By Christina Hartsock — Were we hallucinating? As we rode a bit farther down the dirt path it became clear that we were indeed not imagining things. There was a dog lying in the middle of the trail! Naturally, we scanned the surroundings to see if the owner was nearby, but there was nobody around.
As a newbie mountain bike rider, I always expect to be thrilled or frightened by what I experience on the trails, however, I was totally unprepared for the discovery that awaited me on that casual ride with a friend last September.
Deanna and I were riding in a popular area of the Cibola National Forest, called Pine Flats, near Albuquerque, New Mexico. Pine Flats is populated by a network of mostly singletrack trails that appeal to both the beginner and more experienced MTB rider. Deanna, being the advanced rider, was seemingly trying to push my comfort level that day by taking me on the Southern Crossing trail, which after crossing the highway, immediately sends you up a super steep, rocky climb that isn’t really “beginner friendly” at all.
Once the terrain leveled off, big rocks continued to challenge my skills, and I was forced to walk over several sections that Deanna easily cleared. We came to a crossroads and took a break. We were indecisive about which trail to take next when we heard voices approaching, and three other riders appeared on the trail. Deanna happened to know them, and introduced me to Eliza, Donald and Mark. They have a solid plan, and they seemed cool, so we decide to join their ride. Of course, there was more climbing to do and more rocks to clear before we descend into a beautiful meadow. We stopped to take in the scenery and snap a cheery group photo. Up to this point our ride had been carefree, fun, and unremarkable (especially since I hadn’t crashed), but that was about to change.
The technical parts of the trail were behind us, and I was able to relax and chat as we rode down a doubletrack trail through a grassy open area. Then we spotted a black and white blob in the center of the trail. We pedaled closer, and were shocked to find a dog, collarless, without a leash, and at least three or more miles from the nearest trailhead. We dismounted and approached slowly so as not to frighten her, but she didn’t budge.
It was a hot day, so we grabbed our bottles and offered her water from the lids. She lifted her head slightly and began drinking. The whites around her eyes were bright red, she was dirty with matted fur, but she didn’t appear to have any wounds. She finished the water, so we offered more, then more again. Her thirst was unquenchable; we put water into a plastic baggie so she could take bigger drinks. We tried feeding her small pieces of an energy bar, but she wasn’t interested. Fortunately, someone in the group had beef jerky, which she gladly accepted. We sat on the trail with the dog for at least thirty minutes taking turns feeding her and giving her water, but she made no effort to stand up.
We noticed a couple hiking towards us! Surely, the dog was theirs and they just got separated on the hike. “Not ours,” they said, as they passed us, barely skipping a beat from their rapid pace.
The reality of the situation suddenly became grim. We were nearly out of water, several miles from the trailhead, with a dog who apparently was too weak to even stand up. How were we going to get this dog out of the forest? We didn’t yet know that, but we did know that we weren’t going to leave her behind.
Best case scenario: if we could get her to stand then maybe she could walk out of the forest while we pushed our bikes. We gently coaxed her up off the ground. She stood, and immediately sat back down. When we got her up again, she took a few steps, then sat down. It became clear that this dog was unable to walk out on her own. Our only option was to carry her.
Though probably down from her normal weight, she must have weighed at least fifty pounds. Regardless, Donald stepped up to the challenge, picked her up and carried her over his shoulder. Moving at a snail’s pace, we pushed our bikes down the trail walking behind Donald. The dog became squirmy to the point that Donald was unable to continue carrying her. Though I am not the type of cyclist who is always prepared for any weather event, fortunately, Donald and Eliza are. They both had raincoats! Donald pulled a large, yellow raincoat out of his pack, and we placed the dog on it, using it as a stretcher. We each took turns carrying the dog and pushing the extra bikes. Eliza decided she should ride ahead to get her car and meet us at the trailhead. I can’t remember exactly how long it took us to walk out of the forest, but we were joyful to reach the parking lot and deliver the dog to safety. Once loaded into the car, she seemed to relax a little.
After a quick trip to a vet in Tijeras to see if the dog was microchipped, which she wasn’t, Eliza and Donald took her to the Bernalillo County Animal Shelter. Staff at the shelter named her Ada and were quick to contact a local rescue for dogs called Tootsie’s Vision. They took Ada in, and in short order found a foster for her. The foster became an adoptive family, welcoming Ada as a permanent member of their loving home.
I still wonder how Ada ended up alone in the forest. Was she dumped or had she simply wandered away from her home and gotten lost? Would she have survived another day if we hadn’t stumbled upon her? I’ll never know the answers to those questions, but I guess it doesn’t matter now. It was Ada’s lucky day in the forest, and although my MTB skills have improved since last September, that day still is my best experience on the mountain bike yet.