Ryder’s Leap

Posted March 10th, 2006 by Mike Cherim

In my early twenties I lived in northern Italy. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I spent three years in that country and had many adventures during that time. This story is about one day during that period. It’s not a story about Italy, the culture, great food, or the people. Nope, it’s a story about the dog I had when I was over there, Ryder, and an adventured we shared.

This is a true story.

Setting Out

It was a beautiful summer day sometime in July. A good friend, another American, Dominic “Fazi” Fazio, who obviously had an Italian heritage, was coming over to my house. Together we were going to head into the Dolomiti D’ampezzo mountains. We’d probably go to the beautiful blue/green Lake Barcis, which is on the way to the town of Cortina (the Winter Olympics were held there in 1956 — yeah, 50 years ago), and then we’d go anywhere from there. We’d do this sort of thing a lot: just take off for destinations unknown. From scary-scuba in the grottos to spelunking the local limestone caves, to scaling the mountains, then we’d hit the discotheques at night, get drunk, and flirt with the ladies. I was twenty-two at the time.

Fazi came over and we took off, taking my dog Ryder with us. Ryder was a mid-sized mutt with a great personality. One of those bandanna-wearing dogs; you may know the type. A cool dog. Ryder adopted me about a year before this adventure so he and I were well bonded and best of buds.

We left in one of my three cars: I had a 1971 BMW 2002tii “Alpina”, an Austin Mini-Cooper (the real deal and my favorite go-cart-like beater), and a RO-80 by NSU. We took the RO-80. The thing was fun for road trips. A shot suspension made for a nice floaty ride, and the rotary engine brought the thing to great speeds — though it took twenty minutes to get it to fly and it sounded like a sewing machine. The car was long, narrow, and had the weight of a tank. I once tried to kill it and could not. Great ride.


Instead of the main road, we decided to take a back road to get to our first destination more quickly. It was a bumpy packed-dirt road and behind us we left a rooster tail of dust. The weather had been hot and dry. Fazi was in the passenger seat and Ryder was in the back seat, forelegs perched on the top of the door, his head sticking out the rolled-down window, tongue waggling in the breeze. Being a good daddy, I kept looking in the rearview mirror to make sure my pup was still there. You might be able to imagine my surprise when I looked once and discovered he was gone. Where the hell could he have gone? Only one answer came to mind.

I hit the brakes hard. We came to a stop and I sat there, my upper half turned 180 degrees, looking out the back window for my poor, poor Ryder. The dust was too thick and I couldn’t see him, but as it settled, I began to see his form trotting towards us, parting dust as he went. Fazi and I both knew he must have sniffed a little too hard, over-leaned, and fell out when we bounced over one of the road’s bumps. I got out and greeted my dog. He was a bit shaken, but being the dog he was, he was ready for more… assuming I was, of course.

I was ready for more. The day was still young. We loaded up Ryder, rolled the back windows up about half way so he couldn’t pull that stunt again, and took off. Ryder laid down in the back seat and took a nap. Fazi and I had a laugh, sparked a spinello, and headed for the mountains smiling all the way.

Lake Barcis

We made it to Lake Barcis, messed around there for a while. Ryder played as dogs do. He was completely over the prior incident. In his memory it was a mere bump in the road. Same for Fazi and I by that time, too. Lake Barcis is a helluva nice lake, clear, deep, and ice cold, and the water tinted bluish-green from the limestone (most lakes and rivers in the area were like this). We enjoyed ourselves. We took a short hike to the far side, then came back and decided on a lunch of crusty bread, cheese, and prosciutto cotto or cooked ham. Everything tastes great in the mountains, but the food over there was simply amazing regardless of where it was eaten.

From there we didn’t know where we were going to go so we decided to just head up the road towards Cortina. We had been there, but it was an hour away still. Too far for just a day trip. Instead we decided to explore. Northern Italy was great and one didn’t have to go far to find something worth looking at. So off we went, in search of something to look at. Something new.

We drove along the path of the river, heading higher into the mountains through a steep-walled valley of white rock, green scrub, and low trees. As we went we decided to follow the river to find its source. We never found it, but we did find something interesting, at least someplace worth hanging out at for a while. Long enough the spark another, anyway.

The Bridge

It was a bridge maybe 100 meters in length where it connected to the cut’s sides. There were several cars parked on the bridge or adjacent to it as other people were attracted to this pretty place. I parked my “Beach Mobile,” as we called it (but that’s another story), killed the rotary engine, and got out. I opened the rear door and let Ryder out for a stretch too. Fazi and I walked onto to the bridge for a look while Ryder ran around us in circles.

The bridge was constructed of concrete and its bulwarks were of a solid design integral to the structure. Every few meters there was an opening at the base of the bulwark to allow rain water to cascade off the roadway and into the river below. The only way to see the river was to look through one of these openings or to simply peer over the bulwark which stopped at about rib cage level. Being two-legged human-types, we did the latter. Ryder, on the other hand, couldn’t, and didn’t know enough to look through the drains.

I leaned against the bulwark and drank in the great view of the river below and before me. Fazi was a couple of feet to my right. We were located near the end of the bridge, not above the river itself, but over one of its banks. The banks were flat and spread outward for maybe twenty meters on either side. The distance between us and the river bank below was roughly 30 meters (about 100 feet). It was a considerable drop. Thankfully the bulwark stood firmly between us a certain death.

Flight of the Dog

Ryder, curious as can be, wanted to see what we were looking at. However, instead of taking the safe route peering though one of the drains, Ryder took the high ground approach like his human pals. This was a serious mistake. As he shot between us, Ryder was seen as a blur in my right periphery, and in Fazi’s left. Ryder’s plan, as it seemed, was to not only look at what we were seeing from our perspective, but to go there. He jumped right over the bulwark.

Things happened in slow motion from this point on. Ryder went sailing through the air. I don’t know if you believe that it’s possible for a dog to have a surprised look on his face, but Ryder wore one sure as can be. He turned his head to the right, then to the left, then back again, falling as he did this. His hind legs were spread out like wings, but they didn’t serve him well in their new capacity. Meanwhile his forelegs did a digging motion, like he was swimming in the air, but his frantic paws could gain no purchase. Ryder plummeted downward, not towards the river but towards the flat ground and trees below us.

“Your dog is dead,” Fazi said in a matter-of-fact tone. He wasn’t being insensitive, he was just stating the obvious, almost in disbelief at what we were seeing.

“I know,” I replied. I could say no more.

The dialog was almost conversational. I was already bummed out and feeling Ryder’s fear. Lots of things can happen and lots of emotions felt when the rest of the world is moving in slo-mo. But then things started picking up speed again. Ryder grazed a trunk of a tree and landed with a thud at its base. And there is where his body came to a stop. Presumed dead. My eyes began to well tears. I love animals, and Ryder was family. But then something happened that surprised both Fazi and myself.

A Miracle

Ryder began to move. He wasn’t dead! Fazi and I both saw this, our mouths agape. Ryder moved some more, then finally did a twisting motion with his body and sprang to his feet. He was standing up. Not only wasn’t he dead, but apparently his injuries weren’t as bad as they could be. He hobbled a little but seemed to be walking around down there a bit, definitely dazed and somewhat confused. My pup was okay! If you’re animal lover like I, then you’ll understand when I say my heart simply filled like a balloon. It must have been helium because my spirit lifted me. Ryder looked up at us with a holy-shit-did-you-see-that? look on his face. He might have told us to watch that first step, it’s a doozy, if he could have.

Now that Ryder was alive we had another problem on our hands: getting him back. Outward of the flat river flanks were very steep cliffs. We called to Ryder hoping he’d find a way back up to us on his own, but all this did was to confuse and frustrate the poor pup. He probably wanted to tell us he could only fly in one direction, but his expression was more closely interpreted as a simple question: Are you freaking crazy? Get down here and rescue me… fools.

The fools part was unnecessary as we quickly realized on our own that Ryder wasn’t going to join us at our elevated level without some help (but, hey, it was worth a try). Damn. We spent the next couple of hours making our way down the far bank’s cliff-face. It was slow going. Finally we made it, though. Together, Fazi and I managed to climb back up the way we came, pushing and shoving Ryder from one safe stop to the next. Eventually we made it to the top without any more falls. Thankfully. Mission complete.

Ryder had some bruises and was in a little pain. I carried him to my car and put him in the back seat. He just laid there, obviously spent for the day. Not from physical exertion, but more from the shock filling him from the day’s events. Tumbling out the car window left him with his ready-to-rock composure. Leaping from the bridge like a big lemming was a different matter. Ryder had enough. And so had we. We left for home, the day’s adventures complete.

One Response to: “Ryder’s Leap”

  1. chris responds:
    Posted: March 11th, 2006 at 12:22 am

    Awesome story. You must have shit your pants every time your brave little pup did something stupid and crazy like that.

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