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Adventure Cycling: Wheeling Past the Dogs of Mexico

by Eva Boynton on October 28, 2014

Drawing of one of the dogs of Mexico, part of the life lessons learned on an adventure cycling trip to Mexico (Drawing © Eva Boynton)

They were mangy, big, wild . . . and fast!
Drawing by Eva Boynton

Life Lessons on Wild Things

They were mangy. They were small. Big, brown, white, spotted, black. Some had long hair and others had it short. They were mutts. They were purebreds. And they did not discriminate between man, woman or child, local or foreigner. They were the dogs of Mexico.

Bicycle by house in Mexico, part of the life lessons offered on an adventure cycling trip with the dogs of Mexico (Photo © Eva Boynton)

Mexico awaits
© Eva Boynton

Don’t Go!

Many people warned me about Mexico. I was headed on a 2,500-mile adventure cycling trip from California to Mexico City (of course this number does not calculate back roads, side trips, and wrong turns).

Mothers (none of which were my own) pleaded for me not to go. They lectured me about being naive, young and inexperienced and that, because I was a woman, I was ten times more likely to disappear and never return.

I listened, but the will to go became stronger. Life lessons were waiting.

Large golden dog, one of the dogs of Mexico by the sea, offering life lessons via adventure cycling (Photo © Eva Boynton)

A defender (one of the friendlier ones)
© Eva Boynton

Where the Wild Things Are

With all the warnings and advice I was given before and after my departure, I always wondered why no one ever warned me about the dogs of Mexico. I had no idea my greatest foe would be overcoming a fear of dog attacks.

Dogs run on the wild side in Mexico. They are scavengers, defending themselves to survive or serving as fierce protectors or warning systems for their owners.

Although there are some dogs in Mexico that play the traditional “pet” role, they are mainly in the cities behind closed doors. The rest of the dogs, running solo or in packs, live outdoors, freely roaming the streets and sides of highways.

A dog tied in a yard, one of the dogs of Mexico ready to offer life lessons on an adventure cycling trip (Photo © Sunny Tattersill)

Tough (but tied)
© Sunny Tattersall

The Ambush

On a bicycle you pedal fast enough (like a car) to be interesting but slow enough (unlike a car) to be caught. Sometimes the dogs came from the front, forming a line of intimidation like a 1950s greaser gang.

brown and white dog, one of the dogs of Mexico offering life lessons in adventure cycling

Watch out. I’m coming for you.
© Sunny Tattersall

At other times, a single dog charged from the side. And then there was the sneak attack from behind, either as a planned tactic or as a result of haphazardly waking up from a nap.

Most of these ambushes occurred while approaching a small town or passing a tienda (store) in the middle of the desert. The dogs usually were reacting in a show of defense and dominance near a home base.

It was impossible to determine the strength of the attack when looking at the size of the dog. Sometimes the smallest chihuahua was the most dedicated and committed to staying on your trail, even after you were well out of sight of its protected territory.

Cyclist with trailer on side of road, life lessons offered through adventure cycling and the dogs of Mexico (Photo © Eva Boynton)

Life on the road
© Rio Tattersall

The Strategies

We (fellow cyclists and I) experimented with our strategies. We tried slowing down, even stopping, to soothingly say, “Está bien, perro. Tranquilo. Tranquilo.” This had no effect. When we stopped, more dogs had time to surround us.

Unfortunately, to add to my growing fear, I was usually the slowest in the group (since I was towing a trailer and a surfboard).

I was the weakest link, the easiest prey, the lingering antelope of the pack with a lion approaching. Of course, the lion was sometimes only a chihuahua-wiener dog mutt but the anticipation was paralyzing.

chihauhau, one of the dogs of Mexico offering life lessons on an adventure cycling trip

A chihuahua with the heart of a lion
© iStock

Aha! A Triumph

I learned from the masters—a group of six cyclists in Baja. We saw a pack of large dogs on the side of the road who were readying their attack with bared teeth and belly growls. Scary, but the seasoned cyclists clearly had a plan and an unabashed readiness for the impending situation.

In perfect unison, they went straight for the dogs, gaining speed. As they came face to face they squirted water from their bottles (no easy sacrifice in the desert) and from the depths of their throats bellowed a barbaric “AAAAHHHH!”

The dogs backed off with a few follow-up barks but returned to the side of the road. It was triumphant.

Cyclists on the highway, waiting for the dogs of Mexico and the life lessons that come with adventure cycling (Photo © Eva Boynton)

Learning from the masters
© Eva Boynton

My Turn

Later on in the mountains of Michoacán, I faced my fear alone, far from the safety of a group. As I approached a small town, I spotted a great white dog scavenging for mangoes splayed on the side of the road.

Just when I thought I had slipped by unnoticed, I heard a cascade of growls and barks quickly approaching from behind. I looked over my shoulder and saw the dog gaining on me.

As he flew to my side, I let out a thundering howl. It was a sound unlike anything I had ever heard from myself. I turned my head to confirm there was no one else that could have made the noise.

In shock and triumph, I watched the dog retreat but also noticed a group of locals looking at me perplexed by the battle scream I had just released.

As I passed by, I apologized for the interruption to this quiet mountain town, but smiled with satisfaction and awe at my own ability to confront the anxiety that had gripped my heart and mind throughout the trip.

Mexican sunset, part of the life lessons from adventure cycling and the dogs of Mexico (Photo © Eva Boynton)

The dream continues . . .
© Eva Boynton

To Continue On

To face the dogs was a decision not unlike the one I had to make to cross the border of Mexico. The mothers of California had been my first “dogs of Mexico.”

I learned to be ready for the attacks on my dream and to respond with a “thank you for your concern” or “I’m sure that this is right for me” or a “Maybe you should try it sometime; visit and find out for yourself what an entire country can encompass.”

In the end, I was overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of the people I met on my journey. Life lessons and “Oh, I see” moments of the lasting kind.

There will always be more “dogs of Mexico.” The question is how to anticipate them, how to engage, question, retaliate or defend; how to continue on.

I hope that I will always “sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world.” (Dead Poet’s Society).


Click for more information on adventure cycling,  the cycling community, and the Adventure Cycling Association as well as more Mexican adventures on Eva’s trip blog.


Comment on this post, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here.



5 thoughts on “Adventure Cycling: Wheeling Past the Dogs of Mexico

  1. Traveling by car by myself through Mexico, camping in the desert and on the beaches and in the mountains, I was never afraid of the dogs (and on one long trip took my female Great Dane for company who was a real hit everywhere we stopped), but was instead more than heartbroken at the conditions in which many of the dogs lived. I was only distressed that there was little I could do to help their lives. Many were obviously hungry and often parasite ridden, living by their wits on the edge of society as throwaways and often demonstrating desperation to get closer for food and affection but exceedingly wary due to the people who had mistreated, ignored or abused them. I was sorry Eva did not mention this sad fact but detailed a more aggressive relationship with the dogs. I loved her trip plan, though – a great way to travel!

    • Thank you, Shelley, for mentioning that side of the dog’s life. It is so true that there are animals in countries of all economic levels that are not treated as they should be.

      Thanks for keeping this front and center, as it should be.


      • Hi Shelly,
        Thanks for your comment. I definitely had positive experiences with the dogs as well. And it wasn’t my intention to promote fear of the dogs but highlight the at time hilarity of my own predicament and experiences. The dogs that did chase us were dogs in a different survival mode, unlike our pampered pets at home. That is a great idea for another article (and a good one) to write about the dogs’ situation. I centered it around my own (perhaps irrational) experience and perspective as a first-time cyclist. I appreciate your response and experience! Cheers Eva

    • Thank you for your comment. Eva is an inspiration to adventurers everywhere, not to mention giving some great practical advice on how best to share the roads.

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