GUY HENDERSON: Almost felled by a happy Labrador
I LOVE dogs, really I do. I will do anything for a friendly canine, and I have to say I was prepared to take a plunge into a deep moat for one particular mutt the other morning.
It was touch and go for a moment, but the mutt and I both escaped unscathed.
I even gave him his ball back.
It was during a ride out with the newly-formed Velo Club de Paignton, a loose organisation dedicated to the pursuit of a kind of genteel cycling.
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There were 19 of us at the start of the ride and, although we mislaid a few along the way for various reasons, we all made it to the coffee stop in pretty good order.
We decided to stop for coffee and sticky buns at the lovely cafe on Berry Head, which was already thronged with walkers enjoying the bright, sunny Sunday morning.
But before we got there, we had to negotiate first the steep climb up to the headland, and then the narrow entrance to the fort.
There is a cattle grid across the road going into the fort, but on a sunny day like this it was busy, and I had my feet clipped into the pedals of my lovely new bike.
I am still in love with the bike I bought earlier in the summer from the kindly man in the Paignton bike shop, and am learning to ride it a little better now.
I no longer fall off at every traffic light and I can go down steep hills with more confidence than I did on my first couple of rides when I edged down the steep bits at 4mph, eyes narrowed into a squint of impending disaster and clinging on to my brake levers for dear life.
I am fine on a dry road now. How it will be in the winter when the roads are coated with frost or melty snow, I don't yet know.
With my Velo Club colleagues by my side — or, more accurately, out in front of me, waiting at the next set of traffic lights — I am ready to take on the world.
The club, in reality just a loose collection of like-minded people, started one summer evening as Mrs H, Elmer, Edders and I leaned on our bicycles on Paignton seafront, watching the world go by and putting the world to rights, as you do.
It was a bit like one of those Two Ronnies sketches in which a couple of bibulous farmers lean on a gate, chewing straw and expounding worldly wisdom.
"How would it be," said one of us slowly — I think it was Edders — looking out into the middle distance around the end of the pier where the blow-up slides and trampolines go.
"If we started a little cycling club just for Sunday mornings?"
And so we put the word around, and on the first designated Sunday morning just over a dozen people gathered.
Mr Blue Sky arrived on a triathlon bike that weighed about as much as one of his socks. Young Zak had a mountain bike with tyres as thick as his arm.
Some people arrived on bikes that had clearly been in lofts or sheds for some time.
We rode out to Kingsteignton and back, the faster ones putting in a loop around Chudleigh Knighton just to show off.
We went so quickly that the pub hadn't even opened by the time we got there, so the promised pint never materialised and we settled for a coffee stop instead.
I blotted my copybook by getting my feet stuck in my cleats and not being able to avoid rolling through a red light right in front of a police van.
"You were lucky he didn't Taser you," said Sheps.
Elmer fell off his own lovely bike in Torre station car park doing no miles an hour at all.
But apart from that, we all got back in one piece and agreed to do it again.
So we met last Sunday, our numbers swelled to 19.
Jeremy brought his semi-recumbent tandem, which is a contraption on which he sits in a more-or-less conventional position, with a seated passenger in front of him.
Both have access to pedals.
It is a strange beast, and from behind he looks as if he is riding a stop-me-and-buy-one ice cream trike.
He took the opportunity to nip home and swap it for a 'normal' bike.
We only had one faller on Sunday when Private Rory, whose super-cool crash helmet makes him look like an American GI, went over the handlebars trying to avoid a cat.
He was none the worse for the experience, and we trust the cat was similarly unscathed.
We rode to Torquay harbour, then came back to Paignton harbour, where we lost a few riders.
A group including Very Fast Ana and Joey's Dad had made their own way to the harbour and were waiting for us to arrive.
We did but on the Harbour Lights side, while they were waiting on the Rowing Club side.
We gave up waiting, and so did they, and we didn't see them again until Berry Head. By that time I had had my near miss with the dog.
He was a large Labrador of mature years, and he was just going about the business of fetching a ball in the gateway to the fort.
There was only one piece of roadway available. I wanted it, but he was standing on it, wagging his tail.
One of us had to give way, and the Labrador wasn't in any mood to. Why should he?
I ran out of forward motion. I began to topple to the left, towards the moat.
This was going to be my best fall ever. Elmer and Tall Paul were waiting to unleash a huge cheer as I disappeared into the deep ditch.
Then in the nick of time my cleat gave way. My foot yanked itself clear of the pedal and hit the ground, saving me from a plunge into the grassy moat.
The Velo Cub de Paignton lives to ride another day.