Safety First . . . says the Old Lady with a Tiny Pack

Perceptions vs Reality.

Little did I know when I stopped to chat with some construction workers that their perception of me was an old lady. I’m guessing they were in their 20’s or 30’s. To them 40’s is probably old. Remember when 20 seemed old?

As non backpackers, their perception of my pack was tiny, which in their minds the blue pictured above is probably more normal for overnighting. Funny I took this photo when I received my inflatable SUP (stand-up paddleboard) and included was this giant blue pack for storage and transport.

Why does this matter?

Well . . . about a mile before the trailhead, the road was blocked by ongoing bridge construction and wouldn’t be open for a few hours. I talked to the workers about parking and passage, then up the hill I walked.

Fast forward 4 days. I returned to my car and drove off thinking about my eventful adventure which included a serious dog bite and an obnoxious owner. A runner had been bitten by the same dog earlier in the day. This German Shepherd was off leash and aggressive. The owner didn’t have voice control. It was traveling with another male who also had two aggressive, off-leash dogs, one also a German Shepherd. I was seriously traumatized and angry about these guys who felt it was their right to terrorize others humans, pets and wild animals of this wilderness.

This is the story I shared on my facebook.

I’m hurt, mad, angry, sad, disappointed and so much more.

I was bit by an aggressive off-leash out-of-control German Shepherd while out hiking a wilderness trail. I have two 3” deep bruises covering 7 inches of my bum. Thankfully the dog released before embedding her teeth. It could have been much worse.

Those few minutes were absolutely terrifying, the following hours and days have been filled with pain and nightmares. The owner is a selfish ass who thought his freedom of allowing a vicious dog to run the wilds ranked above anyone else’s freedoms. I found out later she bit another hiker earlier in the day. His wounds were worse as it was his hand.

The back story:

Picture a triangle with a trail on two legs and a river on the other. This guy and his friend had decided to camp in this triangle. They had 3 unleashed aggressive dogs including two German Shepherds. One guy seemed to have some vocal and engineered controls over his dogs. The other guy had zero control and that’s the dog that bit me and the other guy.

The camp I needed to reach was along one of the trails. As I started down the trail, the dogs started barking. One of the guys (the non-bite owner) came up to greet me as well as the biting dog. He told me the dog was friendly and just needed to smell me. I stood still while she sniffed. She seemed to settle and all seemed normal. The guy escorted me down the trail. Meanwhile the dog came around behind and grabbed my butt. When I yelled, the owner said you’re coming into our camp. HELLO I’m ON the trail!

Why would you camp near a trail with aggressive dogs? Why would you tell someone your dog is friendly and have your dog off leash after it already bit someone earlier in the day?

I had a basic first-aid kit with me and was able to clean the wound with soap and water as well as antiseptic wipes, and then treat with triple antibiotic ointment.

I was in shock and scared. I just wanted out of the situation so sadly I didn’t get the owner’s information except I found out from his friend about the previous bite, that all the dogs were supposedly current on shots and where they lived.

It was a nightmarish night. The next morning as I hiked back to the trailhead I warned all the hikers heading the opposite direction. They were much appreciative but felt as I did. They did not come to the wilderness to be terrorized by a selfish asshole.

I left a warning note at the trailhead as the men planned to stay through the holiday weekend. Sadly I didn’t find out their itinerary. There were 10 cars at the trailhead, some could easily be ruled out as not appropriate for transporting 3 giant dogs, but none stood out as the owners.

The story continues . . . As I’m driving through the nearby town I spy a Forest Service Law Enforcement vehicle. I pull in behind and as the officer exits I say, hey just the person I need to talk to. He then says my full name. I’m in shock, WHAT? He says . . . well the construction crew you talked to when you parked (the bridge was closed for a few hours so I parked near it and walked the additional mile to the trailhead) were concerned when your car was still there the next day. They reported their concerns about “this old lady with a day pack” who hadn’t returned. The next day the LEO went up to check out my car. He ran my plates and noticed my PCT sticker as well as my open hiking guidebook noting the trail I’d be hiking. He said I know those PCT hikers, they have tiny packs (ha, with 6 days of food I don’t think mine was very tiny, and it sure didn’t feel tiny). So when I met him at the gas station he was heading back up to see if my car was gone. If it wasn’t he was planning to contact someone in Redding to check with my family and neighbors. If they didn’t know my itinerary, he planned to activate SAR the next day. Eh gads! All because they construction workers thought I was an “old lady with a day pack.” I like this part of the story much better than the dog bite.

I reported the two men and their three dogs. He planned to pass on the information to the wilderness ranger. Hopefully he’ll do more and go to the trailhead and run some license plates to find out who lives in Grass Valley.

I’m still not sure what to do about this anger. I don’t want to be afraid of dogs. I think I’ll carry mace in my pocket for a while. I don’t want to give off negative energy as I know that makes dogs anxious. I have friends and relatives with dogs I love. I don’t want this incident to stop me from going into the wilderness. In my 10 years of backpacking this was an isolated incident. I know that, but damn this was terrifying. I’m hoping I can overcome with mind-over-matter thoughts like I have after other incidents.

In the meantime I’m hoping to avoid infection. I took an epsom salt soak when I got home, treated with more triple antibiotic ointment, and am now icing and taking ibuprofen to control pain and inflammation.

Sorry for my long rant, but I needed to share the details.

Memorial Day Update – The offender was not caught today and the LEO is off tomorrow when it sounds like they’ll be exiting. He met several groups who encountered the bad group including one whose dog was bit. Another group was camped at a lake when the bad group arrived. They were so bad the group packed up and hiked 3 miles before finding a new camp. The officer believes he found the offender’s vehicle and will minimally be sending a warning letter noting infractions. He’s been doing some code enforcement research and is possibly going to contact Nevada County Animal Control about the dog’s license, rabies etc. I’m continuing to heal with no indication of infection. The bruising is turning dark purple with green edging. Oh so pretty. I haven’t had to ice today.

A few takeaways:

(1) I found a way to wear my pepper spray so it’ll be quickly accessible in the future rather than stored in my backpack pocket. If interested, check out these runner options (link). I wrapped the wrist strap around my pack shoulder strap.

(2) My neighbor is on my notification list and was aware of my itinerary and receives my inReach check-ins. They know about this story and are even more prepared should an officer come calling.

(3) The construction workers noticed the inReach on my pack. That was reassuring for the officer. Of course had my bite been worse I would have used it.

(4) I’m glad my PCT sticker and hiking guidebook alerted the officer to the fact I was most likely a prepared hiker.

(5) This was my first bite in 10 years of backpacking. I’ve had a few other tense encounters but never anything close to this situation where I was terrified all three dogs would gang up on me. It was clear from the bite that dog was ready to take me down. Hopefully I’ll never experience this again or at least be free for another decade.

(6) I didn’t seek medical attention due to COVID-19 concerns. Obviously if it had been worse I wouldn’t have had a choice. However, I’m sure if I would have gone to the Emergency Room, it would have been more likely animal control would have gotten involved with a higher likelihood the offender being caught and facing consequences. Had this happened in town, this dog would be in quarantine or dead.

Stay safe my friends. Be alert, be wise.

14 thoughts on “Safety First . . . says the Old Lady with a Tiny Pack

  1. Thoughtful story, sorry you had to go through that, but glad you found a pack place for a bit of condiment spray for future reference. If bear spray can stop grizzlies it can probably work on dogs. I looked in REI for dog or lion spray and couldn’t find any. I used to use my metal ranger ticket book when dogs rushed me from a campsite, then ‘batter up’ and the dog went flying to the side while getting saliva on my uniform. Always wondered whether I should follow the LE rule of not ‘adding insult to injury’ by also issuing said tickets. In your case, I would not have hesitated. Police would use a Glock and someone would feel sorry for the dog. Anyway, it could have been a lot worse so yeah, good to be prepared. Grass Valley is in Nevada County, by the way.

  2. Wow! That’s terrifying! You are so lucky the dog didn’t bite an ankle or leg and cause serious damage. I’m glad you are physically ok, and I hope the psychological trauma doesn’t last. Carrying pepper spray will help make you feel safer and bolster your confidence so you can continue to go out into those wonderful and beautiful wild places. Be well!

    • Thanks, I actually had pepper spray with me but it was in my pack pocket. Now it’ll be in an easy access position although I don’t think it would have prevented this attack.

  3. Last fall I had just started a short day hike near Olympia, WA. Suddenly three dogs come down the trail, and started barking and running at me as soon as they saw me. I yelled, clapped my hands, and backed into the trailside trees. The dogs fanned out and began surrounding me, but I had my pepper spray out and laid down a fog in an arc to stop them.

    At about this point, I saw two horseback riders coming down the trail. When they saw me defend myself the male of the couple told me that he was armed and that if I did any more of that he would shoot me. As I was trying to get up-trail around them he suddenly turned his horse and rammed me. Then he threatened to kill me a second time. Meanwhile, the woman kept yelling at me, over and over, saying in effect that I had no right to pepper spray her dogs.

    I didn’t realize it until later but I had a patch of horse snot on the shoulder of my jacket where the horse hit me. I should have called the sheriff, and would have if I’d known that I had that physical evidence. I still think about this almost every day, with rage.

    I feel for you. Be sure that you get information on the dog that bit you, and don’t take chances with your injuries. You can file a lawsuit in small claims court if you need to, at least to get something on record and cover medical expenses. When the judgment goes in your favor and the offender fails to pay, you can put a lien on their property. This sort of thing can usually be renewed forever, completely tying them up until they come through.

    I carry a small pepper spray WHEREVER I go these days. This is a good source:

    I don’t have any experience with the following but it looks interesting:

    • WOW that’s a terrifying story. Yes, I carry sabre as well. It was in my pack pocket and now will be mounted on my pack strap. I didn’t get his name and wish I would have because he needs to suffer consequences. Your story is very concerning. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Sorry to hear about this encounter.
    Going outdoors I’m more “concerned” about bears, cougars, ticks maybe. I would never think about a dog attack…until now.
    I bought some bear spray at Costco last year and have been casual about taking it with me on day hikes…until now. Really, you just don’t know what to expect out there.
    Heal up, move on and enjoy the summer.

    • I too have been lackadaisical about carrying the spray, more often than not leaving it at home. The only time I’ve had it in my hand was when hitching a couple of times. In the past rattlesnakes have garnered way more attention than humans. I’m glad I found my runner’s holster. It’s going to be a permanent part of my pack from now on and in fact I bought a couple more so I they will be attached to my other packs as well.

      And yes I’ll be moving on so I can enjoy this summer. Too many unsettling things happening to stick around in town. The wilderness calls my name. Take care John. Stay well and keep smiling.

    • Ready to go out with the blue pack?

      I couldn’t describe any of the workers though so they get more credit that me. I’d be like . . . um they were wearing hard hats. LOL

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