Over the course of driving around the last several weeks, usually in relentless rain or hail, I frequently saw a man bicycling up and down Highway 101 with a brown and white pit bull trotting behind him. Sometimes the man wore rain gear, other times not. The dog wore nothing.
I assumed he was homeless and making the circuit for cans and bottles and my heart ached for him and the dog. Living outdoors in 40-degree winter where a foot of rain can fall in two days, like it did last week, is nothing I ever want to experience or want anyone else, too. Same goes for dogs and cats.
A few days ago I was determined to help the man, so I bought a couple cans of dog food and stashed them in the car. If I saw them again, I would pull over and offer them up.
Today, around noon, the sun made a rock-star-like appearance, and I saw the man and dog making their way down a stretch of road off Highway 101. I passed them and then pulled over into a driveway. I motioned him over and he changed course to meet me. The dog followed. I was going to meet the dog!
Half an hour later, I had the story, a great one, one of my coastal best:
The man’s name is Ricky and the dog’s name is Cha Cha. Ricky’s had her since she was a puppy and she’d going on five years old. Ricky looked a bit weathered about the face but didn’t have the appearance of someone transient or addled. Cha Cha looked fresh as a daisy and lolled around in the sun as Ricky and I talked. She even came over a couple of times to play and shake hands with me!
Ricky told me that he and Cha Cha had ended up in this remote part of the Oregon Coast several months ago after bicycling and trotting some 1400 miles over the Rockies.
Read that last sentence again.
He also mentioned they’d adventured around Moab, another 500 miles.
I was awestruck by this information and then Ricky told me why they’d hit the road. Somewhere in Colorado, a year or so ago, he’d been hit by car, lost some fingers and toes, and lost something else important to his psyche. He had to see the ocean, It was spiritual need, not religious. He explained the difference to me and I nodded my head in agreement. He had just rightly defined my own spirituality.
On the journey from Colorado, many people had pulled over and gifted him with new, better bikes, a trailer for Cha Cha, another trailer when the first one blew out, food, and donations to pay vet bills when Cha Cha developed some foot problems.
Ricky said, “The dog opens doors for me and the dog unlocks people’s hearts.”
I’d just written a 52,000-word book with exactly that theme, but he said it better with one sentence.
As Ricky narrated, I felt as if I were listening to a kind of holy man whose only apostle was a dog. Ricky did have a beatific look to his face and talked quietly, choosing his words with care.
He said something else that arrested me: “Most homeless people don’t move a mile in any direction, especially in the city. That won’t work for me. I got to move.”
Moving made him seen. His being seen moved hearts and minds. People acted on his and the dog’s behalf and acted in silence, profound silence, where the best work is being accomplished.
Ricky didn’t consider himself homeless. He was caretaking a clifftop, beachfront mansion not far from where we stood. He got the gig by meeting the owner precisely the same way I met him. The owner was going to set him up in an apartment attached the mansion and get him some groundskeeping and landscaping jobs. Ricky wanted to get to work.
I told him I’d help with dog food and had a great bike if his broke down.
We shook hands and he rode away with Cha Cha running him. I sat on picnic table and watched them disappear from view.
There is hope. Dogs can help with that. How can they not?