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Two wheels and four paws: Cyclist rigs platform for his dog

New art along Lance Armstrong Bikeway dedicated.

Pam LeBlanc
pleblanc@statesman.com
Mike Gaudion and his poodle Oleta get ready to go for a ride Wednesday. Secured with a safety harness and a padded platform, the team has ridden as far as 65 miles at once together.

Some folks carry spare tire tubes and an air pump when they cycle. Mike Gaudion totes his toy poodle.

Oleta, a poofy, white, 15-pound bundle of energy, rides on a specially rigged padded platform attached to the top tube of Gaudion's bike, ears whipping in the breeze as her master pedals down country roads and gravel trails.

"She absolutely loves it," Gaudion says.

Gaudion adopted the 7-year-old dog from his mother about a year ago and quickly realized the pup hated to be left alone. Oleta whined and cried so much when he wheeled away on his mountain bike that he tried taking her along. He tucked her in a sling, but she wriggled in annoyance.

Eventually he outfitted his bike with a padded platform and fashioned a safety harness that attaches to his body to hold his canine partner steady.

Team Oleta was born.

Oleta soon became a fixture on the hike-and-bike trail around Lady Bird Lake, where she watches for squirrels as Gaudion, 44, pedals away. (Gaudion, by the way, has lost 60 pounds since taking up cycling 3 years ago.)

Oleta loves speed, so Gaudion bought a lickety-split carbon fiber road bike and equipped it with a dog-friendly platform, too. When they're going fast, Oleta puts her paws on the blue foam pads on top of the handlebars, in what Gaudion calls the "arrow dog" position.

"She does not like getting passed," says Gaudion, a retired boat mechanic who now drives school buses. "Someone passes and she looks up at me like ‘Come on, fat guy, let's go!' "

Last October, Team Oleta entered its first official group bike ride, the Livestrong Challenge. They logged 20 miles.

Since then, they've participated in cycling events throughout Central Texas, including the LBJ 100 Bicycle Tour, the Pedal Power Wildflower Ride, the Red Poppy Ride, the Armadillo Hill Country Classic, the Atlas Ride and the Real Ale Ride.

Their longest ride to date has been 65 miles, but Gaudion says a century ride is in their future.

Soon Oleta will have her own helmet. A friend has carved a tiny prototype out of foam and plastic, but the design isn't quite right yet.

Oleta, for the record, doesn't wear spandex shorts.

Team Oleta does, however, have its own FaceBook page, with a few dozen online admirers.

Ihave to confess. At first I thought some of them were random bits of construction materials.

Turns out it's the latest public art project commissioned by the City of Austin Art in Public Places program for the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, an east-west, six-mile bike route through downtown Austin.

Perhaps you've seen the series of wide yellow steel loops. Some are as tall as a person; others are about thigh level. Some double as benches; others are light poles. Two are sculptural "tunnels," and a dozen are paint markings on the ground of the pathway itself.

The 32 pieces, designed to help people find and stay on the bikeway, are the creation of the artist collective NextProject, made up of Leah Davis, Robert Gay and Jack Sanders. They started designing the project five years ago; the pieces were installed in the past six months and dedicated Saturday.

The design grew out of the idea of a yellow ribbon connecting the entire length of the bikeway, Davis said.

The yellow color of the artwork signifies Armstrong's seven Tour de France victories and the iconic yellow band of his nonprofit cancer survivorship foundation, Livestrong. It also reflects the yellow of a painted road stripe.

"People stop and ask, ‘What is that? What are those yellow things?' They are both familiar and strange, at the same time as being functional. They tell you where you are, how far you have to go, and give you somewhere to rest or tie your bike to. They also bring attention to unnoticed parts of the city," Gay says. "In this sense I think they challenge what public art can be. They aren't the typical mosaics and statues produced from city art budgets."

The project meshed with the artists' values, too.

"We all have bicycles and support the goals of the bike program and hope to see more bicycles and more safe pathways for people to ride on," Sanders says.

The pieces are scattered from Veterans Parkway near Loop 1 on the west to Shady Lane near U.S. 183 on the east. Some of the sculptures serve as signs marking the pathway, and have solar-powered lights attached. They're crafted from old City of Austin stop signs.

"It was important to us to reflect the environmental aspects of cycling culture," Gay says.

The budget for the project was $60,000, said Meghan Turner, coordinator of Art in Public Places. Funding for the program comes from the city's capital improvement funds.

It's officially hot out there. As in burn-your-feet-on-the-pavement, work-twice-as-hard-to-run-three-times-as-slow, feels-like-we-live-in-an-incinerator hot.

As humans, most of us know when it's time to slow down and drink water.

But I've seen a number of folks out on the hike-and-bike trail dragging along dogs that are clearly suffering. Even if you are in good enough shape to run five miles, your dog might not be.

Dogs aren't like humans. They can sweat a little through the pads of their feet, but their main cooling system is their tongue. By panting, they use evaporative cooling to dissipate heat. When the humidity gets high, though, they can't keep up.

Heat affects different dogs differently, too. Overweight or out-of-shape dogs are less able to cope with heat, as are pug-nosed dogs.

Excessive panting, pale or deep red gums and an elevated heart rate all are signs of heat stress. If you notice any of them, get your dog to a cool, breezy area. Rest and a sip of water can ease mild symptoms, says Dr. Paige Nilson of Griffith Small Animal Hospital.

Lethargy can signal more serious problems. Cool the animal with cool or tepid (but not cold) water and get it to a veterinarian.

Veterinarians at Griffith Small Animal Hospital saw their first case of heat stroke last week.

"It can be life-threatening," Nilson said. "Dogs absolutely die from this. We see it every summer."

pleblanc@statesman.com; 445-3994