighten them and work with what there is. Did I meet my goal? Yes. I was able to train the dog that was to go run with another team for the racing season. I was able to work effectively enough with the two dogs I was preparing to lead for me. And, I got a much better feel for what kind of training vehicle I actually wanted.
Keeping your eye on the prize. Keeping your goal always out there in front of you. No matter what the path to arrive at the goal, the final destination does truly warrant the drive to get there.

Those Huffy moments are what makes us who we are, in the end.

Afterword: I developed a very good working relationship with the local bike shop. I wound up taking the Huffy in and replacing the goose neck with a double goose neck, replacing the handlebars with upswept handlebars, and the repair guy had an extra pedal which he put on for no cost. I am still running this bike almost 10 years later.

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