JENNIFER MELI / Monitor staff
Al Smith may not be the most photographed man in Weare, but there’s a good chance that his Australian cattle dog, Paige, is the town’s most photographed canine.
“She’s had more photos taken of her than you can imagine,” said Smith, owner of Weare Body and Frame. “People are always doing it.”
Paige is certainly handsome, a mix of cattle dog and “we don’t know what else,” but all that attention is due to her mode of transport – riding high in a trailer pulled by Smith as he pedals along on a bicycle.
Smith has been using a bicycle to commute the 7 miles between his home and his business for 16 years, hauling Paige for the past 18 months and before that hauling her predecessor, an Australian cattle dog named Carley.
The dog sits or stands on the open platform of a trailer designed to haul camping gear – unless she’s trotting alongside.
“Up to 7 miles an hour you can tell her to get out and she just jumps out, you tell her to get back in and she jumps back in,” Smith said.
Smith doesn’t switch to the car for his commute until snow fills up the road’s shoulder, making biking too dangerous. He racked up 1,500 miles of commuting last year, hauling almost 60 pounds of dog and trailer along the way. If you count trips – he and his wife, Sandy, have hauled Paige almost 100 miles in a trailer to Townsend, Vt., for some camping – then Paige is close to having ridden 3,000 miles in the trailer, and she’s barely a year and a half old.
“We rode through the main street of Lebanon stopping at the stop lights, with three lanes of traffic. She was fine,” he said.
On their jaunts, Smith and Paige draw plenty of praise from other bicyclists and observers, plus some good-natured ribbing.
“That’s what a lot of the comments are: ‘The dog should be towing you!’ ” Smith said, laughing.
He jokes about another assumption some people make, that he isn’t bicycling by choice.
“I know I look just like a DWI commuter in the morning,” he said.
Smith, as you might have guessed, is a bicycling fan. He and his wife, Sandy, vacationed in Colorado largely so they could tackle the mountains. “We rode every single day,” he said, although he hastens to add that they didn’t bring the dog.
Although winter stops the commuting, it doesn’t stop the bicycling, thanks to “fat bikes,” which have oversized tires for riding on snow. That’s how he taught Paige to ride in the trailer.
“We started her at 10 weeks (old), in a backpack at first. We did (the open trailer) on our fat bikes, on snowmobile trails, so if she jumped out it didn’t matter. It still only took four or five rides before she learned,” he said.
That’s impressive but less impressive than Carley, who died two years ago. Smith said she took to the trailer instantly.
“She was simple. By the end of the driveway, she had figured it out,” he said.
Smith, who is about to turn 50, moved to Weare when he was 5. His father, Bob, started Weare Body and Frame as an auto body shop in 1973. Smith has largely taken it over, although he’s a mechanic and doesn’t do auto body work anymore. “I’m not changing the name; it’s been here too long,” he said.
His unusual commuting habit has a surprising benefit.
“It definitely makes you a smoother biker,” he said. “If you’re not paying attention and there’s a crack in the road, you can’t just whip around it, or you’ll throw her right out.”
Still, he admits, he doesn’t object when Paige decides to take her 40-some-odd pounds and do a little trotting alongside.
“When she jumps out? I feel like the batter who just stepped up to the plate and took that lead donut off the bat,” he said. “It’s nice.”